To me, the pinnacle of success is speaking at a TED conference. I could try to explain my love affair with TED but instead recommend you check out the talks and see what I mean (or read this old post). Last Sunday, I felt privileged to get to attend a TEDx event in HitechCity, x meaning it’s an independently organized event so does not carry the same gravitas or prestige that a “real” TED event does. Nonetheless I was looking forward to a day full of intellectual stimulation.
The cliff notes version of TED talks is that they are typically about 20 minutes of passionate, substantive, innovative and thought provoking content by some of the world’s most notable people. (The 2010 event actually starts tomorrow). TED used to stand for Technology Entertainment Design but they’ve expanded that and now use the tag line “ideas worth spreading.” Interestingly, I just learned that TED Curator, Chris Anderson, is married to Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen Fund officially making them the ultimate power couple to me.
Of the 22 or so speakers from Sunday’s event, many of them were unfortunately not worth spreading (or have been spread so far, it’s not worth repeating like “use LED lightbulbs to help the environment”) but these five really captured my attention. I look forward to hearing what ideas emerge from TED 2010 in Long Beach, CA this week.
- Nagesh Kukunoor talked about the “unexplored zone”: Nagesh is a famous Indian film director who used to be an environmental consultant in the U.S. The dramatic career change is enough to pique my attention, but his approach to movies is even more intriguing. While he made a few interesting but unoriginal points: “naïveté lets you do things you don’t know you shouldn’t do” and “the unexplored zone is not always new, just twisting the old,” what most fascinated me was his seeming obsession with not being slotted into a genre. While he thinks movies should be entertainment first, and that a message is a nice to have, he is such a purest when it comes to story telling and letting the audience do the interpretive work, that he rejects the Bollywood mold of heavy makeup or songs, trying to be as “real” as stories can be. For this, some of his movies have been hits and others not so much. His takeaway message: keep exploring.
- Dr. Neeraj Raj’s talk was Heads – Malaria…Tails – Jaundice: As in many parts of the developing world, illegal medicine practicing is a problem in India. Roughly 80% of India still lives in rural parts of the country and many (if not most) of these people have no access to a trained medical professional. At the same time, 50% of common medical problems (like diarrhea) don’t require a doctor but instead someone with an ability to point to over the counter treatment and recognize danger signs that do require a doctor’s attention. He argues that if we can digitize medical education such that we can more efficiently teach fact-based learning, then we can begin to address the problem of illegal rural medicine and also focus more on skill based education. While I didn’t quite capture how he wants to bring digital medicine to rural India (since I don’t even have internet at home), the idea of capturing teachings of the best instructors around the country, combining it with interactive multimedia, and adding note taking and direct question submission functionality is brilliant. The tool is called SmarTeach and currently has 750 active teaching professors on the site.
- The best presentation of the day was Karuna Gopal on the truth about Indian Cities: She combined analogy and vivid photography to make the case that city planning should be a top priority for India, as poorly planned cities and rapid growth lead to extreme poverty and wealth, serious health problems, and the kind of civil unrest that can influence terrorism. She was refreshingly blunt in her message: Indian government doesn’t have project management capabilities, doesn’t know how to work in teams, doesn’t coordinate processes and lacks creative, persuasive communication to get people to pay attention or take action (there are lots of billboards and newspaper ads with a million words and only faces of politicians). She argued that business leaders need to begin to inject their skills and talent to teach and encourage government bodies to adopt better practices. Her take-away: Business cannot succeed in a city that fails.
- Prosenjit Ganguly’s presentation was called Flowers do fly: An independent animation designer, screenwriter and media educator, PJ is slowly transforming Indian education through small workshops that teach children how to express themselves and tell their stories through multimedia. He showed one of his videos about how Indian schooling is about repetition, listening not talking, discipline and learning right/wrong which earned the largest applause of the day - clearly it resonated with the ISB students. The philosophy behind his work is that education should, instead, be a “tool to express what’s going on in your mind” and to reflect on what we see. He said that what moves us is our story line, and in inviting people (even little people) to tell these stories, the result is consequence and mission. I loved this message.
- Similar to Karuna, Kanthi Kannan posed a question: Walking, is it a fundamental right? In a previous post, I mentioned the lack of sidewalks and danger when walking. If I had to say my number one challenge with living here, it’s easily my inability to walk where I want to go. She shared that 5 pedestrians die each week in Hyderabad and 40 get injured, despite the fact that 40% of the Hyderabad workforce walks to work. Why is this? People who walk don’t make decisions and people who make decisions (or have influence) don’t walk. Interestingly, it’s not just sidewalks that cities need, but walking needs to be marketed as cool. Right now, walking generally means you don’t have money for transportation. Her take-away: The single biggest difference between a developed nation and an underdeveloped nation is footpaths.
Photo credit: TEDxHitechCity on flickr