2012 TEDxAustin Reflections

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Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being part of the 2012 TEDxAustin – Beyond Measure. This was the second year in a row that I was lucky enough to be invited to be part of this exciting community. You can read my summary from last year here.

This year’s event, much like last year’s, did not disappoint. It was a blend of thought provoking and inspiring speakers intermixed with music, great local food, and wonderful community. Here are some of the highlights from the day.

Chris Riley – founder of Studioriley started us off. He talked about the power of stories and how our narrative can shape how we view the world. From my experience with appreciative inquiry and learning from people’s stories in my own work, I found Riley interesting, especially in the context that so many people can more easily share their story than ever before. He shared pictures from Brazil, Pakistan, and others that showed images of beauty and joy we rarely see in our American, 24-hour news. Learn more here.

One reflection he shared struck me because I’ve had a similar experience. Riley talked about this feeling you get when you land in America coming from somewhere else and how you can just feel a different narrative. I’ve often been struck by the reentry experience when coming back from working in Europe last year. Landing in Dallas, Houston, or Newark, I’m always conscious of the almost immediate attitude change as I encounter our Customs & Board Patrol process and the TSA. There’s just a negative essance as if there’s a different lens of perspective.

David R. Dow – a death row attorney presented an objective discussion of the tragedy of murder and the death penalty process and the missed opportunity to potentially prevent many from reaching that crossroad. Dow talked about how focus has been on the appeal phases, but that 80% of death row inmates were customers of the juvenile justice system. Dow makes no excuse that murder is tragic and should be punished, but he advises the place we should be focusing our attention is in the childhood years and at that first brush with the system. He told the story of one of his clients, whose childhood was unfair for any kid, as an example of how early intervention and prevention could reduce the potential of the future tragic. Learn more here.

Todd Humphreys – a professor/researcher at the University of Texas provided a fascinating and troubling side of GPS technology. While we have enjoyed turn-by-turn directions and being able to find restaurants in our proximity on our iPhones, there are some aspects of GPS technology of concern to watch. In one example, he talked about a woman who believed a former partner was tracking her. She couldn’t confirm there was a device and law enforcement was in a grey space to help her. In another case, he talked about the danger for transportation and others that rely on GPS and how things like Wave Bubbles that can disrupt GPS in an area or GPS Spoofer technology which can confuse devices could be dangerous in the wrong hands. One potential positive he predicts is the invention of “GPS dots” which you can place on almost any item and never loose anything you value. Learn more here.

Ellie Audet – is a 16-year-old Austin girl who loves fashion and paper shared some amazing creations she has made and modeled a dress she designed just for TEDxAustin. I was excited by her creativity and imagination. Learn more here.

Chris Bliss – an Austin-based comedian shared his project – mybillofrights.org – which aims to enable installments of the bill of rights in civic centers across America. Bliss points out that there are many pushing for the 10 commandments, but that no one was pushing for the Bill of Rights, which he sees as 12 amendments that are a model for the world, that do not exclude anyone, and that both the left and the right have favorite amendments. Learn more here.

Jason Roberts – An artist activist was probably my favorite presenter. His excitement was contagious and you could feel his enthusiasm as his speech picked up pace and his volume increased. He shared examples of how he and his community renovated a theater, transformed a dilapidated downtown block into a vibrant strip for a day, started a bike friendly initiative, created a dog park, and brought back the trolley. He shared his not-so-secret formula: 1) Show up, 2) Give it a name, and 3) Set a date and publish it (blackmail yourself). This reminded me a lot of what I learn in my work about setting aims (with deadlines and measureable goals) and doing rapid cycle testing to learn through doing. Roberts left me yearning to start doing several projects that seem daunting, but I just need to begin. Learn more here.

Taryn Davis – a military widow shared her heart breaking story of loosing her husband when he was killed in combat and how that inspired her to start a non-profit to tell their stories and to support military widows. I was struck by the young age of many of these widows (~26) and two things she said: 1) she wanted to ask widows the questions people had stopped asking her and 2) she was afraid to smile or laugh because she feared people would believe she was over the loss. Learn more here.

Michael McDaniels – shared his story of developing a temporary shelter for disasters after learning that it took 45 days for them to arrive for Katrina victims. He developed a prototype of a modular shelter that sleeps four, can be stacked like cups for transportation, may be organized to create community, and linked together to create larger shelters. Hearing McDaniels tell of the challenges of getting the Feds to be interested in his invention (even when he tried to give it away) was frustrating and an example of when government isn’t at its best. Learn more here.

In addition, we hard from Craig Hella Johnson, Bill Eggar, Jeremy Courtney, and the very talented Paul Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky).

There were also some great videos from TED’s library including an MIT Professor who studied his kid’s development of language by recording his home, an artist whose name I didn’t capture who makes up fictional artists bios and their works, and the professor from CMU who created the reCAPTCHA (see the bottom of this post), which protects against spammers while also helping to digitize books. He shared a new project called doulingo.com, what will do the same to translate the Internet while helping people learn languages.

A description of the day wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the great food. Whole Foods provided locally grown staples and chefs from great local eateries like Uchiko, Lenior, Swift’s Attic, Carillon, BC/Tavern Wink, and Fino/Asti created wonderfully prepared dishes shared with great company.

Finally, the day ended with a great sing-along led by Craig Hella Johnson and a full choir. Very fun.

TEDxAustin was a great experience and wonderfully produced. I’m thankful to have been part of it again and appreciative of all of the hard work that went into creating this unique event. I look forward to next year.