Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Chicago Ideas Week Day 4 (TEDxMidwest)

Sorry about the formatting and style of this post. Kind of odd, but here goes:

Day 4 was spent almost entirely at TEDx Midwest.  But first...

Groupon Panel

Focus on doing one thing (the core of your product) really well.  Use short iterations to improve rapidly. You never know what people will do with it until you put it in their hands.

Moderated by Matt Moog (Founder of Viewpoints and BuiltInChicago)
Tech will not be in the same place in four years. What you're learning now is irrelevant. Can you learn? Can you hustle? That's what's important.


Brittany Laughlin Founder of G Trot

Don't hide your product behind its features.

Lon Chow Partner at Apex Ventures

I take the same approach [with the companies I invest in] that I do with my kids: if you want help: I'm here but mostly my job is to make sure you don't hurt yourself then get out of your way.
Entrepreneurship is lonely. Absolutely go in with a team [of friends].
 Josh Hernandez Founder of Tap.Me
Get it out fast. Throw it together. Make it shitty, but most importantly put it in front of people.
  TEDx Midwest

At the Oriental Theater in Chicago, IL

Pablos Holman of Intellectual Ventures 

What he does:  Get together a group of scientists to brainstorm technological solutions to the world's biggest problems.

Interesting ideas: 
*Use all the energy in nuclear waste to power a non-critical reactor. 
  -  There is enough energy in spent nuclear fuel to power humanity for the next thousand years.
  -  Spent nuclear fuel is non-critical, so it can never "meltdown"
  -  Not any more dangerous than storing nuclear waste.
  -  Requires extremely minimal new nuclear material to be enriched (allows for nuclear power at the same time as nuclear disarmament)

*Put dust into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight and reverse global warming. 
  -  Simple
  -  Cheap
  -  Geologists know this works (volcanic events)

*Kill malaria carrying mosquitos with lasers.
  -  Stop the spread of the disease at the source.
  -  Automated: requires little continuous human effort

Bottom Line: 
We know so much about different areas, that innovation today is more likely to come from combining people with different expertises.

Edie Wiener  Futurist
see previous blog post

The (Violence) Interrupters Do-gooders

What they do: Go into violent areas of Chicago, and preach nonviolence.
Idea: Violence can be stemmed from spreading the same way infectious diseases can.
Bottom Line:  Watch their movie to learn more (Official Website)

Alexis Ohanian  Founder of Reddit

Closing the feedback loop in charity, and allowing people to see the effects that their donations have can go a long way toward encouraging people to spend more of their disposable income on charity.  Make charitable giving exciting, competitive and rewarding in ways that it usually isn't, because otherwise you will fail.  The "biggest enemy [of a charity website] is the back button"

Dean Kamen  Founder of FIRST

Make engineering as competitive, fun and valued in grade-school as sports by making a competition out of engineering.  A bit of a misquote, but the idea was:  "Most high school athletes won't be able to make it big, but every single one of our players can go pro.  There are jobs waiting for every single one of them.  What is wrong with a country that values hitting balls with sticks over building things that can save lives?"


Ate lunch with a billionaire CEO and a national geographic photographer (among others). They were notable because they planned a trip to the arctic together over lunch.

Also talked at length with an education policy advocate who I actually agree with a lot. His insight is to give kids real problems and real responsibility in school. Learning comes faster, easier and more effectively. Students behave better and focus more and you give them a real sense of accomplishment when they can make something they're proud of. Lastly, when you get students used to thinking for themselves and reward them for taking responsibility and being social actors, you raise a generation of thinkers and designers, and not just knowers and doers.

The other important aspect of education in this sense, and also in society as a whole, is forgiveness OR the freedom to fail. The startup culture is so awesome because failure is expected. What is valued is guts, drive, and vision.  Labels are so important in society because they _generate_ behavior. This, along with negativity bias, causes so many people to fall into a negative spiral.  You get bad grades one year in school because of family troubles, and suddenly you're labeled a problem student.  You get graded continuously on all your assignments in the US, which means you have to do well from the very beginning. How does that allow _learning_ to happen?!  In society as a whole, too, we need to be more forgiving of people with criminal backgrounds. As the Interruptors prove, even murders can have an extraordinary positive impact on society. We need to get over the notion that people are either good or bad, and realize (as Zimbardo says later) that people are (mostly) just people and only become good or bad as the situation dictates.

Wes Craven  Horror Film Maker

Fear is cathartic when shared. There are deep fears that we have buried in us, and horror films bring that out into the open so we can deal with it.  Fears that "there is no God, just predator and prey" or that the human body is, for all we do, actually incredibly fragile. Horrible stories reassure us that we aren't the only ones feeling this fear and also helps us to dig it out, and externalize that fear.

To me, the most incredible part of his talk was a throw-away comment that he expects someone to make a retelling of the Cronus myth. In case you aren't familiar, the story goes that a fortune teller tells the Titan Cronus that one of his sons will overthrow him. So, in order to hold on to his kingdom, whenever he had a son Cronus would be sure to devour them. This terrible story of a father eating his own children to hold on to his fragile kingdom reminds at least Wes Craven of what is happening in society today. Horror stories also have the power to show us the horrors of our own actions, and be a force for social change.

Phil Zimbardo  Stanford Psychology Professor who proved that people are evil

People are (typically) neither inherently good nor evil, but they are guided by circumstance to do good or evil things.  We know, from his own research, what makes people turn evil, but what is the formula for making people do good?  There are factors like lack of stress, feeling of acceptance, and freedom.  Amazingly, when free to do things people are generally good. Having a system of harsh repercussions for misdeeds adds stress and constrains choice and actually makes people less likely to do good deeds.  This is an ongoing area of research that is surprisingly hard to find funding for.

Rob Warden  Head of Northwestern Law's Center on Wrongful Convictions

The biggest cause of wrongful convictions (including death sentence cases) is the false confession.  Police use immoral and often illegal interrogation techniques to get confessions from people just trying to save themselves.  The problem could be easily solved if police interrogations were required to be video taped and released to defense attorneys: a no brainer legally that is for some reason still not law.

Deborah Fallows  Author of Dreaming in Chinese

You are never too old to learn a foreign language.  

Your brain is amazing at adapting and can learn new languages surprisingly easily, you just need to learn it at a higher conceptual level than children do.  Don't learn by the Rosetta Stone method, learn by conceptual frameworks, pneumonics _and_ immersion together. Realize that in Chinese, they think of the past as being above them and the future as below (a fact you could guess from their writing direction) and then the word 上 shàng becomes obvious as meaning both above and in the past. This is one example of ways in which it is actually easier to learn Chinese as an adult than as a kid.

Hellen Fisher  chemistry.com

There are 4 basic personality types (explorer, builder, director, diplomat) governed by 4 different hormones. Learn to identify that kind of thinking in others and realize they may not think like you.
Love is a 3 stage process: first our "gut" tells us to have sex with them, then our brain has to agree and lastly we get attached. One third of long term relationships started out as casual sex.
Quote of the day: "Anything that's loose rolls into California"

Daniel Hernandez  Saved Congresswoman Gifford's life
"Every past experience you've had is useful to what you're doing now and has helped make you who you are."

John Hodgeman Millionaire
"Two lonely people can't be un-lonely together"

John Ondrasik  Songwriter for "Five for Fighting"
Just create something, because you never know what will resonate with people.

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