Yesterday represented what the Houston community is all about – taking a great idea, adding our our local flavor and executing it flawlessly. The Culture Pilot team deserved the thunderous applause they received for all the hard work that obviously went into pulling off an incredibly successful event.
The theme that emerged through all of the speakers and presentations was “Storytelling”. It started with the very first speaker, U of H Professor Dr. Brene Brown who set the tone with this very tweetable quote, “Stories are data with a soul”. Her talk was both informative and emotional, as well as personal and powerful – it was the perfect lead off choice for the conference. The next speaker, Dan Philips of the Phoenix Commotion was quirky and funny in talking about how salvaged material and unskilled labor make (im)perfect homes with personality. Cristal Baylor rounded out the first session with her stories of training women villagers in the remote mountains of Pakistan in the art of bee farming in a program dubbed ‘Plan Bee’ through the Hashoo Foundation that is transforming economic and family relations in the region.
After a quick break, we heard from four Rice Professors in a row – first up was Cary Wolfe who discussed transhumanism and our perception of animal rights, which affects how we farm, eat and live. Next was a fascinating discussion by Dr. Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Dr. Maria Odem who relayed the story of how their students were delivering healthcare technologies a a fraction of Western costs to emerging countries.
The last talk before lunch was Dr. Stephen Klineberg – Rice University professor and worldwide expert in the changing demographics of Houston. He pulled facts and trends from his 20+ year annual report about Houston and gave a spirited talk about the effects of immigration law and the economy. He concluded with the theory that Houston is the demographic model for every Western city for the next century.
After lunch, we got a very entertaining lesson in storytelling through music from the 2 Star Symphony and then heard from Rick Pal, a Houston-based entrepreneur talked about the Indian concept of ‘Jugaad‘ – the practice of innovation through constraint. This talk had direct parallels to the Rice Professors talk about their students creating simple and ingenious solutions for developing world healthcare like a blood centrifuge, necessary in diagnosing certain diseases, made from a As Seen on TV Salad Spinner. Mark Johnson, the co-founder of local Houston dotcom Hometta echoed earlier speaker Dan Philips sentiment of impressing yourself, and your family instead of strangers with your home design choices. He wants a ‘Slow Home’ movement to take hold like the ‘Slow Food’ movement has across the globe.
Local favorite, and now national celebrity chef, Monica Pope explicitly stated that her cooking was less about the food and more about the storytelling behind it. She talked straight from the hip, and though she seemed a bit unprepared at the beginning – her message came across loud and clear. Grace Cavner, of Recipe for Success who Monica is closely aligned gave an impassioned talk about how to change our nations eating habits by taking chefs into schools. Michelle Obama is listening, and Gracie has very ambitious plans for a 100 acre urban garden right in the middle of downtown Houston.
The final break featured delicious bite-sized mini cupcakes by local company Jody Cakes and the first speaker of the last session was choreographer Dominic Walsh who had two of his dancers perform. David Crossley of Houston Tomorrow showed map after map and chart after chart about the way Houstonians live, work and commute and made a very compelling argument for elevated light rail alongside existing highways. Mat Johnson, U of H Professor and author talked about issues surrounding race relations and the process of creating his graphic novel Incognegro. The events final speaker was Dr. David Eagleman who discussed the overwhelmingly vast universe and how that its sheer size cannot be measured, much less explored in it’s entirety in less than one million years.
The Leadership team did a stellar job of curating the speakers and topics as well as the crowd itself. The army of volunteers made sure that everyone was well fed and the program ran on time (a miraculous occurrence happened when they were actually running early at the beginning). Even the protesters in front of the venue were well-behaved – probably because it was a protest against Apathy that was coordinated by Aimee Woodall of PR and event marketing firm Black Sheep Agency, herself a strong advocate for the Houston creative community. [On a side note, as I was walking into the Wortham Theatre on the U of H campus I saw the protesters yelling and holding signs. I intuitively wanted to avoid them entirely, desperately hoping that they weren't protesting one of my personal hot-button issues, but mentally preparing to get into a fight with them if they were. My head was down, but I heard one of them call out my name and went over to Kerri Ryan who could tell I was relieved. When I saw a lot of other familiar faces in the mob, she told me that they were protesting apathy so I told her with a big smile that 'I didn't care'.]
If there was any controversy at all, it was the fact that attendees had to apply. This made sure that the ‘right’ people were there, but if it was handled incorrectly – it could have easily devolved into a argument about elitism. None of that sentiment was present in the 450+ attendees, and no one had heard of any one that was rejected based on their application. Those that weren’t able to attend we able to watch a free live stream provided by Paul Sedillo of Media975. Videos from the conference will be posted shortly.
Overall, the event was interesting, provocative and stimulating – everything that a TED is supposed to be and more. This first TEDxHouston is a major win for our city and I believe that it sets the bar very high for events like this in the future. One person who had attended TED in the past told me that this one in Houston had the same electric vibe. This is probably the single most telling sign that our TED was a smashing success.