Inspiration comes in many forms. Last Friday, I went to TEDxCLE, the local Cleveland TED conference, held at the breathtaking Cleveland Museum of Art. After a long week, I was seeking some inspiration and creative energy. Through the theme of Import/Export, a wide variety of speakers discussed ideas, big and small, that they imported to Cleveland or exported from Cleveland. The topic might well have been “Inspire and Innovate” because the universal theme that emerged was that dreaming and believing in the impossible, when coupled with some serious elbow grease, could generate jaw-dropping, world-changing results.
One example after another underscored that “design thinking” can overcome serious and significant challenges, such as:
- Why are fewer pharmaceutical drugs being introduced to the market despite greater investment and more medical breakthroughs?
- Can we create an “artificial nervous system” to enable paraplegics to stand and walk without cumbersome external equipment?
- How will Cleveland overcome urban decay and the plight of 16,000 vacant homes across several historic neighborhoods?
- Can we create a cheap, fast and accurate test for the deadliest forms of cancer?
- How can the Cleveland public school system overcome the educational deficiencies in underprivileged neighborhoods and boost STEM proficiency and college admission rates?
- How can we leverage photography and social media to create support networks during times of personal tragedy?
Art Falco of Playhouse Square hit home the message that one person can make a significant difference. “Complacency is not an option.” He has helped build the second largest theater district outside of NYC, boasting a subscriber base of 29,000, by looking outside of the theaters and focusing on neighborhood development.
Many similar lessons emerged from the speakers, some of them platitudes: Overcome self-doubt. Take small steps. Stay close to your audience. See limitations as opportunities. Focus on the execution, down to the tiniest details. Don’t rely on yourself alone – build a great team. Be curious. Open yourself up to what you don’t know.
One thing that struck me was that three of the presenters were under 20-years-old. It is remarkable to see how creativity and optimism can take hold so early and generate inspiring results.
- Andrea Lane is a young engineer who graduated from the first class at Cleveland’s MC2STEM High School. She went on to run the school’s Fab Lab, a mobile hands-on learning tool that enables kids to move from conception to fabrication of their ideas.
- Lisa Peng is a powerfully eloquent 17-year-old high school senior and human rights activist. Her family sought political asylum in the U.S. in 2001. Then, in 2004, her father was kidnapped in Burma by Chinese secret police and sentenced to life in a Chinese prison for his pro-Democracy activism.
- Jack Andraka, while just a sophomore in high school, invented an inexpensive and accurate test for the rapid and early detection of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers after a close family friend died of pancreatic cancer.
Talk about thought-provoking speakers and challenging questions! Perhaps the most inspiring speaker was Alonzo Mitchell, a community activist who sported a shirt emblazoned with the message “I am Ohio.” A natural cheerleader and driver of positive change in Northeast Ohio, he claims to be immune to the word “no” and has boundless energy. He laid out a plan of attack for each of his projects:
- Have a great idea
- Build an amazing team
- Create a plan
- Execute the plan
- Let the universe take over
In my little notebook at the end of the day, I jotted down this equation:
Vision + hard work + collaboration = near-magical transformation
To me, that sums up what TED is all about: Sharing profound ideas to inspire the world.
Where do you find your inspiration?