Category Archives: Attendee Profile

“Around the Campfire” Profile: Will Lucas

willlucastedactiveThe campfire is still lit! We are profiling the extraordinary activators and thinkers who attend the TEDActive conference and highlighting their personal experiences, passions and most meaningful conversations.

Will Lucas is the ultimate doer. He’s started two internet companies from the ground up: In 2007, he founded Creadio a brand marketing technology firm and last year, he created Classana, a discovery engine that connects you to what you want to learn. In September of 2012, he organized the first TEDxToledo event optimistically themed “You Will Do Better.” But, that’s not all! Recently, he was named one of the 25 most influential African-Americans in Technology. This year was Will’s first TEDActive and so we caught up with him to hear about his experience and to pick his brain on what drives and motivates him.

How did your TEDActive 2013 experience begin?

I’ve been a big proponent of TED for a few years. I got introduced to TED several years ago when I saw Steve Jobs Stanford commencement speech. That kind of started it all — you know when you watch one video, then it shows you another video. You get engulfed in the whole environment.

I live in Toledo, Ohio and we have a rich artistic community and a budding technology community. I was thinking about how we could connect the nodes of our growing economies because everybody worked in their own silos. If I could bring TED to Toledo that would really cultivate the environment that I was interested in. I found the TEDx license page, applied and two weeks later I got an email approval. We had our first event in September of last year. I went to Active with the intent to have a bigger audience at our event [TEDx events are limited to 100 audience members unless the organizer has attended an official TED conference]. But after the first day I got there, it wasn’t even about that anymore. It was so much more than that. I think somebody said there were 72 countries represented. You get this sense that you’re a part of something much bigger than yourself. You’re surrounded by people who are really passionate about what it is they’re doing and share one common vision of making the world a better place. TEDActive was a life-changing experience.

Was there any one moment that stood out for you? 

I wouldn’t say a moment. If there was a moment, it happened several times. TED, this year, kind of had a bent towards education. Every talk had a slant towards the shifting view of how we educate our young people and lifelong learners. There were several moments when I realized we’re on the cusp of something great — if we make it great. My thought was that the talks were fantastic, but we can watch the talks anytime. It’s really about the people that you get a chance to meet and engage with and share with. TEDActive is a place where people come with strong ideas, strong opinions and strong beliefs, but are willing to be wrong. For me, this is the essence of what TED is about: sharing these ideas and being open to learning something new that might fly at the face of what you know.

What did you take away from the experience?

The experience solidified some things that I had been thinking about and dreaming about. Post-event, I had a conversation with [TEDActivator] Mauricio Bejarano on Facebook. In response to my post, he said that we all should write down our thoughts and ideas because as time goes on you start to forget things. There’s also this Chinese proverb — “A short pencil is better than a long memory.” I’ve always been the Tumblr type. It’s difficult for me to sit and write longform. I didn’t have the patience to sit and write. After reading Mauricio’s comment, I decided it was time to grow up and be patient and sit and write because I have a lot to share on education. I know one of the editors at one of our large papers in Toledo and I sent him one of my articles just to see what he thought about it. I didn’t have any intent. But he loved it and asked me to be a regular paid contributor.

It was encouraging that someone thought my thoughts were something the community should know about. We all have something to offer the world and I think TEDActive allows you space to be around, people who can feed that inertia. People who are interested in TED are usually people who contribute to their communities. But, you can only pour yourself out for so long before you need to be poured into. A car can run only so long. You’ve got to put gas in it. It’s important to think of TEDActive not just as a vacation but somewhere you can go and be refueled by being around people who can teach you something new or encourage you or confirm what you’re doing. Somebody said in the first Google Hangout, we’re nodes in a global network. Being at TEDActive I now have friends in Sweden and Switzerland, Nairobi – I didn’t know anybody in Africa before. Now I have three friends in Africa. If I ever go to Sweden, I have someone to talk to. Knowing that you can change the world and that we’re all hoping to change our communities– at some point you need to be around people who can pour into you.

A view from Will’s camera:

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How did you get into what you’re doing now? What fuels your passion?

The thing I’m most passionate about is the future of education. I love the internet and tech, but I think what I’m doing with Classana is the most important thing I’ve ever done.

I didn’t graduate from college. I did 3 years in college. People were telling me that it’s fantastic that I have my own business but that others will respect me more if I had a degree. About a year and a half ago, I was running my own business Creadio and I decide to take 16 credit hours. I want to finish what I started. I had a conversation with one of my mentors – and I have several mentors and I encourage everybody to have mentors—and he asked why I was going to school: “So, you work for yourself. When you graduate, what are you going to do? Promote yourself?” He said, “I’m not telling you not to go to school. But if you’re going to go, take classes that specifically speak to you and what you’re doing and to get better at that. Not just for a piece of paper.” That reframed how I thought about pursuing my education. I went back to the drawing board for planning the spring semester. But college is not really set up for you to pick and choose classes. It’s set up for you to go along a pre-requisite course towards a degree.

To make a long story short, I thought there’s got to be a better way for people to find educational resources. It’s the early infancy of the MOOCs (massive open online course), the Courseras of the world, the Khan Academys of the world. We believe education will be a more entrepreneurial endeavor. It’s in our natural state to seek out things that make us better. That Stanford commencement speech by Steve Jobs encompasses and solidifies the whole future of education. He said, “The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes, and drop in on the ones that looked interesting.” I think he was more prophetic in that than he even knew. Our goal [with Classana] is to re-imagine the way we distribute education. If we can get people to what they’re passionate about, I think we’ve done our job.

When did Classana launch?

Classana launched publically 3 weeks before TEDActive. I have people on my advisory board from TEDActive! Michael Karnjanaprakorn, [TED Fellow] and CEO of Skillshare, and Ben Jones from Google joined. I met Ben Jones while standing outside of the auditorium waiting for one of the sessions to start. Everyone asks what you’re interested in. I’m into education so we ended up talking about that. That happened to be the session when Sugata [TEDPrize winner] presented. As soon as he got up on stage and started talking Ben turns around and looks at me like “Dude, you’re onto something. This is perfect for you.” We had a couple conversations since TEDActive. I met Michael from Skillshare the night of Jill Sobule’s fireside performance. He gave me advice on how to really grow and scale the business.

What is your advice for someone attending TEDActive for the first time?

I think you should go not knowing what to take out of it. You should go as open[-minded] as possibile. If you go looking for something, you walk with tunnel vision. You won’t see all of the other things that are possible. I think the best thing about TEDActive is that it’s easy to meet new people. There’s a guy I met in Bangladesh who in 45 seconds of meeting him, wanted to help bring Classana to Bangladesh because there’s such a need for resources like Classana in developing countries. I’d never thought about that. They’re just getting online and they want information, but they don’t know where to go. That’s the problem Classana solves. We just met 45 seconds ago. We never would have gotten into that conversation had I been talking to him with an ulterior motive. I would say go totally ready to be fed. Not looking for anything specific. Go and be genuine.

Around the Campfire: Meet Jenny Zoe Casey and Dave Casey

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Each person experiences TEDActive differently. Whether you’re an artist or techie, a morning or night person , a foodie or bookworm, an introvert or extrovert — the beauty of TEDActive is that there’s something for everyone. The experience is what you make of it. We talked with veteran attendees Jenny Zoe Casey and Dave Casey from Orlando, Florida on how they tackle TEDActive:

Would you define yourself as an extrovert or an introvert? How did that shape your TEDActive 2013 experience?

Jenny Casey: I’m more of an introvert. But I have better social skills.

Dave Casey: I’m more of an ambivert. I crave social interaction but I can also be introverted.

JC: I don’t really need as much social interaction. Almost none would be fine with me. One reason for that is I have get a sensory overload. If I have 3 or 4 conversations per day, that’s fine. I feel like it would be nice if I connected with more people but that’s not what my capacity is.

Dave talks to Chris Anderson during the Q and A session.

What were your favorite talks this year? What were some of your favorite moments?

DC:  Larry Lessig and Amanda Palmer. Amanda Palmer inspired me to go out and buy a ukulele.

JC: Which he’s been playing quite a bit.

DC: It was also really good to reconnect with people we’ve met over the years.

JC: Getting to see friends is really special.

DC: This is our fifth year going to TEDActive.

JC: We didn’t go to the one in Colorado. But we’ve been going ever since it was in Palm Springs. We decided to go because Dave was curious about it.

DC: I had a friend who used to attend the Monterey conference back in the day and he had great things to say about it. And when the talks came online, the Craig Venter talk really intrigued me. We started looking into it and realized that there was an option that was accessible to us. Got in, got addicted, started doing TEDx’s.

JC: And it’s been insanity ever since.

DC: Viral.

JC: My favorite moment was actually not a moment but an experience. It was the TEDx workshop that happened on Sunday. I am really introverted but I actually feel that organizing a TEDx has stretched my social self because I am so passionate about it. I felt so happy being among all those other TEDx organizers and it was such a beautiful day. Another highlight that stands out in my memory, was having early access to the theater, because we were donors this year. Not having to worry about getting a seat is a relief.

DC: Have you ever watched the Big Bang TV show? You know how Sheldon has a spot?

JC: Think of me as a more humble Sheldon.

DC: If someone else sits in her spot, it doesn’t go well.

JC: I like things to be predictable.

DC: We sit in the main theater, front left couch.

JC: That’s pretty important to us.

DC: Jenny sat on the left side of the couch. I sat to the right of her. The whole theory of trying to sit next to somebody different each time is not really a constructive way to meet folks. For me, it’s a lot easier to strike up a conversation while we’re waiting in line for food. It’s harder to converse with someone sitting next to you while Aida is playing.

JC: I also feel like just by going, I’ve already stretched myself quite a bit. So once I’m there [in the theater], I kind of deserve to do what’s more in my comfort zone.

Jenny makes her way for her seat! Dave says it's one of his fav photos
Jenny makes her way for her seat! Dave says it’s one of his favorite photos.

Jenny, it’s interesting that you choose to go to TEDActive, even though you say you’re an introvert. What are your reasons for going?

JC: I go because I am someone who loves ideas. I always have been idea-oriented. I could always stay home and watch the livestream, but at TEDActive, there’s such a feeling of joy. I don’t dislike people. I like people; I’m just not outgoing. The people who go are wonderful people. I think that there’s a difference between watching the simulcast in your living room and watching the simulcast with a group of other people who you like and respect and who are all really happy to be there. Although I don’t partake of a lot of what happens at TEDActive, I still like to feel immersed. I can still appreciate it even if I’m not socializing like a lot of the other people are. I think there are other people there who are like me, who really like to be there, but they don’t do the whole thing. We talked to someone else who said that TEDActive was a real stretch for him, but it was right on the edge of what he could handle. He said it was worth it though.

DC: In Susan Cain’s talk, she basically said speaking was really a stretch for her. It was worth it, but it didn’t mean it was easy. She needed a lot of downtime to recharge.

JC: It’s kind of a tricky thing. As an introvert, it’s not that I don’t need human contact. It needs to happen. But it needs to not overwhelm. In a way, TEDActive is a way for me to have some connection with people that are my tribe. That’s really important. But I just take a portion of it. I don’t eat the whole pie. I eat one slice.

DC: Socializing is a bit easier for me. But I get off to a slightly slower start than Jenny does. I’m usually going to bed by the time she’s getting up.

JC: I’m more of a morning person.

DC: I’m more of a night person

JC: I actually get sleep. I get up super early, hang around for coffee and wait until it’s time to go sit in the theater. Dave’s always dashing in at the last minute. During the breaks, I don’t talk to people. I go back to the room to take a break, then I get back in position to do it again. Dave dives in again at the last minute.

What were some of the most valuable conversations you had?

DC: Some of the conversations that really stood out to me were about music and people’s passions. That seemed to be the theme this year. Last year, there seemed to be an underlying theme of failure and fear of failure. I take a lot of 3D pictures during the course of TEDActive, and I was handing out View-Master reels this year from last year’s conference. One of the TEDFellows does stereoscopic photography as well. We were being 3D nerds and geeking out about that during the last evenings.

JC: For me, I think I’m not so focused on the content of the conversations. It’s important for me to connect with people I’ve met previously. To have it be more about finding out how they are. Not necessarily talking about deep subjects, but more about being with them. I did have at least one really important conversation with another TEDx organizer. We talked about how to work with sponsors which is something that I didn’t understand very well, but she did. I met David Gurman [TEDFellow and artist] through another friend. I’m an artist and I’m interested in some of the same things he is. We got to know each other a little bit.

What did you take away from TEDActive? 

JC: One takeaway is that TEDActive will supplement my reading. A really important part of my work is understanding current thought trends. The kinds of things TED brings to light. TEDTalks are vital in helping me to shape my thinking. It really supplements the reading that I do throughout the year. I feel like it’s really essential for me and the work that I do for me to participate in TEDActive.

DC: When we’re not working, we organize TEDx. Being able to bring that experience back here is great. We play different roles, of course. Jenny is a far more organized person than I am. She basically does all the work.

JC: Dave generates the ideas that create the work for me. Then, I implement them. I’m just joking. We talk things over a lot. We have an annual TEDx event and monthly events. TED is a huge part of our life together. We talk about stuff that comes out of TED between the two of us. It really informs our life together in a big way. We’re always talking about the ideas, the talks, how we should do TEDx better and stuff like that.

What is your advice to someone going to TEDActive for the first time?

JC: Going with Dave is huge. My advice would be to go with a close friend that’s more extroverted than you are. In my life in general, having Dave go places with me is huge. My other advice would be to always honor yourself and don’t feel inadequate if you’re not a social butterfly. Respect who you are and accept who you are.

DC: Watch the Susan Cain video before you go, especially if you’re an introvert.

JC: It’s a validating talk.

DC: I think some things that people complain about – the lines for the food, the lines for the coffee – are actually good. It’s one of the best parts of the day. It’s hard to have a conversation when you’re sitting in the theater.  When you’re stuck in line next to somebody for 10 minutes, you can have an interesting conversation. I met someone, who I’m probably going to collaborate with on a project that I’m excited about. It wasn’t a planned activity; it was just waiting in a line.  The lines can be a friend, if you see them as an opportunity.

Will you be at TEDActive2014?

DC: Oh yes! We’ve already signed up.

JC: We can’t wait!

Meet: A TEDActive Entrepreneur

jasonjasonJason Lankow has a refreshing combination of humility, perspective and vision that makes an entrepreneur truly inspiring. At Column Five, Jason and his co-founders, Josh Ritchie and Ross Crooks work with clients to provide visual storytelling around their products, services, and missions via the revelatory infographic. They’ve even released a (stunningly beautiful) new book on infographics, Infographics: The Power of Visual Storytelling.

And if you’re wondering about the quote above, Jason wrote it himself, on the spot, after our interview:

“Surrender your old ways. Let the scales fall from your eyes. You are awake and everything is already perfect.”

infographics

How did you get involved in infographics?

Infographics came to play for us a differentiator. The New York Times’ digital team was a pioneer in the use of online infographics, but no one was using them in content marketing. Brands in marketing liked the perspective of treating a company blog like a publication, to provide more editorial value and show industry expertise, which contributed to the popularity of infographics. We were able to capitalize on that trend. We’re at the intersection of rising ports, with design for brands online, an influx of data, and the increasing treatment of blogs as publications and brand extensions.

How do you navigate your role as a co-founder now that you company has a solid foundation?

I was always in sales and business development, so I’m particularly interested in identifying opportunities for us to innovate and exploring new territory that isn’t a distraction from what we do. As you start thinking about how you want to grow, who you want to be and what you want to be doing, you realize you won’t be able to rely on the same exact methods, ideas, and thinking that got you to where you are currently.

This week, Chris asked Elon Musk how he built a space company and a car company at the same time. I think the real answer to that question, which I’m learning for myself, is that it’s all about your team and your ability to surround yourself with people who complete the package. You can be the pioneer or starter, but you have to know your own limits and when it’s time to get out of the way and let people who really thrive on execution take over. As a founder and leader, your team wants to see you jumping out there and doing big things, driving new partnerships and relationships, and even opening up new business lines. Our company isn’t about me; it isn’t about either of my cofounders. It’s just about getting this really great group of special people in the room, putting our heads together, and making shit happen.

What is something you’ve enjoyed about this week? What have been the highlights for you?

I really enjoyed working with the IDEO team and the Robin Hood foundation on the Impact project. That project, in addition to letting me meet awesome people and be bombarded with great ideas, gave me a sense of purpose for being here as well. It’s nice to see something tangible and actionable coming out in a relatively short time. Just observing the challenges and the breakdowns in communication during that process makes you realize how much that mirrors any challenge in any organization. It’s been a very special week with a lot of really “awake” people who are just open-minded and who just get it.

What’s something that you’re really curious about in your life right now?

As our company grows and we meet and develop relationships with more people, more doors are starting to open, and we’re starting to do big things. I’m really curious about how we can manage to stay focused while also remaining open to jumping over to another set of tracks in a sense. I’m always curious about how you balance that commitment to consistency and stability while still being able to be curious, innovative, and willing to try new things.

Can you share a conversation or interesting interaction you had this week that you found inspiring?

One theme this week that I think is really cool, that I’ve been enjoying on a personal level, is the idea of finding perfection in imperfection. There’s a fine line. You still dedicate yourself to excellence and to growing—but without this assumption that you’re somehow going to arrive at this place called perfection and never grow from there or evolve again. I loved how Phil Hansen, in his talk this week, talked about just enjoying your own growth and learning, and even being OK with stepping away from a particular area. Sometimes we can only realize that we’re limitless by being limited or having limits imposed upon us. It’s amazing to realize that we’re skilled in infinite areas of opportunities or ways to approach solving a problem.

You can follow Jason at @jasonlankow