Myth

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

I am not creative. I can’t draw, I can’t play the guitar, I can’t write, etc.

Have you told this to yourself before? Or have you seen a friend and thought, “this girl is really creative. I wish I was creative! Life would be more fun.”

I want to inform you that this line of thinking is a myth. You don’t need to become more creative. You ARE creative. We are all born creative.

What is a tent and some sheets to a six year old boy? It could be a fort, a rocket, a ship, a train. It could be anything. Why? Because of how inherently creative children are. Play for them is simply being creative around normal, common objects.

But if we start out creative, where in our life journey do we lose touch creativity? Somewhere along the way, society and our education system beats creativity out of us. It becomes un-cool to make mistakes. Saying “something dumb” has real social consequences.

This tendency towards denying one’s creative side is troubling, but the good news is that it’s still there. Deep down inside, latent, ready to be awaken from its slumber. You ARE creative!

I hope my story and experience with design thinking shows that we are all creative. If a spreadsheet geek like myself can tap into my creative side, you can too.

Here’s three steps to tapping into creativity:

Step 1: Gain some inspiration from what you can do with creative thinking. For me this was done at the d.school and by Doug Dietz’s TEDx talk.

Step 2: Find some people who will experiment with you. I found this at work. I have a tremendous support network that wanted to explore what I had learned at the d.school.

Step 3: Have a small win. Keep trying Step 2 until something works and then tell everyone about it. We had a few projects shortly after I came back from the d.school that benefited from design thinking.

It’s not hard, but it does involve taking some risk. But what in life is worth doing that doesn’t involve some risk?

Come with me and awaken your creativity.

Little Talks – TEDx Talk

November is National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo). This post is part of my post-a-day challenge. I have picked a theme for the challenge: song titles. These songs have been featured on live albums from KEXP (an awesome alternative radio station in Seattle), so at a minimum you will hear some great music.

I am excited to be able to share my little talk (Empathy for Geeks) given at a recent TEDx event in Toronto.

As I described in my director’s commentary, preparing for this talk was a lot of work. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.

I recognize that I can only step out and take risks like this because of my support network. I am grateful to those that provided commentary and encouraging words.

I hope you enjoy the talk.

I almost forgot, here is the song that inspired the title

TEDx Director’s Commentary

tedx picture

Typically the director’s commentary doesn’t come out until the DVD is released. It is for the true movie buffs who love to hear what the director and/or producer were thinking. They go through every painstaking detail. If you don’t like film, then it would be the most boring two hours of your life. If you love film and how it is made, you can’t get enough, hearing directly from the people who made the movie. You get some insight into their heads and how they think.

Since I am fresh off my first TEDx talk, I wanted to share some “director’s commentary” with you – before the DVD is released (i.e. video is uploaded to the web). If you are interested in TEDx, you might enjoy this – otherwise, it could be a boring ten minutes!

The director’s commentary around my TEDx experience involves two parts: how I ended up being asked to speak at this TEDx event, and what it was like to prepare and deliver the talk.

Getting to King Street East
The official name of the TEDx event at which I spoke was TEDx King Street East. King Street is a major street running through the heart of downtown Toronto. I met the event organizer, Chris Murumets, at an actuarial conference in Toronto this past May. Chris volunteered to be a part of a presentation that I was organizing on Design Thinking. Chris told me that he was impressed with my presentation this past May and asked me if I would like to come back to be a part of a TEDx event he was organizing. I gave him an emphatic yes, and I’m so glad that I decided to speak.

Prepping for the big day
I decided to start working on my talk in mid August. Here’s how I approached it.
August 12: Think about needing to work on TEDx talk, procrastinate and do other stuff
August 19: Think about needing to work on TEDx talk, procrastinate and do other stuff
August 26: Think about needing to work on TEDx talk, procrastinate and do other stuff
September 2: Labor day, forget to think about TEDx talk
Skip to September 30: stay up until 2 am finishing draft of TEDx talk

I settled on “Empathy” as a topic early on. Becoming more empathetic has had a big impact with my outlook on my work, and I wanted to share that story. I have a technical background (i.e. I am a geek), and I notice that many other people with technical backgrounds also seemed to have empathy problems.

But, I thought this has to be bigger than me to be enjoyable for the audience. I wondered, “do empathetic organizations outperform companies that lack empathy?” Thankfully, a fellow TEDx speaker recommended a book (Wired to Care). In this book, the author places a few companies in three categories (high empathy, low empathy, and somewhere in between). It turns out that the stock performance of highly empathetic companies is substantially better than that of low empathy companies. Bazinga! Something bigger than my personal story.

More prep
I’d love to tell you that preparing for this talk was easy. Delivering fifteen minutes of original live content that you know will live forever on the internet sounds scary to me. Scary enough for me to want to practice!

Once I had a draft of the presentation, I must have practiced a million times. Once in front of a few co-workers and my wife. Once with a fellow TEDx speaker. I even created a recording of my talk and sent it out to a few friends for review.

Each reviewer gave me great feedback and helped shape my talk. All that was left was to continue to practice. I recorded my best version yet four days before the talk and then I listened to it almost non-stop.

You heard that correct, I listened to myself speak over and over and over again. I listened to my talk on the drive into work. I listened to my talk on the flight to Toronto. I listened to my talk on the subway. And lastly, I listened to my talk about an hour before I was on stage.

I have used this technique before for big presentations. Develop the talk, practice several times, record a “good” version, listen to the “good” version until you can give the talk in your sleep.

You did all of that for that?
Devoting so much time to one presentation does add some pressure. It’s tempting to not put in this kind of prep and then write off a poor performance by saying, “no big deal…I didn’t really put that much time into it.” Hopefully, some of you will watch my 14 minute talk once it is up on the TED website. And you might think, “wow…you did all of that for that?” And that’s ok. I would rather work hard knowing that my performance might be a colossal failure, with no excuses. I don’t like thinking, “what if I had actually tried?”

The talk
It was the definition of fun for me to stand up and share a part of my journey. I was fortunate to only have a few verbal missteps, and I don’t think they took too much away from my talk. The attendees at the event were gracious and gave me some positive feedback. Some of my favorite quotes were, “my son is a 25 year old computer programmer and he has got to hear your talk!” and “you have advanced the image of an actuary by a light year!”

I am looking forward to sharing my talk once it’s up on the TED website. Now, I need to get busy creating content for future talks. (i.e. taking risks, caring for others, and trying new things)

Race against the machines – TED talk

As soon as I post about how technology is often not the answer, Andrew McAfee goes and gives a brilliant TED talk showing technology’s impact.

A friend of mine recommended this and one more talk of McAfee’s that I will share later.

While technology has transformed every part of our world, a machine will never be able to empathize, never show compassion, love, anger and sadness.

If you are worried about having your job replaced by a machine, become really good at empathizing with your customers and make that part of your job. Making connections and caring and loving for people you work and live with is something that is uniquely human.

Empathy = job security

Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration

I wanted to share another awesome TED talk…everytime I discuss it with someone, I get chills or the hairs on my arm stand on end.

Luis von Ahn and his team have stumbled upon a great recipe for a business:

  1. Combine something that people have to do or want to do (for Luis it was entering in a code on the internet to prove you are a human). It helps if this is done millions of times a day
  2. Add in something that can be done while the individual is doing #1 that is done best by a human (for Luis it is deciphering words in books that the computer couldn’t properly recognize when the book was digitized).

I am still working out ideas…maybe I will find a good use for the 150 times a day I enter in my pass code onto my iPhone.

Hope you enjoy the TED talk.

Empathy experiement – TEDx talk

I’m excited to share with everyone that I will be speaking at a TEDx conference this October. More details to follow soon and I will also share some of the content – I’d love feedback.

My talk is going to focus heavily on how I came to see the importance of empathy. In order to gain inspiration, I have been viewing some other TEDx talks.

This talk by Sam Richards is powerful. He does a great job getting the audience to empathize with another culture.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Talker’s block

In Seth Godin’s amazingly awesome book, The Icarus Deception, he claims that it’s not often that you hear people discuss talker’s block. We talk without thinking about it. We’re not worried about our speech being on a wordpress blog forever. And by talking often, we can improve the way we talk (if we observe what more advanced “talkers” do and put some of these practices into action).

But with writing, it’s entirely different. For me, the fear of blogging about a topic I haven’t thoroughly researched is a little scary as is the permanence of my posts – the idea of what I have typed remaining in the ether for all of time. But as with talking, you have to write frequently to get better.

A brilliant friend of mine who has written a book and contributed to several other works recounts that while he was writing his PhD, his goal was to write something everyday. He might not have finished with research necessary to finish a chapter, but he wrote anyway. He would write about anything remotely relevant to his dissertation topic. He wanted to improve and to do this he had to take a risk that what he would write would miss the mark.

Inspired by Seth Godin and my friend, I see that I need to write more. I haven’t blogged in almost two weeks. In two weeks I’ve watched a couple of TED talks, read a book, and observed all sorts of problems and otherwise interesting topics that I might blog about. But I’ve let the desire for perfection get in the way of me honing my craft.

In order to create a habit, I am challenging myself to blog something everyday for the next month. I may lose every reader I have, but I feel like I need to this to hone my craft. I hope you enjoy some of what you read.

Thanks being interested in my work and helping me become a better writer.

Lance