Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

NOT Business As Usual: Applying TEDx lessons to my life

Last Saturday San Francisco beamed under a bright golden orb and everyone sprang outdoors in a jubilant dance.  I, however,  opted to forgo the outer ray of light in search of an inner one.  I spent my afternoon inside a dark auditorium of the TEDxPresidio conference, finding inspiration in other’s stories, fueling me to forget chart a new path for the rest of my life. The theme for this conference was Business 3.0: Not business as usual. The speakers talked about a different type of organization that worked with the community as opposed to competing against it.  Each speaker was doing something profoundly different to better other people’s lives.  It contrasted greatly with my own past few months-I had been neglecting my friends, family, and all humankind while in a Survivor version of a startup incubator.

The Survivor Startup

In my “startup survivor” participants were regular ‘voted off the island’ if they or their company weren’t up to snuff.  Instead of supporting the weak, the incubator prided itself on a Darwinist ‘survival of the fittest’ method, beating people down to either make them stronger or weed them out.  We had started at 40 founders.  We were now at 20.  Instead of enjoying my weekends or volunteering with youth, I spent them in a frenzy trying to complete an assignment to prevent a ‘vote off’.   My blood was overflowing with competition and anything or anyone that didn’t take me further ahead was considered a waste of time.   I was so panicked about missing a deadline that I canceled on my cousin’s birthday hike.  I was so worried about the VC need to see hockey stick revenue projections that I debated taking out a social venture component that gave part of any foreseeable hockey stick back to charity. I needed to stop.  And think. And find a new way of achieving my goals.

The Collaborator  Startup

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”-Charles Darwin

During my TEDx Saturday afternoon I realized that Darwin was misunderstood and misquoted.  As I heard at Tedx-it isn’t a dog eat dog world.  Dogs don’t really eat dogs.  Rather we live in a world where nature best moves ahead by symbiotic relationships.

The speakers at TEDx gave many examples of working together to get ahead.  The founders of “Back to the Roots” found wealth in waste.  Nikhil and Alex were both seniors at UC Berkeley when they decided to give up lucrative job offers in investment banking and consulting to find a way to grow mushrooms from discarded coffee grounds.  They fostered a relationship with Pete’s coffee to remove their waste for them…and in return Pete’s started carrying their mushroom kits.  Their mushroom growing also created waste (the waste from the waste). However, instead of merely discarding it, they interacted with their community and found it could be used for soil enrichment for gardeners and small farmers.  After giving it away for free to their local community, the two social entrepreneurs finally started making soil enrichment bags that they distributed to a larger audience.  Nikhil and Alex found a way to continually engage and help their community and in return their community helps them back.  They are not doing anything we cannot find in nature.

In their speech they used the example of the rhino and the oxpecker bird.  The bird eats the ticks off of the rhino’s back and in gratitude for its easy meal, the bird warns the poor sighted rhino of far away danger.

Using Poetry to Engage

“If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week.”-Charles Darwin

James Kass founded “Youth Speaks” a poetry jam project where disadvantaged youth are encouraged to speak out, applying their voice as a leader of societal change.  Youth Speaks mandates that literacy is a need, not a want, and that youth can take power of their life through language.  After all,  self-expression is true empowerment.

Instead of seeking out more troubled pursuits such as gangs or drugs, James encourages youth to join a project to creatively jam about their own narrative.  On stage, in competitions, and even on curb intersections, their words reach large audiences and give them inner pride in their poetry and vision.  James calls this: “Hip hop activism!” James’ entire presentation at TEDx was in a poem….a jam….something that made the entire audience want to leap up, clap their hands to the beat and engage in society. Word can indeed bring us to action.

Rising Up means Rising With

“A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth”-Charles Darwin

Chip Conley, founder  of the Joie de Vivre hotels also embraces a vision for collaboration.  For example, his hotel managers are not just rewarded on sales and profits, but also how much they give back to the community in terms of events and fundraisers.  They are not just hotel employees-they are an inspirational friend to their community.

In addition to managing an eclectic collection of hotels, Chip wrote the book, PEAK, documenting how great companies and individuals channel Maslow. In Chip’s book, the base of the famous pyramid is Survival (i.e. I have a job that supports me). The second was Succeed (i.e. I have a career that defines me and gives me esteem). The third was  Transform or self actualization (i.e. I have a calling that gives benefit to the world around me). To reach self actualization is to be inspired by passion more than money.  This means feeling like your life has a purpose because others benefit from your existence.

Chip tries to do this with his staff and regularly make them feel like they are part of a bigger dream.  Chip encourages us all to step out of the Succeed bracket and move up.  The people we affect, the people we help, and the people that call us their friend is much more valuable than a career title.

If we stay in Survivor mode, we may indeed win the island….but such a lonely island it shall be without anyone else left to enjoy it with.

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