Thread of openness weaves TedX talks together | Opensource.com

Thread of openness weaves TedX talks together

Posted 29 Oct 2012 by 

Jen Wike (Red Hat)
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TED is a nonprofit that seeks out "ideas worth spreading", showcasing them annually at a conference before a select audience. Thankfully, the best talks are recorded and released for the viewing pleasure of the rest of us, albeit one by one, over an extended period of time. Chris Grames, President and Partner at New Kind, describes waiting for them as, "like a painfully-slowly dripping faucet teases a man dying of thirst."

Now, the folks at TED offer another way for us to quench our desire to hear great business ideas from people who have made their dreams come true—locally organized TedX events. Already this year, 2,013 TedX events have been held around the world, and there are 746 to go. Clearly, what started out as a small group of people talking about technology, entertainment, and design, has grown to encompass a diverse range of topics and industries with millions listening. 

A local event

Raleigh, North Carolina—a city with a booming population and emerging businesses in both creative and information fields—held it's third annual TedX event this year. To no ones's surprise, it was sold out.

Throughout the day, I couldn't help but notice that many of the talks centered around principles and practices we talk about everyday at opensource.com. It seemed apparent that each speaker has been overtly open to their own passions and natural abilities, open to what worked. That mindset and a commitment to certain ways of doing business grew their dreams into viable companies that not only satisfied their bank accounts, but their need to do good. Let me explain.

Transparency in the production process

How we represent what we think and feel with what we wear is the passion behind Marissa Heyl's company, Symbology Clothing. She argues that because our clothes are 'ready to wear', we are not only disconnected from the clothing-making process itself, but also from the people whose well-being is dependent on the living conditions and wages provided by their work. If we demand higher-quality clothing, we also ensure a better life for our clothes-makers. How?

From her interview with the News & Observer, Marissa and her team select "small artisan groups that are either fair trade certified or guarantee to pay a livable wage. They must work with marginalized populations, particularly women, and provide alternative social programs that educate producers about financial management, health care and the like." To ensure that they operate accordingly, she visits each group personally and requires regular check-ins with artisan data and statistics to measure their impact.

Transparency also provides Marissa with a way to motivate others—making the life of a clothing-maker more tangible and the choices we make more honest.

Ryan Finch of Raleigh City Farm also uses transparency to motivate change. Her team of volunteers turn vacant lots into nourshing farmland, giving the community a clear view of the transformation of seeds to plants to real food. And the hard work that goes into it. Finch recounts the story of a woman and her teenage daughter walking by one day. The teenager, curious, leaned down to inspect a ripe green pepper. Before she knew it, she'd picked it. As her face lit up, she exclaimed that she'd never actually picked food before. Despite some bad days, occasional bad crops, and tired muscles, Finch sees firsthand how one person's understanding can inspire a whole community.

The power of the individual and the community

Open source practices like sharing and participation are made possible by the individual and the communities they inspire. But, for those individuals in our hospitals, foster homes, and prisons who are struggling with an illness or experiencing a difficult setback, doing well and doing good for themselves and their communities may feel distant or seem impossible. 

Shaun Jay, for one, believes the power of the individual never dies, it may just need a spark. He uses the tricks of magic to elicite "a moment of astonishment", leaving the audience with a lingering idea: what seems impossible may be possible. 

Jeff Fischer and A.J. Ware also believe in the good an empowered person can bring about. Fischer started Core Career Coaching because helping people figure out what they're good at, is exactly what he's good at. His advice to everyone: Be a natural. You'll find that it is what's needed in the workforce.

Based on a similiar concept, Ware began Inmates to Entrepreneurs. He found that of current state prisoners, 95% are scheduled to be released back into society at some point, and thought: How will they learn the skills to operate in (or own) a business? So, he decided to share the recipe: a low capital startup that produces profits sooner rather than later and has promise to be successful in the longterm. He says, "It's people helping people."

Leaders are catalysts for change

Just 10 years ago, downtown Raleigh looked very different. Can you say something similiar about your city? Because across the nation, mid-size cities have been experiencing the revitalization of their downtowns, and builders of growth and trust, like David Diaz, CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, know the hard work that goes into that transformation. Proudly, he says that today, 40% of millenials want to live close to downtown.

As for businesses moving downtown, Red Hat is one of many. President and CEO, Jim Whitehurst, talks a lot about what it means to be a great leader and foster a meritocracy. And at TedX Raleigh he pushed the audience to consider the implications of the 'information revolution' and education as the new oil.

Failing faster as a quicker path to innovation

When Aaron Syrett arrived in town as the new Director of the NC Film Office, conflict abounded—between departments, and crews, and guilds. It was a big problem, but to Syrett it was also the solution. He dove in, sorting through the facts and the rumors, getting to the heart of problems, making amends and developing partnerships. His approach to conflict as a good thing moved NC to 3rd in the film industry and increased jobs from 9,000 to 27,000.

Another call for the merits of failing faster came from Brian O'Hara of the NC Offshore Wind Coalition. He delivered a solid argument for renouncing the fossil fuel industry standard of privatizing profits and socializing costs by shifting our investment into new ways of generating energy. Though a costly and lengthy project upfront, harnessing offshore wind is a necessary change towards innovation that promises to provide more stable costs and service in the future.

Doing what works

Open exchange, participation, rapid prototyping, meritocracy, and community-building are hallmarks of an open source way approach to life, business, and communication with others and the world. It's not new, but it's not exactly commonplace. For sure though, the more I look around, towards my peers and mentors, the more I see it's a proven approach. It just works.

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Jen Wike
Open Sourcerer

TedX in a box for developing countries: http://www.ted.com/pages/tedx_in_a_box

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