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It was a revelation, a moment that changed
his perspective and shook him out of what
some philosophers might describe as a
When Stephen Collins was 35, he realised
he hadn't been leading a passionate life.
Life was good but there was something lacking
in the comfortable existence he'd carved out for
himself. Despite affluence and opportunity, he
hadn't embraced the lived experience.
"I did stuff that I liked and I did stuff that got me
through my day and was busy, but I wasn't super
engaged in what I was doing.
"I think the day I saw that talk in 2006, that was
the trigger, that was the thing that said 'You've
got to get off you're arse and you've got to do
That talk was at a TED conference by little-
known academic Ben Dunlap. Dunlap spoke
about a Hungarian holocaust survivor that had
deeply influenced him.
It was through this Technology, Entertainment,
Design (TED) conference that enabled Dunlap to
connect with a worldwide audience, share his
ideas and inspire listeners.
The first TED event began in 1984. The simple
aim was to promote ideas worth spreading
by inviting and challenging some of the most
fascinating and innovative people on the planet
to cram the talk of their life into 18 minutes or
less. The belief was, and continues to be, that
powerful ideas have the ability to change attitudes,
livelihoods and the world. And this conference
would give voice to that idea.
Since then the TED concept has taken off around
the world with a variety of spin-off conferences,
events and programs operated under the TED
One of these spin-offs is the TEDxCanberra
program initiated by Collins in 2009 after he
attended several TED events overseas.
"Last year we had 300 people in our theatre and
we had more than that on our waiting list that we
couldn't get in the theatre,'' he said.
Educated in journalism and a self-professed
rugby tragic, Collins, who is better known around
Canberra as "Trib", moved to the ACT more than
30 years ago as a 10-year-old.
Graduating from the University of Canberra
at a time of mixed fortunes for media entities he
moved away from journalism to pursue work in
But after a dozen years in the public service he
faced a crossroad. With frankness his boss laid
out his career options.
"He said to me 'Stephen you've got two choices
-- you're full of great ideas, you're creative and
you're good at articulating ideas, but they scare
the pants off everyone and they don't suit this
"You either need to figure out a way to fit, or decide
not to fit and do something about it.''
Collins chose the latter. He went on to build his own
business and began to realise his creative potential.
Along the way he imported the hugely
successful TED program to Canberra. In part, to
give residents in the capital and beyond a chance
to engage with ideas that can change perspectives
and potentially enlighten their social, intellectual
and financial worlds.
"I'm never going to be a millionaire and jet
around the world and that sort of stuff. But that
doesn't matter,'' Collins says.
"What matters is that I'm stimulated and excited
about what I do and the people that I'm connected
to are equally stimulated and excited about what
Ultimately the TED concept is a challenge to
meet ideas head-on and then positively engage
with them by doing something that improves your
slice of life and the people in and around it.
For Collins the challenge of putting on the event
is the reward as much as the inspiration and
engagement the events produce.
"It doesn't matter how small you are take
on that optimistic challenge,'' he said. "Do
something that makes your world a bit better.''
A talk by an academic on the other side of
the planet about an old Hungarian was the kick-
start Collins needed. That kick-start might be
there for others in Canberra who are also ready
Canberra Theatre Centre -- The Playhouse
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Spreading big-picture ideas that could change the world is all in a day's work for
TEDxCanberra founder Stephen Collins. BY MARK SAWA
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