Category Archives: Teaching

TEDx ChapmanU

TED Photo

I heard about TED talks from a friend many years ago.  TED was started in 1984 as a conference to bring together people from three worlds:  Technology, Entertainment, and Design.  TED talks are limited to no more than 18 minutes in length, and cover a wide array of topics, all focused on “ideas worth spreading.”  More than 1,400 talks are available for viewing on-line.  We heard today that TED talks have over one billion combined views.

Janet and I were excited to see a TED event in person today at Chapman University.  Our youngest daughter, Jennifer, is home from school for a couple weeks, so an added bonus was having her attend with us.

Here’s a quick taste of what we learned today from the fourteen speakers (twelve “live,” and two on video), in no particular order:

Shawn Achor told us that 90% of our happiness is internal, 10% from our surroundings.  He also said that people who view stress as a challenge and not a threat are much happier.  He was incredibly funny, and one of the fastest talkers I’ve ever seen.

Phil Hansen told us to embrace the shake.  He is an artist with a condition that makes his hand shake.  He left his art for about three years because of it.  When he went to a doctor to see what could be done, the doctor informed him that nothing could be done, and that he recommended that Phil embrace the shake.  Phil found that by embracing our limits, we find ways to go beyond them.  Let go of outcomes, failures and imperfections.  Don’t be encumbered by results.  Show up for the process and allow the limitations to harness your creativity.  His artwork is awesome.

Allyn Rose talked about her decision to have a double mastectomy to prevent getting breast cancer.  She had lost three family members, including her mother, to breast cancer.  As she said, the odds were very high that she would be afflicted by the disease at some point.

Lisa Sparks talked about improving healthcare-related communications.  80% of all medical errors are a result of communication problems.  She talked about ways for the healthcare provider, the patients, and the patient’s family to arrive at shared meanings on the wide array of topics that surround a person’s health and their healthcare decisions.

Ali Nayeri discussed String Cosmology Theory as a basis for understanding the universe.  He showed how the theory can be used to describe the behavior of galaxies in multiple dimensions, not just flat like the current theories would dictate.  It was at this point that he lost at least half of the audience, including me.  I felt like I recovered when he showed a diagram of two universes flowing from one side to another through a symbolic sideways hourglass.  The idea is that there are really two universes with one contracting and the other expanding.  The point where they cross looks to the observer like an origin, or singularity (the Big Bang).  He showed how String Theory supports the existence of these two universes and that there wasn’t really ever a Big Bang.

Jennifer Sullivan talked about Frictionology.  Between 1860 and 1890, 500,000 patents were issued.  This was 10x more than the previous 70 years combined.  During that time, she said that there was limited competition, and no friction.  With competition, people get choices, and there is friction.  Understanding friction is important, since friction is where the money is made.  Good friction equals access to, and curation of, the good stuff, and dumping of the bad stuff.  People have discovered that content is the best way to sell other stuff.  She ended her talk by saying that a big trend now is not Do It Yourself, but Make it Yourself.  Consumers want the tools and they will make the rest.

Michael Goldsby talked about the future of medicine.  With the ubiquity of smart phones and other easy-to-use data capture devices, it’s  possible to capture a tremendous amount of data about a person in real time.  All of this real time data can be analyzed to create actionable insights for the patient.  He talked about how smart phones and their apps can become a digital sixth sense from a medical perspective, and can be a foundational part of the coming Internet of Everything.

Kathy Thomson talked about her company, the LA Times, and the things they are doing to remain relevant and valuable in the age of digital delivery.  She said that the challenge for them isn’t so much the content, but ensuring that they can put it where, when, and how the reader wants it.  She discussed the maverick/mainstream paradox.  How do they innovate in sometimes radical directions, while continuing to preserve their mainstream values that make their content so valuable.

Prince Gomolvilas, the only Thai-American playwright (according to himself), talked about maintaining your integrity and your ideals, even when faced with overwhelming financial threats.  He told a riveting story about a play he wrote for a “very fancy private school” in the Bay Area for their 8th grade class.  The theme of the play ran counter to what the school’s largest donors thought was acceptable.  He had a choice of either modifying his play and its theme, or keeping it as originally written.  The potential consequence was alienating the large donors and causing huge financial harm to the school.  You will have to watch the video on the TED website to learn what he decided.

The Orange County Youth Symphony Orchestra had two of their percussion representatives perform an extremely complicated drum duet, based on a native American rhythm.  They didn’t say anything and let their instruments do all the talking.

Kristen Howerton told us about being in Haiti with her six-month-old daughter, visiting her soon-to-be-adopted son on the day of the horrific earthquake.  To cope with the devastation, and her inability to do anything except care for her daughter and soon-to-be son, she focused attention on packing and re-packing her suitcase so she’d be ready to leave whenever a plane became available.  It became a diversion and coping mechanism for her.  The “punch line” to the story:  when a plane was available at the US Embassy, there was no room for any luggage, and she had to give up her coping diversion in order to get home.  She related this to other diversions in our lives, like the internet.  She called the internet the diversion to end all diversions, and said that we need to be willing to leave it behind enough to take the time to experience the feelings of real life.  As a psychologist, she said, “The only way to work through crappy feelings is to walk through crappy feelings.”  Diversions often prevent this process.

Mark Pampanin talked about why being an icon isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Specifically, he discussed the tokenizing of gay men.  Look at most television shows…he described the “token” gay man in every show.  As a gay man, he said that he’d rather we all just treat each other as people, and not the “token anything.”

Liz Fiacco discussed transferrable skills, specifically the skills we hone using computer games, and their application to our real lives.  The power of games comes from their rapid teach and test cycles.  She proposed greater use of computer games as teaching tools.  She described how a computer game was used to figure out how to fold proteins within a few weeks, after being something that stumped scientists for years.

Reggie Gilyard talked about leadership in the New Normal World of Rapid Change.  He talked about Circuit City, Egypt, and Lehman Brothers.  All are organizations that were unable to respond to the rapid changes happening around them.  CEO’s set direction, organize, select people, motivate, and establish systems and processes for their companies to operate.  Running through all of these tasks is the need to establish signals that allow them to see and manage risks, manage time, and understand their customers’ behaviors.  Think fast, and move faster.

Gwynne Shotwel talked about the need for increased investment and focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education in the US.  Engineers are never satisfied, they always want to improve on what they’ve built.  The best solutions are the simplest ones…less complexity wins.  If only one person can do something, that means that someone else can too.  She related this to how her company, SpaceX, decided to build heat shielding tiles in-house since there was only one supplier out there, and they didn’t want to get “screwed” by that sole-source provider.  She peppered her talk with video highlights of SpaceX’s rockets.  Rockets are cool.

I highly recommend attending a TED event.

Top 9 Things New Parents Need to Remember

My daughter and son-in-law just had their first baby.  His name is James, and he’s one week old.

Inspired by our new grandson, I thought I’d give some advice about parenting.  Trust me when I say that I’m no expert.  Then again, I don’t think anyone is truly an expert in this, the oldest of callings.  With that in mind, here’s my Top 9:

1.  No child is perfect.  Precious, yes.  The center of your universe, yes.  Perfect, no.  They will make mistakes, just like you.  They will have difficult challenges (real and imagined) in their life, just like you.  They will need someone to support them in good times and bad, just like you.  They will occasionally need someone to point them in a new direction, just like you.

2.  Children learn what you teach them.  This sounds obvious, but I think some parents forget this truism.  You should always have an eye on what you are teaching through your words and actions.  Everything you do, say, and value, are always on display for your kids.  The way you handle challenges, approach new ideas, enjoy your day, place value on accomplishment, and take the time (or not) to notice the small pleasures in life, are all teaching your child how to approach life.  Kids have a voracious thirst for new knowledge.  Have fun helping them chase down new things to learn.

3.  Enjoy sharing the things you do with your child.  If you’re doing yard work, get your child involved, even if it’s only to hold the bag while you dump leaves into it.  Building the latest piece of your Ikea collection?  Get them in there with you.  Their “help” may double the amount of time the project takes, but your child will learn what it’s like to work on projects and see them through to completion.  Are you thinking about flying a kite?  Don’t just show them the flying part.  Get them involved in picking out the kite, assembling it, and figuring out which way to point it into the wind.

4.  Child development is similar to sculpting clay.  When clay is new, it’s pliable, easily shaped, and flexible.  You start with the big sweeping parts of the shape, and then hone-in on the finer details.  As you work the clay, it begins to dry.  It becomes less pliable.  It starts to stand on its own.  As the clay continues to dry, even slight adjustments are difficult.

What you do to shape your child’s view of the world, their understanding of right and wrong, the importance of serving others, understanding how their decisions impact themselves and others, needs to happen as early as possible.  The foundational shaping of a productive and independent adult happens very early.

Shaping the clay is only half the challenge.  To fully mature and keep its shape, clay needs to be fired in a kiln and heated to extremely high temperatures…a true trial by fire.  Your child will face many trials by fire.  Many will be theirs alone, while some will be shared with their parents.  Give your child (and yourself) the freedom to succeed and fail in the various trials of life.  Always remember the main goal is to help your child become the greatest version of themselves they can, have lasting values, and be someone who can stand the heat and come out better for it.

5.  Laugh with each other, and at each other…a lot.

6.  Parenting isn’t a democracy.  Parents make the rules.  Your child needs the structure that comes from a well-disciplined environment that you create.        

7.  If you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to tell your child about it.  They can learn just as much from your mistakes as they can from their own.  In fact, they will probably learn more from how you handle your mistake than the actual mistake.

8.  Kids need balance as much as adults.  Adults often talk about trying to achieve an optimal life-work balance.  The same thing should apply to kids. This may mean that they can’t play on the club soccer team, take sailing lessons, and have a lead part in the school play all at the same time.  Help your kids make trade-off’s to achieve an optimal balance of activities, school, work, etc.  Some of the most valuable time in a kid’s life is the “down time” relaxing with their parents.  As much as people talk about “quality time” with their kids, I think there is also a lot of value in “quantity time” that shouldn’t be forgotten in the hustle to do more with each day.

9.  The greatest gift a mom and dad can give to their child is to love each other.  Take the time to ensure that your child gets to see the love between their parents grow each day.  A loving family is a delight to behold, and your child will revel in such a nurturing environment.

9 ¾.  Your goal should be to help your child become a productive and independent adult, who adds value to their community.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Kung Fu Masters

“The measure of a Kung Fu Master isn’t his own Kung Fu, but that of his student.“

There are many measures of greatness in life. Wealth, fame, popularity.  Just to name a few. These pale by comparison to the positive impact we can and should have on others.

Look around you. Who are your students? Do you take the time to teach? Are you an example for your students? Are you helping others achieve their greatness, and celebrating when they do?

We don’t have much time on this planet. Our energy, our ideas, and the passion we have for our ideas can live on in our students…and their students.

Imagine if each of us were measured like the Kung Fu Master. The truth is that we are, whether we know it or not.