TedX Zurich

TEDx Zurich 2013 Highlights and Lowlights

Tedx Zurich logoIt was once again time for my annual “intellectual play day” at the 2 October TEDx Zurich conference. Like past TEDx Zurich events I’ve covered in this blog over the years, the day offered a series of talks and performances that aimed to reveal “what’s new” and “what’s next.” But this year it seemed to be more about “what’s now.” Rather than new, it focused on different.

For example, the technologies seemed less like breakthrough ideas and more like different applications or extensions of now-established technologies. The stories told by speakers of overcoming circumstances in life and achieving their dreams, such as hanging on a silk scarf-like rope over a gorge near Bern, were less archetypal and inspiring than they were the non-photo equivalent of “selfies.”

This year it seemed to be more about ‘what’s now.’ Rather than new, it focused on different.
I realize that my comments will preclude my ever being invited back to the event, but I don’ t think I would apply again as the online TED talks website offers the “best of” without having to sit through the “rest of” such talks.

All that being said, I did glean a few tidbits during my intellectual snooze…I mean play…day that could apply to thought leaders in any industry.

Nicolas Perony, who studied animal behavior and made comparisons to human behavior, talked about the principle of simplifying complexity, a key skill for any thought leader. Also he presented a study about South African meercats that may speak to the gender issue in the workplace.

Female meercats are dominant in their so-called “cryptic social units.” They may lead other meercats up to a road; but when they’re ready to cross the road, the female leaders give way and let subordinates cross the road first. Perony said this isn’t done out of courtesy but as a risk-avoidance approach because if she dies, the entire meercat tribe is put at risk.

Risk behaviors were also the focus of Gerd Gigerenzer’s talk about relative risk vs. absolute risk and how the public is often confused or misled about the difference between those types of risk. As an example, he cited a study where people were asked to explain what exactly was meant by a 30% chance of rain and answers varied widely and in some cases hilariously.

Gigerenzer also pointed out examples of deliberate massaging of statistics by the media, such as the report talking about a 100% increase in the risk of thrombosis somewhere in the UK. However, the absolute risk was minute, with a change from 1/7000 to 2/7000.

Risk literacy, he claimed, needs to be a focus of the education system today. It’s important that your own employees are risk literate, too. Similar to the topic discussed on this site in a recent two-part blog (The Risks and Rewards of Full Disclosure Part 1 and Lies, Damn Lies Part 2) there are risks to your brand when stats and risk are wrongly stated or exaggerated, even if unintentionally.

Are you and your team risk literate? Are you aware of all risks to your – and your company’s – brand as a thought leader? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Those Magnificent Men and Their Thinking Machines – Part 2

Jose del Millan robotics Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Robotics thought leader Jose del Millan from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne; Photo: Alain Herzog / EPFL

At the recent TEDx conference in Zurich, another thought leader in robotics, Jose del Millan from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, introduced the audience to a different type of robot from Davide Scaramuzza’s flying machine.

Dr Millan’s robot is controlled only by the mind, as he demonstrated with a fellow researcher on stage in Zurich. With wires and electrodes taped to his head, the researcher voluntarily modulated his brain signals to think about a particular direction, and the ”brain robot” moved that way — hundreds of miles from Zurich in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Transferring thoughts remotely into brain machines may sound like a scene from a Brave New World, but the futuristic technology has arrived and is waiting to be commercialized.

In the meantime, how effective are you at projecting your thoughts and ideas remotely to employees who live and work far away from the ”mother ship”? Have you mastered the art of long-distance communication? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Related Post: Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines – Part 1

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Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines – Part 1

davide scaramuzza at tedx zurichNot many conference presentations require the presenters to get clearance from the local airport control tower, but one of the demonstrations at the recent TEDx Zurich conference did.

Davide Scaramuzza, a thought leader in robotics from the University of Zurich, brought a small, vision-controlled autonomous flying robot to the innovation event for ”show and tell.” Because it was literally a flying machine, the Zurich Airport control had to give it clearance to fly around the stage at the event.

The audience was amazed by the technology that will allow the robot to conduct search and rescue operations by ”sight” rather than using lasers or GPS. The visual system gives the robot more accuracy in finding survivors and avoiding dangerous hurdles to reaching them.

flying robot at tedx zurich

At TEDx behind the “safety net.” Can you spot the object in flight?

Are you as a business leader relying only on others to bring you the information you need or are you using your own ”vision system” to see for yourself what is being reported? Can you clearly see the obstacles in the way? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

See related post: Insights on Networks and Nodes at TEDx Zurich 2012

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Insights on Networks and Nodes at TEDx Zurich 2012

insights on networks and nodes at tedx zurich 2012

I took my yearly ”intellectual vacation day” on 25 October to attend the third annual TEDx Zurich conference. With 500 people in attendance and about the same number viewing the event live, TEDx provided food for thought and discussion and a chance to hear from and network with some mighty impressive thought leaders in their chosen fields.

As I did last year, I’ll try to give you a few highlights of the conference and focus on the innovative ideas I heard that apply to business today.

The first couple of segments of the conference were more generally thought provoking and inspiring. With compelling graphics and animation, the opening film illustrated how winning the war on poverty begins with educating girls across the globe and networking them together.

Then Mikael Colville-Andersen, an urban mobility expert from Denmark, asked the audience to clap their hands to a rhythm of 96 beats a minute to illustrate the number of people who die every minute in car accidents around the world. Building better networked bike paths in urban areas was one solution he offered for this problem.

The third speaker was more directly connected to the world of business. James Glatterfelder compared the organizing principles of our economy to nodes of firms in a complex system of ownership networks.

He pointed out the systemic risk in a ”network of global corporate control.” The 43,000 transnational companies (TNCs) who control the world make up 36% of the world’s corporations but create 95% of the value.

Out of those transnational companies, the top 337 companies can control 80% of their total value of these TNCs, and 146 of the key players have the potential to control 40% of their total value. With an estimated 13 million ownership relations shared among the TNCs, this network is too connected to fail.

How does your company measure up in this global world of connectivity? Are you too connected to fail? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Dobson at TedX Zurich: Should Colleagues Compete?

The Value of Co-opetition

During her presentation at TedX Zurich on 4 October, Eleanor Dobson, the experimental particle physicist from the CERN Atlas experiment– the Super Collider – in Geneva, made several other important points that apply to teams.

For example, she observed that the science of the future – like the business of the future – is one of collaboration. But teamwork is also enhanced by competition, she pointed out.

Her team faces stiff competition daily because they are co-located in the same building as their “shadow team,” which is working independently to verify their experimental results.

Like for any team in business, such competition can be healthy because it encourages people to try harder to get the right results faster. How can you harvest the energy that competitive spirit brings to an organization? Do you see your competitors as stakeholders in your own success? Ask yourself those questions and then take action to channel that competitive spirit productively. Ask, assess, then act. Contact us – we’re here to help.

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Building trust… in “small worlds,” and yours

Aerial view of CERN

Eleanor Dobson lives in “the world of small.” She is an experimental particle physicist from the CERN Atlas experiment– the Super Collider – in Geneva. Her presentation at TedX Zurich on 4 October was one of the best of the day; and she had an important lesson to teach us about teamwork and collaboration, which she says are key to the success of the project.

Because of the massive size of this experiment, 4000 scientists are involved in an assembly-line-like process. Holding up a single piece of paper with charts and calculations, she explained that this document represented the result of the efforts of all the team. When a miscalculation arose along the chain of thousands, no one single person was pointed out for blame; but everyone just pulled together to recover from the error.

Once established, deep-down team trust and collaboration – like that demonstrated by the CERN scientists – can’t easily be shaken. It’s hard to establish but well worth the time and effort to consciously build that spirit when teams are being formed. Existing teams may also need a “refresh” of that basic competency on occasion.

In your “world of small,” do your teams function with a sense of trust and collaboration? How will you ensure your future teams work well together? Think about those questions and if you don’t like the answers you give yourself, it may be time to take action to remedy that situation. Ask, assess, then act. Contact us – we’re here to help.

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From TedX Zurich: Should you re-evaluate your values?

An esoteric presentation by a neuroscientist, Molly Crockett, at TedX Zurich on 4 October, opened with questions about how we don’t object when our neighbors and friends have different opinions about the taste of blue cheese, but we view them differently when their opinions on moral values don’t align with our own.

She emphasized that we need to distinguish fact from opinion and avoid believing the “My facts trump your facts.” It’s better, she said, to at least try to change a person’s attachment to a set of values, even if it’s not possible to change the values themselves.

That presentation brought to mind some critical business questions for thought leaders: Are the professionals in your organization attached to your set of values? Are they the right values? Does your organization’s commitment to those values need a “refresh”? Should the renewal of those “value vows” start top down or bottom up?

It’s great to ask the questions but it’s more important to answer them honestly – to really look at the facts – and then to take the action needed. Ask, assess, then act. Contact us – we’re here to help.


Daum at TedX Zurich: The tie between planning and freedom

In his TedX Zurich presentation on 4 October, Matthias Daum compared urban sprawl in Switzerland to a cancer metastasizing but admitted it is the future whether we like it or not. That’s because the country is rich, full of lawyers and a direct democracy with federalism. “Each society gets the landscape it deserves,” he said. “Planning gives us freedom.”

Similarly, planning in the business sphere must be rigorous, but it should give the organization the freedom to be agile enough to adapt to a changing environment. How agile is your organization? Ask yourself this question and then take the necessary action to improve that key competency. Ask, assess, then act. Contact us – we’re here to help.


Getting Underway at TedX Zurich

On 4 October I took what’s been called an “intellectual vacation day” and attended TedX Zurich. Eclectic and sometimes electric, the event drew about 450 to the SRF television studios and hundreds more to the virtual conference streamed online.

I wouldn’t say the live event drew together people from all walks of life as the audience didn’t appear to be too diverse – most seemed to be young, creative types, or at least folks who were interested enough in creativity and the world of ideas to spend their day at a TedX event.

The diversity of presenters, however, was carefully planned by the legendary Swiss “ideas man” Peter Hogenkamp and his team. A magician, a musician, an experimental particle physicist, a neuroscientist, an asset manager, an anthropologist – oh, and a business consultant – were among the featured speakers.

In typical Swiss fashion, the event started precisely on time – on the hundredth of a second, in fact, someone pointed out. During the 20 sessions, audience-fed Twitter streams (#tedxzh) provided live commentary. Most of that instant feedback was positive but sometimes the Tweets were just clever, like the one sent following a too-brief introduction of one of the presenters: Worst intro you can get ever anywhere—“Our next speaker is a consultant.”

Over the next few days, I’ll write about some other quotable quotes and intellectually stimulating ideas from the thought leaders on stage that, I believe, loosely apply to the business world, too. I’ll ask some rhetorical questions for you to think about and then encourage you to assess the necessary actions based on your answers. The thought-leadership model introduced here is “Ask, assess, then act.” Contact us – we’re here to help.