With all the hugs, songs and talk of Gods, one could forgive a stranger accidentally venturing inside the Stockholm Rigoletto cinema on Monday for assuming some new-age religious movement was talking place. No, it was just a TEDx event.
Over 300 TED fans gathered in the foyer of the newly renovated Rigoletto, eager for a day of inspiring "ideas worth spreading" – the TED catch phrase. TEDx is an offshoot of TED, a popular non-profit organization that brings together speakers from technology, entertainment and design, at conferences held all over the world. The theme for this year's TEDxStockholm was "Uncharted Waters", how we confront the uncertainty that accompanies our challenges, ambitions and our lives.
Gustaf Josefsson, the colourful host, began by asking the audience to stand up, pair off, stare intently at the equally uncomfortable stranger in front of them, and then warmly embrace them with a hug. At that moment, each of us had just navigated our own "uncharted waters", that being the personal space of the person opposite us.
Swede Lena Maria Klingvall was the first of ten speakers and her story was the highlight of the day. Klingvall was born with no arms and only one healthy leg. She met each challenge posed by her disabilities with determination, creativity, and the love and support from her family.
"Society didn't adapt to me, so I had to adapt to society," Klingvall told the audience.
IN PICTURES: Scenes from TEDxStockholm 'Uncharted Waters'
Klingvall became a world champion swimmer, participating in both the Paralympics and Special Olympics, launched a highly successful singing career (she's "big in Japan"), is a painter and also an author.
With her one good leg, Klingvall is able to write – calligraphy no less, dress herself, and drive – she left the event early to drop her assistant at the train station.
In discussing how to eat using chopsticks she quipped:
"It's surprisingly easier with your feet."
Her only limitations? The same as us all.
Klingvall closed with a rendition of "your raise me up" which was met with a standing ovation from the crowd.
Up next was physician and author Katarina Gospic. The former neuroscientist explained how our human brains are biologically "wired to be cautious", followed by astrophysics and cosmology researcher Rahman Amanullah, who depicted our universe in a fish bowl – that's expanding.
As long as you went in with an open mind and a willingness to consider new ideas, TEDxStockholm delivered. And pretty much every speaker that took to the stage on Monday managed to captivate the audience, much to the delight of the TEDx crew.
"We had a couple of glitches before the event started but otherwise it was perfect," event organizer Valentino Pacifici told The Local.
Music was also on display at TEDx Stockholm, with mash-up DJs skillnicker, riffing on the fallacy of original music and "stealing as the creative process".
The evening closed with Alexandar Bard, the eccentric and outspoken songwriter, producer and author perhaps best known for serving as a judge on Swedish Idol.
The Army of Lovers founder spoke about the dangers of "generationalism" – the discrimination of older generations by younger generations who "overrate their intellectual ability".
He then warned about the dangers of living in a "hyper-cynical age" where the myth isn't the existence of "a utopia" but our "non-belief in a utopia."
"What if God is to be in the future rather than the past?" he asked.
If the goal of the TEDx organizers was to show off Stockholm and Sweden, they certainly succeeded. Every speaker was just as interesting and thought-provoking as the last, a clear validation of that everyone managed to navigate the "uncharted waters" with aplomb.
“Our vision is to create a vibrant creative community where people from all walks of life come together to share knowledge, get inspired and take part in an active conversation about our shared future," event director and TEDxStockholm founder Carl Bärstad explained.
"We believe Stockholm is a city worthy of such a recognition."
While Monday's "Uncharted Waters" event was meant to be the last TEDxStockholm event of the year, organizers surprised the TEDx faithful by announcing another event is in the works before 2013 draws to a close.
"The theme is very interesting, its embracing failure," Pacifici revealed to The Local.
"We are looking for amazing stories of people who have failed and can give insights on how to face such a moment."
Appropriately, the event will take place in the the former headquarters of Razorfish, a dotcom that went bust in spectacular fashion in 2002.
Be prepared for "embracing failure" to succeed.
The next TEDxStockholm event takes place at 5pm on Thursday, December 12th. Click link below for more information.