Finding Inspiration and Amazement

Whenever I need a little inspiration or just want to experience pure amazement, I sometimes turn to TED.  In the organization’s own words, “TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading” and it doesn’t disappoint.  Because TED started in 1984 as a conference-only format that brought the world’s foremost innovators and big thinkers from around the world, exposure to its content was extremely limited by invitation only to those who had been incredibly successful in their field.  Some might argue elitist.  With conference attendance/membership fees ranging from $7,500 – $125,000, its not a hard argument to make.

However, since 2006 TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design) has been posting its speaker talks online with free access for all.  Today, you can access over 800 speakers and nearly 1,000 talks from incredibly inspiring individuals speaking on jaw-dropping topics (their word, not mine, you can actually sort talks by “jaw dropping”) that you likely know nothing about but that will captivate you because of the depth of knowledge and passion exhibited by the speakers.  For me, many of these speakers have a way of extracting me out of my tactical day, moving me beyond what I know or care about on a daily basis into a new and interesting worlds 20 minutes at a time.  It’s pretty cool.

Here are a few talks to get started that might not be as distributed as talks by the President, Bill Gates or others of high prominence and influence:

  • William Kamkwamba:  How I Harnessed the Wind.  At 14, in poverty and famine, a Malawian boy built a windmill to power his family’s home
  • Appreciate music?  Even if you don’t, these are amazing talks by Evelyn Glennie, a deaf percussionist, who Shows Us How to Listen and Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, on Music and Passion.
  • Jeremy Rifkin on The Empathic Civilization, using a novel animation technique to narrate a philosophy on how and why we relate to one another the way we do and implications for our future
  • Bill Ford:  A Future Beyond Traffic Gridlock and the future of mobility.

What are your favorite inspirational, amazing talks by others on TED or elsewhere?


Lifelong Learning With MIT – For Free!

Ten years ago the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began OpenCourseWare, a program to publish educational materials from all of its courses freely and openly on the Internet.  At this ten-year milestone, the program has 90% participation among faculty, sharing 2,000 courses with over 100 million individuals worldwide.  The program’s objective over the next ten years is to serve 1 billion people.  Wow.

While these courses do not bestow degrees or certificates, there are some incredible stories about how these world-class instructional materials are changing lives, particularly for the under-privileged and those in remote locations throughout the world.

It’s been 14 years since I completed graduate school at Kellogg and while I actively read to keep stimulated, there are areas, particularly in technology, that I could really stand to dig a little deeper to make me a more effective leader.  So I have just started an undergraduate, self-paced course through MIT’s program called Introduction to Computer Science and Programming that educates on the role computation and programming can play in solving problems, including application using Python programming language.  Lots has changed since my undergraduate FORTRAN programming class in 1987.  It should be fun!

43% of OpenCourseWare users are self-learners and 40% of them use the service to “explore areas outside my professional field”.  There are lots of areas of curiosity and interest for me in these 2,000 courses.  Particularly areas I know nothing about but have a curiosity to learn.  Anthropology and Urban Design are two areas I know squat about, but with a small amount of time and access to such great educational resources, I can get a cursory introduction.  Heck, why not Genomics and Computational Biology while I’m at it?

The world truly is at our fingertips.

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