Tag Archives: TEDActive

Piano tips and bipolar myths: A recap of TEDYou at TEDActive 2015

To start off the session, progressive media voice Sally Kohn addresses the controversy surrounding her recent Washington Post article, “I’m gay. And I want my kid to be gay, too.

Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

When the article came out, she got her usual backlash from anti-gay voices claiming that she’s trying to “recruit.” But for the first time in her life, she was also getting hate mail from the gay community. Some readers told her she sounded “like one of those right-wing homophobes who says gay people should choose not to be gay.” After all, if being gay is a choice (and here Kohn makes a bold statement/Wham! reference, removing a layer to reveal a CHOOSE GAY t-shirt), then it’s a choice people can be told not to make. But Kohn explains that she sees the vehement opposition to the idea of choice in gayness as a direct reaction to a narrow-minded society — it’s an assurance that being gay is something that can’t be helped, and something you can’t infect your neighbor’s kids with. This version where we look for a gay gene, Lady Gaga writes a song, and we just want to be included, says Kohn, is a version that’s designed not to threaten the status quo. Unwilling to accept a reality where no one would choose to be gay because it means being a second class citizen, she says, “In a world where it is 1,000% morally, socially, culturally and politically acceptable to be gay, it should be 1,000% celebrated.”

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Next, businesswoman Barbara Corcoran shares the six most important traits for successful entrepreneurship — the traits she sees over and over in the best contestants on Shark Tank. 1. Resilience: the ability to bounce back, not feel sorry for yourself, and have “the low IQ to say ‘hit me again,’” she jokes. 2. Street smarts: knowing how to think on your feet, make it all up, and do what you do. 3. Big picture thinking: not getting bogged down in detail, but being able to see your ultimate goals clearly from the get-go. 4. Charisma: one of the most underrated things in the entrepreneur’s bag of tricks, the simple ability to charm their pants off. 5. Competition: the fuel that gets you really fired up, the drive to defeat your rivals. And 6. People smarts: the ability to pick the right people at the right time to do the right task. These skills, says Corcoran can’t be taught or bought with a Harvard MBA — they’re just there. So take a look at the ‘dumb kid’ in the class, she insists, because they just might be the most successful at building a business.

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Poet and educator Jamila Lyiscott takes the stage with a lyrical account of a simple educational tool she uses for the teachers she trains: the art of the cypher. It’s a piece of hip-hop culture with African roots; it’s newly written ideas over a beat. Over 80% of urban educators are not people of color, and come from outside of the communities they teach in, says Lyiscott, and when they learn the cypher they learn something important about the students they teach. When forced to improvise verbal and rhetorical dexterity, they show terror, fear, vulnerability, discomfort about being inauthentic: My lines suck. She asks, how many of your students do you label illiterate by societal standards, while you can’t do this? She reminds them, and us in the audience, that when they fail to incorporate the genius of diverse cultures, then everyone is robbed of the opportunity to be their best selves.

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Classical pianist and pre-med student Shivam Shah gives a quick lesson in music appreciation — through understanding how the sounds of classical piano are produced, by a novice and by an expert. If we place two pianists at the same piano and ask them to play the same song, he says, there will be many ways to tell who’s the experienced pianist. First, you can observe where they’ve tensed and relaxed. When a piece is played with a constricted wrist, there is not much distinction between the melody and the rest of the notes. With an expertly free wrist, you can catch the melody. Over just a few notes it may not sound much different, but over a whole composition it can make a big difference. Next, you can observe how they hold themselves over the piano. You may see a pianist with arms waving or scrunched up over the piano and assume expertise, but sometimes it’s the one who looks the most bored at the piano who’s the true expert, because it’s with careful, controlled movements that you increase accuracy. Lastly, an expert and a novice will use the pedals very differently because it’s easy to overuse the pedals when you begin. Pros use the pedals sparingly, he says, and understand that pedal use is not binary but in degrees. Watch and listen carefully, says Shah, and you’ll notice the loose wrist, the tempered body and the flowing pedal of an expert — and maybe appreciate classical piano a bit better.

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

For startup maven Jacqui Chew, 10 years ago marked a scary moment: She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and felt confused and alone, with her family thousands of miles away. As she wrestled with her symptoms and with the stigma, she realized there were three things her friends and acquaintances were getting very wrong about bipolar. 1. Everyone believed it to be uncommon, but in fact there are 30 million people worldwide, six million of them in the US, with bipolar, and chances are most people know someone affected by it. 2. It does not bestow some mythical powers of creativity. Though Chew is a writer, she assures us that she is no Pulitzer Prize winner, as though transformed by her bipolar. 3. It’s treatable, but it isn’t curable. When medicine, therapy and self-care improved her condition after initial diagnosis, Chew felt much better — so much better that she believed herself cured and decided to stop, resulting in 18 months of deep depression. She now knows that treatment must be a way of life for her, and over time she’s developed a few more ways to take care of herself, including one that might improve anyone’s mental health: She refuses to work with assholes. Having shared her own journey with bipolar disorder, she asks us all to get out, learn more, and educate away the stigma.

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

And now for something completely different: Onyx Ashanti treats the room to a beatjazz performance using high-tech instruments of his own creation that envelop and disguise him. It’s a full sensory experience of lights, sounds both totally alien and mundanely familiar, and mesmerizing movement.

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Material scientist Jun Kamei has a serious problem he wants to share: When he tries to fry an egg in his stainless steel pan, it sticks to the bottom. Though a Teflon nonstick coating can change the destiny of his egg, the coating gets scratched off easily and his harmful to his health. Here’s what works event better: A cast iron pan. The carbon-rich surface helps retain the oil in the pan, so the food doesn’t burn on, and unlike Teflon, this solution has existed for 300 years. Kamei explains that we often see traditional things as beautiful but not useful — but try telling that to the scientists who recently created an origami-inspired solar panel that folds and unfolds in seconds. “Traditional crafts are full of wisdom,” he says, “and they can inspire us to think of new technology that will shape our future.”

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

In a predictably delightful trick, cyberillusionist Marco Tempest makes some magic with that most brain-boggling of mathematical toys, the Rubik’s cube. “A good puzzle is a mystery,” he says, “and we love mysteries.” Onstage the Rubik’s cubes (and he’s brought plenty) seem to instantly solve themselves, copy one another, and share a big, friendly smile. Though some might find the cube to be too frustrating, Tempest says, “Puzzles give us the opportunity to solve a seemingly impossibly challenge. It’s a mystery that promises a solution. We just have to find it.”

Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED
Photo: Marla Aufmuth/TED

Finally, writer Joshua Prager shares that he has an important birthday coming up: 44. It’s important because he read a passage in Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night that describes that year as the feeling of having finally arrived. Though Prager knew it wasn’t about him, he identified with it. And then he found other passages by other writers about turning specific ages, and indeed he identified with those too, because as he says, “There are patterns to life, and they are shared.” He thought to himself that there must be somewhere passages written about every age, and slowly he began to collect them, pouring through countless texts to create his list and assemble them into a life. “Books tell us who’ve been, who we are, and who we will be too,” says Prager, as he shares some of the beautiful, poignant passages from his findings. “A list would last,” he says, “would clasp what was fleeting, be a glimpse into the future whether we made it there or not.” As his list coalesced, so did the life he had been living. His list of 100 years is done, but he is not done because he has his life to live and many more years to pass into.

By Morton Bast

Pat Mitchell shares the power of TEDWomen

With the third TEDWomen conference approaching in May (fourth including its incarnation as TEDxWomen), founder and curator Pat Mitchell had plenty to share with TEDActive attendees yesterday in a live Q&A.

The opening question for Mitchell was one she says she gets asked at nearly every TED event: Why did you start TEDWomen? To answer, she dialed back the clock several decades to the early days of her journalism career.

“When I started in TV,” she said, “it was the dark ages. There was only one woman in every station, and we were trying so hard to prove we could do the same thing as the men. We wasted so much time before we realized we could actually bring a different voice.”

Inspired by her media beginnings, she continued to press for that different voice for many years. Mitchell was a frequent TED attendee, and in 2009, when Chris Anderson mentioned to her how much energy he had seen emerging in a short time on the subject of women’s achievements, they decided the time was right to harness that energy into a TED conference. Though Mitchell had been a part of many successful women’s conferences, it felt important that TEDWomen be an opportunity for the whole TED community, rather than a conference for women alone.

Thus was born a new part of the TED family, one with a loyal global following that quickly formed around it, with TEDxWomen events created around the world. It is that global impact, Mitchell emphasized, that makes TEDWomen what it is — she cited a favorite example of a girls’ boarding school in Saudi Arabia where teachers gave girls clandestine access to the TEDWomen stream behind carefully locked doors.

Mitchell shared some of the most exciting developments for the upcoming TEDWomen 2015 in Monterey, themed “Momentum.” (Look for updates soon on TED.com.) She then opened the floor to her TEDActive audience — mostly TEDxers, many either organizing or thinking of organzing TEDxWomen events. Below, read just a few of the questions these passionate audience members had for Mitchell.

Even successful TEDxWomen events can have trouble getting male attendees. How can we encourage men to attend these events?

Lead with the speakers and the topics. If you’ve put together a great program, then people will be interested. Then if necessary, make some targeted efforts. I visited a university class on masculinities and encouraged those students to get involved. My husband has always supported me, and he reaches out too.

How do I find a greater gender balance of speakers?

People often say, well, we just couldn’t find any women to speak about this, but that isn’t true. A while back, we created SheSource, a website that helps journalists, producers and bookers find women in different fields. I have never once found a subject where there were no credible women experts. Don’t buy it when someone says, well, these four white men just happened to be the best. That diversity doesn’t just happen — you have to push for it, even now.

How can we get sponsors excited about supporting a women’s event?

Women are important customers for nearly every product and every company. I’ve been lucky that the TED team takes care of that aspect and I get to focus on the editorial, but it’s the same story it’s always been: Any smart company is interested in women.

One of the last questions of the session wasn’t posed as a question at all, and was all the more powerful for it: It’s hard even to keep the women organizing the TEDx events. I myself have no children, but I have seen so many women get pregnant and have no more time for their events. It happens all the time.

When you find the answer to that one, you call me up. You text me. I have never really found that balance. I care about my work and I care about my family and it’s always a struggle, every day. That’s not just a question for women. It’s a question for all of us.

By Morton Bast

Bobsledding our way to glory

TEDActive attendees in a bobsled

Photo: Alan Wallace

When I signed up to bobsleigh at TEDActive, I wasn’t sure what that entailed. I was ready to go dashing through the snow, but didn’t quite understand how a novice bobsledder might partake in what I only knew to be a dangerous Olympic sport.

It turns out that both newbies and Olympians alike use a meticulously maintained ice track — which is watered, scraped and smoothed every morning. We were headed to the very same ice track at the Whistler Sliding Centre used in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It’s one of only four bobsleigh tracks in North America and one of only 16 in the world. Of all 16, the Whistler track is the fastest.

Amongst the group of 22 TEDActive attendees who boarded a bus for this bobsleigh adventure, one of Abbott’s Wellbeing Activities at TEDActive, none had ever done it before. Everyone arrived in varying states of no-nonsense winter gear, and several identified themselves as adventure sport lovers, but when asked, most cited the uniqueness of the opportunity (“C’mon, when am I ever going to get the chance to go bobsledding again?” was heard more than once) rather than the adrenaline rush as their main reason for signing up. One participant, Andrew Healy, even said, “It’s been a lifetime ambition.”

Posing with Whistler Olympic rings

Photo: Morton Bast

When we arrived at the Whistler Sliding Centre, it was decked out in homage to the 2010 Winter Games. Several people made a beeline for the (unlit) torch on display and other Olympic symbols, eager for the priceless photo op. Dragging us away from our reveries, the staff explained that we would be three to a sled behind a professional pilot (aww, man! — just kidding, phew!), and that the sleds used by regular humans like us were actually built slightly differently than those used by Olympians. Ours were a bit wider, had cushioned bottoms and higher sides to better protect us in the event of a crash, and most importantly had no brake in the back. Unlike on a real bobsled team, where the rear athlete is the brakeman, we would be keeping our hands inside the sled at all times while the pilot did both the driving and the braking.

This was the most important rule in our safety briefing on the “Bobsleigh Sport Experience”: Put your gloves on, hold on to the wire inside the sled walls, and DO NOT LET GO. We were also given some tips on how to hold your neck and spine to protect them against the 3-4 G’s of force we would be experiencing as we sped down the track at 125 kilometers per hour (which sounded very fast to this American until they did the conversion to 75 miles per hour). But mostly, if we were not very good at multitasking in the face of fear, our main job was not to let go.

Lifting the bobsleigh onto the track

Photo: Alan Wallace

As we prepared for our trips down the track, we met Pat Brown, a former professional bobsledder and one-time coach of the infamous Jamaican Bobsled Team. He assured us we should not judge him by the coach in Cool Runnings, and that he would be kind in piloting some of our sleds that morning. He shared his own bobsleigh life tale — his began at the age of 17, as his high school science teacher happened to be an Olympian bobsledder. He told us that this is actually pretty early to try one’s hand at bobsleigh; most don’t begin until their 20s, after leaving other sports. This news was enthusiastically received by the roomful of TEDActive first-time bobsledders.

Fully prepped and ready for the start of our professional bobsleigh careers, we headed down to the track. Watching the first sleds roar by was terrifying, but I kept my cool and only screamed a little bit. As those bobsledders returned (alive!) and others took their places, I asked how it was. TEDActive attendee Tammy Murray reported, “When you think you’re going as fast as you possibly are going to go, that’s when you go faster.”

TEDActive attendees on the bobsleigh track

Photo: Alan Wallace

Gulp. Ready for anything, I stepped into the last sled of the morning, behind Pat. (Real bobsledders push off their sleds at a full sprint and leap into the sled at once; we got a big shove from a carefully seated position.) The sled began to move. I clutched the wire with my mittened hands for dear life. The sled moved faster. Then it moved even faster. As promised, a particularly unpleasant trash compactor feeling pressed down on my neck and spine. On the curves, the sled shot up onto the walls of the track like a roller coaster. 41.11 seconds later (according to my certificate of bravery and athleticism) we pulled to a stop.

And that was it. I climbed out of the sled and attempted to plant my feet on the ground, feeling like a stranger to each of my limbs. On the ride home, most of the other TEDActivators were gushing with giddiness. Personally, I would describe it more as “eye-openingly unnerving” than strictly speaking “fun.” As Pat said, “It’s a full-body experience. Nobody gets to the bottom and says, ‘Wow, the view was really great on the way down.’”

Bobsled speeds down the track

Photo: Bart Verlegh

 

By Morton Bast