Action and impact: The talks of TED@PMI, day 2

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Billy Samuel Mwape talks about an innovative way he uses project management to support his son’s special needs. He speaks at TED@PMI on September 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

At day two of TED@PMI, six speakers shared ideas about creating change, shifting perspectives and connecting across diverse communities. (Check out the day one recap as well.)

The event: TED@PMI, a two-day virtual event showcasing project leaders who turn ideas into action and impact. Hosted by PMI President and Chief Executive Officer Sunil Prashara and TED curator Sally Kohn

Performance by: ARKAI, a violin-cello duo that channels the diversity of the world through genre-bending music

Special offstage moments: TED@PMI attendees also experienced meditation and mindfulness training; a conversation with TED arts and design curator Chee Pearlman and lifestyle expert Shira Gill; a speaker panel moderated by PMI brand specialist Ryan Brooks; a workout session with celebrity trainer Ngo Okafor; and a dance party with DJ Mad Marj.

The talks in brief:

Billy Samuel Mwape, project management professional 

Big idea: Project management can help you tackle life’s biggest challenges.

How? After his son Lubuto was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Billy Samuel Mwape realized that his project management skills might be put to use to support his son’s needs. Project management — the process of leading a team’s work in order to achieve specific goals within a specific period of time — uses quick “sprints” to gradually create big results. In this case, the goal was to encourage Lubuto’s neuroplasticity before he reached the age of five. So Mwape gathered an agile team: his wife (and, later, their newborn daughter) along with a speech therapist, occupational therapist and physical therapist. Over the course of five years, with persistent effort and courage, Lubuto has seen incredible progress in his independent movement, balance and coordination.

Quote of the talk: “We’ve been blown away by the amazing results we’ve witnessed as a result of this experimental methodology. And now we proudly call ourselves ‘agile parents.'”

Betsy Kauffman, leadership coach

Big idea: To build healthier and more productive workplaces, we need to develop the courage to have more honest and blunt conversations.

How? It can be difficult to disagree with colleagues during work meetings, even if you know others feel the same. That discomfort often keeps people silent, slowing down progress and stifling innovation. Betsy Kauffman believes we need to stop grumbling around the water cooler and instead gather the courage to be blunter where and when it counts. She offers four tips to successfully kickstart more honest conversations at work: build up your confidence; be clear in your intentions and goals; ensure your delivery is simple, factual and without targeted blame; and keep a laser focus on possible solutions. Instead of staying quiet when you disagree with a work decision or notice a flaw within project management, Kauffman encourages us to voice our insights and ideas. Workplace honesty doesn’t have to be hurtful or spiteful — in fact, it can empower others to speak up and help develop a culture of innovation and collaboration.

Quote of the talk: “The best organizations are full of people, at all levels, that have the courage to tackle tough topics. By being open and honest, we are not only helping ourselves, but also our organizations to have these conversations — and those are the ones that are needed the most.”

Violin-cello duo ARKAI gives a genre-bending performance at TED@PMI on September 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Chiwuike Amaechi, subsea engineer

Big idea: Storytelling is a powerful tool to create a cohesive and productive team.

How? How can teams become more engaged and self-driven? To answer this question, Chiwuike Amaechi reflects on what he learned while working offshore as a subsea engineer, applying early-career lessons to the office environment. At sea, he says, teams worked together because every member was part of a common story. Each campaign had a beginning and an end with a clear objective that required them to work together to overcome often dangerous obstacles. Although office workers aren’t typically faced with treacherous subsea conditions, leaders can create a sense of unity by communicating the story of projects, deadlines and goals with all team members, giving everyone a role and purpose in the tale. This shared narrative, he says, drives a positive response to change — not just from the top down but from the bottom up.  

Quote of the talk: “We are familiar with the organizational pyramid: the mission and vision often are clear at the top, though sometimes nobody bothers to share the story with the folks in the basement.”

Dinae Knox, author, youth leadership advocate

Big idea: We must confront what fuels our egos, cultivate those learnings and transform them into the fertile ground needed to become our best selves.

How? It’s not as simple or rosy as turning lemons into lemonade, but Knox offers a process for grappling with and ultimately thriving from — to be straightforward, in the spirit of the talk — the “shit” life throws your way. She uses her own life as an example, citing the trauma and adversity that robbed her childhood and helped form an ego that protected herself and prickled others. The exercise, or as she calls them “ego EQ check-ins,” was inspired by a work conversation and a video about an innovative business, which initiated a course of deep self-reflection — one that she’s happy to share. Knox walks us through the mindset shift necessary to develop and maintain a healthy ego. It’s up to you whether you change or stay the same.

Quote of the talk: “The shit life throws at you, drops on your head, allows you to step in — [it] can be life’s way of preparing you for your best life ever … a you that blossomed despite the shit you had to grow through.”

What can Mongolian nomads teach us about living sustainably? Khulan Batkhuyag shares her answer at TED@PMI on September 26, 2020. (Photo courtesy of TED)

Khulan Batkhuyag, environmental activist

Big idea: By learning from the nomadic people of rural Mongolia, we can fortify our sense of community, restore our relationship with the earth and learn to live more sustainably.

How? Mongolian nomads can teach us a lot about how to survive in the years and decades to come, says Khulan Batkhuyag. On travels through the country’s stunning rural landscape — which remains virtually untouched across large areas — she learned how Mongolian nomads have survived in remote areas for thousands of years. The secret? By persevering as a community (Mongolian nomads welcome into their homes anyone in need of help) and by virtue of some truly incredible, earth-friendly, zero-waste innovations (for instance: burning dried cow dung, instead of fuel, to keep warm). This is a different form of sophistication than developed countries, Batkhuyag says, but no less valuable. Indeed, there’s wisdom here for all of us on how to live more minimally, sustainably and in harmony with Mother Nature.

Quote of the talk: “We’re all guests in this world. So let’s do right by the earth, and by each other.”

Jessica Woods, performance psychologist

Big idea: By regulating your emotions, you can avoid “prickly” situations and perform at your peak.

How? While hiking in the Arizona desert, Jessica Woods came across a fluffy-looking plant — only to discover that it was actually the jumping cholla cactus. When touched, this cactus detaches from its base plant and (quite painfully) latches onto unsuspecting victims. Amid the physical discomfort, Woods saw a metaphor: much like the prickly spikes, emotions — when left unsupervised — can get under the skin, cause harm and mess with performance. The solution? Using specific strategies to regulate your reactions. By practicing “cognitive reappraisal” for instance — reframing how you interpret a situation — you can learn to accept a moment for what it is, as opposed to what you want it to be. In this way, you can gain self-awareness over your emotions and regain control of your actions.

Quote of the talk: “You can catch the emotions of other people and then take them on as your own. The problem is that most of us are highly susceptible to other people’s emotions, which means even the smallest external factor can impact how we perform at work, on the field and even at home.”