Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday's signpost

This "event" sign perfectly reflects the earthy/groovy vibe that is Lululemon Athletica. Spotted this sign by the register at their Palo Alto, CA store.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday's signpost

The clothespin wall
Okay, so this is not really a sign. But it was a cool indicator of a business' story. I visited Second Story Interactive Studios in Portland, Oregon in October. One of their first award-winning interactive pieces was Pinch, a portfolio demo built around a clothespin. Since then, people have given them antique clothespins and clothespin-related ephemera, which they display near the entrance to their groovy space.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What I learned from TEDxSanDiego

FYI, when your day includes:
  • freshening your lipstick next to an Olympic Gold medalist
  • watching a former White House advisor rearrange items in her Kate Spade purse
  • lunching with a venture capitalist
  • connecting a cell phone R & D engineer with a wildlife biologist who could use his technology in the field
  • and talking to someone about your food blog while figuring out that the reason he looks familiar is because you saw him on The Colbert Report...
You must be at a TEDx conference.

It's much easier to write about the logistics of this terrific day, as I did here, than to articulate what the day meant to me personally or professionally. With 22 speakers and several performances, TEDx by nature is overwhelming, somewhat random, and very energizing. I expect that no two people in the room would write the same blog post about what they took away or how they are going to use it. Here are my take-aways:
Christine Comaford. Photo by Travis Houston. Used with permission.
I think what makes TED so zing-y is that every speaker is talking about their own personal passion, which they have lived out in a way that has impacted the world. Christine Comaford described it as "finding your question." She encouraged us to search for the ma, the pause in between our thoughts. Think of it as the rolling tickertape across the bottom of the news program. In between each thought there is a small space; focus on that space. Eventually that space will start to expand. She even asked us to take a moment and be still. She had a magnetic presence that truly mesmerized the room. Passion was also reflected in their charge to ask people during the breaks, "What do you love to do?" instead of asking, "What do you do?"
Jake Shimabukuru. Photo by Travis Houston. Used with permission.
Re-thinking the familiar
The astounding Jake Shimabukuru didn't just play the ukulele, a humble four-string traditional instrument. He rocked it. Flamenco-ed it. Seduced it. Dr. Larry Burns is completely re-thinking what the automobile can and should be in the 21st century, especially for high-density cities and countries. I love the idea of living in a city with a smart grid of EN-V mini-cars that drive themselves, link up in tandem for longer drives, and recharge in your closet. Jake Wood of Team Rubicon wants to re-purpose 1.8 million U.S. veterans to serve as disaster-relief workers, helping them heal from PTSD in the process.

I mean this in the broadest possible sense. Speakers talked about using super-smart social networks and hardware to connect us to health care, our cars, inexpensive pollution monitors... all with the goal of making the world a better place, saving us time, and working on our behalf. We saw a range of inspiring, hopeful, and useful things in our near-future.

Bill Toone of ECOLife Foundation talked about a different type of connectivity, that of humans, animals, and habitat. His inspiring story about saving millions of monarch butterflies with a cheap efficient wood-burning stove that also helps prevent lung disease inspired everyone in the room to think differently about conservation.
Bill Toone & Sunni Black. Photo by Travis Houston. Used with permission.
James Fowler conducted a connectivity experiment on us, having us note who we met during the day and tracking our connections via Twitter. His work is especially important, as it shows us the impact we have on the people in our lives, their friends, and even their friends' friends. I'm looking forward to reading his book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.
James Fowler's experiment. Photo by Travis Houston. Used with permission.
Finally, some speakers called us to action, like Tom Yellin of 10X10 who is working to "Educate girls. Change the world." Or Jason Russell of Invisible Children, who smacked us in the face at the beginning of his talk: "Want to get away with murder? Go to Africa." Simon Sinek suggests we Start with Why to determine our personal or professional mission, then go from there. And that brings us full circle... to finding our personal question.

For me, TEDxSanDiego was energizing, as I met people I would never have met otherwise. It engaged all facets of my personality and interests. I gave away as many food blogger cards as I did museum consultant cards. It challenged me to think about how I might be more involved in making my world a better place, and how to utilize the connections I made to do just that. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What conferences can learn from TEDxSan Diego

I was privileged to be one of about 300 people in the room at the first TEDxSanDiego. TEDx are independently organized events following the TED conference format. If you aren't familiar with TED talks, they are amazing, short, focused talks by the world's best speakers and thinkers, which are broadcast live (and recorded). (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, although the content is now much broader.) I'll cover content in the next post, as I am still digesting the amazing day of more than 20 speakers. Today I wanted to talk about TEDxSanDiego from the perspective of event management.

Many people think that conferences are a dying format, and will soon go away entirely. After attending TEDx, what I now think is that they've set a standard for the 21st-century conference. While more than 27,000 people watched the event live, and potentially millions more will see the talks once they are posted online, there was something amazing and energizing about attending live. So, here are seven things your professional conference should learn from TEDx.

1) People have to apply. They had a limited number of seats, but also they want this to be an event with intention. Having an application process creates not only a feeling of anticipation, but focuses the participants' intent on what will happen after the conference. You had to fill out an online application, which included explaining how you would spread the word about TEDx and what you learned afterwards. I heard that they received hundreds of applications. I know that I felt honored (and special) to be accepted. Before we left, we were asked to fill out commitment cards and turn them in.
Yes, I filled mine out. I pulled an extra to bring home.
2. The event started before the event. The pre-event emails were a masterful blend of welcoming language and logistical assistance. When I requested a special meal, I quickly received a warm, helpful response instructing me to let an usher know where I was sitting. Language included items like, "TEDxSanDiego concierge," "Event will start promptly with a spectacular opening," and "If you are not able to join us for the conference, please respond to this message so that we can offer your spot to another amazing person."

3. The service was stellar. The all-volunteer event was staffed largely from folks at Sharp Healthcare in San Diego, a company which is known for redefining the patient experience. A phalanx of friendly hosts awaited us, outside and in, and circulated throughout the day offering assistance.
My first impression.
Once through registration (lickety-split), delicious snacks & more volunteers awaited.
4. The materials were beautifully designed, compact, and effective. This neat little package allowed us to have everything at our fingertips. The name badge included the day's agenda on the back, and had a pen inside.
My only critique had to do with a design choice that looked great in full light, but didn't work well in the dim light of the venue. The red text was unreadable whenever the lights were down.
5. Speakers were dynamic, well-managed, and given presentation guidelines. We talk a lot about death by PowerPoint but very few conferences actually do something about it. TED has instituted the TED 10 commandments, which include giving a talk you haven't given before, not selling anything from the stage, and being humble. I think they must also give speakers guidelines on visuals, as nearly all the talks were visually stunning (or, radical notion: no slides at all—a fantastic speaker telling us a story.) They also give strict time limits... some people have 8 minutes, some 16. This helps break up the day, keep it moving, and encourages speakers to edit, edit, edit. Speakers were organized roughly by theme into sections, with 30-minute breaks in between. Slides provided a countdown (e.g. 5 minutes left in the break), while a well-chosen TED video provided the buffer to get people back to their seats.

6. They included live performance. Why don't more conferences do this? While your conference might not be able to kick off and end with global phenomenon Jake Shimabukuro on ukulele (yes, you read that right), surely you can find some local talent who would be happy to play, dance, or paint in front of a live audience. Flamenco ukulele. Bluegrass ukulele. Schubert ukelele. Wrap your brain around that at a conference.

7. They gave you guidelines for interacting with other attendees: Meet at least six new people. Ask people what they love to do, not what they do. Put down your devices and be in the room. Change your seat at the end of each break. Approach people with this idea: "How can I serve you?" instead of, "What can you do for me?" They also gave us long enough breaks to actually interact.
A huge thank-you to the TEDxSanDiego organizers, sponsors, speakers, and attendees as well as the venue Anthology... It was a life-changing experience.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sunday's Signpost

How do you make an airport friendlier? Cookies help! They have lovely volunteers greeting you when you arrive, with cookies.