Last weekend I had the good fortune of being able to attend TEDxRainer. The event could best be summed up in one word:


Everybody there seemed passionate about being there, sharing ideas, looking for ways to make the world a better place. And after spending a solid 10 hours among such passionate, engaged people, it's hard to come away without being inspired.

Reality as it is -- and how it should be

The day started with a talk by Jim Sorensen, on the note that no plan survives a collision with reality. You need to start by taking reality as it is, not as you think it should be, and use that as a context to determine how you change it.

Much later in the afternoon, this theme was repeated by Patti Dobrowolski, who had us all draw a picture of our current reality, a picture of our desired reality, and identify 3 big bold steps that will get you there.

So much of the day was filled with speakers and a singer who demonstrated just that. Chrystie Hill posed the question very succinctly: If you could do anything, what would you do? She's asking how libraries can become an integral part of our social structure over the next century. Sarah Stuteville asked herself the same question on graduating from journalism school with no job prospects -- and answered it by co-founding the Common Language Project, which travels the world telling the stories of oppressed women, triggering real change.

By far the saddest presentation was Chris Jordan's photography of dead baby albatrosses in Midway Island, killed by eating way too much plastic brought back to them by their mothers who plucked it from the great Pacific Gyre/garbage patch. To think of all our garbage directly killing off parts of our ecosystem is particularly troubling. His closing of the morning session brought the audience to its feet: "May your life be filled with grief. Terror. Joy. And Love."

If you're not motivated to want to do something after experiencing Jordan's photography, you need to check your heart.


The hallmark of a TED talk is the passion of the speaker. The short format distills the talk down to the barest essentials, forces people to get straight to the heart of why they care, and why you should care too. With over 25 speakers, after a week a few of the presentations get slightly fuzzy in my memory, and yet the quirky ones stand out.

Will Hewett gave us a taste of his daily singing. This is not any kind of singing you've heard before -- it's a rollicking mash of mouth sounds that resembles speaking in tongues or singing warmup exercises, done in a form of verbal meditation. Something that might be fun to do with my daughter. Michelle Bates enlightened us to the joys of using a toy camera to capture images of the world. The Interfaith Amigos, Rabbi Ted Falcon, Pastor Don Mackenzie, and Imam Jamal Rahman, put on the most polished performance of the day, in an intricately choreographed, entertainingly scripted, thought-provoking exercise in valuing what we have in common rather than getting stuck on our differences.

Rick Steves made a surprise appearance in the middle of the day, with an entertaining slideshow presentation about how much we have to learn from other people around the world. "You can choose to stop legislating morality, or you can build more prisons."

Sex was another theme. Alyssa Royse suggested that now that "Don't ask, don't tell" is over, we should ask and tell -- and stop using shame as a weapon. Dr. Pepper Schwartz proclaimed that the next revolution Boomers were going to make was bringing Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll to the AARP, although with different drugs. The after-party with performance art by a trio wearing only thinly sliced vegetables also pushed the bounds of Seattle taste...

The closing talk by Chris Bliss, advocating using humor as a tool to change people's perspective on reality fit into the theme nicely. "I am definitely for gay adoption," he said. "Gay babys are an abomination, and should be put up for adoption."

Hands down the most passionate performance belonged to the musician Daria Musk, who got much of the audience up and dancing with her live Google+ Hangout performance as she performed with a nervous energy, giddy with excitement from the crowd and her fast rise from playing to a few dozen people in clubs in Connecticut to having a world wide audience of over 200,000 people.

Rubbing shoulders

From a personal standpoint, one of the best things about TEDx is that you get to talk to so many engaged people, including the speakers. I got to meet many of the speakers of the day -- Pepper Schwartz, David Horsey, Amory Lovins, and Joe Justice. I had lunch with Erik Lindbergh in a group from Bainbridge Island. I have a stack of business cards of people to re-connect with, and an opportunity to do more meaningful projects, make more rewarding connections, engage more fully.

Some of that goes back to why I'm in business in the first place -- to bring disruptive open source technologies to small companies trying to make a big difference in the world. And I met many people trying to do just that -- make a big difference in the world. So to wrap up, I've saved the best for the last -- some truly inspirational people out there making the world a better place, projects that I'm very interested in figuring out how to support.

Towards a better world

It's the second time I've heard Dr. Leroy Hood talk. With his slot right after lunch time and somewhat monotone delivery, it was definitely one of the hardest talks to pay attention to. And yet what he's proposing as the future of medicine is incredibly enticing, the ability to have medicine designed just for you, rather than for the average of what people with a given symptom. While there are huge unexplored social implications of a lot more people reaching a healthy old age, it's very hard to not get excited about having another 20 - 30 years of quality life.

The other big name attraction for me at the event was Amory Lovins. I've long been a fan of Lovins's work -- a book he co-authored with Paul Hawken, Natural Capitalism, is at the heart of my business philosophy and what I'm trying to put together -- a sustainable business that supports multiple bottom lines. Lovins's latest work is Reinventing Fire, a road map to getting out of our current environmental pickle. Quoting Eisenhower, he said if a problem seems intractible, expand the scope. Looking at coal-powered electricity, cars, buildings, and renewable energy, it's really hard to tackle any of these areas on their own. But by combining them all at once, you find the solutions dovetailing nicely together to become an elegant solution that's much easier to implement.

Two other speakers really caught my attention and interest, and I'm looking for ways to help both in their efforts: Erik Lindbergh is developing a great program to encourage innovation among students. His original goal was to offer a prize for an electric aircraft. How cool is that? We are already talking about a web site to highlight the submitted student videos -- stay tuned for more!

Joe Justice has applied lean, agile development methodologies to making cars, with Wikispeed. His mostly volunteer team is creating car kits that are passing all the safety standards, can be modified and built in 1 or 2 week cycle, and getting over 100 miles per gallon.

In a day filled with passion, great talks, enthusiasm, and people out looking to answer the question, "if you could do anything, what would you do?" I have to give Joe the nod as the epitome of the day. He had the best audience interaction, playing off the energy of the room to get everybody really excited about his accomplishments. He has a real, world-changing product that works today, executes on Lovins's vision, inspires a lot of people to go out and make their own change. And when I half-heartedly stood to dance to Daria Musk's music when nobody else in our section was, he was the first follower, fresh on the heels of this video:


First I'd have to be tremendously wealthy. I'd invest wisely so I could keep the kettle full. From those funds, I would start medical and dental clinics for the indigent. After careful research, I would contribute funds to labs that want to grow body parts. I'd make sure those parts would be truly affordable for anyone. .......... Second, I would find a way to provide jobs in the field of alternate energy.

Now if I could work magic - I'd make myself and my wife younger and healthier. After that a wave of the magic wand would make opaque shields appear over outdoor lighting (not just locally)that glares in your window at night. Then we could see the night sky again.

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