In August of 2011 the TEDxGrandRapids Leadership started to discuss the theme for the upcoming May 10th 2012 event.
It started over a beer (a common additive at TEDxGrandRapids Planning meetings). The conversation ranged but we kept coming back to how it needed to be relevant – ‘recognizing these are tough times’ and yet still be an event designed to ‘inspire action’.
It is important to know that while this amazing team is made up of extreme optimists, everyone of us had a story to tell about overcoming challenges and adversity. About perseverance and courage. About good things that happened 'after'.
There banter about how over the last 5 years we all heard the sad-sacks media pundits compare our lives to the Great Depression.
(There was a collective groan.)
“Nice headlines but it does nothing to move us forward.”
So over the course of the next few week of August emails, phone calls and coffee shop meetings happened and we discussed the idea of theme and about how ‘good things following bad’ and how ‘great things follow unexpected moments’.
One of the TEDx team said something very salient after one of the conversation. “I have chosen not to participate in this recession… I will be prudent and respectful of the reality of the day -- but I will focus on what it will take to move to what is next.”
And guess what –we found it is an opinion with a proven track record. Not from economists or politicians but people who have earned the right to say so. Because contrary to the sepia images of the 1930s -- life did not end when the stock market crashed, for some organizations and icons – it was just the beginning.
How about TimeWarner, who started its business in 1929.
Or IBM who was just 5 years old the day the stock market crashed.
Maybe the Allstate Insurance who began its life in 1931.
…Land O’Lakes who incorporated in1931
…Empire State Building opened their doors in 1931
…Bugatti’s firing is first spark in 1932
…Serta shipped the first manufactured mattress in 1931
So it begged the question, are we focused so much on today that we will miss the opportunities that tomorrow will bring?
It came back to me when I was watching our own Mark Lardieri’s TEDxGrandRapids youtube video and it seems many of our successful business leaders agree.
Think about the worst time in your life. Now think about what came after.
The comparisons to the Great Depression may be appropriate but they cannot be decoupled from the unprecedented innovation, growth and optimism of the late 40’s and 50s.
Not enough to get you thinking about “what now?” How about going back 700 years to the ‘impenetrable mindlessness' of the Middle Ages.
Prior to the Renaissance, and the rebirth of human curiosity, the best minds were not exploring new lands or engaged in ways to innovate.…"they were focused on inane things like how many angels could fit on the end of a pin” (Michael J. Gelb, Think like Leonardo)
But in the late 1300, the black plague swept Europe. Nearly half of the entire European population was destroyed from the highest members of the Piteous hierarchy to the peasants and harlots of serfdom. Everyone had to re-think everything. The result? The renaissance. The greatest spark of creativity -- Ever.
Arguably the most prolific, profitable and innovative period in our known history... Born out of one of the darkest times.
And so the theme of TEDxGrandRapids 2012 theme was born.
We all agreed that our goal would be to find world class speakers to help us think less about ‘What happened?’ and more about ‘What Now?’
I hope to see you on May 10th -- At the Civic Theatre, TEDxLabs , online or at the Livestream for Education.
It may just be west Michigan’s “What now?" moment.
--Kurt Nahikian, Business Designer at CQL, Director of Good Concepts LLC and member of the TEDxGrandRapids Leadership team.