It’s 8:59am. You’ve got a car2go, a cohort, a clue, complimentary coffee and glazed crullers, and this challenge: Find six spots. Perform six tasks. Return. You’ve got 2 hours. Okay . . . ready . . . set . . . wave and say cheese to the hovering drone . . . and GO.
This is how the day began for 12 TEDxColumbus attendees who answered YES to a call for “fun-seeking volunteers” and met the following three requirements: (1) be available the morning of the event (2) be a licensed driver (3) don’t ask questions.
TEDx is evolving, and this morning adventure is part of a rank-and-file movement to extend TED’s engagement, curiosity, and public-spiritedness beyond the red-dotted stage and into the community. Acting independently but beginning to cohere under the title TEDxExperiences, TEDxes are bringing action, hands-on learning and a bit of elbow grease to their events. At Friday’s TEDxColumbus (11/7) there was the Morning of Action (which you can read about here) and this scavenger hunt/amazing race with a higher purpose TEDxAdventure.
From an idea sparked by organizer Ruth Milligan, this adventure was made a reality by Columbus Idea Foundry CEO Alex Bandar—implementing, yet again, the aspiration of his own TEDx talk to “narrow the chasm between concept and execution.” Though he wasn’t thinking “scavenger hunt” when he spoke in 2011, now it’s just one more invention he’s happy to add to the prodigious and growing yield of the world’s largest MakerSpace.
I should share that after a thorough and careful review of all available evidence, I have determined that Alex Bandar is unstoppable. He may in fact live in a separate time dimension all together. Heeding the entrepreneurial credo “Say yes before you are ready,” Bandar jumped into this project on Monday. By Friday morning, all’s good to go. Sleepless, swift, bullhorn in-hand, Bandar explains the logistics of the adventure and it’s purpose to metaphorically experience the “start-up” mentality by facing six literal challenges that mirror a “start-up” feeling, behavior or demand, and to do this inside a neighborhood that is itself a start-up. Roll it all together, and the game becomes a lived and often comical story about start-up culture, as well as, the neighborhood of Franklinton. East Franklinton, to be precise, an area once made stagnant by a combination of nature and building codes until the floodwall, community leaders, artists, and young businesses began to start it up again and anew.
Now back to the drone overhead, the smiles, the waves and the word GO…
Our twelve fun-seekers, having divided into six teams—two couples, one mom and daughter, one pair of co-workers, and two pairs of “strangers”—get into six car2gos. Five start up, and cutely scamper along the streets of Franklinton. Six can’t remember their PIN.
Steered by the clue This Grandview glass arts center just relocated to Franklinton one car2go pulls in front of a Town Street building where in order to demonstrate Talent the team of two make something. In this case, a glass bead. Even better, a nice glass bead. But do it in five minutes. From here (Glass Axis—did you guess right?) it’s on to clue #2: Columbus’ wallscape pioneer.
I’ll just tell you, it’s Orange Barrel Media, or the construction site that will soon be the new home of Orange Barrel Media. And because, in reality, talent only speaks for itself after its been spoken about, the task here is Creativity in Marketing. Teams are given a new product and must create a logo, slogan and quick video pitch—in ten minutes or less (don’t worry about that crane behind you and sorry about the noise). When given a product described as an “inner-ear language translation module,” one team turned it into The : The World is Hear! And for the new concept product “a webcam-equipped crock-pot,” another team gives us THE WEBBY CROCKER: If you have OCD this is the webcam slow cooker for you!
Next, it’s off to the Lifestyle challenge at The brewery named after the type of institution that the Ohio State University is. Now that his one-time hobby has exploded into a huge start-up business, Alex Bandar has a lot to draw on for this challenge. These days a more accurate tagline for the Idea Foundry is not the current Knowledge, Talent, Mischief, but rather, as Bandar quips, An Unbroken Vista of Ceaseless Toil. The challenge at Land Grant Brewery is to eat and sleep: make and consume a PB&J, catch some shut-eye, and, because every moment is an opportunity for brand engagement, take a selfie. All in 60 seconds. No one did it in 60 seconds.
With the clue Its acronym sounds like the Food and Drug Administration, next stop is the Franklinton Development Association, where with $1 of capital, teams test their Financial acuity on THE WHEEL OF (MIS)FORTUNE. Each decision to spin invites success and setback:
- Your product is discovered to cause epilepsy in snails.
Lose 15 cents.
- Best employee quit and also hates your guts.
Lose 25 cents
- Oprah loves your product! Win at Life.
Before their first spin, one team demonstrated a talent for divergent thinking when they asked if there is “any other way to use our money right now—besides a spin?” Later when faced with a hard decision, they tried their hand at networking: “Any hints for us?” After a string of good fortune, they did a quick assessment: “Okay, were in rapid accelerator mode, we grow too fast we could get in trouble.” Nodding, they both stood up and saying something about “good responsible business decisions,” they walked away. At $1.55, they increased their seed capital by half. All but one other team lost it all.
Oddly, the one clue that had an address—the bar at 400 West Rich—proved most challenging to find. While Strongwater is inside the city-block-long arts complex 400 Rich, the entrance is on Town. Here, one half of the team gets an image. The other a drawing tool. Tasked with the challenge of getting one’s own vision into the head of someone else (also called Management), the “manager,” using only verbal direction, tries to get the drawer to reproduce the image only s/he sees (accurately and to scale). To do this, teams employed a wide-variety of sophisticated communication strategies, including foot-stomping, yelling (“No Mom! This is a happy elephant!”), positive reinforcement (“That’s freakin’ beautiful”) and incentivizing (“You are about to earn yourself a promotion”). One husband and wife team demonstrated an obvious talent for collaboration, as is obvious in this exchange:
“It’s like a couch. A couch for one person. What do you call that?”
Later, when this drawer inquired if he could “put a heart on it,” the manager displayed her ability to define and maintain clear project parameters when she yelled, “Listen! And don’t you start making things up YET!” Effective communication clearly key to this challenge, the top finisher was a team of randomly paired strangers.
The final clue, The largest makerspace in the world, and final challenge, Risk Management, brings us to the Idea Foundry, where teams symbolically navigate the bumpy waters of startup life by actually navigating a quadcopter:
- Two minutes to practice flying the 68-gram remote-control copter.
- Five minutes to complete the flight path.
- One point per checkpoint.
- Three for a proper landing.
- No points for flying the drone into your own face (“I can sue for that, right?”) or into the rafters (“Uh..ladder anyone?”).
- But no points off either.
So who showed creativity and talent, and ably managed risk, sleep, sustenance, people and finances? Does it matter? Failure is the new success, after all. In fact, there is a prize for best failure, as well as for most persistent and “team who turned our thinking upside down.” Judges are still deliberating. But in case it’s still true that America loves a winner, Congratulations to Michael Brown and Casey Brown, first-finishers and future magnates of the Webby Crocker Empire.
*And, yes, we do mean “Blasty”:
This TEDxAdventure would not have been possible without the amazing willingness and creative help of car2go, a great group of volunteers and these fabulous partners: