Day 1

The days are long in Banff. Especially in June. Especially with a latitude of 51.1784° N, which is even further north than Quebec City. This week, the week of the summer solstice, the sun is setting around 10:00 p.m. and up again at around 5:30 a.m. At 1,383 meters, which isn’t too terribly high, mugs of hot drinks cool off a lot faster than at home in La Crosse (altitude 204 m). The streets are named after wildlife, there are high stacks of cut firewood in everyone’s front yard, and the architecture echoes the chalets of a mountain village in the Alps. Literally surrounded by mountains, literally full of boutiques, restaurants and outdoor recreation rentals, Banff is an international resort town and you can hear multitudes of different languages in all directions. The local folks are genuinely friendly and local accent is that of Mrs. Patmore and Daisy (the cooks in Downton Abbey). Charming, to say the least. Banff is a blend of Salida, CO, and anywhere, Vermont.

It’s Day 1 of the first global TEDxSummit. I left the heat and humidity of Western Wisconsin yesterday, and I realize now that I could have done a better job packing. I head out of my hotel early this morning, bypass the shuttle bus in order to walk to the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity where the week’s TEDxSummit conference is happening. It’s chilly and I am underdressed, even though I’ve put on multiple layers. The walk turns in an uphill hike after Wolf Street. After crossing Muskrat Street, Beaver Street, Otter Street, Caribou Street, and Buffalo Street, I am now overdressed and sweaty.

I start to see young smiling TED interns holding directional TEDx “lollipops”, pointing us towards registration and a community breakfast. I pick up my goodie bag, a navy blue backpack called a “TED Survival Kit” with the typical random swag from sponsors (men’s socks, a razor, mint breath spray, instant shower sheet (what’s that?), and toothpaste. huh?) All I really want is one of the intern’s black TED t-shirts, but no, I can’t have one of those. Note to self: negotiate one of those later in the week.

We are shuffled into the main conference room where upbeat music is playing, and a TEDx themed blanket has been placed on everyone’s chair. My suitcase was already so tight that I could hardly close it, and with all of this stuff they keep giving us, I wonder how that will happen again. Over 500 TEDx organizers have gathered in this room and the energy is high. We have all downloaded this fancy TEDxSummit app on our smart phones with all kinds of organizational shortcuts including schedules, local info, people search, logistics, and a scanner that allows for a seamless exchange of contact info when you meet someone. You place your phone over their badge, and much like a QR Code, it recognizes the data on the badge, and enters that person’s info into your phone. Very elegant.

The two big TEDx rock stars are introduced, the TEDxSummit interns and volunteer teams, and there are some interactive ice-breakers with PollEverywhere to find out where people are from and how we say hello. It truly is a room without borders. The message they send is that TED is more than an event to spread good ideas. It’s an energy, a movement, an experience, an engine. Researchers are apparently studying the TED movement as a model for the future: building communities, making ideas into reality. The goal of this TEDxSummit it to make awesome even more awesome. To aim higher, together.

Entrepreneur and overall TED Curator Chris Anderson climbs on stage to a full room of applause and speaks to the future of TED and TEDx, this “global laboratory” where we all learn from each other. He speaks highly of all of the TEDx events across the globe, and how they have helped TED to reorganize and better locate the amazing ideas that are coming out of the far corners of the world from TEDx events. (Remember, the x after TED means “independently organized”). The big TED folks are improving the TED.com web interface to allow viewers to locate TEDx talks by location and language. Basically, TED is extracting from TEDx. How cool is that? Chris talks about the huge future agenda of TED. With a global expansion of local broadband for everyone, that means 4 billion people online. And that means more access to TED and TEDx. For this future, TED must reinvent itself to better connect to all of these TEDx ideas, knowledge, and experience. It’s about breaking the silos. Mixing and mingling online. Chris also mentioned more ideas they are playing around with, such as creating an online community for TED and TEDx speakers. More to come, he promises.

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Breakout session #1: Everyone breaks up into groups of about 25 in small rooms. We’re all doing the same thing with different TEDx facilitators. Our mission for this first breakout session is about Passion. He throws out a question: What is the fire in your belly?  We “solo generate” for a few minutes, write our thoughts on post-its with thick black Sharpie pens for better visualization (they’ve thought of everything), and then explore together by putting our post-its on a white wall. We synthesize together to see the themes that are popping up. It’s a group effort and a few are asked to physically start to move post-its around. We have 5 themes. Then we’re asked to condense them down to 3. Not so easy. But we do it and send our results to the higher ups in another room. Break for coffee and a stretch!

Breakout session #2: We come back, and it’s hard to stop all the conversations that have started. But we have another mission, and this one is about Purpose: Imagine that aliens arrive on Earth. Explain to them how TEDx helps our planet. We “solo generate” and write thoughts down on post-its again, but this time we slap them up against the window. Undeniably, this makes for better pictures. We “group synthesize”, move them around, come up with themes, and then have to condense. Patterns are emerging. The last question is done in groups of 5: If we could make one big impact on the world, it would be… my group comes up with a mathematical equation trying to integrate concepts of connection, inspiration and action. It’s an equation that would make mathematicians cringe, but it wins the group election. Our facilitator wants words and encourages us to use them to translate the concepts–in other words (no pun intended), do a direct reverse. We try and the room struggles to find one that is not too wordy. But it’s past 1:00 p.m. and I think we are just hungry.

Even though collective gatherings such as this are an exciting nightmare for introverts, it’s very easy to have interesting conversations with everyone. You just plop yourself down next to someone and start talking or asking questions. It works every time. I realize that our little TEDx venue at UWL is on a definite smaller scale than most everyone else that I speak with. University TEDx events seem to be less represented so far, but it’s only Day 1. Budgets are much much larger than ours (events costing $35,000 is par for the course), and events are day long ones, or 4 hour ones, with attendee interaction taking place during provided meals in between talks, transitions between talks consisting of performances, and everyone has a public speaker coach that meets several times with the speakers. TEDx non-profit event coordinators who encounter the problem of obtaining a fiscal identity  because they are not affiliated with a larger institution such as a municipality or a university have problem-solved by creating non-profits that lend a tax id in order to obtain a TEDx license. It’s a big world out there once you leave La Crosse.

New people, terms, and concepts I’ve learned so far:

Scrum Master: a professional trained in “creative facilitation” in the field of organizational communication. The term comes from “scrum”, a rugby method where the team self-organizes and makes changes quickly. Scrum Masters manage and facilitate how the changes and information is exchanged. The exercises we did today with post-its might be an example of a tactic that a Scrum Master would facilitate. Sounds like a fun job.

Design Racism: from what I could understand, this concept is “big” in the Los Angeles area.  I can only explain it as a sort of “profiling” that people do based on a stereotypical set of skill sets that one automatically associates with a job. Say “engineer” and you assume certain things about that person. Say “product” and it’s not so “racist”. Google didn’t help me understand this better.

Non-English Initiative: A new-for-my-ears term for TED’s effort to put up pages in other languages. It’s all about PC. Am I a non-man? A non-Golden Retriever?

So, fellow TED fans, the day was indeed long and full. I had a nice walk about town tonight. I am impressed with the edible landscaping done around town (rhubarb, herbs, raspberries). I discovered many walking trails everywhere and hope to get up early tomorrow before our canoe venture, and explore the early Banff morning. We’ve been encouraged not to venture out alone because of possibly meeting a bear.

This is my way of ending this post in a most intriguing way. Come back to see if I met anything!

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