Creating Extraordinary: Chicago Ideas Week
I am a believer of intersections. One of my favorite mantras “it is not either or”. During Chicago Ideas Week, I had the privilege to experience many intersections: of art and technology, of business and social good, of present and future. Broad category highlights of new perspectives follow.
Art and Science/Tech
When did art and science separate? If we look back at ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, the Babylonians or even primitive men with their drawings on caves that recounted days and stories, art and technology were always connected. Specialization has brought us an amazing depth and expanding variety of art forms and scientific and technical knowledge. Chicago Ideas Week captured that intersection with:
|Space Exploration, Art & Science: Showcasing amazing space photos from Jose Francisco Salgado, Astronomer, at Adler Planetarium, whose work captures youth imagination by presenting science in a highly visual and digital way. His approach could be a new way to teaching science and math that solves the gap of U.S. students versus many developed nations. Lucianne Walkowicz, astrophysicist whose art translates scientific data from the NASA’s Kopler Mission into experiential installations and Angelo Vermeulen, who focuses in creating spaces that could be the beginning of housing in space full with bio-engineered systems of plants with food growing capabilities, were the other panelists who are successfully integrating highly scientific knowledge with art. The axiom of people as right or left brain only no longer applies.
|GE Garages: An inventor built a model for his next guitar bridge design in a 3D printer, a mother created a book cover for her young writer in a laser cutter, and many of us built an ‘Inventable’, a LED lamp in the shape of Chicago loop commissioned by Inventables to a local designer. The interactive exhibit and lab sparkled awareness and interest in what could be termed the new industrial revolution stemming from digital, design and manufacturing technologies. More digital design tools and modular, affordable machinery and electronics are driving the industrial renaissance in the U.S. Go an invent something, no excuses!
|3D Printer Experience In the same line of thinking behind Open Systems and the Internet, a young company in Chicago, The 3D Experience, is making available advanced computer aided design and 3D printing capabilities on a per-needed basis, spreading high fixed costs of high-tech equipment among many small users and businesses. The overarching idea is “The Metaspace”. The Metaspace, the sharing of new manufacturing, social ventures, entrepreneurial ship, and knowledge, is a new approach to building businesses that inherently benefit society from the new business start.
|Project Photography: Art is universal and unlimited in its definition. Green Chen, a guess artist from China, invited by Peter Fitzpatrick, Chair School of Fine Arts at Columbia College, demonstrated his invention to make ‘instant art in the air’. He also paints in water as a canvas. He built on his knowledge of physics to create a new art genre born from his personal need to elevate digital art to unknown dimensions. His work is hard to describe, one have to experience it, as we were glad to do at The Project Room gallery.
Business and Social good
Edison Talks, Work, The Remix and The Choice is Yours.
Throughout the week, presentations and lectures emphasized investment in humans as the biggest asset for companies, governments and societies. The mixing of good business practices with philanthropy was a common underlying theme. I was particularly impressed with Donna Karan, Urban Zen Foundation, and her dedication to help Haitian designers. The famous designer and philanthropist took the leadership in helping those whose artistic heritage has been an inspiration to thousands of designers throughout the decades but whose well-being have been largely ignored. Urban Zen is providing many artists in the poorest country in this hemisphere with design training necessary for them to upgrade their skills to meet high-end market standards. Defy Ventures is an example of smart investment in human capital, even deserving ex-cons. The U.S. jails more per head than any other country in the world, a costly and highly ineffective honor. By demonstrating that there are other ways to deal with repeated drug dealer offenders, she is providing hope, education and jobs for those marginalized.
Human behavior is a main cause of an ineffective health care system. The presenters, including M. Night Shyamaian, reminded us of five principles that our mothers taught us: 1) eat a varied, natural balanced diet low in sugars, salts, fats 2) sleep 7-8 hours, 3) exercise regularly 4) control stress and 5) enjoy relationships. The case of Tig Notaro, writer and stand-up illustrated that despite of her fight with personal problems, rare diseases and then cancer, “BASIC things keeps you going, moving. Many people, or the universe, then come around you in support”. Her case illustrated that physical health is possible and improved with spiritual health and holistic approaches to healing.
Without lecturing, Edison Talks varied presenters posited on business norms that could use updating:
- From only one ambassador of the country to many as ambassadors to the world. The concept applies to entities, all employees are representatives of your entity. As a diplomat, Capricia Marshall, Former Chief of Protocol U.S. State Department, also reminded us of the power of ‘the right gift” in building relationships.
- Departing from business entrenched models and measurement is difficult. Increasingly, software technologies are integrating data from different sources to assess and track a comprehensive picture of the issue/sickness/problem at hand.
- Government is still needed and protecting its citizens is a major responsibility as demonstrated by Jessica Buchanan experience, rescued by Navy Seals after been abducted by Somalis for over 60 days.
- Executives should learn from all levels of their organization, especially from front line people who carry the brunt of consumers contact, e.g. food servers and cleaning crews.
Present and Future
Chicago Ideas Week earned its keep by incorporating abundant advanced thinking for us to ponder about and take action. Among better known and some unlikely philosophers, I enjoyed:
1) The personal story of en Ben Rattray, founder of petitions non-for-profit change.org who admitted to have been a normal selfish young adult until the tragic death of his closeted gay brother friend brought human suffering to his senses. The power of stories of ordinary heroes touches all; a women whose rape in Africa brought 25,000 petitions every day or Malala Yousafzai who through her silent act of bravery changed forever girls hopes for an education in Pakistan and around the world. “Voice is more powerful than money in our world now”.
2) One of the most admired modern philosophers, Malcolm Gladwell, did not disappoint. Narrating excerpts from his new book David and Goliath, Malcolm left us with a new accepted point of view: The seemingly young and small is not powerless. Conversely, what makes the big and strong so terrifying is what makes them weak.
3) Education is vital in building a future. Interpreting education reform under last century’s environment is not right. Today and in the generations to come, new educational systems must evolve. The author considers today’s educational system common prescriptions ineffective or at the least, outdated. Discussing his new book, I got Schooled, M. Night Shyamain, presented a powerful case against ‘old remedies” such as small class sizes, higher investment per pupil and others. Instead, as an outsider with no ties to any in the educational institutions, he took an almost academic approach to discussing root causes in the U.S. educational system. Chief among them is cognitive biases, against the students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. For analysis and details of the other four keys to closing the gap in educational achievement, read the book, carefully.
4) “We are living in the best decade of human history, the age of abundance” began Naveen Jain. If a child learned science, technology and language arts sitting on dirt floors in India and became a serial entrepreneur and inome CEO after moving to the U.S., how much more can each of us do today? Instead of thinking of scarcity, let’s think about how to produce more intrinsically renewable resources from the beginning insuring sustainability and progress. It is not enough to use less, e.g. energy or water, create new resources in earth or space that can lead to a new age of abundance.
The week provided fertile ground for fresh thinking and exploration. At the least, more conversation and insightful discussion on key ideas should follow. Many bright-eyed, good-mannered and inquisitive young students, guests of Chicago Ideas Week, reminded why we need to build the future for all.
One warning: As we all get excited with new ideas and cool technologies; let’s think about the effects of everything we do not in our immediate circle of influence, but beyond. If a new technology is likely to end certain type of jobs, who is responsible for re-training and bridging those affected? If the next materials alloy needs a new element, who is ensuring replacement before exhaustion? If we proclaim our aspiration to social justice, do we understand what it means to those more affected? When we brainstorm the future, let’s make sure that the result is a sum-plus gain.
I saw and got energized by many ideas and dreamers during Chicago Ideas Week. We need a few more skeptics to put ideas to practical tests, investors to invest in people and right ideas, and implementors who – even without the spotlight – make things happen.
Pick your role.
“Motivating scientists, inspiring artists and writers, and fascinating of all see it”. Other notables: