“Creativity is the life force of the universe”: Report from Session 2 of TED University

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Nathalie Miebach, TEDGlobal Fellow, artist, speaking at TED University during TEDGlobal 2011, July 12, 2011. Photo: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Jeremy Moon, “Anything Can Be Prototyped”: “Creativity is the life force of the universe,” says Jeremy Moon, the CEO and founder of Icebreaker Clothing, “and my passion is unlocking the creativity in business.” He talks about a new kind of prototyping: not just creating products, but giving creative processes form. How to get ideas out of your team’s heads so they can be shared? Here are his key tenets: prototype like you’re right, listen like you’re wrong; fast, cheap and dirty is good; and everyone in an organization can be an active participant. He calls this system “The Icebreaker Way.” Teams give each other feedback, “bitch lists” of problems recognize things that don’t work, making way for those that might — which can be rendered into visual visual models. This democratic process has the potential change the creative culture of an organization.

Nathalie Miebach, “Weaving Science”: Artist and TED Fellow Nathalie Miebach, who also spoke at the Fellows session on Monday, wanted to bust through the two-dimensionality of the way we look at space – via diagrams, photos, numerical charts, and so on – to more accurately represent how humans really experience it. What if the data of space could be rendered in 3D, at a scale we can examine? She weaves space and meteorological data — such as sunrise and moonrise information in McMurdo, Antarctica — into twisted, undulating basket sculptures using colorful reeds and beads, making some of the rhythms and dimensions of our experience of space visible and tactile.

Ian Ritchie, “The Day I Turned Down Tim Berners-Lee”: June Cohen introduces Ian by saying: “Sometimes the best way to share your success is to tell a story when you were dead wrong.” By 1990, Ritchie and his Apple software firm Iomega had developed something called hypertext markup language, when he met a nice young man called Tim Berners-Lee. Tim had a vision for connecting all the world’s computers, and he needed a markup language. And Ian said, “No, thank you.” He felt the vision was too grand, wouldn’t work, was pie-in-the-sky. Which, as he says, puts him in the same category as the 12 publishers who turned down Harry Potter.

Amy Lockwood, “Selling Condoms in the Congo”: Reformed marketer Amy Lockwood, deputy director of Stanford Center for Global Health, notes that the HIV prevalence rate in the DRC is 1.3% out of 76 million people, and only a quarter of those are receiving the drugs they need. One preventive measure: condoms. Amy visited the DRC and spent a lot of time talking to people about condoms. She found that while donor agencies made condoms available, only 3% of people use them for contraception. Examining this as a marketer, she found that donor-branded condoms were branded using messages of “fear, financing and fidelity — not what people are thinking about right before they buy a condom.” What are they thinking about? Sex! Amy observes that while donor agencies mean well, she says that thinking more like a marketer — addressing people’s real drives and desires — might just save their lives.

Eric Rasmussen, “The Invisible Urban Billions”: Eric studies populations that live in urban slums and favelas — and more than a billion of the 7 billion of us live in the slums of the developing world. Global population growth, in fact, is driven by urban slums. (By 2030, 40% of the population of Mexico will live in the slums of Mexico City.) And yet ambitious, hard-working young families there thrive on educational opportunity. One of the most effective education tools in slums is the cell phone, used as a blackboard. How to give slum dwellers power? “Don’t do anything FOR me WITHOUT me.”

Geoff Mulgan, “Rethinking Education: Studio Schools”: In the UK, bored teens are dropping out of school, and employers are complaining that kids are entering the workforce unprepared. In response, Geoff Mulgan, CEO of Nesta, came up with the Studio School, an idea based on the integration of work and learning. These small schools of 300 pupils work in teams, focus on practical projects, offer coaches rather than teachers, and are funded publicly but run independently. Trial schools in Luton and Blackpool opened last year have succeeded: academic results jumped, the education ministry has taken notice – and most importantly, young people love it. Now studio schools spreading rapidly across the UK, a great example of how a smart idea can gain wings and transform lives.

Thomas Emacora, “Participatory Design to ‘Recode’ Neglected Places”: At the crossroads of design and social change, Thomas looks at neglected cities and suburbs, searching for latent potential in the existing-but-forgotten. Sustainability is often more of a social than a technological or financial challenge — and community-led projects around the world are demonstrating that sustainability is incredibly powerful when it involves existing structures re-imagined and “recoded.”

Sonaar Luthra, “Testing Waters”: Reprising his TED Fellows talk, Sonaar introduces his easy-to-use, affordable, networked water-testing device that instantly tells users and relief workers whether water is safe to drink, helping to fight waterborne disease, especially in the aftermath of disaster.

In a rapid-fire question-and-answer session with the audience, June Cohen asks: “Are you optimistic or pessimistic, and why? Read the answers >>

Imogen Heap, “Music Gloves”: In her first live performance with this newly developed technology, Imogen Heap takes looping to a whole new level. The musician is known for improvising and performing with loads of gear on stage, but now she’s streamlined AND expanded her soundmaking process with a pair of wireless gloves that let her record and manipulate live vocals and instrumentation with gesture and movement. Not only is the gear itself nifty – she’d be perfect in a Philip K Dick-based film — the gloves adds the element of dance, making a performance that’s just as riveting to watch as it is to listen to.

Houssem Aoudi, “Building the Future of Tunisia”: In January 2011, weeks of demonstrations in Tunisia led to the ousting of President Ben Ali after 23 years in power. Houssem was in the streets, and afterwards, he organized TEDxCarthage: Success Stories to share experiences, encourage discussion and debate, spread a message of hope for the future of the country, and “to imagine our new society free from tyrants.” The next TEDxCarthage theme: InTolerance.

Ajit Sharma, “The Custodians of Indian Lineage”: Ajit, the CEO of AWC Industries and organizer of TEDxThar, introduces the Bhaat, a caste of Indian people who have for millennia been responsible for maintaining family genealogies, clans, and songs. These historians visit the families they record along with their own sons and grandsons, promoting intergenerational knowledge between families. Bhaat have been essential to maintaining culture — and know their subjects so well they even serve as matchmakers for arranged marriages. Sadly, the Bhaat tradition is dying out. Ajit wants his great-great-grandchildren to know about his life, too, and notes the Bhaat did their job without modern technology. As the methods for archiving our life stories change, Ajit calls for us to remember the essence of this drive – “the simple human desire to journey through time.”

Serge Mouangue, “Third Aesthetic”: Designer Serge Mouangue reprises his TED Fellows talk about mashing up African and Japanese cultures – starting with kimono made with African fabrics. One response? “This is an outrage; do not bastardize Japanese designs!” Fortunately, Serge carries on his cross-cultural explorations, a dialogue between cultures taking place in music, art, and objects.

Naif Al-Mutawa, “Crossover Comics: Bridges or Propaganda?”: Naif, creator of comic The99, starring Islam-inspired superheroes, talks about what happened after The99 “met” their colleagues at the Justice League of America in a crossover comic. It’s been well received, but in the US, there’s been a backlash against the animated version, where critics accused The99 of radicalizing young children, and broadcast of the cartoon was delayed. Naif says he hopes this decision will be reversed and that The99 will radicalize all children — to teach tolerance.

Julian Treasure, “The Importance of Listening”: Julian Treasure, chair of The Sound Agency, lives to listen. Here he gets us to think about how the rest of us are losing our listening skills! Listening is making meaning from sound, he says: pattern recognition, filters such as culture, language, beliefs, and intention. And he argues sound is the main way we experience the flow of time. So why are we losing our ability to listen? The world is too noisy; we’re impatient; the art of conversation is being replaced by personal broadcasting; and we’re desensitized, making it hard for us to pay attention to the quiet and understated. But active listening is crucial to promoting connection, understanding, and peace. He offers some tools to sharpen our ears: practice three minutes a day of silence; in noisy places, become aware of different channels of sound; and savor mundane sounds — what he calls “the hidden choir”.