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Events, Follow This, Speakers, TEDxYouth@Columbus

Austin Channell at TEDxCbus

by Kendra Hovey

If you didn’t see it, you might have heard about it: First standing O of the day . . . 80,290 views online . . . featured on WOSU TV’s TEDxColumbus special . . . The talk, Austin Channell’s A Culture of Obsession: Why taking choir kept me from being valedictorian, was even retweeted by preeminent chorale composer Eric Whitacre—making Channell, for one hot moment, a hero among Central Ohio choir directors.

It all made for an interesting senior year of high school for Austin Channell, who never expected to be juggling his class schedule with an appearance on All Sides with Ann Fisher or piggybacking a college visit onto a speaking engagement in Virginia.

Now a high school graduate, Channell finished third in his class, but was not a valedictorian. As he says, “that would have been awkward.” In the fall, he’ll attend Vanderbilt University, where he plans to study civil engineering.

Austin Channell on all sides with Ann FisherHis TEDx talk, to quickly refresh, grew out of a real life quandary: He could take choir in high school, get an A and, as a result, lower his GPA. Or he could sign up for study hall and end up with a higher GPA. As absurd as this sounds, it’s also built into the educational grading system. As Channell deftly points out, it is possible for a student to “succeed in more areas and be penalized for it.”

It’s not that he had some great ambition to be a valedictorian, as he says, “It was the principle of the thing.” And the problem is bigger than just some nonsensical grade point system. At issue, is the larger and more complicated matter of how we choose to define and measure success, and the resulting effects on college-entrance, and the self-esteem, health and well-being of our youth.

For students, it can lead to some silly scheduling maneuvers—going to art class while officially signed up for study hall. But if college is going to be in the picture, GPA is vital, and even as current business-speak extols the virtues of failure while the social sciences send out alerts about the dangers of perfectionism, students know exactly the fine line they have to walk.

If an A in a non-AP class can reduce GPA or just one B can plummet a class rank from one to one hundred and something, an example Channell shares, why take a risk? Or follow an interest? Maybe the student truly is that much less smart or less studious than before the B, either way, at many colleges, her application’s gone from the top of the pile to the slush pile. Grading—how it varies between districts, schools and teachers and what exactly it measures—is not just a complicated puzzle for administrators. Channell is telling us it’s having real effects, adverse effects, on real lives.

Yet not every high schooler with something important to say, says it on the TEDx stage. In fact, in the history of TEDxColumbus there’ve been exactly two: Austin Channell and Meagan Jones. Channell’s journey began courtesy of his public school, where a posted flyer and a nudge from a teacher led to an internship with TEDxYouth. Working with Andy Aichele for two years, he helped plan, coach and stage manage the event. “We spent a lot of time at a lot of Paneras,” he says. As can happen when working with TED, the question pops up: “What would be your talk?” When Achiele would pose it, Channell, took it as idle musing, at least until the day he began “ranting” about his situation. As he recalls, “Andy said, ‘This is your talk,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah…it is.’ ”

Austin Channell interviewed by CBS News Pittsburg

Once he left the TEDxColumbus stage, it didn’t take long for the tweeting and sharing to start, as well as the dialogue and invitations to speak. He’s been interviewed on various news programs, shared versions of the talk at a school board meeting, at the Ohio Department of Education (twice) and, by invitation of a PTA, as far away as Falls Church, Virginia. The small city, essentially a suburb of DC, is in the wealthiest county in the U.S. and home to supposedly the best high school in the country (though public, admission is selective). In Falls Church, says Channell, “even the middle school librarian has an ivy league degree.” It was there, during the Q&A, that Channell was asked maybe the most heart-breaking question. It came from an 8th grader. To paraphrase, she asked, “What if I don’t feel so driven to succeed, but my parents want it and I don’t want to make them unhappy?”

This child’s question helps explain the strong response to Channell’s talk. Education is not just about student and teacher, but administrators, communities, society, says Channell, and the core relationship between parent and child. “We know education is a hot button issue,” he says, “some relate to what they see as an unfair system, some question how we assess learning, some defend the system, but for parents in particular, the effects on their children are really concerning—I know how hard it was on my own parents to witness the physical toll of my class schedule and academic stress.”

Another reason for the overwhelming response may just be that Austin Channell did a really good job. And were I to add “for his age” it’s not to put a qualifier on his abilities, but to acknowledge age is a factor. Though he doesn’t attempt to offer a solution, and while people are listening and talking no changes have yet been made (though his school board just announced it will be reviewing the valedictorian system), still in Channell’s TEDx talk there is hope. Because despite everything we have left the next generation to grapple with, if they still come out smart, articulate, principled and mature, there’s definitely hope.

Whether Channell agrees with this or not, he can’t deny that people are impressed with his public speaking abilities, because the reality is he gets asked about it all the time. He actually loves this question. He knows exactly where he learned stage presence and how to engage an audience, and he’s happy to share: “It’s theater,” he says, “It’s what the arts can do for you.”

Another question catches him more off-guard. The details vary each time, but it goes something like this: “Would you mind if we drove three hours from Pittsburg to interview you?” Or, “We can pay to fly you and your mom to Virginia, put you up in a hotel, give you a rental car, pay for your food and a travel stipend…would that be okay?” Recounting these today, he still sounds bemused: “It’s one of those questions people would ask, but I’m still not sure . . . who says no to this?”

If this whole experience has been a bit disorienting for Channell, it’s also been humbling and motivating. Amazed by how far and wide the talk has spread, he also wonders if maybe he should have put more into it—more than writing it during an 11th period study hall, he confesses. This concern comes from the perfectionist in him, but also from a real sense of responsibility.

He has no obligation but to go off and be a college student and pursue his interest in civil engineering. But that’s not how he’s feeling. “I don’t know what form it will take or what point in my life it will happen,” he says, but the issue is not behind him. By sheer coincidence, Vanderbilt is home to Peabody College, the best graduate school of education in the nation. He’s already made contact, though just out of curiosity. He does say that, in his mind, from civil engineering to education is not a huge leap. “Civil engineering is about creating and maintaining systems. Though more infrastructure related, it’s borderline policy,” he says. Plus, he’s never been one for purely technical pursuits, being more macro- than micro-focused.

The system of education is one of many things he’s looking forward to potentially exploring in college. But for the moment, he’s got his graveyard shift at a truck parts warehouse. Spending his summer laboring alongside mostly fulltime union workers, ”I put parts in boxes,” he says, “I close the box and put a shipping label on it.” He’s in it for the money—“I know I’ll be poor in college, but my goal is to be less poor in college”—but as a side benefit, he’s listened to a lot of audio books.

One night that audiobook was The Ghost Map about a cholera epidemic in 1854. “If you want to get strange looks from people, just listen to a description of someone suffering from cholera,” he says. When the guys around him asked what he was listening to, it blossomed into a group discussion about medical issues and the scientific process. “Turn it up,” someone suggested, and at 10:00 on a summer night instead of a muffled din of rap, metal and various podcasts, blaring inside this truck parts warehouse was a story about disease and sanitation in mid-19th century London, England. Yet another unexpected and interesting experience in what has been an unexpected and interesting year for Austin Channell.

 

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

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Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxMarionCorrectional

The first ever TEDx in an adult prison held its second TEDx on April 21, 2013. To tell the story of this uncommon event we decided to share perspectives from both sides of the prison walls. Our editor and first-time TEDxMarionCorrectional attendee, Kendra Hovey, shared her experience in our May post “From Outside In.” Now we hear about the event “From Inside Out.” Below is our interview (questions submitted, answers returned, all in writing) with five guys on the inside: Dan and Wayne (co-founders and co-curators, and identified as such with an asterick*) as well as attendees Dave, John, and William. But before we begin, a few facts:

  • TEDxMarionCorrectional is hosted by the institution (medium security) and held within its walls.
  • It was founded by inmates Dan and Wayne, who also curate along with Jo Dee Davis (director of Healing Broken Circles) and Jordan Edelheit (student and founder of TEDxOhioStateUniversity).
  • Both Dan and Wayne were introduced to TED while incarcerated at Marion Correctional Institution.   
  • The inaugural event, A Life Worth Living? (9.16.12), was highlighted at TED 2013 and on the TED blog.
  • The curators have been asked to consult on other prison events including the upcoming TEDxSanQuentin (9.20.13).
  • The audience at the second event, titled What’s Next?, was split down the middle: 149 inmates (chosen through an application process), 152 outsiders (registered after entering their name on a sign-up form). Outsiders were a mix. Our editor met a college student, a foundation president, a software guy and a yoga instructor. The event is also live streamed throughout the prison so the entire inmate population (approx: 2,500) has the option to watch.
  • Inmates are identified by first name only in accordance with rules guarding victims’ rights.


TEDxMarionCorrectional: From Inside Out
An interview with Dan, Dave, John, Wayne & William
  

FT: Many inmates were curious about how those from the outside felt about the experience of coming into a prison, what did it feel like for you to have the general public inside?

Wayne*: It is nice to be a host. I don’t often (ever) get the opportunity to have company over, in a social setting…

FT: …And did you have concerns or preconceptions about us?

Dave: I figured there would be some who had issues about coming inside these walls . . . but I was sure we could change their perception.

John: I felt very excited about meeting people from the general public. I know from TV and newspapers that the public is tough on crime. So when the conversation is about inmates the majority of people put up a wall and close their minds. Being able to share with people with an open mind was very enlightening and a new experience. I was very happy with the care that the public showed us.


FT: …So as far as your actual experience interacting with the general public…?

Dan*: I love it! The rapidity that we as a group move past small talk into substantive conversation is somewhat incredible and maybe impossible anywhere else. I am blown away by the organic nature of the day.

Dave: The entire experience for me was awesome. I spoke at the last one so I got to experience this one without the nerves and pressure of performing.

William: [People] seemed genuinely impressed and maybe even a little relieved to learn that something of substance was taking place within these walls.


FT: Turning for a moment to curatorial guidelines—and this is directed to Dan and Wayne—what criteria did you use to choose your speakers? 

Wayne*: Wait! There are curatorial guidelines???

Dan*: Auditions are open to the general population of the prison…

Wayne*: We ask for a rough guideline of their idea. Then anything worth looking at, we tape a five-minute version of their talk and, from there, we choose to work with the guys that had a “something.”

Dan*: Those in the disciplinary housing units were excluded from the audition process by the Warden’s guidelines, as were any men with disciplinary problems in the last 12 months. Other than that, our talkers could be from any socio-economic background and have any educational level. We don’t exclude anyone due to the crime they committed or their criminal history.


FT: In most of the inmate talks this year, both the life experiences that led to crime and the crime itself are acknowledged, but deemphasized—at least as compared to last year’s talks. Was this a curatorial choice? Also, do victim rights limit what inmates can tell about their story?

Dan*: This was a curatorial choice for the most part. After the first event, a lot of the feedback from guys in here was that they could go to any self-help group or AA meeting and hear personal testimonies. This year we kept an eye out for those with an idea or theory that, while not a testimony, was still unique to an inmate’s point of view and true to our theme…

Wayne*: We wanted to move towards a more normal TEDx event. However, having only ever seen two events, we worked towards what we thought a normal event would be like…

Dan*: We still tried to get our talkers to use their personal stories as a vehicle to carry their idea to the audience.

Wayne*: I don’t really know if there are any guidelines on this issue [victim rights]. We assumed there were and made decisions we felt were appropriate. We didn’t censor, we just tried to be sensitive.

Dan*: Not sure if there is a legal limit, however I think there is a limit to what guys are willing to share. Especially in a video that everyone will be able to see forever. Personally, I don’t think fondly of the kid I was at age 21 and I can’t expect anyone else to. So how do I reveal myself enough to show my authenticity without losing my standing in their eyes? Is that, or should that be a factor?


FT: Directed to everyone now, which talks were your favorites?

Dan*: Might as well ask me which of my kids is my favorite! I did have a lot of guys commenting on how awesome the b-boy/b-girl dance piece was [Deryk]. Nothing like that had hit our prison stage before.

Dave: Frank & Company just because that shit was funny.

John: Jim’s “Domino Deeds” was my favorite talk. I’ve known him for 30+ years. Most of the men that are “old-law” and in for capital crimes are very remorseful for their crime and just want to do some good in this world. They’re tired of hating and being hated. I love his idea of paying it forward and helping someone, somehow.

Wayne*: On the day of the event, I truly enjoyed Deryk and Jim—for the inside information I had. In prison, Deryk has had no opportunities to practice his art and the little practice time he got with the outside dancers on Saturday and Sunday was great for him. Jim has been incarcerated for a very long time and never spoke to a group larger than could sit at a picnic table. The courage he displayed in taking the stage was incredible. It helped that both performances were flat out amazing.


FT: Did any talk particularly resonate with your own experience?

Dan*: I think each of the talks affected me in some way, just as every conversation I had during the day did. But I really connected to Diego’s talk. I also had this fantastic conviction that I wouldn’t be like my dad. I would be there, I would keep my promises, I wouldn’t be violent and I wouldn’t make them Browns fans . . .. But then I also abandoned them with my terrible life decisions.

William: Yes, Diego’s talk really touched me. I’m not afraid to admit that I openly wept. The loss of the relationship with my son has been the hardest thing to deal with during my near ten years of incarceration. I’ve missed so much and have no one to blame but myself…

Wayne*: Ben’s thought that I may have to leave the country to be a citizen again really resonated with me. I’ll always face the Google problem.

Dave: Jim’s talk grabbed me. I mentor people, and to see them do something they couldn’t before or to see them get a better understanding of life, or to watch them mature and build a deeper connection. It [mentoring] is like Jim’s paintings—the one life I took I’m trying to give back through it.


FT: Did you learn something new from any of the talks?

Wayne*: I gained something from each person that hit our stage, but the one that jumps out is Sam Grisham. For a chief of security of a prison to share his story like that is quite unique. The perspective he shared of his job was insightful.

Dan*: Another voice that needed to be heard was Rickey’s [“Intelligence is the New Swagger”]. We need to counter the culture of failure that our kids are bombarded with and Rickey’s talk might reach those that Glee won’t.

John: I know that it will be hard to adjust back into society, but after hearing Naj speak… his talents and qualifications should have outweighed his past, not to mention the number of years he served in here. If society was against him, how will they react to me after serving 40 years? Should I not even try to fit in, sparing society the embarrassment and me the heartache?


FT: Did this TEDx event have a positive effect on you? On other prisoners? In what ways?

Dan*: The inside guys got to see that they are still human beings, that prison hadn’t dehumanized them as much as they feared, and that society, albeit a small section of it, will still converse and interact with them.

John: If this event changed one person’s perception of life, that people change, and deserve a second chance, it could not help but have a positive effect on me and on all prisoners.

Dan*: And to have been able to somehow encourage a man to step out of his peer group and put his identity on the line to spread an idea or more importantly share his story is a positive effect if ever I’ve seen one.


FT: What do you see as the positive effects for those outside of prison?

William: To see first-hand that incarceration can in fact cause someone to re-evaluate themselves and their decision-making process, and begin anew.

John: A chance to look at people differently.

Dave: It allows us to connect with the public and allow them to see we still have something to offer the world.

Dan*: The 6 o’clock news mentions on a daily basis that someone has been sentenced to x amount of time. But what happens while they’re in prison? How are they treated? What program is offered and also facilitated successfully? And x implies that person will be returning to the community. How do you want us to return to your community? The not very good human I was when I came into these walls? Or as the human being who has lived up to his potential, lives each day wholeheartedly and with communal self-awareness? These are questions that those outside of prison need to ask. These are the conversations that need to happen more often than the tougher on crime conversations. It will take many more events before we as a society start to question whether we need to, or can, come up with a better way to lower crime and rehabilitate those that we incarcerate.

Wayne*: And it offers insight into a part of society that they had no idea was so large. With the number of people being incarcerated and released each year, aspects of prison culture have already seeped into mainstream culture. And you may not realize how many felons there are in every neighborhood in America. How a society chooses to deal with criminals impacts the overall health of society.


FT: What kinds of responses did you get, if any, from inmates who watched the event on the live stream?

Dave: That we are rock stars!—no, seriously, I am.

John: They all want to be part of TEDxMarionCorrectional. The two doormen were bombarded with guys wanting to enter into the event for session two.

Wayne*: Many were proud to know that such an event was taking place in “their” institution…

Dan*: Inspired. Inspired is the word I heard the most from guys. Inspired by the fact that a TEDx event could take place in prison. Inspired that they weren’t the only ones who thought the way our talkers (inside and outside) did. Inspired to hear that CEOs recognize the stark reality of social acceptance for ex-offenders and are working towards a remedy. Inspired…wow! Isn’t that what every TED talk aims to do? Not only inform its audience, but inspire action from its audience too?

FT: Thank you.

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Follow This, TEDTalks, TEDxColumbus

 

[by Kendra Hovey]

It’s TED week, when those both interested and able gather in Long Beach and Palm Springs to hear the latest “ideas worth spreading.” One early highlight from this year’s conference is the appearance of TEDxColumbus on the TED stage. On Monday, as part of the Inside TED session, our own Ruth Milligan, along with five other TEDx organizers, spoke about the growing phenomenon that is TEDx. The presentation to 1,500 TEDsters got a standing ovation.

“While the brief session was highly orchestrated,” Ruth reports from Long Beach, “it revealed the insight that organizers have: TEDx is a powerful medium to ignite conversation and spur inspiration in any community, school, prison or slum. For me, it was about having Columbus be on the global map. I was honored to be there.”

Joining Ruth on the stage were organizers from Baghdad, Iraq; Kibera, Kenya; Madrid, Spain; and Sydney, Australia, as well as another organizer from Columbus, Jordan Edelheit, a Junior at Ohio State University who is representing TEDxMarionCorrectional, the first TEDx inside an adult prison. As a group, the six demonstrate the reach and relevance of TED across continents and populations. Columbus, as you may have noticed, is the sole city from the Americas, both North and South. It’s a nice recognition, but perhaps you’re wondering—Why?

One explanation is that TEDxColumbus and TEDx basically grew up together.

When TED announced the new initiative in 2009, Ruth Milligan applied for a license soon after. In a few short months she and co-organizer Nancy Kramer pulled together the first event. With eight speakers and an audience of 300, it was, Ruth estimates, the 35th ever TEDx. That number has now grown to over 6,000. TEDxColumbus returned in 2010, and every year since. It is one of only a handful of TEDx events that, like TEDx itself, will turn five this year.

Still, TEDxColumbus is not the only successful and long-running TEDx. It is, though, the only one organized by Ruth Milligan. Let’s just be honest: Ruth is good at this. TED knows it. And that’s why she’s presenting.

The TEDx manual runs about a hundred pages, but that first year, it was closer to four. When other TEDx organizers needed advice, they were sent to Ruth. She became a go-to mentor for TEDx, eventually working with TED to develop a series of learning tools. You can hear her voice on seven or so TEDx Webinars, including a Q&A with TED curator Chris Anderson (shown above, giving the TEDx presentation a standing ovation). More recently, she was commissioned to do a how-to video. She’s led workshops at TEDActive, and was brought in as a consultant for TEDxSanDiego. Add it all up and that’s a whole lot of TEDCred.

8,980 to be exact.

No, I did not make that up. Yes, there is something called TEDCred. As a comparison, TED Head Chris Anderson has a TEDCred of 815.

For the record, Ruth was utterly unaware of her score. When I told her, she was visibly shocked, but still she shrugged it off: “Maybe it’ll make up for all the A’s I didn’t get in college,” she said.

If nothing else, “8,980” reflects a big chunk of Ruth Milligan’s time and energy. TED-style organizing is a lot of work, but no way will she be stopping anytime soon. It’s her thing, her passion, what Sir Ken Robinson might call her element; it’s her “KitKat,” as Ruth herself will say, drawing on the name of her father’s old (and frustratingly) all-male speech club (The KitKat Club) where, as an occasional young tagalong, she first got hooked.

Ruth Milligan, you see, is a speech junkie.

In the days before the internet she was known to troll c-span looking for a fix, and still, every year, she happily anticipates the arrival of Spring and with it a whole new crop of graduation speeches. Helping people find, craft and share their message is something she enjoys. Along the way, she says, there is almost always emotion and connection, and sometimes action and change.

One constant from the first year to the next, she says, is that “TED continually inspires conversations I never knew were possible.” [Her insights into the process are shared on the TED Blog. It’s a concise, thoughtful and highly recommended read.]

As far as contrasts, “the biggest change from year-one,” she says, “I no longer have to explain TED or defend it anymore.” Nor does she need to push ticket sales. In 2009, the first 50 sold “out of the gate” to TED fans. Speaker connections and the community around the Wexner Center and OSU accounted for the next 100. So, how’d she sell the remaining 150? In her own words, “I worked my ass off,” she says.

Another change is that speakers are now finding her (or in some cases their PR agent). By the same token, she and the curatorial team have honed their process. “I’ll listen to anyone,” she says, “but we don’t make the mistake anymore of accepting a speaker for the wrong reason.” She’s also learned to be blunt. “This will take 30…40…50 hours,” she now tells speakers, “It won’t be easy. It will be messy.”

Being on stage at TED was a high point for Ruth Milligan and, as always, she would love to see a TEDxColumbus speaker at TED or featured on TED.com. But, “far more important now,” she says, is what’s happening here: “I see the power of people sharing even if no one else outside of our community hears them.” It builds community. It can lead to action, whether for just one person or on a larger scale. Columbus, as a “smart and open city” needs an elevated dialogue, and TEDxColumbus is a platform, Ruth says, for turning up that dialogue. “People trust it and consider it part of the cultural fabric,” and that, for her, is the most gratifying part of all.

There’s one last question I had to ask Ruth the Speech Coach:

“Nervous?”

“No.”

She put herself through the same paces she would her clients. But, honestly, she’s an easy client: “For whatever reason this is not my challenge…Figuring out how to dry my hair well…That’s my challenge.”

 

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

Featured photo courtesy of Nancy Kramer; all others courtesy of TED

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Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxWomen, Viewing Events

[by Kendra Hovey]

I’ll start with some facts:

  • TEDxWomen is for everyone. It is, explains host Pat Mitchell, “for a world that needs the full participation of women and their ideas, their experiences, their compassion and convictions, their activism and their artistry.”
  • Women and men speak at TEDxWomen.
  • Women and men attend TEDxWomen, though, to date, women in much greater numbers.
  • The talks at TEDxWomen are as universally relevant as the talks at TED.
  • 15,000 people watched TEDxWomen 2012 at various live viewing events across 53 countries.
  • “The Space Between”—this year’s theme—refers to the gray, the and, the full spectrum that lives between polarities, be they black/white, rich/poor, work/family, right/left, male/female…

Next, some history:

  • TEDWomen launched in 2010 as a TED conference.
  • The x was added in 2011. Because of the large number of local TEDxWomen events that sprouted alongside TEDWomen, the TEDx community was thought to be a more logical home.
  • Talks from the past two conferences have been viewed 20 million times and translated into 50 languages.

Now, an opinion:

  • TEDxWomen is fast becoming my favorite TED-related event.

Like TED, TEDxWomen blows my mind, captivates, educates, stirs and moves me. It also has the benefits built into TEDx, namely, access to the fascinating nooks and crannies of life that (big)TED is sometimes too big to see.

By the same token, TEDxWomen shares the realities of TEDx: less time, energy, resources—less rigor—and as a result there are some talks that don’t quite hit their mark.

But where TEDxWomen beats all is the connecting. Interaction is part of the TED platform—if you attended TEDxColumbus you might remember introducing yourself to your neighbors and lunching with five (now former) strangers.

At the TEDxColumbus TEDxWomen event, this element is seamless and unprompted.

TEDxColumbusWomen 2012For whatever reason, people tend to bring and express their full selves—not a compartmentalized professional one. As a result, discussions get rich and interesting real fast. In short, it’s fun.

It also makes perfect sense for TED. Watch almost any TEDTalk and invariably the subject percolated and took shape out of this inseparable mix of passion, personal and professional.

But exactly how this ease in expression and connection I see at TEDxWomen happens, I can’t say. And how to tap into it on a larger scale . . . I wish I knew.

This question—how to scale-up?—came up again, in fact, almost every time a speaker shared yet another project, idea, model, theory or good work.

One particularly poignant example is the counter-terrorism efforts of Edit Schlaffer, Archana Kapoor and Arshi Saleem Hashmi that enabled Pakistani and Indian women, both, to move from victimhood, and the defaults of fear and hate, to agency, understanding and empathy.

 

Some quotes:

“The loss of a son, no matter whose son, is the loss of a son.”

 

“Terrorists know how to use the power of women, why do not counter-terrorists?”

 

 

 

Another great quote from the day comes from John Gerzema, who said:

“Femininity is the Operating System of 21st century progress.”

Maybe you want to pause…go back, read that again. It’s quite an interesting thing to say, isn’t it?


It is the basic idea of what he calls the Athena Doctrine. Surveying as many as 60,000 across the globe, Gerzema found that character traits classified as “feminine” were rated as highly important for leadership, success, morality and happiness. “Feminine values,” he states, “are ascendant.” I, personally, would love to see what more empathy, respect, patience, expressiveness and flexibility, among other traits, would do for the world. I hope he is right. But I would also like to see research on the correlation between what people say they want and what people actually do.
TEDxColumbusWomen 2012
Four reasons (and there are undoubtedly more) to watch Eboo Patel’s talk are:

  1. it’s a great trajectory story (how I got from there to here);
  2. Patel speaks about faith in a way meaningful to believer, non-believer and all that’s in-between;
  3. if you don’t already know about Dorothy Day, you will; and
  4. trust me, you don’t want to miss out on meeting his grandmother.

Two speakers, Angela Patton and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, share particularly poignant stories about the importance of fathers.

[When the Taliban threatened Basij-Rasikh’s father with death if he didn’t stop his daughter from going to school, he said this: “Kill me now if you wish, but I will not ruin my daughter’s future.”]


The target of a massive online misogyny and harassment campaign, Anita Sarkeesian’s appalling, eventually hopeful, but still appalling, story is essential viewing, and her analysis increasingly relevant.

The talks I mention are just a few of many that struck a chord. TEDxWomen covered a range of topics from transcendental meditation, computer programming, street art, autism, the “war” on obesity, the freedom of a wheelchair, the benefits of getting lost, and more—plus those still to be discovered as I watch the last 20 or so online.

One presenter, the explorer and “way-finder” Elizabeth Lindsey, is concerned that we have come to live our lives by “fickle criteria.” “We are following the wrong stars,” she says, “we’re being sold a lifestyle when what we want most is a life.”

To continue her metaphor, one inspiring through-line in this year’s TEDxWomen is example after example after example of people following different stars—and the innovative and positive destinations they create. And, from 17-year-old Brittany Wengar to CEO Charlotte Beers, one thing seems clear: Counter to what women, at least American women, have been told—to check their gender at the workplace door (and men, too, to check their femininity)—these stars shine brighter when we tap into and value the full range of who we are.

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

Photos from TEDxWomen by John Lash c/o The Paley Center for Media;  Photos from viewing event by Allyson Kuentz c/o TEDxColumbus

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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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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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Today marks the 5th anniversary of TEDTalks online. On June 27, 2006 TED changed the game by bringing its TEDTalks to the world for the first time. Now, everyone in the world has access to talks from not only TED events but also every TEDx event that has taken place around the globe.

Almost 1,000 videos are available on TED.com. These videos have been viewed approximately 50,000 million times!

Today also marks the first ever non-english TEDTalk available online. Watch Emiliano Salinas make history!

We are proud to be a part of the TED community.

Have you watched your TED today?

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