At some point during Day Two of TEDx MidAtlantic 2012, I put my finger on what made the event so energizing: a conspicuous absence of negativity. The ticking time bombs of the world’s great problems were held up and verbally defused. Presenters faced their fears, wrestled them to the ground, and left them to expire on the red rectangular carpet.
The spirit of possibility filled the room. Attendees warmly applauded each of the presenters, who supported each other, and in turn were praised by the organizers, etc. The positivity was so palpable that the only askance gesture was the absence of a standing ovation.
I was reminded of the first rule of improvisational comedy put forth in Tina Fey’s book Bossypants: Yes And — meaning that no matter what another actor does on stage, you must acknowledge it and build on it. You must never dismiss, diminish, or ignore. These two days of talks were very “yes and.”
One of my intentions for this series of blog entries is to link to the presenters’ background information and published work so that interested fellow attendees can further their study of the people and topics. All of my commentary is from memory. I welcome your additions, corrections, inquiries and comments, and would be delighted to see this forum used as a way to continue the dialogue.
The session opened with a video montage of photos from day one.
Session 1: Leading the Charge
Joseph Kvedar (@kvedar) presented a set of technological solutions to the detection and management of disease. In one example, a male health care professional, to his complete surprise, learned from a genetic test that he was predisposed to Type II Diabetes. Using a mobile device, he began to measure and track his blood glucose level. While this disease usually goes undetected until symptoms become severe and debilitating, this patient was able to see his levels increase as the disease developed for the first time, then normalize as he began to regulate his diet, giving him more visibility and control over his health.
Anna Lee spoke about Maria Montessori and the thoughtful approach to early childhood education that is embodied by Montessori schools such as Meadows Montessori in Frederick, Maryland where she is Director of Education.
Frances Hesselbein (@ToServeIsToLive) painted a series of vignettes around the theme that everyone has a single moment that defines their life. In her case, it happened when she was a child and her grandmother told her a poignant story about respect for others. She recalled this moment later in her life, in the Oval Office receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in honor of her work for the Girl Scouts of America.
Jose Antonio Vargas (@joseiswriting) gave a powerful talk about his struggle to publicly reveal a personal secret which put him at odds with U.S. immigration policy. He has lived most of his life as an undocumented immigrant in the United States while working as a successful journalist for the Washington Post, Huffington Post, New Yorker magazine, etc. His story puts a human face on the issue of immigration policy and confronts the commonly stated perception that it is a black and white issue of legality. Moreover, he makes a strong case that the language of the debate is flawed, since only actions, not people, can be judged to be legal or illegal.
Mario Livio (@mario_livio) lectured on the importance of curiosity as a catalyst for discovery and innovation, through the prism of his work as an astrophysicist. He made the case that curiosity is stimulated by a set of mental patterns as we are presented with new information, and tends to self-perpetuate as this leads to further discoveries. Memorably, he reported that satisfying curiosity stimulates the same pleasure center in the brain that is activated by sexual satisfaction or a good meal. He implored the audience to start an epidemic of curiosity.
Cameron Russell (@CameronCRussell) entered the stage playing the part of a fashion model in form-fitting designer dress and eight-inch heels, then made a quick change into comfortable shoes, sweater, and wraparound skirt to illustrate her point that image is both powerful and superficial. Fashion images are the work of a team of stylists, photographers, and designers; the model is merely someone who has won the “genetic lottery” and does not bear authorship of the images they appear in.
Amy Webb (@webbmedia) shared a humorous, geeky narrative of her single life, which included online matchmaking, devising and optimizing a personal dating algorithm, and competitive intelligence gathering. Her efforts culminated in a happy marriage, and in a published memoir which hits bookshelves in January 2013.