Todd Henry, founder of Accidental Creative, a company that generates creativity, kicked off the TEDx event at Xavier on Thursday, April 26, by pointing out that most people can’t be creative, brilliant and healthy all at the same time. Something always has to give. People are either walking zombies because they’re fried, or they’re considered unreliable because they’re not prolific, or they’re not creative—and also unemployed.
In our “create on-demand world,” Henry said, people are subjected to pressures that short-circuit the generation of new ideas. His theory of how to be a creative thinker reflects the purpose of TED, a nonprofit organization that started 25 years ago as a four-day conference in California to support world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives.
TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, holds an annual conference and invites the world's leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes, after which their talks are made available free at TED.com. Past TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Isabel Allende and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
TEDx offers a way to organize local, independent TED-like events around the world. Xavier students organized the licensed TEDx event with 10 speakers from the Cincinnati community, some of whom were Xavier faculty or alumni, including CEOs, directors of non-profits and cutting-edge entrepreneurs.
The theme of the event, which took place from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Schiff Conference Center on campus, was "Touching the hearts and minds of others through innovation, service, and leadership." The emcee was Michelle Beckham-Corbin, a Xavier alumna and former Procter & Gamble marketing manager who is president and chief digital marketing strategist of C3: Creating Connections Consulting.
Henry dedicates himself to innovation and creativity every day through his company, Accidental Creative, by working with people and groups to create new ideas and ways of doing things. Henry detailed for the TEDx audience a five-part plan he’s developed to sustain people when things are at their craziest: Focus on the true task by eliminating gnawing nibblers of time like email that get in the way of creative work; nurture relationships with colleagues who can help brainstorm ideas; manage energy instead of just time; feed the brain with material that stimulates creativity; and put in the time required to be creative, even if it’s a project outside of work that provides a complete creative experience.
“Someone once said to me that in the graveyard are buried all the unwritten novels, the unlaunched businesses, the unresolved relationships, and I wrote two words to myself: ‘Die empty’,” Henry said. “I want to know that I’ve done everything I can to empty myself of creative ideas every day.”
Sherman Bradley, former U.S. Air Force sergeant and ordained minister
Bradley, who serves as vice president of City Gospel Mission for addicted, disenfranchised and homeless men, turned to the idea that creative energy can be used to reclaim people on the fringes of society. As the first in his family to not be born into generational poverty, Bradley presented his work with the Mission’s Green Works recycling program that “recycles products while reclaiming lost lives.”
“We are investing in people,” he said, as he challenged Xavier’s newest graduates to see people the way they can be, not only as defined by their past. “I see positive change in the lives of people in poverty. It’s just being willing to get engaged.”
And he left his audience with the thoughts of his father that were an inspiration to him: "Am I what I want to be? Do I like what I see? If a change is to be made, it must be made by me."
Rashmi Assudani, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at Xavier
In her TEDx talk, Assudani explored “reverse innovation,” when innovative new products come into the U.S. instead of the traditional path of products originating in the U.S. and being exported to other countries. Specifically, she noted the development of new environmentally friendly smart cars produced by Indian and Chinese auto companies.
For the U.S. to remain competitive, businesses must become creative and entrepreneurial, she said. They must “do more with the resources we have.” And that requires rewiring students’ brains to think differently not only with in-class instruction but also through field immersion experiences in developing countries.
“It’s a journey for us all together—students, educators, and public and private institutions to train students to compete and collaborate in the new normal,” she said.
Sunnie Southern, health care executive, dietitian and founder of Innov8 for Health
In her TEDx presentation, “Creating a Health Care Innovation Ecosystem,” Southern decried the current state of the hospital and physician industry. Pointing to ever spiraling costs, Southern pointed out that, at the current rate, health care expenses could skyrocket 31 percent in the next five years to more than $3 trillion dollars. Chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma and cancer are some of the major expenditures, but money is also going to waste inside a careless health care bureaucracy.
For example, uplanned re-hospitalizations that occur within 30 days of the original emergency cost $17.4 billion. Southern said we need to do a better job of setting up a safety net for those in transition, those just out of the hospital but not ready to fully care for themselves yet.
Overall, the medical spending situation is bleak, she said. The solution is innovation—building efficient, sustainable bridges between community resources. “That’s how we’re going to fix our health care system. We’re going to find ways to do things faster, cheaper and better,” she said.
Southern’s Cincinnati agency, Innov8 for Health, is charged with accelerating sustainable innovation in Greater Cincinnati’s medical arena. By coupling existing federal and state grants, the organization plans to jump-start information technology startups in the city. With $160,000 in state funds to divide among eight teams at $20,000 each, innovation teams are pursuing innovative ideas and inventions related to saving money in the field of health care IT. Southern said another $10 billion in direct federal funding will help improve care and reduce costs in the Medicare/Medicaid systems alone.
By partnering, various community organizations and resources can better identify, engage and support health care progress. “Innovation creates jobs, creates new product launches,” she said about her mission. “Think about what you can do to make a difference. … To innovate for health care, we need you.”
Daniel F. Meyer, co-founder, Nehemiah Manufacturing Co., Cincinnati
Meyer posed a question for his TEDx audience: Can a for-profit business make money and do good for the community at the same time?
The answer is a resounding “yes,” he said. In his speech, “From Building Brands to Building Communities,” Meyer tracked how a bottom-line business can subscribe to the idea of profits as well as endorsing the ideals of prophets. “We’re all called in this room to make a difference, to give back,” he said. “It’s in giving that you receive.”
Nehemiah Manufacturing is a for-profit consumer products company with a strong element of non-profit sensibility, a “purpose-driven firm” that shares its goal of building brands with the mission of creating jobs and helping change lives through employment and whole-life coaching. They work with and hire people who other companies don't because of felony or drug abuse issues. “It’s a multiplier effect," he said. "For each one life we touch, we could be changing 10 or 20 lives.”
An entrepreneur who spent his first 16 years with such retail giants as Procter & Gamble and Quaker Oats, Meyer started his own consumer packaged goods companies producing household cleaners, air freshening, drain care and laundry additives. Meyer’s current firm teams with social service agencies that serve people with criminal records, gaps in employment and other barriers to finding meaningful work. The company won a license from Procter & Gamble to market the Pampers Kandoo line of toddler products, for instance, creating 30 jobs overnight with the potential to increase to 60 jobs.
From incubating new concepts to leveraging existing technology to creating new products, like the patented “Two-Piece Rake System" he helped an inventor bring to market, Meyer is open to all ideas and directions. He said the community needs more companies such as his. “It’s about changing lives one person at a time.”
Randy Wilhelm, CEO and co-founder of netTrekker
By Randy Wilhelm’s reckoning, K-12 education is too often about the answers and not the questions. Kids are born curious, he said. They ask questions. “They do it because that's their natural state. They do it because they live in the question,” Wilhelm said.
To its own detriment, our current educational system measures intelligence by grades, he said. “Students start to realize that asking questions is unacceptable, sadly,” he said. “The currency of education is no longer in the question. The currency of education is in the answer.”
Wilhelm said to teach a child about s’mores, for example, a teacher could describe them. The teacher could also bring in an example. But the best way to teach, he suggested, is to let the child eat one.
“When a child eats a s’more, there’s a warmth in their chest, because it’s something they now know.” Education should be more like that, Wilhelm said. It should feed curiosity.
Kate Hanisian, founder of Design Impact
When Kate Hanisian and her husband quit their jobs, packed their bags and arrived in India to start a nonprofit, they had no roadmap for what they were hoping to do. Which was a problem for Hanisian. “The thing is,” she said, “I’m a person who really likes roadmaps.”
Their general idea was to bring innovative design—the type that brings us the Wii Fit, iPads and efficient ovens—and apply them to Third World problems like clean water and cooking fuel. When she and her husband began developing a charcoal briquette for cooking stoves, which salvaged waste material from fuel being shipped to steel and carbide plants, Hanisian thought she could make her own roadmap and distribute the product far and wide.
India had a different plan. The monsoon, power outages and snakes in her office were just some of the obstacles that she found in her path. Along the way, Hanisian said she realized she needed to become less of a planner, and more of a searcher, and engaged the people she was trying to help in the design process. “We were equals in the explorations of our solutions,” she said.
“We live in a culture that is dominated by plans,” she said. “It would be beneficial to all if we listened to the searcher in all of us.”
Elizabeth Edwards, founder of Metro Innovation
Elizabeth Edwards began her TEDx talk by telling the entire crowd they were the 1 percent. Not in Occupy Wall St. terms, she said, but in education. Only 1 percent of the world’s population has graduated high school. That is a remarkable position of privilege, she said, and it’s also fertile ground for entrepreneurs.
When she became a venture capitalist, Edwards had a hard time tracking down the ideas and entrepreneurs in Cincinnati. She saw the statistics—that 75 percent of the world’s venture capital is in the U.S. and 50 percent is in California alone. She wanted to spread the wealth. So she turned to an old tactic, a competition, and created Cincinnati Innovates, an entrepreneurship contest that rewards good ideas.
“Charles Lindbergh didn’t fly across the Atlantic for kicks,” she said. “He did it for the $25,000 Raymond Orteig Prize.”
Cincinnati Innovates has given out $250,000 in grants, which has generated $5 million in follow-on capital for competition winners—companies such as Gamma Dynamics, which works with electronic inks, and a group of University of Cincinnati students who developed a stroke diagnostic headband.
“We would be reversing the brain drain,” Edwards said, “[by] finding them here and funding them here.” You don’t have to move to California, she said, to start a successful business.
Andrew Gibson, Global Brand Manager at Procter & Gamble
Whenever Andrew Gibson approaches a goal, he starts with a question: “What has to be true for me to attain this goal?”
A global brand manager at Procter & Gamble, Gibson applied this query in 2010 to a plan he hatched to bicycle across the country, west to east, to raise money for a 26-year-old friend with cancer. He called it his “big, hairy, audacious goal.”
Gibson began with the inspiration, then asked if he was capable of it and committed to it, and if it would be fulfilling. “It couldn’t just be about me,” he said. “That’s where purpose comes in. You have to have purpose to look beyond yourself.”
And so Project Levanter was born, his cycle trip named after the wind that guides the main character in Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. He wanted to ride across the country and keep his job, which meant he had to go in December, sacrifice a year’s worth of vacation, and pedal in the south, where the weather was warmer.
Over the 2,900-mile trek, Gibson climbed 85,000 feet in altitude and consumed 129,000 calories. “I lost 10 pounds somehow,” he said. “I don’t know how.” But most importantly, he raised $5,000 for his friend with cancer.
In the United States, we have access to extraordinary resources, Gibson said. That means it’s on us to dream big and accomplish our goals. Because the only one stopping us is ourselves.
Read more about Andrew Gibson and his journey in Xavier magazine.
More information is about the TEDx event is available at the TEDx website at the Williams College of Business. TED can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/TEDTalks or Facebook at facebook.com/TED. The student leaders who organized the event are Lyden Foust, a senior in entrepreneurial studies from New Paris, Ohio, Michael Farwell, a junior in marketing from Kent, Ohio, and Jenna Giorgione, a senior in public relations from Henderson, Nev.