Huffpost Arts
Elysabeth Alfano Headshot

Highlights From Tedx Midwest

Posted: Updated:
Print

Tedx Midwest, brought to Chicago by Mike Hettwer and an organizing committee consisting entirely of dedicated volunteers, took place in Chicago on May 2nd and 3rd. Elisabeth Ritz, whose outstanding firm, Ritz Communications, handled the PR for the event and who helped organize my interviews with several of the speakers, noted that, "Tedx Midwest is one of the best independently organized TED events in the world." Given the line-up of speakers, it is no surprise.

This was the third Tedx Midwest and, while the gathering touched on business, art, science and nature, the tone was a humanistic one, focusing on community, connection and empathy. Incredible speakers, some of international repute, took the stage at the Harris Theatre to explore themes often overlooked in a busy 24/7 world. They were all stellar; but, several stood out for their ability not only to inform, but to resonate with the audience.

Innovator and Director of the MIT Media lab, Joi Ito, stressed that if you plan everything in life and in business, you can't get lucky. He spoke of the peripheral vision needed in business innovation to see all opportunities and to grab them based on upside potential rather than downside risk. For the record, he is qualified to talk like an Internet Superman because he was an early investor in Flickr, Kickstarter and Twitter, and because in 2011, he received the Oxford Internet Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award. One can trace the existence of the Internet in Japan back to him, so, basically, he is an Internet Superman. When one has this kind of double ray business vision, one can espouse the virtues of being resilient over resistant, independent thought over compliance, risk over safety and following trajectories over maps. While he spoke about these qualities in terms of business innovation, like with most Tedx Midwest talks, these gems of wisdom can be applied to life as a whole.

Although completely separate talks, in conjunction with the tenants put forth by business genie Joi Ito, CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness, Jenn Lim, talked about the power and good business that comes from being true to "one's weird self." Posing a rhetorical question, she asked the audience what they would do if they didn't have a fear of failure. In studies, she found that when people focus on what gives them a sense of higher purpose, rather than money, title and status, people are happier. Happier people in turn make for happier employees and more profitable businesses. While intuitively this makes simple sense, it never seems to be a lesson that Americans fully embrace and it is always good to hear again.

Another theme that played throughout the two-day conference was that of building empathy and connection to each other, community and the world as a whole through storytelling. National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore explained, through the power of his incredible photography, that every time we break out our wallets we are making a vote for or against the environment. He urged the audience to save what is in their own backyard through common sense and by doing their best. "If we are going to survive as a species," he warned, "we are going to have to be thoughtful." These thoughts were echoed in a 2011 Tedx Midwest talk given by National Geographic photographer, Paul Nicklen, in the video above.

Artist Raghava KK explained, through incredible animation and art from what he refers to as his Empathy Lab, that our brains interpret and tell stories constantly of who we are. We, then, re-tell these stories in our personal communities. Looking at a larger and more global community, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Paul Salopek explained his seven-year walk around the world via a taped conversation in East Africa. He stated that the secret to telling a great story is listening to a great story, enacting patience and curiosity. Follow his journey on Twitter at @paulsalopek.

I will be certain to highlight the videos from these Tedx Midwest speakers as soon as they become available. Talks such as the one from the Director of Special Projects at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Dave Gallo, are not to be missed. He showed us how much we really don't know about the earth...and the incredible slyness of Octopi. And certainly, if you do nothing else, take heed of the advice from top computer security expert, Frank Heidt: furnish all of your internet accounts with different passwords and if they are currently all the same, change them now!