TEDx Ottawa: A Resounding S.U.C.C.E.S.s!!

TED conferences are mind-blowing, but expensive and far away.  Sp when I heard about the TEDx concept (locally organized TED events) I was excited to hear that an event was being organized in Ottawa!  But how was a local event going to compare to TED conferences which regularly attract the worlds top thinkers?

The same weekend, I was trying to complete my presentation on a very compelling book that my wife bought for me: Made to Stick. This timing was very fortunate for my presentation because TEDx provided so many great examples about how to make ideas ‘Sticky’. I thought I would use the S.U.C.C.E.S.s acronym used by the book to illustrate some of my key take-aways from TEDx Ottawa:

S – Simple: Keep your message core and compact to increase the chance that people remember the one most important thing you want them to act on.

If someone really succeeded in getting their message across, I shouldn’t have to look at my notes! And one great example of this was Bob Ledrew who’s key message was to “Sing your song.”, which was all about remembering what things you were passionate about in your youth, and making sure that you make time for them in adulthood.  His personal story about his rediscovery of his passion for music, and his ‘House’ concerts was very inspiring.

U – Unexpected: If you can break a person’s guessing machine you keep their interest and increase the chance that they will absorb your message.

For me the ‘unexpected’ story that stuck with me most from the day was Ray Zahab‘s story about how he entered a Yukon ultra-marathon, and the mental and physical battles he fought during the race to convince himself that he could finish it.  At the end of the race he then says “Nobody is more surprised than me that I finished this race.” and the race marshall responded: “You didn’t just finish, you won.”

Cindy Chastain and Kip Voytek surprised me by clarifying the difference between ‘cooperation vs. collaboration’, and how most ‘collaboration’ strategies actually are about cooperation.  This surprise caused me to furiously write down their proposed approach to collaboration, which I will use!  As a result, I have a lot more ‘pleasure in not knowing’.  😉

C – Concrete: Everyone will take in your message using their own filters and lenses, you must make your message concrete to ensure that your audience gets your message, regardless of their background.

Images and video are fantastic ways to make your message concrete and accessible to a wide audience.  Najeeb Mirza used a video shot in Afghanistan to illustrate how people around have more in common than you would think!  It made me laugh to see a bunch of turban doffing Afghani tribesmen talking about who had the best cell phone.

Williams Jans‘ message about how ‘Bad Roads Bring Good People’ was driven home by his many great photos and video showing how friendly and happy people can be at the fringes of the inhabited world, and showed the joys (and laughs) of learning new languages!

Finally, Mark Levison talked about how images are ‘Google for the mind’ and there doesn’t appear to be an upper limit to how many images the brain can process.  So many of Mark’s comments echoed the ‘Made to Stick’ concepts that I ended up giving him my copy of the book when I was surprised to find out he hadn’t read it!

C – Credible: To get people to believe your message, you need credibility.  The book has many suggestions on how to accomplish this, but I used some TEDx presenters to illustrate.

Tracey Clarke has credibility for many reasons.  First of all, she is the managing director of Bridgehead Coffee, a company who has beaten the mighty Starbucks at the own game (in Ottawa anyway). This should be credibility enough, but then teaches us more about the dynamics of coffee business than I thought possible in such a short presentation!  Her many stories, pictures and detail about Bridgehead’s stance on coffee supply made me proud to be a Bridgehead customer!

Robert Mittelman, a Kiva Fellow, leant a lot of credibility to Kiva’s microcredit initiatives by his experiences with the program abroad.  It was good to hear how this money was being used, and how the inspiration flows both ways: debtor to creditor, creditor to debtor.

E – Emotional: In order to get people to act on your message, you have to hit them in the heart with it; with emotion comes action.

Mark Blevis and his message of the importance of children’s books really hit me at an emotional level.  It made me realize how I really didn’t recognize the importance of these books in providing children context on how to interpret and interact with their world.  The reminder that this is actually a high art form of imparting messages in a compact way to people with a limited vocabulary.  So is this emotion making me act?  Absolutely.  Just one week after TEDx I am sure I have had at least 4-5 conversations about the significance of children’s books!

S – Story: If you tell your message as a story, there is no way that your audience can remain passive. The act of listening to a story (as opposed to just a bunch of facts) forces the listener to build the mental image of the story as it is told, which increases the chances of the listener remembering it.

Danny Brown‘s presentation was all about story telling, digital storytelling in particular.  He told of the new Star Wars series that lost the viewer because it forgot that telling a human story was the important part, and not all the technology that enables it (actually I think it WAS Jar Jar’s fault).  I really liked how he compared the Millenium Falcon to everybody’s beater first car!

Nothing illustrates the power of story like Jowi Taylor‘s Six String Nation ‘Voyageur’ guitar!!  Every piece of this guitar has a story, and is perfectly united to his message of ‘One Canada’.  There was certainly a lot of emotion in his stories as well, as there were several that brought a tear to my eye, and the passion of Jowi about telling these stories was clearly apparent!  The best part about this guitar is that, for all the stories that are built into this guitar already, the guitar itself is creating so many new stories that are being captured by Jowi.  All Canadians must hear the story of this guitar, and I am certainly doing my small part.

I don’t want to diminish any of the other presentations by their omission here!  I got at least one great nugget from each presentation, and many great discussions with the presenters in the interludes.  It was a fabulous event, exceptionally executed.  Even the box lunch was fabulous!  I hope all people that attend TEDx events around the world are as lucky as we are in Ottawa to have such a great experience!  An experience worthy of the ‘TED’ name!

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The Works of Ayn Rand

I recently signed up to a new Audible.com gold account which allowed me to buy expensive audiobooks cheaply, which justified me picking up the two massively tomes ‘Fountainhead’ and ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand.

The two books, which I bought unabridged, totalled 80 hours of reading time which has kept me busy for the last couple of months. I read Fountainhead first, followed by Atlas. I really enjoyed both, with the caveat mentioned below*.

Rand uses characters which represent either extreme of ‘supermen’ like Howard Roark in Fountainhead and Hank Reardon in Atlas Shrugged, or the ‘seconds’ (people that only survive by leaching off and controlling others) like Peter Keating/James Taggart.

The main protagonist is female in both cases, and struggles with an increasing self awareness of where they fit in this polarized world. Also common to both works is the love quadrangle where this female protagonist finally decides on the most ‘super’ of supermen.

*I wouldn’t recommend reading them back to back, as I did, since the themes are very similar, and can even get quite tedious after a while:

    • The benefits of pure capitalism
    • The evil of religion (somewhat indirectly)
    • You do yourself a great disservice when living your life for the benefit of others
    • The only purpose of government should be military, police and courts
    • The purpose of life is to use your mind to create
    • Socialism/collectivism is bad

I am sure I am forgetting a few, but I have to say I agree with her point of view for the most part.

She is a little too radical when it comes to the line between where government should and should not get involved. For example, health care would definitely fall into the private domain, where I -as a Canadian- believe in universal health care. There is a big difference between someone who chooses to live off of others vs. someone who has dependence thrust upon them by bad health or accident.

I took the time to read Ayn Rand because I always like to find a balance in what I am reading. After reading Naomi Klein’s shock doctrine, I needed something pro-capitalist, and this hit the spot. As usual my opinion is in the grey zone somewhere in between.

As a final note, it is very likely that Ayn Rand’s work will soon experience a Renaissance, with Angelina Jolie slated to play the role of Dagny Taggart (good choice) in a film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged. It is currently slated for 2009, but turmoil over the director of the project may change this significantly.

Book Review: “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens

The only way I can get through books anymore is to buy audiobooks which I can listen to on my iPhone when I am driving around or on the treadmill.

One of my more recent purchases was “God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” by Christopher Hitchens.

My first impression of the book was tainted by the voice of the author, who chose to narrate the audiobook. He has the “pompous british professor” voice down to a ‘T’, which made me feel like I was going to get preached to for the next 8.5 hours (the approximate length of the audiobook). After about 1/2 hour of listening, I became convinced that the life experience and background research that the author put into the book was worth putting up with the pomposity!

One of the things I liked best about the book was the even hand that the author took with the world’s major religions. He did not choose to deride any one in particular, but rather picked examples from many faiths to prove his points about how religions have a negative impact on society. He doesn’t even spare Buddhism, with several negative points made at the expense of the Dalai Lama.

Counting Salman Rushdie as one of his friends, and occasional house guest, I am sure Christopher Hitchens had no expectations of making new friends with such a book, in fact, I respect him greatly for the guts it took to provide such rational argument considering the potential personal repercussions (he has already received several death threats).

Some interesting topics that ‘God is Not Great’ touches on include:

  • Many examples of how organized religion impeded the progress of science
  • How the worldwide cure for Polio was stopped in its tracks by religion
  • Why martyrs really get 72 golden raisins and not the 72 virgins they thought they were getting (doh!)
  • The many many contradictions in all religions that make it hard to understand what guidance is intended by god
  • The true nature of religions texts, with their various editions, omission, mis-translations and additions
  • How the separation of church and state is blurring in the world’s most powerful country, and how this is negatively impacting world politics
  • Discussions on the ‘morality’ of atheists as compared with the devout
  • Why people should not be exposed to religion until adulthood
Whatever your religious leanings, I think this book is a must have in your collection if you spend any time contemplating religion!
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