Thursday, October 22, 2009

TEDxDetroit - Where Do We Go From Here?

I've given myself a day of reflection on TEDxDetroit before writing about it. I wanted to 1) let my head stop spinning from all the great ideas I was exposed to, and 2) allow some time for the Kool-Aid to leave my system and give the conference a more objective treatment.

I wanted to get these thoughts down while they were fresh, but as soon as the videos are available from these talks, I'll be sure to update the post to include them. Until then, forgive me if I don't offer a complete synopsis of the talks.

First off, if you're unfamiliar with TED or the TEDx concept, take a look at this piece in TIME about the TEDxDetroit conference for a little background information, or check out Chris Spiek's synopsis at Positive Detroit. Of course, you could visit TED.com and spend some time with a few of the videos there.

Charlie Wollborg, Terry Bean, Catherine Juon, Derek Mehraban, et al. did an incredible job lining up some real heavy hitters for the conference. The speakers were truly excellent, and their talks insightful, concise, and potent. Kudos to these folks for their herculean efforts.

The AM session's highlight was Rich Sheridan (read about him in Forbes) from Menlo Innovations, talking about design, particularly when it comes to software. His talk was titled "End Human Sufferring as it Relates to Technology". He really drove home the point that most people are slow to adopt tools and software whose interface gets in the way. No matter how powerful or useful the product, the utilization won't ever happen without clean and easy design. As a technologist, I often cite that if someone needs to understand technology on my level to use it, then that technology is *broken*.

The PM session really ramped things up. Chazz Miller was electrifying, showing off all the work he's done with Public Art Workz already, and all the work that was to come. His most touching moment was talking about the inspiration for this mural in Brightmoor:


Matt Dugener (COO of Enliven Software) gave a great lecture on "Building an Enterprise Class in Michigan". It was a real eye-opener for me. He says that, in Michigan, we've taught our children for generations to be good employees, but not good employers. He also says that Michigan has tremendous economic assets, but they're all locked behind closed walls in a command-and-control structure that worked for making cars, but is anathema to innovation. Definitely give this talk a listen.

Paul Schutt, Issue Media Group, really did a nice job talking about the mechanics of media, and how they affect the Detroit area. Now, I don't go in for the media claptrap (more on that in a minute), but Schutt had hard data! (My favorite). He nimbly discussed the long tail economics of the Michigan job market, and showed us that the jobs in Michigan being created are out along that long tail, not in the Big Butt. He notes that the only thing that traditional media can pay attention to, however, is the Big Butt. When GM cuts 2,500 jobs, it's on the front page. When 20 startups employ 25 people each, it goes unnoticed. I think combining this information with what Matt Dugener said in the talk previous about command-and-control structure reveals a great nugget of Michigan truth: We're conditioned to feed ourselves as cogs to the Big Machine. Anything else seems insignificant to both ourselves (Dugener) and the Media (Schutt). Schutt then goes on to show how he's waging war on this old-style media and its shortcomings with ModelD, and the rest of the publications from the Issue Media Group.

After Schutt, poet D Blair hit the stage and offered a reading of "Detroit (While I Was Away)". I literally thought the crowd was going to rise up and carry him out of the auditorium on their shoulders. Luckily, it was captured on a Flip camera, so I can share it with you now:

TEDxDetroit video: Poet D Blair performs 'Detroit (while I was away)'



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So fellow TEDxDetroiters, where do we go from here? So many good ideas and so much energy was harnessed and focused at TEDxDetroit, I can't stand to see it just dissipate! I'm assuming that the TEDxDetroit web site will be the clearing house for information about this event and future events, but I hope we have more than a hashtag holding us together in this journey we've embarked upon.

So what do you think? Lobby for a shared blog on the TEDxDetroit site? Discussion boards? A whole new project? Existing platforms like Motor City Connect or Facebook? Is it even worth trying to build more formal connections?
I want to hear your suggestions, thoughts, and ideas. Keep sharing.