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Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

The answers are tallied and submissions (so far) are in. We can now share what TEDxCbusers think of Columbus and what Columbus (+ surrounds) thinks of TEDxColumbus. Before the 2013 event we invited attendees and live-stream viewers—at McConnell Arts, Marion Correctional (MCI), home, office, etc—to write about their Out There experience. Their posts are below (please add your own in the comments).

And during the event, sometime after the aliens, brain pacemakers, cats in code, anti-terrorist dry cleaning and lunch but before the Maillard reaction, tampons, valleys, sewage, healing and “genderbread,” each audience member was given a 3×5 card and asked to answer 3 questions:

  1. Why are you here (at TEDxCbus)?
  2. What are your talents?
  3. Has Columbus provided you the opportunity to share your talents?

543—almost 75% of attendees—responded. Here’s what they said:

Why Here?
The answer to this question typically came in pairs (“to grow and connect”) or in triplicate+ (“to be inspired, enriched, motivated, to make change”). Judging by word count alone, to learn and to be inspired were the top two reasons. And the brain, whether it would think differently, wake up, open up, or be fed or fueled or blown altogether, was the biggest beneficiary, but not the only one: a few came to “open my heart,” “feed my soul” or “to be moved to act differently.” Other reasons, from most repeated to least: Community (connecting, conversing, celebrating); To Support Someone (a speaker, mostly); Personal Growth (motivate, refuel, “clear the cobwebs”); Fun; and To Listen to Others. There was also a sprinkling of “curiosity,” “creativity,” “innovation” and “I love TEDs,” plus one or two outliers: “I am here as a spy.”

What Talents?
Interestingly, in these career-focused times, less than 5% of respondents mentioned a professional title or identity. (Who did the most? The dancers.) Instead, an absolutely overwhelming majority said their talent was helping others. “Others” was usually non-specific, but some subsets emerged, namely youth, community and animals. Parenting and advocacy (#1 environment; #2 arts) were other oft-repeated talents. Many listed personal qualities, such as “kindness,” “modesty,” “loyalty,” “being a good neighbor;” and a few were much more specific, mentioning a talent for “great pastry,” “a bad accent,” “selling a lot of jeans,” “solving puzzles,” and “soup.”

Is Columbus Supporting Our Talents?
YES—say a whopping 87.3%. For 8.7% the answer was NO, while 4% did not answer or were out-of-towners. It is interesting, too, to look at how respondents shared their Yeses and Nos. With variations in size and placement, the bulk (401) of the total yeses (474) were straightforward, unadorned and unqualified. Among the rest that were more detailed in their response (73), the emphatic, superlative, decorated YES (62)—as in, the big bubble-lettered YES, Abso-freakin-lutely Yes, Yes x 10, even Yes x 1,000—beat out the tentative YES (11)—as in, 1/2 Yes; Yes…but barely—by a ratio of nearly 6 to 1. In contrast, just under half of the total NOs (47) were clear-cut (23). Only 1 was a resounding NO! The rest stopped just short with either a “Not Yet” (13) or “Not Fully” (8)—also expressed as “ish” and “meh”—and 2 of the NOs blamed themselves (“I haven’t taken enough advantage…”; “I think the onus is on me now…”)

There you have it. And now, a sampling of what Columbus has to say about Out There:

Brian Crawford, live-stream at MCI
I felt honored to be a part of the TEDxColumbus simulcast here at Marion Correctional. The entire production was great and I got something from every TEDx talk. My favorite talk was the young man (Austin Channell) talking about grade point averages and how the system is flawed. I felt hurt because I have four children in school and this could affect them. I felt like getting up and running to my kids’ school to demand change. As a parent this issue hit me deeply. I absolutely loved the event. I felt free for a few hours.


Doug Dangler, live-stream on computer
Consider these quotations from Michelle Alexander’s talk:

  • During a 30-year period of time, our nation’s prison population quintupled.
  • We have the highest rate of prison incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of even highly repressive regimes like Russia or China or Iran.
  • As of 2004, more black men were denied the right to vote than in 1870.

It’s an overwhelming problem, with the final statistic pointing to the thesis of Alexander’s talk: institutionalized racism is evident in the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, resulting in a new caste of legally disenfranchised and dehumanized people, who are overwhelmingly poor and of color. Alexander said that nothing less than a radical revision of the criminal justice system, with attendant major upheaval and social change, will combat this problem. So she ended with a call to action, asking TEDxColumbus attendees to do the “hard work of movement building.”

I was left feeling that she was right and that changes needed to be made. But how will these changes arise? The changes she’s suggesting—decriminalizing marijuana, restoring voting rights to felons, dramatically shrinking the prison population, etc.—will be an incredibly difficult sell in a nation whose elected officials can’t even keep the government open. I hope her next TEDx talk will lay out specifics of how to accomplish her goals. Clearly, this is a hugely difficult task. But a thinker and speaker as deep and talented as Michelle Alexander may be just the person to do it.


Wayne Snitzky, live stream at MCI
Watching TEDxColumbus live from inside Marion Correctional had the same effect as watching any live event, we felt connected to the event. The difference is that inside a prison the opportunity to feel that connection is few and far between. Watching as a curator is always fun because it is an opportunity to…borrow ideas for our event, and learn from their glitches and glories. My thoughts on the overall event can be summed up in the last thought I had watching the event. When Nancy Kramer gave Decker Moss a hug after his talk I thought: (tongue firmly in cheek) “Oh great, now we’ll have to stock men’s rooms with free tampons!”


David Hooker, live at COSI

One of the most interesting talks for me was a session by Mohamed Ali, the founder of the Iftiin Foundation created to foster innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in Somalia, spurring forward an economy and putting people to work.

He shared stories about bringing a dry cleaning shop to Mogadishu, figuring out how to run cappuccino machines without electricity—in a city with no functioning electrical grid after years of war—and how solar-powered street lights allowed people to stay up after dark to socialize with neighbors, and shops to stay open late. The reemergence of nightlife, missing in Mogadishu for 20 years, speaks to the simple needs and simple solutions that can have a huge impact on a culture.

Ali’s story of terrorists trying to break these streetlamps to drive people back inside and to crush an economy where people have a chance of earning a living instead of turning to illegal work or terror to support their families, speaks volumes. My sense is, his talk, and the work he does, will have great impact in this part of the world for generations to come.

 

Daniel Royston, live-stream at MCI
So…she said in a paraphrased kind of way…”you can’t contemplate what you see or hear unless the signal is degraded.” And it was this, this simple phrase that totally made my TEDxColumbus day. Now I have to confess that I may have missed the next talk or two as I contemplated this metaphorically difficult yet contextually simple sentence she had just shook me with. I mean think about it, have you ever thought about something that went well? Beyond the “This is too good to be true” cliché when things do go well? Or…are you like me and always become fixated on the imperfections we see in everything we do?

I realize that it is moments like these that draw me to TED talks and TEDx events again and again, these small unexpected moments of clarity, bursts of catharsis, or epiphanies with gravity if you will. Dr. Susan Nittrouer was talking about hearing loss, cochlear implants and the deaf learning to speak without impediments. But all I could think about was all the nights I had lain awake, my mind stubbornly refusing to shutdown as I chastised myself for whatever minute mistake I had made and contemplating just how I could avoid doing the same in the future…and then I wondered, why I never find myself in that same place at that same time reliving something incredible that I had accomplished that day and how I should strive to be that good…again…tomorrow. How did I go from contemplating a degraded signal to pondering my daily failings and my obsession with them?

I was watching TEDxColumbus via livestream at our viewing party in Marion Correctional Institution in a room full of men just like myself. Men who are reminded of their own shortcomings and mistakes every morning they wake up and look out the window to see the 20’ tall razor wire fences that surround their current residence, and I find myself thinking about all the little things I have done the last 15 years to improve my own “signal” from the horribly degraded version it was all those years ago. I will always be someone who broke the law, someone that society holds to a different standard than someone who hasn’t. But maybe the work I’ve done has been successful and my signal is no longer degraded as much as it used to be. Maybe society… and by this I mean you…will contemplate my character, my signal, as it is…today.


Matt, live-stream at MCI

I really enjoyed TEDxColumbus. I thought it was very well organized and the overall flow was planned very well. I really was humbled by all of the praise offered to the Marion Correctional team. We are all hopeful of the same future with the same goals: That every man and woman regardless of race or religion will have a voice and the platform to share ideas. Thank you, TED.

 

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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Here is the session schedule for TEDxColumbus: OUT THERE this Friday, October 11.

Livestream link: https://new.livestream.com/tedx/Columbus

 

Session 1: 9 am – 10:30am

Scott Gaudi, Ali Rezai, Ly Apelado, Joe Simkins, Michelle Alexander

 

Session 2: 11am – 12:30pm

David Bromwich, Chris Domas, Susan Nittrouer, Kaweh Mansouri, Mohamed Ali

 

Session 3: 1:30 – 2:30 pm

Tobin-Wilcox, Nancy Kramer, Jess Mathews, Chris Fraser, Stephanie Hughes, Miriam Abbott, Josh Hara

 

Session 4: 2:50 pm – 4:00 pm

Castros, Dax Blake, Tom Knotek, Lori Moffett, Jim Fussell, Gabrielle Burton, Decker Moss

 

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It’s our fifth year.  How did THAT happen?

And while we aren’t going to have someone jump out of plane to celebrate, we are proud to announce what might be our most ambitious line up in the short history of TEDxColumbus.  Join us on October 11 from 9-4 (with happy hour until 5) at COSI to witness this collection of thinkers, researchers, provocateurs, rainmakers, entertainers and game-changers, all of whom, in their own right, are doing things truly OUT THERE. Come join a dynamic crowd of curious folks to be collectively provoked, challenged and inspired, while connecting, conversing and processing it all together.

A few changes from past year’s events:  We have selected more speakers  — but to speak for shorter times, upon audience request.  We’ve curated two special groups to join our expected, provocative talks.  Here is the complete lineup (access their bios and abstracts through the speaker home page here).

For being OUT THERE in their investigations, solutions, ideas, courage or reach.  Talks include:

  • On rebuilding cities, Mohamed Ali.
  • On global warming, David Bromwich .
  • On gender fluidity, Gabrielle Burton.
  • On revolutionizing hacking, Chris Domas.
  • On finding new planets, Scott Gaudi.
  • On giving back out there, when you are in there, Jim Fussell
  • On a basic unmet human need, Nancy Kramer.
  • On the courage to change, Decker Moss.
  • On reaching deep inside the brain, Ali Rezai.
  • On new rules for systems, Joe Simkins.
  • On entertaining us,  Tobin-Wilcox and The Castros.

Five in five.  (Okay, we did want to celebrate being five.)

For being OUT THERE in their passions –  in five minutes each.

  • On writing through logic, Miriam Bowers Abbott.
  • On paying attention, Chris Fraser.
  • On exploring within, Josh Hara.
  • On coming out of the valley, Stephanie Hughes.
  • On a dynamic bike city, Jess Mathews.

Sensory Talks. Playing on the five theme (last time, promise!), we’ve invited a group of speakers to share an incredible range of thinking on our five main senses.

  • On smells in a city, Dax Blake.
  • On our scent and taste memory, Tom Knotek.
  • On saving sight, Kaweh Mansouri.
  • On the power of touch, Lori Guth Moffett.
  • On challenging the ability to listen, Susan Nittrouer.

And we encourage you to move quickly if you’d like to attend.  We expect, as always, tickets to sell out. Tickets can be purchased here.

TEDxColumbus 2013 is made possible with support of the following partners:

Lead Sponsor, resource.

Event Partners, The Columbus Foundation, The Doug and Monica Kridler Fund of the Columbus Foundation, Limited Brands Foundation, Cardinal Health and The Ohio State University.

Presenting Sponsors, GSW Worldwide, Ologie, Crane Group, Glimcher, IntoGreat, Alliance Data, Crimson Cup,

Media Partner, WOSU

Host Partner, COSI and Host Supporter, Susan Leohner Events.

Creative Support is provided by Base Art Co., Spacejunk Media, and BonFire Red.

 

 

 

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Events, Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

Birth. Death. Sex. These are three grand motifs. But plot them on a bar chart or in a spreadsheet and they will tell stories “a little bit better, a little bit sexier than Hollywood.” Or so says Priyank Shah, a demographer and the kickoff speaker at this year’s TEDxColumbus.

As an opener, Shah was the logical choice. Demographers use statistics (on birth, death, sex, etc.) to make statistical projections. That’s a handy thing to have at an event titled “The Future Revealed.” (Ours, by the way, will likely include “super-centenarians” in a statistically relevant number, a big jump in multiethnic identities, and “vertical families”—adult children and parents simultaneously elderly).

But Shah’s talk set two other important plot points for the day. As he shared his statistics and their macro- and micro-level implications, he elicited the passion and relevancy of his life’s work, while entertaining and edifying. It’s the “TEDTask.” Fourteen speakers in one day and none veered too far from this mark.

As for plot point #2, while Shah’s data pointed to trouble ahead, trouble is not where he lingered. Throughout the day other speakers piled on more trouble, much of it in the “too many” department—too many people, too many carbon bonds, too many greenhouse gases, perhaps, even, too many photographs—but after taking a good look at that accumulated heap, speakers, for the most part, got straight to tackling the question of what to do about it.

Elsewhere, I’ve said that the push-pull of What the hell have we done! and Wow! Look at what we can do! is built into TED. Last year’s TEDxColumbus, “A Moment in Time,” ended in a draw. This year, hope pulled out the win. But seeing as maybe we humans can’t help but be bright-eyed about the future, the theme gets at least an assist. Hope was helped along, too, by the number of speakers who came to the stage with solutions. Whether we like them, agree with them, or don’t, the attempt itself can be a boost.

And, it has to be said: it’s not too hard to be optimistic when the day’s talks, taken collectively and literally, offer a rather palatable, even indulgent, prescription for living. Crave a donut in the morning? Go ahead! Drink lots of coffee while you’re at it, and have a puff of marijuana—but ONLY one. And, Kids, to build your job skills, don’t bother with that homework; play Minecraft instead.

Or . . . maybe wait a bit on that Minecraft thing. The others are backed by data; this one is more of an inference. Though one that Naomi Stanford is not about to back away from, no matter the ruffled feathers. And while it is certainly conjecture, it is conjecture drawn from Stanford’s decades of studying, interviewing, data-collecting, reading, writing, observing and thinking long and hard about workers and the world of work in the past, present and future. Generally, we call this mix of time, effort and output “expertise,” and at this TEDxColumbus, more so than any other, expertise was on display—sometimes even color-coded and nicely organized into pies, graphs and charts. Here’s a brief rundown from the day:

Why when we think of the future is it all flying cars and jetpacks? Why not demographics? After Priyank Shah and his data asked us to ponder this question, other speakers and their data challenged us with more questions, including unpopular ones, such as Why not nuclear power? This one came care of physicist Gordon Aubrecht, whose tables and maps argued, quite powerfully, that our fear of nuclear energy is outdated and overstated, while, when it comes to fossil fuels, we are not nearly fearful enough.

Jan Allen’s question, What is My Next?, seeks to rethink and redefine “the construct of the leisure industry,” more commonly known as “retirement.” Gary Wenk is also out to shift our perspective on something both accepted and ubiquitous. In this case, the storefront sign FOOD & DRUGS. It contains a typo, says the neuroscientist. It should read FOOD = DRUGS, which, by the way, also = CHEMICALS. With help from some gems of early advertising (“THEY’RE HAPPY because they eat LARD!”) Wenk shared his research on chemical components in foods (donuts and coffee) and other ingestibles (the one puff) and offered a plan for anyone wanting to up their odds of a longer life. Take in fewer carbon bonds and more antioxidants, he said, and do it earlier in the day, i.e., eat less, eat berries, eat early.

 

Laura Hill so upended my thinking I was the one with the question: “Really?!” I know it’s simple and not really a question at all, but it is what came to mind when Hill said that the anorexia patient who insists “eating is bad for me” has been right all along. According to Hill’s 33 years of expertise, recently deepened by findings from functional MRIs, in those with anorexia, food sets in motion a psychological storm both painful and noisy. You can track it on an fMRI. This is extraordinary. It flips accepted thinking and accepted treatment, and, as dire as it may sound, the result of this turnaround, Hill says, is better outcomes for the patient.

Safety pharmacologist Brian Roche is also working towards better outcomes—this time for cancer survivors. The problem he wants to solve is one you may not even want to know about: most cancer drugs are not good for the heart. The good news is that for a vast majority the damage is temporary. For a small percentage it is not, and for an even smaller percentage it is dangerously dormant. The other good news about this problem: Brian Roche is on it.

Though Catherine Evans’ talk was not nearly as data-heavy as some others, she had one statistic that got the audience murmuring. According to Evans, 10% of all photographs were taken in the last year alone. It’s an instagram world. But, in her talk, Evans looked back to when it was a Kodak world, back to the Polaroid, even the tintype to consider how photos function (as art, news, storyteller and more) then, now and in the future.

If we were to use the measure of stats per hour, this TEDxColumbus would beat out all previous—combined. But there was plenty of expertise and insight not so easily codified. There was the kind expressed in humor, dance, and music, or that you’d more likely find under a Big Top, as well as the kind that comes from following what takes hold of you and simply paying attention to it, as Michael Bongiorno does. Drawn to spaces of urban residue from a young age, the architect, in his talk, will make you see a cloverleaf interchange in a whole new light.

Expertise and insight also comes from listening—to others as well as to oneself. Interested in the higher education experiences of African Americans (which completion rates suggest can be all too brief for all too many) social scientist Terrell Strayhorn has found that a sense of belonging is connected with success. He also shares a few things we should know about belonging: It is not about being the same. It is about difference not being a deficit. And, the need for it is in us all. “Anyone who doesn’t want to belong,” Strayhorn asks, “will you stand with me now?”

A guest from TEDxYouth, Dan Stover, and the last speaker of the day, Doug Smith, both shared life lessons drawn from personal difficulties. Stover is a living example (thank goodness) of why when given the choice to fake it or to come clean, vulnerability is the best way to go. For Smith to get wise about life, it took a double dose of epiphany. The first enabled him to talk about how to be happy. The second enabled him to practice how to be happy. “Misery is easy,” he counsels, “happiness is a set of skills.”

What Frederick Ndabaramiye experienced in his life is ungodly. It pushed him to the point of wanting to leave life altogether. Yet, a few Fridays ago, he was in Columbus, Ohio, very much present and free of bitterness, generously sharing his story. If we were to be serious about deriving a prescription for future living from this year’s TEDxColumbus, the most potent piece would be the forgiveness exemplified by Ndabaramiye.

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

 

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Follow This, TEDxColumbus

 

[by Kendra Hovey]

Richard Florida once lived in Columbus so when he calls this city “a living petri dish” he knows what he’s talking about. If this sounds vaguely insulting, I promise, it is not. Florida was invited to Columbus, along with Jeff Dyer and Sir Ken Robinson, to speak at Innovate Columbus, the annual conference organized by Tech Columbus and Innovation Fisher and also one of many events (TEDxColumbus is another) that made up the eleven-day celebration of innovation and design, known as idUS.

Innovate Columbus was slotted for day 7 (last Thursday) at COSI. Florida, first up, addressed the local (mostly) business community on the subject of creativity and economic vitality and how Columbus is, and could be, incubating both—thus, the petri dish.

As the superstar urban theorist sees it, our Columbus environment is ripe for growing the “goods” needed in the new, and still taking shape “post-industrial knowledge economy.” Remember, he’s lived here so he’s not just being nice. He’s also done the research. Our ground is fertile, he says, because it has three key ingredients and in almost the right proportions: technology, talent and tolerance (The 3 Ts). Also, through a process of “patching and stitching,” Columbus has rebuilt its urban center, and this, in combination with already existing “innovation pods,” means Columbus has what Florida calls “the institutional fabric” to cultivate, cross-pollinate and bring ideas together to “mate and replicate” and, thus: INNOVATE.

After Florida’s stirring call to action, the next keynote was Jeff Dyer. The strategy scholar has been studying so-called disruptive innovators, of which Steve Jobs is the exemplar. His purpose is to look for clues to enhance the potential for innovation. What he’s found are five key attributes: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Experimenting and Networking. There are nuances to each—read his book for more—but, for example, successful questioning has a lot to do with the quality of the question. Two suggestions: “Ask good questions that impose constraints” (ex: What would we do if today we lost our current income stream?) and “Ask good questions that eliminate constraints” (ex: What would we make if money were no object?).

Before Sir Ken’s keynote, the 400 or so attendees were given a half hour break, which I used to try out Questioning. So far, in this day’s discussion, the innovator is synonymous with the company. But if one is not a CEO, not a partner, nor extremely loyal by nature, what are the necessary ingredients in the petri dish for the individual worker to be part of this innovation process? You might say the ingredient is a given: “No one can hoard creativity,” says Florida, “smart is open and open is smart.” Yet, anyone who has tried to institute one knows that workplace change can unsettle the ranks. And, it is not necessarily easy, nor always prudent, for anyone to let his or her baby go off to “mate and replicate.” Not without trust anyway. But that is an ingredient in short supply when there is job insecurity, massive pay disparity, patent abuse and, as the librarian next to me pointed out, unclear intellectual property laws. Dichotomous labeling of workers as innovators OR executors—as was heard at this conference—doesn’t help much either.

In his keynote, Florida argued that the old economic model is a mismatch for current conditions, as is the old model of suburban life. “We are groping for a new way of living,” he says. Which makes me wonder, then, in this new post-industrial knowledge economy, won’t we need new models for labor and organizational structure? What might they look like? And, within these new models how will our beloved ideas about incentives and competition do? Will they match or mismatch?

But, here it is already 4:00 and time for Sir Ken Robinson.

Some may know Robinson from his 2006 TEDTalk “School’s Kill Creativity.” It is the most watched TEDTalk ever—though, as his daughter points out, his numbers still pale in comparison to that cute kitty video going around Facebook. Robinson is a leading thinker on and instigator of creativity and innovation. He is also a knight. While his perspective has far-reaching relevancy to, for instance, business, education, and government, Sir Ken never strays too far from the human being making his or her way through life. Robinson isn’t exact about how to seed creativity in individuals within institutions (for that it would probably take a consultant’s rather than a speaker’s, fee) but his shared ideas on imagination, creativity and organizations can at least get us started.

After meandering, comically, through topics like German verbs and French teachers, Robinson began his keynote by putting some substance to the term “creativity.” He did this by first talking about imagination, the ability to see something that is not there—and, because we can imagine ourselves in others’ shoes, imagination is also, he says, “the seed of empathy.” Creativity, then, is essentially “applied imagination.” More specifically: “it is the process of having original ideas that have value.” And even more specifically: “original” doesn’t mean it has to be new to all of humanity, but it does have to “bend your mind”; and what constitutes “value” is tricky, best to keep your criteria open, after all, as Robinson asks, how do you judge if there is no point of reference?

There is something else quite crucial about creativity: If you are a human being, you have it. “It comes with the kit,” he says. Also, it is expressed in every part of life—math, housekeeping, painting… Essential, though, is to be a person/parent/organization that cultivates it. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of “institutional culprits” (like, for instance, traditional education) that squelch it.

One Robinson insight that might help: “Organizations are organisms.” We think of them as mechanisms, but they are not. Organizations, if they are to survive and flourish, “must live synergistically with the environment,” and, considering that they are made up of people, they also “live and breathe.” The most important job of a leader, then, “is not command and control but climate control.”

At this point, I wonder how anyone writing about Sir Ken Robinson doesn’t just give up and simply list a bunch of his quotes. I followed him to a second talk that evening at a local school, where I filled more pages with even more scribbled quotes:

Schools are based on conformity, but life is based on diversity.
The English say Americans do not get irony—it’s not true, but I think you should know people are saying this behind your back. Proof that Americans do get irony is No Child Left Behind.
…it confuses raising standards with standardization.
…they have a wonderful little boy called Dylan, after Bob Dylan…why not Bob?

The man can bend a phrase. His wit can shift the view and his sharp insight is reason enough to give that view a good long look.

 

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

Photo of Ken Robinson courtesy of Bryan Loar

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Follow This

by Kendra Hovey

“You’re never too old” is one of those uplifting sayings you don’t want to think too much about. Earning Olympic gold in gymnastics…winning the Fields Medal in mathematics…playing in COSI’s little kidspace…oh, to live on Sugar Mountain…to do any of these, a great number of us are, indisputably, too old.

But according to new research out of Ohio State if major scientific breakthrough is on your life list, you may in fact never be too old (for the under 30s, though, chances are good that, at least right now, you are too young).

Lingering within the walls of math and science is a long-harbored belief that the brilliant show themselves early. OSU economics professor Bruce Weinberg and his research partner Benjamin Jones of Northwestern decided to test this assumption. By collecting data on 500+ Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry and medicine from 1901 to 2008, they found that this notion of the brilliant young scientist was not so off-base—a century ago. Until 1905, about two-thirds of Nobel winners did their prize-winning work before age 40 (and about 20 percent did it before age 30).

In chemistry and medicine, though, those numbers decreased steadily over time. In physics, young achievement peaked later—in 1934—but in all three disciplines, by the year 2000, winners under the age 40 were rare, and those under 30, almost extinct. According to Weinberg: “Today, the average age at which physicists do their Nobel Prize winning work is 48. Very little breakthrough work is done by physicists under 30.”

Weinberg’s theory to explain this: In the early 1900s, quantum mechanics blew the lid off traditional science. It reset the rules and, in some ways, leveled the playing field. Says Weinberg: “It may be that young scientists did better, in part, because they never learned the older ways of thinking and could think in new ways.”

Today the situation is greatly changed. Scientists are spending much longer in graduate school and their research cites a greater breadth of work over time—a hundred years ago, citations were more often contemporaneous. “Because of their depth of knowledge,” says Weinberg, “older scientists may have an advantage.”

The findings bode well in light of demographics that show an increasingly older research workforce. “If you take the view that science is a young person’s game, then this aging trend is alarming,” Weinberg says. “But if scientists can be productive as they get older, as this study suggests, there may be less of a problem.”

To extrapolate a bit, this research may also have something to say about ideas and innovation in general, suggesting perhaps that:

  • knowing more and knowing less can both be key to breakthrough thinking
  • even in the most evidence-based fields, outdated assumptions are hard to shake
  • though we tend to rarefy what we can’t conceive, even the most abstract knowledge occurs within a material and historical context.

[And what about math? Perhaps more than any other discipline mathematics is thought to be “a young person’s game” (actually, a “young man’s game” but that’s a whole another bias). This was not discounted or verified by the OSU study because there is no Nobel in Math. The rumored reason—utterly unverified, but prevailing only because others dull in comparison—is that Nobel’s girlfriend had an affair with a mathematician. The stand-in Nobel in Math is the Fields Medal. Also not studied because it is only for those under age 40 and it is awarded every four years—one more way in which mathematicians have to get their numbers right.]

lllustration by Greg Bonnell 

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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In the last month, we’ve hosted a myriad of TEDx events in Columbus. Here’s a quick re-cap to summarize them – and showing what a vibrant, curious, inspired city we have that is supporting and growing each one.

Our signature event, TEDxColumbus, featured 18 speakers and performers (above: Susan Willeke, Jamie Greene and Rose Smith) on stage at COSI on 11.11.11.  You can watch all of the speaker’s videos here, or get a glimpse of the full day from still images here.  They all celebrated a “Moment in Time,” and did so beautifully.

We had a record turnout of nearly 600 attendees, that’s double where we started two years ago when we hosted the first event at the Wexner center with 300 attendees.  Check out this dynamic gallery at COSI!

We were supported these amazing corporate and community partners: resource interactive, The Columbus Foundation, Barnes and Thornburg, The Limited Brands, Alliance Data, The Ohio State University, and GSW Worldwide. Support from WOSU, COSI and a host of other in-kind donations made the event possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had a unique and very special partnership with LOTH/ STEELCASE / TURNSTONE to outfit the event gallery for our two days of events (see TEDxYouth below). The feedback on our event was so spectacular in part thanks to the great furniture and environment they helped to build for us. We were delighted they could carry through our dream!

The day before TEDxColumbus, we hosted TEDxYouth@Columbus also at COSI, where 18 speakers and performers also took the stage and inspired an audience of nearly 150 high schoolers. Curators Andy Aichele and Christian Long were aided by community volunteers who were also mentors in the afternoon, the day-long event turned out to be a needed and inspired addition to our TEDx line-up. And the kids had a blast, too.

 

After we cleaned up from TEDxColumbus and TEDxYouth@Columbus, on December 1, for the second year in a row, The Columbus Foundation hosted a livestream of TEDxWomen, a national TEDx event that was broadcast from LA and NY. Over 60 women joined us for the viewing and lots of great conversation between riveting talks. See an additional story here from our live speakers Maryanna Klatt and Theresa Flores who joined us with their TEDxColumbus talks at lunch.

And for us, we closed out the month with a webinar featuring our own InsideOut Project along side TEDx organizers from Aviero, Portgual, Manchester, NH and Athens, Greece. I have been hosting  some of these  webinars for two years now – bringing together knowledge and experience for TEDx organizers around the world. This one was pretty special as we had JR, the artist and recipient of the TED Prize and Amy Novogratz, join us to discuss InsideOut. The webinar will be linked here when it’s live.

 

All in all, the community has had an exhilarating month – thanks to everyone who’s helped to make these great moments possible!

 

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Thanks to a few generous sponsors who can’t use all of their TEDxColumbus tickets, we have now opened up a student scholarship lottery for seats TEDxColumbus on 11.11.11 at COSI.

If you are a student and cannot afford to attend but would like to, please register for the lottery here. Only students who can produce a student ID the day of the event will be eligible.

We will announce the winners on November 7th when every applicant will receive an email notifying them of the winners.

If you would like to help offset costs for students to attend, we welcome donations to the TEDx fund through this link

Thanks to all for your support!

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Jane Goodall is my hero. I love her compassion and dedication in working with chimpanzees in Tanzania. In this TED Talk, she describes how her team’s community projects for humans are helping the struggling people surrounding the chimpanzee’s habitat with clean water, farming techniques, and unexpectedly, a growing interest in conservation. Her commitment to both people and animals is creating an environment of peaceful coexistence for both.

Kate Storm
COSI
Director of Strategic Initiatives & Artist

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A unique public art project is emerging in Columbus…

Columbus: Inside Out.  Inspired by worldwide public artist and photographer JR, Columbus is adapting its own version of this provocative initiative showcasing distinctive portraits of local citizens.

If you’d like to be featured in Columbus: Inside Out, join us on for a 10 minute photo session September 17 anytime from 10am – 12pm at COSI. Seven local photographers organized by George C. Anderson will be taking portraits of up to 150 Columbus residents to be included in the project. The city-wide installation of the project is being coordinated by Wonderland and will be unveiled in early November.

For more information, email tedxcolumbus@gmail.com.  No pre-registration is necessary to participate in the photo session; a release will need be signed at the time of photography. All ages are welcome.

 

For more information:

on JR

on the INSIDE OUT TED Prize

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