TEDxPortland, with its great and good speakers, crisp orchestration, and fun musical performances, was a crushing success.
TED conferences create convergence and cross-pollination of people and ideas from the fields of technology, entertainment and design. Few talk, many listen. Most come away with her or his own beautiful lessons, takeaways and answers. Some act on them.
The trail between those who are inspired and those who act on that inspiration is often paved by a few curious questions.
The key to making things understandable is to understand what it’s like not to understand.
Richard Saul Wurman, Founder of TED
In the spirit of the founder of TED, the Living Curiously Lifestyle suggests that every day we ask ourselves:
Did I ask any good questions today?
What people think of as a the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.
I love that several of you wrote to ask for a few takeaways or insightful moments. People hear the same speech or experience the same event and their takeaways often differ wildly. This is one of the cool things about cross-pollination of people and ideas. Heck, thousands of people saw this TED talk (not at TEDxPortland)…and loved it!
My love of focusing and framing my lessons and takeaways around the curious questions they generate often peg me as a skeptic. Although I’m cool with the unconventional thinking side of skepticism, the desire to form questions really comes from my commitment to the living curiously lifestyle, and taking action on inspiration.
So, from the experience of TEDxPortland, here are my takeaways. Perhaps more importantly, here are my questions.
Jon Wexler talked about how cool it was to be able to marry his love of hip-hop and his love of shoes to embrace a career that he loves. He attributed his success accomplishing this to failing and following his passion. He works for Adidas and with celebrities.
Out of curiosity: Is having a passion critical to having a successful life? What’s the difference between something you like, something you love, something you love to hate, and a passion? What other messages did Jon consider for his speech?
Viday Spandana talked about leaving the cushy life that she grew up in and the successful career she built, to travel the world in order to clear her mind of oppressive thoughts placed in her brain by non-diverse thinking. She is now a Presidential Innovation Fellow working on issues of open data in poor countries.
Out of curiosity: How can we include the thought-diversity of poor people who can’t afford the luxury of “escaping it all?”
In all affairs, it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.
Karen Gaffney talked about looking at Down Syndrome and people with Down Syndrome in completely different ways. She suggested that prenatal testing to remove people who “rock the extra chromosome” leaves us missing all the amazing ways that those exact people can rock our world. Karen has Down Syndrome, is a world-class, open-water swimmer, and runs her own foundation to advocate for people with Down Syndrome.
Out of curiosity: Does our focus on eradication of syndromes, diseases, and disorders limit our opportunities for adaptation, treatment, inclusion, and potentially critical population diversity? How much about what we know about syndromes is just wrong?
We thought we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.
Douglas Bundy is a teacher at my alma mater, Raleigh Hills elementary school. Go Panthers! He talked about kid-generated learning and the need for teachers to be “interest creators” in order to help kids discover their interests and self-direct their learning.
Out of curiosity: Will our country ever be able to decide on a unified goal for public education? How can these little pockets of education innovation transform the entire education system for our country, particularly when education is so politicized? Should that even be a goal? Do these innovative teaching philosophies have to start in teaching education programs in order for them to be widely accepted?
In school, we’re rewarded for having the answer, not for asking a good question.
Richard Saul Wurman
Linda Smith talked about sex trafficking. Child victims are often viewed by the law as criminal prostitutes, while pedophiles that purchase the services of these child slaves are gently called, Johns. Language matters. She provided practical information in terms of how these child sex slaves are branded with tattoos (look behind the ear) and are often hiding in plain sight…in our own neighborhoods.
Out of curiosity: Why did the TEDx organizers have to get permission from the TED organization to allow Linda Smith to speak? Did mentioning this fact frame how the listeners absorbed her talk? Did bashing Portland’s preponderance of strip clubs dilute her message? What about her talk made me guess her political affiliation and why did that matter?
Fawn Weaver loves her husband and has a clear vision for how to keep that love alive and stay married. She talked about specific strategies to accomplish this, like not accelerating arguments and remembering that tomorrow may not ever come. She and her husband never argue. While listening to her speech I turned to my husband and asked, “Did you agree with that?” He replied, “I wasn’t listening.”
Out of curiosity: Did my husband’s response provide a valuable hint to why we have been married for over 20 years? What, if any, are the intellectual tradeoffs of avoiding arguments? Should we advocate confrontation avoidance over being comfortable with confrontation?
Who question much, shall learn much, and retain much.
Benji Wagner talked about nature and technology and how technology is a tool that can help us connect with the natural world. He co-founded the company, Poler Outdoor Stuff, and made up some fun words that he shared and displayed with a little TM.
Out of curiosity: Is it better to use technology to connect to the natural world or to disconnect from technology to connect with the natural world? What is the right ratio of experiencing versus documenting our experiences with the natural world? Would I ever hike without a smartphone…on purpose?
Gregory Gourdet was a drug addict and is a well-known chef. He talked about his journey and made it clear that he believes that one does not have to suffer through addiction to become the person you want to be.
Out of curiosity: If we find such power in redemptive stories, what happens to the lessons from stories that are exactly the same except for the happy ending? What tangible things cause some people to elicit a turnaround of their life and not others?
The one who asks questions doesn’t lose his way.
Cameron Smith, PhD. talked about space settlement as an insurance plan for the survival of the human species. He explained the importance of seemingly small contributions to bigger important projects. He is contributing to the goal of space settlement by developing affordable, next-generation space suits.
Out of curiosity: Are we placing too much importance on the survival of our own species? What is the right balance of planning for the future, living for today, and acknowledging the inevitable? How can I get to test one of those cool space suits?
Jenna Nicholas talked about using economic pressure to wean the world off of fossil fuels, suggesting that clean energy alternatives are actually a better investment. She manages the Divest-Invest Philanthropy movement to accomplish this goal.
Out of curiosity: When the economic returns for public companies are measured quarterly, but the huge economic benefits of shifting away from fossils fuels are measured over the long term, how can public companies maintain their fiduciary duties to shareholders?
The important thing is not to stop questioning.
Kent Thornburg, PhD. talked about the fact that although we’re living longer, we are getting sicker. He asked when we will get serious about eliminating chronic disease. He suggested that the food we eat is the culprit contributing to chronic disease, and that how we grow before we’re born matters. He described the “100-year effect” which is a result of our grandmother nourishing the eggs that come from our mother to create us. This highlights that a women’s diet can impact three generations.
Out of curiosity: How do we determine the effects of the food we eat versus the effects of other things? What are the disease-related implications of the fact that women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, and men generate new sperm throughout their lives?
Regina Ellis talked about the importance of joy and music for children battling cancer. She turned the tragedy of losing her young daughter to cancer, into a lifetime of creating joy through music for other children fighting cancer. She prescribes joy.
Out of curiosity: Is the joy of music truly universal? What drives some people to take action to create beneficial change in the face of tragedy and causes others to retreat?
Amber Starks talked about growing up with no images of beauty that reflected African American features, and the negative impact this had on the evaluation of her own beauty. She has worked successfully on legislation in the beauty industry, but she only hinted at that–I wondered why.
Out of curiosity: How important is it to feel beautiful? Is dismissing the importance of beauty a luxury mainly for the beautiful? What does a women’s looks determine that a man’s looks does not? Do we talk about attributes that we should value more than beauty while secretly hoping that we’re still perceived as sort of beautiful?
Daniel Wilson, PhD. talked about how new technology will create opportunities for stories to unfold without being pre-scripted so that stories can tell themselves. His hope is that technology will allow everyone to collectively create and experience new stories together.
Out of curiosity: How much will access to and interest in technology determine how and whether we can participate in the future? If the stories we tell are determined by a collective experience, how will that effect how history is told?
Speech is a famous hip hop musician. His story and songs provided a talented, unique, and fun twist on a fairly typical inspirational talk. He suggested that we are all unique (like with our own serial number) and we should find what makes us unique (scan our serial number) to follow our passion. It was a great end to TEDxPDX.
Out of curiosity: Does uplifting inspiration result in taking the kind of action that will help make the world a better place? Is it just as important to be inspired as a form of self-entertainment as it is to be inspired to actually do something? Why did I have such a hard time generating questions from Speech’s speech? Is it because I just wanted to dance?
Accept ignorance; pay more attention to the question than the answer; never be afraid to go in the opposite direction.
Richard Saul Wurman, Founder of TED
Mark your calendars for April 9, 2016. TEDxPortland 2016, will rule hard (right, Benji Wagner?).
Your invitation to the Tribe of the Curious I’m an unconventional thinker