Last Friday, I attended the 2013 TEDx Naperville conference.
Chances are, you’re already familiar with TED. TED is a non-profit organized devoted to ideas worth spreading. Their popular TED Talks are all over You Tube showcasing what they call riveting talks by remarkable people; scientists, leaders, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs. TEDx is designed to allow local communities to put on their own TED Talks and conferences. Each year, Naperville organizes such an event.
I’ve watched TED Talks on You Tube many times. In under 20 minutes, you hear a powerful message that often connects to and inspires you. In the actual conference, these messages literally came alive in front of me. It was intellectually moving – more so than reading an article or reading a book. In our increasingly technological world, we are losing the power of the live message. There is nothing more powerful than communication in real time happening right in front of you.
Each speaker, whether they were talking about quantum physics or the secret recipe for running a successful local pizza restaurant, each speaker had a message that resonated with me. I was surprised that each talk (regardless of topic) held my interest. The talks were built around universal concepts – success, challenge, opportunity, choices, citizenry – making them more likely to resonate because everyone understands these concepts. We all know what it’s like to face adversity and overcome it. We all know what it’s like to dream - whether we're dreaming about 3D printing or energy policy.
The first speaker was one of my favorites. A local entrepreneur who designed a product that tracked movement and calories. The product wasn’t the focus – it was the reason behind it. Did you know that we make 226 food decisions daily? That would be like someone, every 4 minutes of the time you spend awake, asking you if you’re hungry. It is no wonder our willpower crumbles – that’s a lot of nagging! He talked about how humans are hard-wired to see food and want it because our ancestors never knew when their next meal was coming. Unfortunately, we haven’t lost that hard-wiring (yet) and we’re now faced with food everywhere. We have created, what he called, an obesogenic environment. Plus, we are more sedentary than ever because of how our jobs and environments are designed. In his words, “sitting is the new smoking.”
Then, he went on to discuss research his group did on what makes people more likely to succeed with weight loss. Diets don’t work. The average adult diets 3 times a year and fails 95 percent of the time. Over time, this is a lot of failure! So he looked at what actually works. There were seven key lessons he shared:
- Believe it can be done
- Find a compelling reason why it needs to be done
- Find ANY place to start
- Make baby step changes
- Practice self-forgiveness
- Plan ahead
- Combine devices (technology) with advices (social media, friends, accountability)
A leader from a local children’s museum - who headed up a project to take children into the woods for a week (without technology!) to “tinker” and learn more about themselves - shared, in poetic verse, what he does. It was artistically beautiful and poignant but I’ll sum it up with this simple quote:
You’re never too old or too young to be awestruck.
Maria Montessori said, “play is a child’s work.” That passion for curiosity, wonder and endless why in questions. Successful adults learn to feed that passion and infuse it into what they do every day.
Next up, an entrepreneur. Telling us what it means to be an entrepreneur. Most of us have an innate entrepreneurial spirit. Does this describe you? Need to achieve, optimistic, non-conforming, persistent, future-focused, passionate, generating ideas, action-oriented, leadership. Our task is to create a life and workplaces where that spirit is respected and encouraged to thrive. And to thrive, it must be acceptable to fail. The entrepreneurial spirit is based on the idea of innovating and taking risks. Failure is part of the process of thinking outside of the box and dreaming big.
Have you heard of Emerson Spatz? The youngest presenter with a whirlwind of ideas that he presented with rapid speech and enthusiasm. Someone who took his offbeat intelligence and turned it into something huge. He’s the guy who at age 12 started a website for Harry Potter fans that exploded into a best-selling book, countless other websites and an unbelievable net worth. He’s got ideas – lots of them – but explained:
Ideas are easy. The hard part is actually executing your ideas.
He’s spent the past few years studying how things become viral and shared his “secrets” on how to spread messages far and wide. I’ll share my favorite one, it’s short and to the point:
To be viral, be awesome.
Simple but true!
A local pizza restaurant owner gave a heartfelt and honest presentation on what it means to run a business. He built his business on trust – something important when your primary employee is a teenager responsible for carrying out your family’s recipe for pizza! He borrowed ideas from a great book, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, in which Sinek encourages business owners not to explain what they do but why they do it. This comes from defining your purpose. While missions and visions are eloquent ideas of what you want to be in the future, a “purpose” states why you’re doing what you’re doing in the present. Your values, then, state how you do what you do. But first – start with why!
In between there were many other presenters. Even on those I didn’t expect to be interested in, it was hard to lose attention when the talk was delivered so captivatingly and in under 20 minutes! I actually sat through a mini-lesson on quantum physics and the latest research at Fermilab. I learned about the current risks and threats in cyber-security. And, the best part, was how the afternoon ended. With a presentation from the owner of the local brewery that we frequent.
Solemn Oath Brewery was not built by a guy who knows beer. It was built by a guy who knows business. How did he do it? In his words, “I dove in, I read everything I could get my hands on.” He then hired the right people. Of all 16 employees who work with him, only one has a background in beer – and that’s his brewer. The rest were just good people with imagination, creativity, quality, consistency, passion. In exchange, he gives them freedom, creative control and opportunity. In his words, “choose your people right.”
In building his business, he sought out advice from breweries all across the country – who answered his questions and even sent their business plans. He talked about how this process led to the creative sparks of exchanges, resources and ideas. He reinforced the benefit of sharing, even with your competition. In fact, he said, “I need my competition to have the next big thing. I need the challenge.” Lastly, he talked about how craft beer is making a huge resurgence because it’s about building a culture, sharing customers and telling a story.
After 4 presentations, we had 45-minute breaks to mingle, snack and network. And after the last presentation, there was a catered dinner reception complete with Solemn Oath beer. I’ll tell you – it was the best 50 bucks I’ve spent in a long time.
I walked away from the conference inspired. Not to make major change or save the world but to bring a better perspective to my every day. I was refreshed. As we get older or more expert in our field, our tendency is to stagnate – to stop exploring, to stop wondering, to stop learning, to stop playing. This conference felt like play for my brain and reminded me that I need to do more things like it.
If TEDx rolls through your local community, I highly suggest you attend! And if you can’t attend, visit You Tube or www.ted.com for some of their great videos. Here are two of my favorites: