ted fellows

“Unlimited possibilities”: Report from Session 1 of TED University

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Alex Steffen, author and futurist, speaking at TED University during TEDGlobal 2011, July 11, 2011. Photo: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Csaba Manyai, host of TEDxDanubia: To kick off TED University, Csaba Manyai introduces us to the Urania Scientific Theatre, a Budapest society devoted to sharing ideas from science and knowledge … starting in 1899. He reads us an excerpt from their founding document.

Melissa Waggener Zorkin, “Wildfire Stories”: Stories can change the world — allowing the spread of innovation and ideas. It started with the campfire. Now we have print, radio, TV, computers, says Melissa, the the CEO of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. But the elements of a good story, a story with impact -– a “wildfire” story -– are always the same. So what creates the spark? She gives us the essential elements of a story that takes off and ignites imagination: creation, delivery, disruption — the story must have an element that inspires or disturbs. Another imperative is telling — stories need to be told and retold. Stories with passion, and that are simple enough to retell, are those that make the most impact. Innovation, she says, is nothing unless it gets into the hands of the people.

Raghava KK, artist: If you’ve ever handed a child an iPad, you know how much they love to play and interact with it. Artist Raghava KK (watch his TEDTalk) shows us a great new children’s book that lets kids draw on top of the pictures, activate the pictures and shake the iPad to get a brand-new perspective.

Chris Ruffle, “How We Built a Scottish Castle in China”: It might seem a slightly eccentric undertaking to build a Scottish castle in China, says Chris Ruffle, the chair of Treaty Port Vineyards. But that didn’t stop him. As a part-time farmer, he planted a vineyard in Shandong province, about an hour’s flight from Beijing -– then decided the site needed something more -– a Scottish castle built “someplace a bit warmer.” Chris tells the story of the unexpected adventures he encountered – including finding the right materials (a Scottish castle calls for stone and slate; China has concrete), a Chinese labor force daunted by the task, the problem of translating Scottish designs to Chinese architectural practices, and, of course, having to consider Feng Shui.

Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald, co-founder of Layar: How augmented reality will liberate space. Lens-Fitzgerald shows what Layar does — a tool that lets you drop augmented realities on top of what you see. One powerful example: Imagine visiting the space where the Berlin Wall once was, and seeing through your phone browser a vision of the massive, demolished relic. Or imagine overlaying a poll on top of an ugly building: “Demolish or keep?”

Adam Ostrow, “The Afterlife of the Limitless Web”: What do we leave behind after we die? Adam Ostrow, the editor in chief of Mashable, observes that with the growth of social networking in the 21st century, we are now collectively creating an unprecedented archive of personal information history. This digital archive will live in the cloud long after we’re gone. As technology improves, he says, it will be possible to analyze, interpret, and re-present the vast stream of data individual social-network users are now generating – perhaps so intelligently that it will allow us to carry on “interacting” with the world in a very lifelike way after we’re gone. Imagine being reconstituted as a hologram of yourself speaking through an amalgam of decades’ worth of your tweets and Facebook posts! But do we want that? And if so, what does that mean for our definition of life – and afterlife?

Chris Meyer, founder of Monitor Talent: His “New rules for the information economy” makes 3 giant points in 6 minutes. Idea 1: Capitalism’s new environment is the young, low-income, connected and fast-growing countries of the world. Low-income nations, he says, are actually the first true digital natives — because 20th-century infrastructure never made it there. Idea 2: The death of pseudo-competition — it’s the end of two giants battling it out for increments of market share, and the rise of small nimble companies that innovate to live. And Idea 3 he calls the invisible handshake: Collaborative production between companies that might traditionally compete leads to endless growth.

Alexander Petroff, TED Senior Fellow: In his talk, “Changing the Business Model for the Rural Congolese Farmer. He says: “I have a very strange passion: I want to get people out of poverty, and I want to do it by farming.” How do you get out of poverty by farming? Get more land. Get the tools you need to work those larger farms. In creating a sustainable village in Eastern Congo, Alex Petroff and his team have transformed the business model — and the life — of the rural farmers.

Bert Govig, “Why the Next Generation Will Be Thinner”: Physician Bert Govig of the Coalition pour l’Acquisition de Saines Habitudes wanted to know why top-down public health campaigns to ameliorate social problems such as obesity smoking weren’t working. Then he came across a group of girls, who gave a live anti-smoking performance, complete with music, dance, and even a poster to sell. Their performance was a local hit, and made the front page of the paper. Soon, smoking in public places was drastically reduced. The message? The girls were deeply embedded in the community –- and hope, says Dr Govig, lies in dialogue within communities to solve problems from the bottom up.

Frances Wilson, “Building a Sustainable HIV/AIDS Response In South Africa”: Frances, a doctor who’s now an engagement manager at McKinsey: What are the main challenges that have prevented South Africa from scaling up its HIV/AIDS care and prevention, and what high-impact interventions can be implemented? Insights from an ongoing project.

Alex Steffen, “Carbon Zero: A Short Tour of a City’s Future”: Author and futurist Alex Steffen thinks our feelings of overwhelm about climate change focuses us on the wrong problems – finding clean fuel for our cars, rather than finding ways to not need them, for example. But rapid urbanisation and rising population means that we may not be able to keep up with the world’s energy needs anyway – clean or no. We need to take a step back and look for systemic solutions, he says. All the new cities now being built are an opportunity to build sustainability – solutions such as denser populations, eco-districts (sustainable neighborhoods), urban retrofitting, green corridors, to name just a few. But one of the biggest energy savers, he says, are people-focused places, because when people feel at home in the neighborhood they’re in, they give up their cars altogether, taking up walking and cycling, solving multiple problems at once. “If we think differently, we can have cities that are not only zero emissions, but have unlimited possibilities as well.”

As we set up for a musical performance by Somi, June Cohen asks the audience: “What’s a trend, positive or negative, we should be aware of that we’re not addressing?” Read answers here >>

Somi’s musical performance sweeps the audience to a warmer, sunnier land with her moody and vibrant African soul-jazz.

Valeria Polyakova, “Ailing and Smiling: Laughter in the Hospital Corridors”: When Valeria, a master’s student at the Norwegian School of Economics, was faced with her brother’s grave illness, she found herself learning about the human capacity for happiness through the wisdom of children. What skills kept him going? One was the capacity to dream – the desire for a simple burger could made him happy. The second was the ability to perceive with the heart: he and his friends valued every moment spent together playing over the physical ravages of illness. The third: expressing joy in the face of sadness – laughing in the face of death.

Jennie Lees, “Improvising Happiness”: How can improv help us embrace change, communicate, and smile more? The phrase “Yes, and” is key, says Jennie, a product manager at Google. It allows for acceptance and possibility. Another principle of improv is listening to others who share the stage, making your agenda about the shared reality – and not about what’s going on in your own head. The third rule: stay in the present, allowing for spontaneity, and which helps keep negative motions — which tend to exist in the past and future — at bay. Try applying the phrase to life, she says: next time you meet a stranger, keep “Yes, and” in mind, and watch how things unfold!

Thomas Dolby, “Playing in the Floating City”: In the early days of the internet, musician and recording artist Thomas Dolby found fans online discussing his songs – not rehashing their love of the hits, but analyzing the mythologies in his lyrics. This sparked an idea to create not just an album, but also a social networking game to reconnect with his core audience and gain new fans. “The Floating City,” a game based around his latest album, A Map of the Floating City, was built from a database of his song lyrics, a fictional, historical post-apocalyptic world, and Googlemaps. Its outcome is determined by the players themselves, says Thomas, making It as much a social network as a game, and is a fascinating new way for Dolby to interact with his fans, and the fans with his music.