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. If you focus on that space, eventually it 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. For me, this food blog reflects my passion. I realized that my question is, “How can I help people make positive changes in their lives?” 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?” My answer to this was frequently, “I just started a food blog.”

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. This is a photo of their very cool hydroponics system, which allows people to farm fish like tilapia, then use the fish waste to fertilize the plants. It’s highly productive and compact.

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. The most famous example in his work is that if a person is obese (or starts losing weight), their friends are 40% more likely to do the same. Their friends’ friends are 20% more likely to follow, and their friends’ friends’ friends 10% more likely. He told me that he himself has lost five pounds because he wants to be a good role model for his son, his sons’ friends, and those kids’ parents. Cool. 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.