TEDxSMU Takeaways

10 big takeaways from TEDxSMU 2013

TEDxSMU 2013
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TEDxSMU speaker Eric Bing
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TEDxSMU speaker Dan Goods
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TEDxSMU speaker Afshan Khan
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TEDxSMU speaker Pamela Nelson
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TEDxSMU speaker Katie Spotz
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TEDxSMU speaker Biff Palmer
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TEDxSMU speaker Patrick Walsh
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TEDxSMU speaker Michael Sorrell
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TEDxSMU speaker Lyanna Johnson Smith
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TEDxSMU speaker Dave Lieber
Photo courtesy of TEDxSMU

Dallas City Performance Hall was brimming with inspiration and excitement October 19 at TEDxSMU, as 24 speakers took to the stage for 15-minute speeches centered around the theme “And Then…”

Now in its fifth year, TEDxSMU is an independently organized offshoot of the famous TED conferences, which connect thought leaders from around the world and challenge audiences to look at and think about their world in a different way.

There were numerous memorable moments during the all-day event, from onstage live painting to an open mic slot, where audience members could make a 30-second speech and mark “give a TED talk” off their bucket lists.

Ten quotes, however, resonated long after the applause died down. Some may not make much sense on their own, but in context they help illuminate the speakers’ messages.

“Push. Pull. Evaluate.” — Dr. Eric G. Bing

Eric Bing, a senior fellow and the director of global health at the George W. Bush Institute as well as a professor of global health at SMU, wondered why medical care isn’t approached more like a business.

He shared the story of his mother’s death from cervical cancer, a disease that can generally be treated if discovered early enough and even vaccinated against, and his work in Rwanda, where the community is aggressively ensuring its citizens receive preventative screenings and treatment in general health.

Using Coca-Cola as an example, Dr. Bing explained how successful businesses “push” into the market, then “pull” consumers back in through marketing, before they “evaluate” the results and adjust accordingly. He proclaimed that because of distribution — both of medicine and people — disease is not a medical problem but a business one.

“Does not work. ☹ Looks pretty cool though.” — Dan Goods

As a visual strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dan Goods figures out how to illustrate to ordinary people things that may be happening on galactic or microscopic scales.

Backing up a bit, he detailed how his personal passion — a sound experiment involving soda bottles — helped him secure his job and the trust of his department to explore what he though important, despite poor grades and SAT scores. Goods shared a slide of his notes from that first experiment, frowny face and all.

Concluding that failure is only the first step to success, Goods reiterated the necessity of asking questions, collaboration and always trying again.

“There are Malala moments for every woman.” — Afshan Khan

Referencing Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani woman who stood up for her right to education, Afshan Khan reminded the audience that bravery can occur in any circumstance. As the president and CEO of Women for Women International, Khan works to help women who are affected by war and conflict to transform their lives.

She put forth the idea that when you invest in a woman, the first thing she will do is invest in her children, bettering the community and creating the next generation of leaders.

Using examples of real women who have risen from unimaginable circumstances to positions of power through their businesses, Khan juxtaposed their stories with the fact that only 8 percent of all peace negotiations involve women.

“What fresh hell is this?” — Pamela Nelson

Pamela Nelson, a Dallas artist who openly admitted she was nervous to speak in front of such a large crowd, earned the day’s first standing ovation as she shared her experience caring for her husband, who has a rare form of Parkinson’s disease.

It was difficult to choose a penultimate quote from Nelson, as nearly every tip and observation she imparted was tinged with pathos, self-deprecation and humor.

Remarking that she thought “suffering was only supposed to be for art,” Nelson reminded us that life and its problems constantly change, so we must alter our solutions as needed.

Sometimes that may mean relying on the help of friends and caregivers to get through the day; other times it may mean loving what is, not what could be. The obvious love she still has for her husband and her realistic yet positive attitude moved the crowd to their feet.

“I’m not going to row 3,000 miles. I’m going to row one mile, 3,000 times.” — Katie Spotz

The youngest person to row solo across the Atlantic, Katie Spotz didn’t even know how to maneuver a paddle when she first decided to break the record. The last woman who attempted the route, Spotz noted, had to be rescued. And she was an Olympic rower.

Spotz’s fearless, no-nonsense attitude (she didn’t even own a bike when she signed up for a cross-country ride) resonated with the audience.

We all have something we think is impossible, she related, but truly nothing is unattainable if we just swallow our excuses and do it.

As part of her record-breaking, 70-day journey, Spotz was also fundraising for the Blue Planet Network, which provides clean drinking water around the world.

“Why not?” — Biff F. Palmer, M.D.

Biff Palmer has climbed the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven continents, and he did it because he asked himself, “Why not?”

Dr. Palmer is a professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern. When he decided to start mountaineering, however, he was also a self-professed couch potato.

Palmer walked us through each of his attempts (some mountains took several tries), detailing what hadn’t worked and what he adjusted for the next go.

Each mountain had its own barrier, yet Palmer faced one after another with the fearless question that ultimately led him to the summit of Mount Everest.

“Nations have interests, but people have friends.” — Patrick M. Walsh

When the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Japan in 2011, Admiral Patrick Walsh led the U.S. military response.

Walsh, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, witnessed firsthand the devastation and loss of life Japan endured. But, more important, he witnessed how countries pulled together to offer life-saving supplies and manpower to help Japan rebuild from one of the worst natural disasters.

As he spoke, images detailing the damage and rescue efforts faded in and out behind him.

His speech closed with a poignant video message from the survivors in Japan, in which  they thanked America for coming to their aid even amid the threat of radiation from the nearby Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

“We decided we were going to believe in a new field of dreams.” — Michael J. Sorrell

Paul Quinn College, located in southeast Dallas, is continually redefining the new urban college model. President Michael Sorrell took students’ low entry test scores and being situated in a food desert — with no groceries stores in the vicinity — and focused on teaching his kids how to survive as part of a community.

The school’s football field was turned into a working farm, which donates 10 percent of its food back to the community. Current customers include the Dallas Cowboys and high-end restaurants like Hibiscus and Bolsa. Teaching students how to work on the farm while educating them about healthy eating habits establishes a sense of selflessness, Sorrell explained.

His goal is to help the kids create jobs, not just look for them. The skills and work ethic they learn while working on the farm translate into higher test scores and improved self-worth, which in turn benefits the community.

“Volunteer even if you don’t get a T-shirt.” — Lyanna Johnson Smith

One of the speakers who came to TEDxSMU through open auditions, Lyanna Johnson Smith used her 15 minutes on the stage to outline a compelling case for reforming the foster care system.

She defined the term “relational poverty,” when kids who can’t be raised by their parents also don’t have a relative, neighbor or close family friend available to step in. She also cited statistics about what happens to foster kids when they turn 18: Two out of three will be homeless, in jail or dead a year after they “age out” of the system.

Smith is foster parent herself, something she had never envisioned but now couldn’t imagine her life without. Admitting that not everyone can help out in that way, she urged the crowd to volunteer their time, donate money or simply just vote for foster care reform.

“I don’t want to hear about your success.” — Dave Lieber

The closing speaker, Dave Lieber imparted on the crowd the importance of telling a good story, no matter what point you are trying to get across.

As helpful as bullet points can be, Lieber described how our brains become more engaged when they have a story to follow. Sports, for example, contains a hero and a villain, a beginning, a conclusion and an emotional journey for us to embark upon. Hearing the happy ending without the struggle, he explained, isn’t as exciting.

He shared with the rapt audience his own experience of arriving in Texas from New York, feeling like an outsider as the lone Yankee Jew among Southern Baptists. Wooing his wife and her family (and the dog who had a grudge against him) through the pages of the Dallas Morning News, where he writes the Watchdog column, culminated in a happy ending — one that wouldn’t have seemed quite as rewarding without first knowing how hard he worked to get there.