A couple hundred people will gather a week from Saturday at Indiana Tech to hear speakers share ideas for improving commerce, community and wellness in Fort Wayne. If it follows the mold of two previous conferences, the presentations will be inspiring, entertaining, passionate and thought-provoking.
But what Craig Crook, the founder of TEDxFortWayne, wants to see from the third annual conference is what follows it.
It’s really not the ideas, Crook said of the conference, an independently organized version of the popular TED talks. It’s the application of the ideas.
But first things first. Without the efforts of Crook, his company and a forward-thinking team of volunteers, the ideas themselves might never have surfaced. Using the TED conference and its many mutations as a template, they’ve made the Fort Wayne version an incubator for some of the community’s most promising efforts. A shared interest in the ideas and inspiration sparked by TED talks has pulled together Fort Wayne area residents intent on making northeast Indiana a better, more inviting place to live.
The April 27 conference is the third annual TEDxFortWayne. Anthony Juliano, who specializes in social media for Asher Agency, gave the inaugural presentation at the first conference two years ago.
It was a great experience, he said. I had been a fan of TED talks for a number of years, so I was really impressed they could bring it here. It was also a little scary – you are tying yourself to this well-known brand, but it’s really a chance to do something different. I’m usually speaking on marketing strategy.
Instead, Juliano made a convincing case for Fort Wayne’s accessibility – contrasting it with the long commute he had to endure in his native Massachusetts and pointing out the rich diversity of views found here.
He was cheered by the response.
There were a lot of people who shared the thinking I had of Fort Wayne being underappreciated, Juliano said. It’s been a good reference point for me moving forward. It really made me think through some of those perceptions people have about Fort Wayne.
Heather Schoegler said she had long been a fan of TED talks when she learned about the local event. She didn’t apply to make a presentation the first year because I wasn’t sure I had anything to share, but the second year found the Parkview Health official thinking about a concept she calls the power of two.
In her talk, she demonstrated how sharing and legitimizing personal and professional contacts can lead to great collaborations.
When you watch a TED talk, you always get inspired, but you don’t always get a takeaway, Schoegler said. I wanted to give everyone an actionable – a way to use a contact and partner it with your ideas.
She offered conference attendees a list of 100 of her contacts, asking them to use the names purposefully. Schoegler even found her own way to use a TEDx connection.
While working recently with the McMillen Center for Health education on a distracted driving program, she realized that fellow TEDx speaker Miles Nitz, a counselor who spoke on the human brain, would be the perfect speaker to offer ways to keep young drivers safe.
Over the past two years, the Fort Wayne speakers have shared ideas on health, education, dance, pop culture and more. Last year’s event opened with retired attorney Mac Parker setting the theme to Rethink Fort Wayne by presenting the city’s history in periods he defines as Acts 1 through 3 and calling on residents to get the swagger back in Act 4.
A curation committee chooses the TEDx speakers, selecting them as carefully as an art curator chooses works for an exhibit. Mark Becker spoke in 2012, but Crook said he told the deputy mayor that he didn’t want to hear about the Vision 2020 economic development initiative or politics; he wanted Becker to draw on his experience living in Greenville, S.C., before returning here to promote the city’s redevelopment.
To me, his story was this patient persistence’ working behind the scenes to make what happens happen, he said.
Aside from the speakers, Crook is intent on creating an experience for conference-goers, with performances by the Taiko Drummers, New American Youth Ballet and more. Connecting those who attend – all of them TED talk enthusiasts – is another emphasis, as is involving youth in the Fort Wayne exchange of ideas.
Crook’s own introduction to TED was an online talk by author and marketing expert Seth Godin, who used a sliced-bread example to encourage the spread of ideas. Inspired, Crook began watching the online presentations whenever he had a few minutes – none are longer than 18 minutes – and one day noticed a TED talk identified as a TEDx presentation, from one of the independently organized events that began springing up about four years ago.
I thought, Wow! You can do your own TED event. That would be so cool! he said.
Reluctant to jump in as he was getting his new business – called Rethink – under way, Crook put the idea on hold until he arranged a couple of meet-ups, an exchange of ideas inspired by Godin. From a December 2010 meet-up at the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center, TEDxFortWayne was created, about the same time a Bloomington event was organized and before Indianapolis organizers caught on.
Crook continues to be the driving force behind TEDxFortWayne, earlier this year attending the TEDActive conference in Palm Springs, Calif., to collect more ideas for strengthening the local event.
To that end, the nine speakers scheduled for April 27 won’t be revealed until that day. It’s the ideas, not the names, that matter, Crook said.
Ideas shared in the first two conferences and those developed from connections made by speakers and attendees already are percolating in the community. Crook is reluctant to point to any as a direct outgrowth of TEDxFortWayne, but Schoegler said she’s convinced the energy emanating from the event has played a part in promising developments – such as Founders, the co-working space at 614 S. Harrison St., or the new Greater Fort Wayne Inc. economic development group.
There’s all of this momentum and all of these people not working in silos or bubbles anymore, she said. To me, it’s the multiplier effect of including more people. High school students, college students, a city leader – all of these people in one room. Where else could this have happened?
Another hallmark of the TED experience bolsters its effectiveness: Licensing requirements prohibit the events from being used to promote religious beliefs, commercial products or political agendas. Consequently, TED draws fans not looking to push their own ideas on others but to connect on mutual grounds and look for ways those ideas can help everyone.
In an era of deep ideological divides, TEDxFortWayne might be the mechanism for moving beyond the partisanship and self-interest to build a better city.