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.

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