Tag Archives: attendee

Sue Wollan Fan’s TEDActive-inspired Career Shift

SueThis week, meet Sue Wollan Fan, who caught our eye with her application to TEDActive: She transformed her experience at TEDActive 2014 into an entirely new career for herself!

After working on digital innovation in a series of large companies, Sue decided to come to TEDActive to explore new ideas last year. Sue is now a Digital Kindness Entrepreneur who believes in using technology to amplify creativity, passion, empathy and innovation around the world.

We spoke with Sue to learn what brings her back to TEDActive, uncover some of her favorite memories and find out what she hopes to experience at TEDActive 2015!

TED: What made your first TEDActive experience different from other conferences and events you have attended?

Sue: The first thing I noticed was the room full of thoughtful introverts who made eye contact immediately. There are no fronts. Everyone has this “fluidness” to ask what is on the tip of somebody’s tongue. Finding myself with people like that for a week … I have never experienced something like that on this scale before!

It was also the content. Edward Snowden’s talk was amazing and a total surprise! I loved the eclectic nature of all of the content. It was about finding ideas in different fields that still connected back to things that I was interested in… a number of things crossed over pretty well into my field in ways I didn’t expect them to.

TED: What brings you back to TEDActive?

Sue: Last year, TEDActive was about a new experience. It was about exploring and experiencing new ideas and ways of thinking. I looked at it like it was a treasure hunt. I would follow leads between different ideas and people, which led to different methods of thinking.

Last year, I was a leader inside a large tech firm. A month into working at the company, I quit. At TEDActive, I gained a better sense of what I wanted and needed to accomplish. TED became my research base. TED is a small world and TEDActive was a good place for me to gain a foothold in the network.

This year, I am going back to connect with people and build out my new project. I am bringing my husband with me! He is connected to the national education movement, and connecting him with the innovation movement will be exciting!

TED: Tell me more about your project. What are you building now?

Sue: I believe that the more technology we use and gain access to, the more permission we have to become more human, more creative, more empathetic and more relational. Technology amplifies our human traits.

I am working on a platform that connects professionals with students who seek mentors. It’s called MENTORME and it facilitates engaged, personalized mentorship to leverage social capital, provide advice and open doors for students as they transition from their studies to their first careers.

MENTORME is data-driven and on-demand. It builds meaningful connections between students and mentors at scale without labor-intensive processes. It satisfies our desire to belong, to “pay it forward,” and to help people get to where they want to go.
We should be collaborating and growing together!

TED: How do you think this year’s TEDActive can be transformational for you?

Sue: I am looking to connect with lots of different people at TEDActive. I am looking for people innovating in the digital community space. People working on facilitating community and working in analytics. I want to test my hypothesis: it takes two seconds to connect with people about ideas and see what they think. I learn the most interesting things when people start talking. But really, it’s a scavenger hunt instead of a destination. It’s about finding what each person has to contribute and building from that!

By Diana Enriquez

The Week I Look Forward to All Year Long

We’re all looking for a tribe — a group of people we can talk with, bat around ideas with, make things happen with. And we’re all looking for inspiration — things to spark our imagination, send us off in new directions, and keep us buoyed when things get tough. One week each year, TED hosts a conference where both can be found in spades, against a backdrop of TED Talks (and towering mountains). We’re talking about TEDActive.

TEDActive is an event held in parallel with the annual TED conference that features a simulcast of the full program of TED Talks, and lots of live speakers, while emphasizing connection, conversation and creation in the audience. TEDActive 2015 takes place March 16-20, in Whistler, Canada, and brings together thinkers and doers from more than 60 countries to explore the theme Truth & Dare. We’ll be questioning assumptions, searching for deeper truth and attempting to find richer understanding by asking better questions.

Each year, TEDActive veterans and newbies arrive at the conference to experience a week of TED Talks, workshops, activities, parties and conversations. We wanted to know from past attendees: how has TEDActive affected you? Below, three share their thoughts.


Vico Sharabani has attended TEDActive twice and is returning for 2015. The creative director and producer ofThe Artery, a visual effects studio, he has worked on projects featuring artists like Beyoncé, Bob Dylan and Nicki Minaj. He says that TEDActive has led to many meaningful connections—and given him creative fuel in his work. He says:

“TEDActive is nonstop stimulation, from 8am to 2am—like the best summer camp for adults. I’ve connected deeply with many attendees, and we’ve stayed friends. Some of us meet at events annually, and I’ve gotten together with others in countries around the world. Professional collaborations develop rapidly as well. I have worked with attendees Raghava KK and Marc Azoulay on art projects. Now, going back feels like an opportunity to reunite with everyone. TEDActive exposes you to people who both think and do things differently. When you are immersed in that for a whole week, you get the feeling that everything is possible, on a whole different level.” 


Grace Rodriguez went to TEDActive three times as an attendee—and loved the experience so much that she wanted to be a part of creating it. This year, she returns as TEDActive’s new Creative Director. For her, the best part of TEDActive are the moments that just wouldn’t happen in everyday life. She explains:

“My very first night by the fire pits at TEDActive was magical. It felt like I had gone home and found the other members of my tribe. We stayed up late and enjoyed deep, entertaining, and insightful conversations. Another year, my TEDxHouston friends and I were playing ukulele, and we gathered other attendees around us to sing “Yoshimi” by the Flaming Lips. TED speaker Reggie Watts recorded us on his cellphone and sent the video to Wayne Coyne, the Flaming Lips’ lead singer. Mind. BLOWN. Two days later, a couple dozen of us, led by a physicist, an architect and a military veteran, devoted our collective brain power to form a human pyramid in the pool. As the smallest person, I climbed up to the top of the pyramid and stood up in a moment of victory…only to be barraged by beach balls. All of this to say: I’ve made lifelong friends at TEDActive, and the generous nature and creative spirit of the experience has influenced everything I do. It has taught me to actively seek creative inspiration, embrace long-view strategies, and to savor incredible moments.”


Aaron Tang has been attending TEDActive since 2009 and will be returning in 2015 for the seventh time. He is about to embark on an adventure around the world calledI Said Go! and will be inviting other attendees to travel with him. Because, he says, TEDActive has helped him feel more comfortable getting lost:

“TEDActive is a pollination in diverse cultures and disciplines. It is fire pit conversations, crisp nights with blankets, impromptu music jams, and adventures. From attending year after year, I’ve learned to always have an open perspective about everything in life. One year, I realized, ‘My gosh! Lots of us are lost.’ Lost in a good way—we are constantly seeking, wandering and hoping to learn. This is why we are at TEDActive in the first place; you don’t learn if you are not lost, so you have to make the decision to be okay with feeling lost. I’ve been pretty laser-focused my entire life, so TED has been a great way to try something different. Being part of this community has eased my comfort in diving into the world. Now, I don’t feel too worried about finding a connection in every corner of the globe.”

Interested in attending TEDActive? We’d love to see you in Whistler. Find out more about how to apply »

Bringing It H.O.M.E

By Jason Womack

At the airport in Vancouver, TED was in the air; both on our arrival and on the day of our departure. Landing at the airport, there was a little applause by the few of us who had traveled from just 2 and half hours away (I can only imagine what it was like for our brothers and sisters who traveled more than 10-20 hours to get to Canada). Of course, we were all ready to dive in to the deep end and participate in the TED experience.

And then, just like that, it was over. When Julia Sweeny took the stage, that was the moment the real countdown started; we all know what was coming: The post-TED-ache. After about 96 hours of being, doing, having and talking about “TED,” we started making our way back home. Sure, some of us stayed there in Whistler a few more days, but at some point or another, we’ve all found ourselves out in the “other” world. (I won’t call it the “real” world; personally, I have not experienced a world as real as TED).

Now that you are HOME, there are four things you can do to keep the TED experience alive. It may be months or even years until we see each other again, so in the “in-between” time, here are things I know I can do to stay focused on the amazing-ness that is TED.

H: Hope

Years ago, I met with a successful business man in his high-rise office. He had invited me in, and I had asked for his advice on an idea we were considering for our small, growing company. On his desk was a computer, a mouse, a keyboard, a yellow legal pad, a pen, and a framed quote. The quote said, “Around here, hope is not a strategy. Dream … Plan … Act … Assess.” There, in his office, I took a picture of that, I know it would be important later on.

Leaving TEDActive, I’m filled with hope; and, as such, I’m looking at the world through the lens of what that word means to me. I do believe that because so many of us gathered together, and we’re continuing to keep the conversation going through Google Hangouts, Facebook posts, emails back and forth, Skype conversations and phone calls, something good may happen. In fact, I think many somethings good will happen. And, I’m personally excited to hear about them from you, my new, growing family of friends.

O: Opportunity

In a recent Google Hangout, 10 of us got together for just a half-an-hour to share our stories of how the first wee had gone for us all since returning home from TEDActive. I know I speak for several of us when I say one of the ah-ha moments during that conversation was when we started talking about how “different” the TED Active world is from the world we had returned to. However, when we started looking at it, and talking with some specific examples, we realized (ok, here I’m specifically speaking for myself) that in our every day lives we have the chance to create mini-TED-like conversations in our own communities.

This manifested itself just last weekend for me. I drove to Omaha, NE to hang out for about 36 hours with Brian Smith, TEDxOmaha. At 10am, we sat down at a table of 6 people. At 12pm, another table of about 20. At 2pm, another group of 8. Over dinner at 6:30, there were just three of us chatting. Then, the next day at 12pm noon, 9 of us gathered to dive deep in to a conversation. Each one of those meetings reminded me of what it was like to sit down with some of the world’s most engaged people and point our focus toward something that we all had an opinion about. It was magical.

My takeaway from this year’s experience at TEDActive: Keep the conversations going. Put a meeting on your calendar. Email all your friends. Invite your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat … You get the picture … friends to get together and continue looking for new opportunities.

M: Mentors

Ok, I’m coming from a place of transparency here, but I am 100% positive that we are smarter together. I’ve just sent my third email to a TED friend asking if they’d be willing to meet me by phone or Skype for 5 “mentoring sessions” this year. You see, by taking what I’m thinking about from what happened during TED, combining that with what I’m thinking about for the upcoming year, and asking really, really smart people for some phone-time to talk about it, I can really build the foundation of that learning that I’ve been doing.

Does the word “mentor” freak you out? It doesn’t need to be that scary. A mentor (this is my definition, use it if it works for you) is someone who knows something more about something than I do, and is willing to listen to me and share some ideas of how I could possibly get better over the course of my life. Phew, does that help? I remember when I realized that THAT was what I needed (back, way back, when I was a high school teacher in the 1990’s). I started meeting about every 2 months with someone who was willing to help me out. I realized that 5 meetings over the course of a year was enough to push me forward and through to my next level.

E: Everyday

Don’t wait. To my TED friends, please let me share a short story. The Sunday after TED ended, I got the most difficult text message from my Dad I have yet received. That morning, my younger cousin was in a terrible, horrible car accident. In fact, as of today as I’m writing this, he is still in the Intensive Care Unit Trauma Center in southern California. Since that moment, and since flying to San Diego to see my aunt and uncle, and since trying to keep up with the moment-to-moment changes of his physical and mental conditions, I have been on a roller-coaster of emotions.As fast as I can reflect back on the wonder and beauty of the TED experience, I can “pendulum-swich” to the sadness of wondering if my cousin will ever be ok. Over the past several days, I’ve used the emotion – not just the content – of the TED experience as an anchor holding this tiny ship fast to the large sea. Sure, we get rocked, things show up to test us, to push on us, and to make us wonder if it’s all worth it. I’m here to say that it is worth it. It is.

It is going to be easy to look back on the TED experience fondly, longingly, thinking that the space we were in for those four short days was something magical, something unique, something that was a once-in-a-lifetime. I’m here to ask of you – to beg of you – keep the energy of the experience going. Every day you return HOME, reflect back on the goodness that is TED, and look for ways to spread that out around you in a 10 meter bubble; starting with yourself.