UPFRONT - What Matters Next




TEDxNASA brings a cross section of top speakers to an exciting event in Newport News





Last year, I went to a conference in Newport News that was quite simply the best event of its kind I've ever attended. It was called TEDxNASA, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts about last year's event and encourage you to attend this year's on Nov. 4.

The TED conferences started in 1984 and brought people together in the fields of technology, entertainment and design. Since then, they've evolved to become much broader, but the original concept of "Ideas Worth Spreading" has remained the same. The TEDx conferences are organized independently of the main TED organization, and there are hundreds across the world each year.

TEDxNASA is ours. The idea of hosting our own TED event began as a way to get the word out about NASA and the work that they do, but it, like all TED events, evolved quickly to become much more.

The format is that the region's and the world's top thinkers in a variety of fields each give 18-minute talks. In those 18 minutes, they are to deliver the "talk of their lives" about an idea they think is worth spreading.

In 2009, TEDxNASA's overriding theme was "Space to Create." Last year's speakers ranged from renowned author Mitch Album and creativity expert Gregg Fraley to Virginia Beach neuroscientist Paul Aravich and Virginia Tech robotics professor Dennis Hong.

When I arrived last November, I thought it was going to be a fun day with interesting talks. I was looking forward to having lunch with my girlfriend and her mother, and I wondered if I was going to get sleepy during the mid-morning session.

Right off the bat, I noticed everyone's excitement. Sitting around us was a cross-section of Hampton Roads, ranging from scientists and artists to construction workers and office assistants. What we all had in common was a yearning to explore a vision for our region, for our culture and for our own lives.

As the speakers began, I was blown away. We heard talks about creativity and about the brain. Jazz musicians played. We saw videos from other TED events about breakthroughs in clean water and a woman's recounting of her experience of having a stroke. Lectures on robotics were followed by a talk about hunches. A guitarist/comedian performed and then an expert on Mars showed us the latest developments from NASA. The event concluded with Mitch Album speaking on his journey of faith.

For a long time, I've been a proponent of an interdisciplinary approach to life. I'm a writer and a teacher of writing, but I also work with computers and have taught neuroscience in college. I know that the best ideas often don't come from one discipline—they come from a synthesis of thinking and a belief that creativity and the joy of discovery can help manifest the best solutions.

Steve Craft, the organizer of TEDxNASA says, "We want to put both sides of thinkers together—technical people and people who think in other ways. If we get the right people together with the right big ideas, we can think about and solve the big issues."
The theme of this year's event is "What Matters Next." "It's not a question," says Craft. "It's a statement. We want people to talk about what matters next and help define what matters next."

Who will this year's speakers be? That's a surprise. Craft and the other organizers won't release the full list of speakers until the event is nearly upon us, and they won't announce the order until the event begins because they want to give every speaker an equal stage and an equal voice. They believe all the ideas presented, no matter what they are or who they're from, could lead to breakthroughs, both personally and professionally.

I'll be in the audience on Thursday, Nov. 4 at the Ferguson Center at Christopher Newport University. I hope you'll join me. It will be a day you won't forget, a day that will open the door to new and exciting ideas and ways of thinking about the challenges and possibilities that face us all.

For more information about TEDxNASA, please visit www.TEDx-NASA.org.

HRM

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