Thoughts and Contemplations on TEDxBoulder, and the Importance of Other Ideas

This last weekend was both enlightening and enjoyable. In particular, on Saturday night, I had the pleasure of attending TEDxBoulder. It was a lot of fun. I learned, I cried, I laughed, I was inspired. Well worth the time.

For those not aware, a TEDx event is independently organized but affiliated with TED itself. TED, in its own words, is “a platform for ideas worth spreading.” This particular event, as the name would indicate, takes place in Boulder, CO, the town I currently reside. This was the sixth event for TEDxBoulder, in my understanding, and was simply amazing. If you did not attend, you missed out, and I recommend watching the videos when they become live on the TED site.

I sat up in the highest balcony, having obtained a ticket late, which meant I couldn’t necessarily see the speakers in much detail, but was about to see the slides and videos clearly, and could watch the crowd’s reactions to each speech. The event took place in Macky Auditorium Concert Hall. The Hall has over 2,000 seats and was sold out. There were some empty seats, resulting from people who had bought tickets but not made it, but I suspect there was just under 2,000 people in attendance. Pretty close to a full house. Those that came were not disappointed.

As with all TED events, the speakers and topics varied greatly. I enjoyed all the speakers, though a few stood out for me more than the others, because they specifically inspired me personally, and I could see direct application from them. You could tell that others’ tastes and needs were different, as each speaker had very obvious strong effects on some, while others didn’t seem to get much other of them. This is the nature of TED Talks, because the goal is not to have speakers that appeal to everyone, but to get “ideas worth spreading” before the eyes and ears of those who are interested and would spread them or act on them.

The theme this year was Rivers and Roads, a name giving tribute to the flooding last year that devastated so much of the Frontrange area in general and Boulder County specifically. I did not attend last year, the the event last year took place right around the time of the floods, which had an impact on it.

The videos of the talks will be available in a few weeks, but are not yet. I greatly recommend finding them and watching them once they become available, especially the three talks I talk below in more detail about, as I thing everyone can gain from watching them.

The Speakers

In summary, the speakers were:

1) Dr. Dan Durda – a planetary scientist talking about the future of commercial space tourism, travel to space and back, and the application for science. While not a talk that necessarily inspired me personally, it was very interesting and the most interesting to talk about to people who did not attend.

2) Joseph Logan – an author and business couch, lecturer, and past professor talking about crisis, resentment, and the change that can come out of it. It was raw with emotion, as personal struggles informed and altered his speech to something that was much more impactful and real than earlier plans had been. Paraphrasing, in crisis, you don’t want to see what can come of it, you want it to go away and return to the status quo, but you have no choice in that, so change comes, and what you do with that change makes the difference. He contrasted Detroit and New Orleans and how the crisis of Hurricane Katrina is what changed the direction of NOLA. I’m not sure I’m recalling it quite right, but the quote that hit me was something like, “crisis kills the status quo, crisis brings change.” Powerful.

3) Catie Walker – who has done many things in her life, but found a love for fishing and the river trumped it all talked about commitment, and how both overcommitment and not committing to anything were both ways to avoid commitment, and that it’s better to commit to one thing that pursue many. While not one I’m going to highlight, this really brought home for me to determine to do the things that relate to my passion instead of trying to do everything and anything.

4) Hunter Ewen, a music professor at CU Boulder, a composer, a graphics designer, and all around creative music lover spoke about music, and visualizing it to bring it alive instead of just looking at the mechanics. I’ll talk a bit more specific about this talk below.

5) Kim Coupounas, co-founder of GoLite and director of B Lab Colorado talked about the need to have and do less in order to have more of what is important and to do more that is important. Simplifying your life and your schedule in order to focus on what is important. This tied in for me to that Catie Walker said, tied in beautifully and impactfully.

6) I got to hear the amazing Kimya Dawson sing. Her songs, which I encountered in the movie Juno, got me into Indie music to begin with, and her lyrics helped me a lot at a time I was needing them. It was amazing to get a chance to actually hear and see her in person. Amazing woman.

7) Steph Davis, climber, BASE jumper, wingsuit flyer, and all together conquerer of mountains and skies talked about the difference between endurance and resilience, that endurance is about hanging on, resilience is about letting go, and that the latter is how you move on after something bad in your life. This talk very much related to Joseph Logan’s talk.

8) Megan Feldman, writer for such publications as Glamour, Details, 5280, and the Daily Beast, and currently working on a book spoke about forgiveness and letting go of resentment.

9) Alan Lewis, of Natural Grocers, who speaks to local and federal authorities to try to bring a change to the way the food industry operates and what they require of farmers in order to compete. Fiery speech that no one in the room could ignore, regardless of their feelings on politics.

10) The BBC Pop Up crew who have been in Boulder for the month came on and talked briefly with us about their project, setting up camp for one month at a time in towns across the US and finding out what stories the people want to hear about and see.

11) Gerry Valentine, an executive couch who I have known through a Meetup group we are both in for some time now, and consider a friend, spoke on adversity, about choosing not to let adversity lead you back into fear but overcoming it, using adversity to bring about change. His examples from his own life were quite impactful. This talk, too, I’ll address more below.

12) Bobby Stuckey of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder talked about the difference between service and hospitality, and going the extra mile for the customer. I’ll talk more about this talk below as well.

13) Deborah Bowman, an author, psychologist, photographer, and professor, talking about the event that cost her physically, and being aware of our abilities and the world around us, and realizing when we are beginners and to approach the world with that knowledge.

14) Ash Beckham, who works at a restaurant in Boulder and has been traveling to speak places since her speech last year became one of the highest viewed videos, already at the 6th most watched, spoke on advocacy and being an ally, and how we all have duality in us, not binary positions, that that we need to embrace those instead of discounting what doesn’t fit the political platform you follow. It was a very moving talk, from her heart with no holes barred, and honest in personal experience. One of the important points was that saying you’re blind to her being gay discounts that element of her, that we need to stop judging people and treating them poorly based on things like race, gender, orientation, and the like, not pretend those aren’t present or important, because we can’t stand together if we discount the things that are involved in the very struggles we need to support each other in. Another important point was that standing up for our friends does not necessitate ending friendships or breaking familial ties with those that don’t agree with them, of standing up for what’s right without discounting other things that are important, the dualities she talked about.

15) The Chimney Choir played near the end, and you could tell how much fun they were having up there.

The Benefit of Localness

One of the neatest thing about the talks were that most of the people were local, and those that weren’t specifically local were from this same region. Some grew up elsewhere, and moved here. Some grew up here and moved elsewhere. Some were from here and still here. But all had a connection to here, all had lived life here, all cared about this place. That makes a lot of difference, and that local aspect I think is important. You could walk into a restaurant and Ash might serve you. You might walk into Bobby’s restaurant and see him there. You might take classes from Hunter at CU. You can walk into Kim’s store on Pearl Street. You might run into any one of the speakers on the streets of Boulder. This brings their talks to life, because they aren’t just faces on a screen or a stage, they are people that have an interest in the community, who have a depth you can know to a point, they are more real to you, to me. There isn’t as much abstraction, and that lends power to their speeches in the heart of those that share some of their values or experiences.

On Graphics and Visualization

A few of the speakers were more meaningful to me specifically than others. One of these was Hunter Ewen. As I discussed, Hunter is a music professor and a composer, among other things. He took the normal music notation everyone is used to and transformed it into works of art that paint what he wants on the wall.

This began with a piece in which Hunter wanted something and the musician that was trying to do it could not figure out what he was wanting to do. Eventually she asked him, what do you want it to sound like, and demonstrating, he realized he was looking for a wolf howl. So he removed the messy notation and replaced it with a picture of a wolf howling and the words wolf howl. And she get it right away.

He expanded from there, and some of his music truly is works of art more than traditional sheet music. And it works, his musicians know exactly what he’s looking for and the audience get an experience they’d be hard pressed to beat elsewhere.

What I took away from this talk was not the music application but a more broad application. I’ve a visual/emotional thinker, so graphics to represent ideas appeals to me a lot. Both in my employment and in my own ventures, I can see amazing application by portraying concepts graphically that aren’t typically presented that way.

Adversity and Change

Gerry Valentine talked about adversity and change, how change can only come from out reactions to adversity. He talked about his childhood, growing up under conditions that were more likely to lead to death than success, and how he took a teacher saying he wasn’t capable of succeeding as a challenge and rose to that challenge, and while the teacher did not improve his attitude, Gerry did amazing in the class. And he has continued that pattern all his life so far, and will continue to, I have no doubt.

He talked about the fear/paralysis/adversity cycle, which we get stuck in. Fear paralyses us, preventing us from acting to bring change, because we are afraid of change. Adversity comes from our inaction, and leads us back to fear. Gerry talked about how embracing adversity and seeking change helps us out of the cycle, not letting fear take us back to paralysis, and that asking questions and questioning why and what we are doing helps us do that.

This resonates with me, as I’ve developed four core ethics in my life to guide me, and one of those is this:

“Be willing to entertain and examine thoughts and beliefs that disagree with my own without letting go of my own without good reason.”

My focus in this is to question and try to understand other realities and ideas, and consider my own in relation to them, rather than either dismissing them and assuming my own are the only ones that matter or are true, or accepting them and throwing my own out without having a good reason to.

In addition, one of my approaches to life, which I’ve referenced in earlier posts, is to learn to ask the right questions. I learned this initially in learning troubleshooting skills as a system administrator, but have found it to apply to many areas of life.

The idea of asking questions and questioning my own beliefs or reality as a way to get out of the cycle Gerry talked about rings true for me, and I’ve seen it in my own life, though sometimes I need to do it more. My life would be better if I did, even if it wouldn’t be easier.

Service vs Hospitality

Bobby Stuckey’s speech is the third one that really spoke to me. Bobby, as I said, is in the restaurant business, and the distinction between service and hospitality is an ever present thing in such an industry. He described service as what we do to a customer, and hospitality how we make them feel. These are very accessible definitions, yet very deep and complex.

He gave a specific example of service, and also a more general one. I won’t relate the specific story, but leave that for my readers to listen to when watching the video when it is available. More generally, he said service is the waiter or waitress who is there to fill up your glass when you need it, the getting of food or drink there at the right time, basically the perfection of when and what. I’d say perfect service is when nothing stands out as wrong or taking effort when you’re dining.

He described hospitality not as the precision and perfection, but as the human touch, the feeling that the waiter, waitress, host, hostess, chief, manager, and such are taking special care of you, the managing of any emotional issues you are coming into the situation with so you will enjoy the experience despite them, and so on. Hospitality isn’t about perfection, it’s about making a customer glad they came in and walking away remembering the dining experience specifically long after the experience is done, remembering it in a positive light.

While I don’t work in the restaurant business, I do work in a position where I am responsible for providing service to customers, the businesses and corporations who use our services. Mine is a support role, where I assist the customers with issues or new requirements. I am the main face they experience with my company, they face they encounter when something is going wrong or they want something different. This is not an easy role, as some customers are already upset when they contact us, or customers are upset about previous experiences or about something they expected to work one way and doesn’t.

I had no language before hearing Bobby’s speech to express the difference between getting done what needs to be done, correctly the first time, with minimal problems, and the management of the customer’s expectations and emotions to easy working with them and helping them come away from the experience feeling we helped them and made them not satisfied but happy. Service vs hospitality. This isn’t always possible, because of time restraints when multiple customers have issues, but keeping the two ideas firmly in my mind, or anyone’s mind, will help us go that little bit extra beyond the mechanical and technical points that are necessary and expected to help the customer be glad they are a customer.

The Importance of New and Different Ideas

The importance and impact of things like TED Conferences and Talks is not in the individual speakers, though some speakers can have a large impact. The main importance is in having the many view points and experiences there for you to listen to and think about. Each person has a different set of experiences, different set of ideas, different direction in life. In listening to a variety of speakers, we can get a larger perspective to consider our own ideas and decide what should change and what should be strengthened. A diverse range of ideas always helps widen the possibilities, and while any given speaker might or might not resonate with us, and any given speaker might or might not say things we agree with, the gambit of different viewpoints means everyone can take away from the talks something, and everyone can be challenged and given the opportunity to question their reality, as Gerry said, to ask questions, and to get out of the cycles and ruts that keep us from change, and ultimately keep us from happiness, effectiveness, and the passions we have in life.  This is where change comes from.  This is where innovation comes from.

~Bethany Davis
Caer Islandia Enterprises

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