Crowdsourcing and the Ox

Posted on March 2, 2012 by Comments Off

TED Talks are always quite phenomenal — almost always an intellectual, creative and visual delight. The speakers inevitably bring humor, insight and wisdom.

In this case, TED speaker Lior Zoref not only brought wisdom, he brought CROWD wisdom. And he brought an ox as well. More on that in a moment.

This is NOT the ox. It is a stand-in for the ox brought on stage.

It turns out that when Zoref, self-proclaimed crowdsourcing advocate, attended TEDx in Tel Aviv last year, he shared his dream to be a speaker at TED.  And then set about to achieve that dream. He used social networks to gather crowd wisdom. In short, he gathered crowd wisdom to “write” his speech. The result: phenomenal. A highly creative speech within a speech.

I’ve always been a huge believer in the power of collective thinking, rejecting the idea that any one person truly owns the solution. And with clients we are increasingly bringing the power of the crowd to help tell their stories and strengthen their connection to communities.

 Zoref’s reference to one of my favorite John Lennon lyrics describes perfectly the impact of this kind of thinking:

“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”

And about the ox. Turns out that more than 500 TEDsters, when they use their smartphones to share their collective understanding of an ox’s weight in real time, really CAN guess an ox’s weight. Within about 3 pounds in fact.  Now that’s crowd wisdom.


Iron Your Cape

Posted on March 1, 2012 by 1 Comment

I wrote earlier from #TED2012 (, reinforcing the idea that asking the right question is more important than driving to the “right” answer. I was struck today by a corollary to this truth when I attended the TED session called “The Lab.” Once the answer or answers DO reveal themselves … then what? How would we proceed if we thought we absolutely, positively could not fail? Regina Dugan, director of DARPA and noted artist/engineer, wisely noted that some of the finest scientists are the ones who are able to defy the impossible and refuse to accept failure as a possibility. They teach us, in her vernacular, to get in touch with our “inner superhero.” But what about us mere mortals? Do we, too, have the ability to defy the impossible and refuse to fear failure?

As I experience life, both personal and professional, I see how easily self-doubt and fear can creep in as conventional wisdom is challenged and vision moves into the messy and far more pragmatic (and frightening) business of execution. Ms. Dugan recalled one of her darkest moments at DARPA, where fear and self-doubt did indeed creep in. She spoke of an important mentor in her life who sent her this short message in response: “There is only time enough to iron your cape. Then back to the skies for you!”

I, too, have been fortunate enough to have similar influences in my life when that insidious self-doubt creeps in — whether my family, mentors, professors, true friends, or numerous colleagues. TED itself is a place where inspiring people provide this influential reminder – to one another.  So pause. Go ahead. Take time to touch up your cape and then get back out there. And never, ever allow self-doubt and fear to stand in the way of making the seemingly impossible… possible.

TED2012: The Question Is Often More Important Than The Answer

Posted on February 29, 2012 by 2 Comments

It is the “season” for science fairs in elementary schools across the United States. As a closet science junkie (who as a kid may or may NOT have nearly blown up the basement with my chemistry set) I love the focus of young students as they explore the great mysteries of our world. Curiosity is one of the most important attributes, one that we all should cultivate.

At the heart of curiosity is a question: what, how or, most important to me, why???

I bring this up because the first session at TED2012 was all about the question. Linked to finding answers, of course, but what really stood out was a call to each of us to make sure we constantly ask ourselves if we are even answering the right question.

We all know that many companies focus on asking candidates just the right question, which in turn will get at many attributes that the company wants and needs in their people — to innovate and to win in the marketplace. The same is true for creating a vision and direction in business. Asking the right question first focuses the vision and addresses a big question: To what end are we doing this?

This first session, though, was not at all about the way businesses use the power of the right question.

  • Physicist Brian Greene kicked it off by stating that our very definition of the universe is wrong and that (perhaps) we are just one of many multiverses.
  • Sarah Parcak, a space archeologist (how cool is that title?!?), proved that we know far less about our world than we thought when she used satellites to show that 99 percent of ancient Egypt remains to be discovered. I was just in Egypt, and our lecturer also told us this — and no one really believed it.
  • Author Susan Cain made us question our assumptions about extroverts and the quiet and contemplative introvert.
  • Writer Paul Gilding challenged us to consider new ways to reinvent the global economy in the name of social progress
  • And futurist Peter Diamandis discussed his goal to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges, through the lens of life’s possibilities.

I have always celebrated “the question.” And, in fact, curiosity is one of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide’s values. I am attending TED2012 to engage with a diverse and extremely accomplished spectrum of innovators. And through my own questioning and curiosity I expect that some remarkable linkages and learning will occur. Best of all, I will hear from and meet people who have different points of view. And who live their lives asking the right questions to come to more robust and novel answers.

What If You’re Not a Rocket Scientist?

Posted on July 19, 2011 by 1 Comment

This past week I had the privilege to attend TED Global 2011 and speak at TED University about the role of communication in igniting not just innovation but, more importantly, the impact resulting from the innovation on those who need it most.

All speakers (both at TED U and on the main stage) brought incredible passion and insight to their talks, and as a communicator it is so exciting to see several commonalities that reinforce why I am convinced that communications — compelling and transparent storytelling — can play a role in adopting world-changing innovation.

  • We are living in a world of arguably unprecedented change.  How far-fetched did the idea that the governments of Tunisia, Egypt and now (possibly) Libya would all change hands via revolutions driven by their own people sound a year ago? Let alone two, three or more years ago? Or that 140 characters would equate to the new “press conference” for celebrities and a smoking gun for scandalous politicians? Great change means complexity and questions, but also huge opportunity.  If, as a communicator, being able to help play a pivotal role in simplifying the complex, getting answers to hard questions and realizing the promise of what change can bring doesn’t excite you, then I don’t
    know what would. This leads me to my second takeaway.
  • Despite the enormous change environment, great stories are still struggling to get out. There is a great deal of innovation in the world, and while we know we are making progress, are we really using the innovation as powerfully as we can to solve the huge world problems? Is it getting to the people and places that require it? Is it that the ideas or innovations are not relevant? Is the right delivery system not in place? Or is it that the right story is not being told to the right audience? It is all of these, and the one I am most qualified to comment on is: Stories of innovation must be told.

How does telling a good story aid in the adoption of innovation? That’s something I hit on in my TED U talk: 1) Your story must have an impact — what will it do, and how will it change the world in a large and significant way or even a small and compelling
manner?  2) As always, know who your audience is and why they will care about your story. 3) Simplify and retell. I realize the
dangers of oversimplifying the complex. But not everyone is a rocket scientist (I am not), and yet many are interested in rockets.  So the way more people will learn about rockets is if those who are rocket scientists — share. 4) And lastly, the greatest minds in history have revisited their efforts — revised them and retold. The Mona Lisa has at least two previous versions under the one we know today after all.

One of my favorite talks at TED Global was given by Mark Pagel. He showed us that language is the most fundamental building block for innovation because it is the tool for us to truly collaborate. And when we collaborate, we spend less time reinventing the wheel and instead leap more quickly ahead because we are sharing ideas, discarding those that do not yield a good result and coalescing on a way forward.  We have massive problems in the world right now, and we have more promise of addressing these if we are working together. At the heart of this progress lies true collaboration, made possible by open and robust communications.

Simplifying the Complex

Posted on July 12, 2011 by 1 Comment

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking at the TED University session at TEDGlobal 2011. My topic was Wildfire Stories and, more specifically, how to take impactful innovations that can (at times) be complicated due to the science and technology required to bring them to life and to simplify the story around them so their impact can be understood in a manner that helps get the story told — and more importantly heard.

During the presentations, audience members had the opportunity to engage by speaking out about a big trend that TED attendees should be thinking about – comments were just thrown out from the audience floor. One comment shared from a gentleman from NASA was very relevant to my talk on storytelling: “The danger of over-simplifying complex ideas” was a trend he was worried about.

I intend to find that TEDster to hear more about his concern; I agree 100 percent that we cannot afford to trivialize complex challenges and issues so knee-jerk decisions and actions are taken because this can sometimes drive greater issues than those they were intended to solve.

But I’d also share the following:

  • Even as a kid, I loved science. I entered science fairs every year (my favorite was making my own paper from a wooden block out of my toy box) and grew up in a household where understanding the complex was expected. My dad used to quiz me on names of obscure rocks and minerals.
  •  I believe my upbringing and becoming so intrigued by the wonder of science and technology were driving forces behind my founding the agency that bears my (and my business partner’s) name today. I wanted to be able to bring together the curiosity of the innovator who asked the question of “Why?” — or, as is often a better question, “Why not?” — when developing a breakthrough innovation and marry that with the passion for TELLING that story in a way that removes barriers to adoption and IMPACT. 
  • As I mentioned in my talk, the reason this is SO important is because an invention doesn’t equate to being an innovation — and an innovation has no impact until it gets into the hands of the people who can most benefit from it.

One of our core values at WE is curiosity. Sometimes we probably have embraced this to nearly a fault when we constantly ask “Why, why, why?” But by asking those questions in partnership with our clients and listening to the answers, we can demystify the complex — that is what enables us to take the amazingly innovative, and sometimes equally complex, and make it a story that can truly change the way we live. That’s exciting stuff — and is the reason I still love the work I do today as much as I did over 25 years ago.

Pipers, Potter and Passion

Posted on July 10, 2011 by Comments Off

When you revisit a place you haven’t been to for many years, you can sometimes find that your memories were better than reality, or as is the case for me while visiting Edinburgh this week for TED Global, you can rediscover a place all over again and enjoy it with a fresh perspective. 

Years ago, my first point of entry into the great country of Scotland was Prestwick where I stayed with a local family for a week.  I was 16 and VERY impressionable, with the most vivid recollection being the kindness of my homestay family.  Now I am again in the city where Harry Potter began to come to life, and like myself the city has grown and changed in that time, making it a fresh place for me to visit once again.  Importantly though the people are just as kind as I remember, which I was reminded of when at dinner tonight with Mervyn Lee, Executive Director of Mercy Corps European Headquarters. 

Edinburgh is a city where they celebrate the arts alongside cultural diversity and understanding, and as such it’s an excellent choice for TED Global where many unique and accomplished people are gathering from all over the planet.  The TED conferences have always inspired me; and left me all wired up to charge out there and try new things; plus I have unfailingly met an amzing range of engaged, committed and inventive people.  In addition to spending time with other TEDsters, I have the honor of speaking on Monday at my first TED University talk.  My talk will be about a topic  that I am extremely  passionate about – using storytelling to spark the promise innovations holds and help it make an impact for those who can benefit from it most. 

It’s only a short talk, and honestly I never thought I’d spend so much time on a 4 minute speech as I have on this one, but really it is the fantstic audience that has inspired me.  I am very much looking forward to listening and talking with the collection of great thinkers here in the coming days like Karol Boudreaux, Rebecca MacKinnon, Allan Jones and many others.  It can be humbling and even a bit intimidating to hear from so many smart people working with such passion on things that are capable of transforming the world in major ways – but I must admit it’s also a lot of fun and a huge learning experience. 

It’s that spirit of what is possible, and how we can collectively tackle big problems –  a single person at a time –  that I hope to contribute to tomorrow by inspiring even just one person to be more active in sharing a story of innovation that they are passionate about, so that it can spark someone else…to spark someone else…to spark..someone else.

← Back to