TED2013: Takeaway roundup

Every talk this week had a message that could help us shape our personal lives as well as the bigger world around us. I want to conclude my TED coverage with four talks that resonated most with me. The over-arching takeaway here was that obstacles give us the opportunity to think, problem-solve, and create something amazing.

Amanda Palmer: Asking is connecting

Before Amanda Palmer got her alt-rock band Dresden Dolls off the ground, she was an 8-foot living statue for five years. She says her work as a street performer gave her the ability to directly connect with her music fans, which she did by hanging out with them, inviting them up on the stage with her, and getting to know them on a personal level. This unconventional relationship between performer and audience allowed her to turn the music industry's business model on its head. She decided to give her music away for free, and in exchange, she would receive things she needed - a piano, food, a place to crash - just by asking. When she asked for $100,000 on kickstarter, she received $1.2million. By asking people, you connect with them, and by connecting with them, they want to help you. "When we really see each other, we want to help each other. People have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, 'How do we make people pay for music?' What if we started asking, 'How do we let people pay for music."

Phil Hansen: Embracing limitation drives creativity

After years of creating beautiful works of detailed pointillism, Phil Hansen developed a debilitating tremor in his hands. His method of doing art had caused him irreversible nerve damage. At first he dropped out of the art world. But then he decided to take his neurologist's advice and "embrace the shake." Now Hansen finds ways to create masterpieces without having to draw a straight line, such as painting with the sides of his hands in a karate chop fashion, or using scribbles to create portraits. What he realized is that too many options paralyze his creativity, but placing limitations on a project make creativity limitless.

Richard Turere: Listening to our youth can take us far

13-year-old Richard Turere fits all three categories of this year's TED theme: The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered. He comes from a rural part of Kenya near a national park that's home to wild animals, including lions that were killing his neighborhood's livestock. In retaliation, people were killing the lions at a devastating rate. At age 9, during his time spent between taking care of the cattle and teaching himself electronics (by taking apart things like his mother's radio), Turere had a brilliant idea: "lion lights." Lions are afraid of lights, so why not create an electric fence that flashes lights when it detects movement? This would protect both the livestock and the lions at very little cost. He turned his solution into a reality and now people all over Kenya are using his invention to protect their animals.

(Photo courtesy of Sugata Mitra)

Sugata Mitra: Sparking curiosity moves minds.

"Curiosity is the vitamin of learning," says Sugata Mitra, who doesn't believe that our present way of teaching is preparing kids for the future. After noticing that the rich kids in India who used computers were considered "gifted" while the slum kids without computers "were not," Mitra decided to conduct experiments as part of his "Hole in the Wall" project. He set an English-speaking computer down on the street in a remote village in front of Tamil-speaking kids. When he returned several months later, the kids were all using the computer. When he asked them how this could be, they said they taught themselves English so that they could play the computer's games.

After repeating and refining this experiment with different subjects, his project proved that kids learn best when their curiosity is aroused, and not when they are threatened with tests and punishments, which cause the brain to shut down. All they need is a little encouragement, and their curiosity will motivate them to explore on their own. Mitra won this year's TED Prize of $1,000,000, which he is going to use to build A School in the Cloud - a physical facility based on his findings. He said his wish was for the TED audience to help him design the future of learning by helping him build this school - and he meant it. He was seriously taking down ideas and contact information from anyone who wanted to be a part of his plan. For more information visit TED's page about Mitra. And spread the word.

See all TED2013 coverage


    1. She’s just not that great a musician…

      You don’t enjoy her style of music or you believe her unskilled?

      Here’s her playing a cover of Creep on ukulele https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faDiGGOrC1g something that most people could learn to do in a week. Definitely not requiring Mozart-level prodigal abilities. But goddamn I’m loving hearing it in the background while typing this. I bet that was a hell of a show to be at even if her music isn’t one’s style. Her crowd interaction is a 1000x better than the usual “Chicago!!! Are you ready to rock!!!” banter that neophyte fans suck up from rock legends. Here’s her cover of “Exit Music” from the same show for reference to instrument playing capabilities (or lack? I guess it depends on who you use for comparison) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwFbADEujnc

      Her work with Dresden Dolls feels flat to me and it’s just not my thing https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PC7DEv7Od38

      But I wouldn’t say she’s a terrible musician because she sometimes plays songs I’m not inclined to enjoy. Maybe that’s because she sometimes makes songs that I do enjoy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMgfRThylhU

      1.  After having watched the cover of Creep (thank you for linking to it, I’ve never seen it), I would lay huge amounts of money that the actual instrumental part of the performance wasn’t designed to be the centerpiece, the rest of it was. If I had been in that audience and had a choice between her staying on stage and playing the chords perfectly on a guitar and her picking up a ukelele and walking around the room, interacting with the audience, I would have instantly gone for the audience participation option.

        As for the Dresden Dolls’ stuff being flat, I think that was part of their sound and an expression of her feelings. Coin Operated Boy is an example of a song talking about very unhappy relationships, a feeling mirrored by the musical style.

        But as much as I’ve enjoyed the majority of her work, Amanda ‘Effing Palmer wasn’t the only person this post covers. The other three people featured have all done very interesting and perhaps quite transformational stuff, from an artiist encouraging other artists to embrace their physical flaws and let it influence their art rather than trying to hide it, to a kid who may have helped save his country huge amounts of money and help farmers and wild animals coexist, to a man with a revolutionary way of proving that children learn best when they are positively motivated to, rather than forced to. All of these people deserve our attention, discussion and focus, not just the pretty lady who sings songs sometimes in various stages of undress, as much as I love that as well :D

  1. Poser seeking the big sellout, no sale yet.  Hipster trust fund kids can safely still claim to like her as she is not yet mainstream, nor will she ever be.
    Just plain awful music.  The ratio between hipster posing and talent is just too great.

    1. Because anything you like is “good” and anything you don’t like is “hipster poser awful”? I don’t recall voting for you as the ultimate judge of taste.

    2. I believe AFP is living exactly what she’s been seeking all along; an authentic life, folks with opinions like yours, be damned.
      She will never be mainstream simply because raw expression of emotional reality is shunned by so many. Scanning an audience before a show starts, the diversity is astonishing. They’re present to enjoy her abundant talent; she’s way more than an accomplished musician.
      I’ve found her work wonderful from the start, seen her performances 4-5 times over the last 6 years, experienced her love for her fans and witnessed the effect she and her work has had on my daughter over this period. My girl also claims that AFP saved her life.
      I’ll be turning 60 in 10 days and am as far from a hipster trust fund kid as you’ll meet.
      And you really don’t have a clue!

    3. Yawn.  Are we ever going to leave the “you’re a poser” bs behind us? Are we still in high school here?

      I have an idea for you! You don’t like her stuff, don’t buy her stuff… simple as that. Why not go support the artists you like instead of spending your time tearing down those you don’t? Seems far more productive to me.

    4. Calling someone a sellout or a hipster is really saying “I am the arbiter of taste and therefor superior”.  Which is what hipsters do. 

    5. Yes, baneoftrustfundkids, I’m sure you’re truly without privilege, like every other “unique” hot topic mallgoth.

      Enjoy the projection of your own insecurities upon others.

  2. To change the tired subject, I think we can agree that the other three people are pretty cool. Especially the kid. :)

  3. I find myself wondering how many generations of lions it will take until they are no longer scared of lights. If you forced me to guess, I’d wager on 3.

    1.  It is interesting that he seems to be saying that the lions are afraid of lights because they think they’re people moving. Considering this behaviour ‘may’ be learned because the lions have become scared of cars with headlights, I don’t think that behaviour is going to go away. So the lions being wary of lights behaviour is probably based on cars being dangerous, and that isn’t going to stop, so the fence thing should continue to work

      1. That’s brilliant — the lions who are afraid of lights will miss out on opportunities to eat cows, but also get hit by cars less.  The ones who learn to walk right past the lights will get cows, but also get run over.  With no evolutionary advantage, the adaptation simply won’t happen.

  4. “After years of creating beautiful works of detailed pointillism…” I read that as “depleted pointonium”; I guess a neuron-leak from my reading of the previous story about radiation.

    1. Now I want a t-shirt that says, “contains depleted pointonium.”  with a pointillist radiation warning graphic.

  5. Holy fecking shite on a bike; that’s some cool stuff – saving lions with light bulbs and teaching English with computer games. Thanks for reaffirming my faith in our carbon based lifeforms.

  6. She has a strong personal quality that attracts people and makes other people like them and be attracted to them. She is deeply glowing with passion and she exudes with coolness and truth.

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