April 1, 2014
After 30 years and an explosion of popular interest, TED remains a compelling place to share powerful ideas, revitalizing and reinventing itself with its move to Vancouver. Having previously attended TED in Monterey, then Long Beach and now Vancouver, B.C., the event’s focus on technology, entertainment and design in a setting of such spectacular natural beauty was both grounding and enlivening.
Several trends caught my eye at TED 2014: the convergence of highly customized technology (from prosthetics to microbial assays); the design and production of smaller, faster, and cheaper products (from 3-D printers to satellites); the increasing awareness of the wisdom of nature (from the lessons learned from observing an ant colony to the psychological and biological benefits of being in nature); and the growing appreciation of cultivating not only our knowledge but our wisdom (our “resume” vs. our “eulogy” values).
Here are just a few of my favorite highlights from the TED 2014 stage:
Run, Climb, Dance
A rock climber, engineer, and biophysicist, Hugh Herr of the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Extreme Bionics lost his lower legs due to severe frostbite years ago. He now wears bionic limbs designed at the Lab. Digital sensors and design make sensitivity and acuity possible. Dynamic interface allows his bionic limbs to move like flesh and bone, enabling Herr to rock climb and run up hills. Using an electrical interface, his bionic limbs move with his thoughts, as he demonstrated by running in place on stage with incredible ease. Herr’s talk included an inspiring performance by ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis who lost a leg in the terrorist attack at the 2013 Boston Marathon. “In 3.5 seconds, the terrorists took Adrianne’s dancing away from her. In 200 days, we gave it back to her,” says Herr. Adrianne delivered an elegant and grand performance, dancing on stage for an enthralled TED audience.
Love and Openness
Jill Bolte Taylor was back on stage at TED and was as inspiring as ever. Eighteen years ago, at age 37, Dr. Bolte Taylor survived a massive stroke, ultimately writing about her experience in My Stroke of Insight. Her original 2008 TED talk, where she described her experience of and recovery from stroke, is one of the most watched TED talks ever.
She believes the experience of surviving and recovering from her stroke made her kinder, more open and more expansive. I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Bolte Taylor at a Barbary Coast YPO event following her first TED talk. It was a moving experience with a remarkable woman. “I think our first job in the world is to love one another,” she says. “We come into the world through our right brain; we come into the world with curiosity about one another and an openness to others.”
Dr. Phil Zimbardo, a Stanford professor and psychologist, shared his findings at TED on “the demise of guys.” Zimbardo, who has co-authored a book by the same name with Nikita Duncan, identified some disturbing trends in the U.S.: 1/3 of boys grow up with no father in the home; boys who have fathers see them roughly 30 minutes per week vs. spending almost 44 hours per week in front of a screen; boys are five times more likely than girls to have ADD; only 42% of boys entering college now graduate; young men increasingly prefer online pornography to sex with women; addiction arousal and lack of basic social communication skills are on the rise among young males. Zimbardo believes we need to refine and “re-find” masculinity, regulate screen time, increase vibrant, interactive family time, increase the presence of male teachers in elementary school (now only one in nine), as part of a broad solution to a significant challenge facing our boys and young men.
In an amazing TED Fellows talk, Shubhendu Sharma, a reforestation expert from India who once worked at Toyota, explained how he has adapted the principles of Toyota car manufacturing to create “mini forests” that can be massed produced.
Sharma is releasing his Afforest Method soon which will enable you to send a sample of soil from your yard for analysis so you can improve your soil and identify native plants that will thrive in your locale, all while increasing biodiversity and improving air quality. As Sharma memorably quips, “You can make a forest for less than the cost of an iPhone.” The resulting forests are simply beautiful.
Some of my favorite quotes from TED follow. Even devoid of much context, I think these are also ideas worth spreading!
In response to Charlie Rose’s question about what quality of mind has served him best, Google’s Larry Page responds, “Staying focused and curious about the following two questions, ‘What is the future going to be? How are we going to create it?’”
“We are wired to solve. We make order out of chaos,” says David Kwong, a NY Times crossword puzzle maker and illusionist.
“Architecture is about the visceral, emotional feeling towards the places we occupy…Buildings don’t just reflect our society, they shape our society,” notes architect Marc Kushner.
David Brooks at TED: We spend too much energy cultivating our “resume virtues” and not enough energy cultivating our “eulogy virtues.”
TED Fellow Bora Yoon, a sound architect and musician, “Both music and architecture are systems that organize empty air.”
Masarat Daud, journalist & educator on wearing the burqa: Remember, when you see someone veiled, in a hijab, niqab or burqa and you judge them, “The brunt of your bias doesn’t hit the cloth, it hits the human being behind the cloth.”
Novelist Isabel Allende says, “What have I gained with aging? Freedom. Lightness. Softness. Spirituality. But I also have lost things. Inside I feel charming, seductive and sexy. But nobody sees that. I feel invisible. I hate feeling invisible. The Dalai Lama has aged beautifully but who wants to be vegetarian and celibate?”
Sarah Kay explains the necessity of verse, “Poetry is like pooping. If there is a poem inside you, it has to come out.”