My Learnings and Insights from TED@IBM

Laura Meyer is the IBM Client Executive to Apple Inc., where she manages the sale of IBM’s hardware, software and consulting. With 2.5 years at IBM, Laura’s specifically interested in how cognitive computing, automation and analytics can help solve customers’ challenges. Currently living in San Francisco, Laura loves hiking and pretty much anything that requires being outdoors.

Whether tackling war and peace or the principles of machine learning, ingenuity starts with one thing: a spark.

Spark was the theme at the recent TED@IBM – a premier annual event hosted by IBM where the audience gets an inside look into the latest inventions and how individuals are solving global issues. From a spoken word artist to a media activist, from a national security expert to a cancer fighter, TED@IBM invites speakers who have designed solutions at the intersection of technology and humanity.

TED speakers go through extensive preparation to deliver a memorable and succinct 9-minute talk so it was not surprising to witness the silence of the 700+ captivated audience members at the SF Jazz Center in San Francisco. It is evident how they’ve mastered the art of storytelling and delivering the narrative arc. Among the attendees, there was representation from IBM’s clients, employees, and friends, and guests from many of the Bay Area companies.

This is my third time attending TED@IBM; I go for the fresh dosage of inspiration. I always leave thinking how I can apply the strategies, methodologies, and technologies shared to solve personal and community challenges. Viewers are driven to TED Talks to learn, to explore a topic, and it’s the perfect format to deliver a memorable talk. Plus, I can always count on IBM to share their latest in interactive technologies, from testing virtual reality to eating Chef Watson delectable creations.

My Top Three Picks
But now let’s get into the talks from TED@IBM 2016. Here are my top three:

Villy Wang – Media Activist, “She attacks bias. Against herself. Against others. And against the system that perpetuates it.”

Villy Wang, Media activitist, speaks at TED@IBM  (Photo: Lauren Machado)

Wang opened with a gripping story from her childhood – the time she and her mother were mugged in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. This experience shaped and reconfirmed her biases towards Asians and African Americans, and it wasn’t until much later in life that she realized storytelling could fight her personal narrative and change those biases. Now she’s applying this model at scale.  Through her organization BAYCAT, Wang helps young people from low-income communities to use storytelling to create their stories. With 4,000 people to date, many graduates go on to work at major studios and production companies.

Wang’s closing had me on the edge of my seat, “I’m a storyteller…I want racism to end. Let’s make it a business, one story at a time.”

Andrew Arruda – Entrepreneur + Lawyer, “What happened to ‘justice for all’ in a system where only a few can afford legal help?” Andrew Arruda is building software to help justice fulfill its original – equal – promises.

Andrew Aruda, Entrepreneur and lawyer, speaks at TED@IBM (Photo: Adam Helweh)

Arruda opens, “I’m pissed off. I’m mad. 80 million people go without legal representation.” Due to the high costs, averaging $361 per hour, many Americans can’t afford a lawyer. Legal research takes 20 percent of a lawyer’s time, and Arruda felt this had to change: “If we could bring artificial intelligence to the law, our dream could become reality.”

In 2014, Arruda quit his job to launch Ross Intelligence, and today the supercomputer can digest 1 million pages per second. He reduced costs for Americans by offering this technology for free to those in the frontline – the pro bono lawyers, Legal Aid and neighborhood clinics.

Dr. Charity Wayua – “Small and medium enterprises are the lifeblood of any economy, but how do you actually build an environment that fosters entrepreneurship?” With expertise in cancer treatment, Dr. Charity Wayua has developed some surprising (and powerful) treatments.

Charity Wayua, Public sector researcher, speaks at TED@IBM  (Photo: Russell Edwards/TED)

Upon moving back to Kenya, Dr. Wayua, a cancer researcher, told the story, “I found myself drawn to a different type of lab and a different type of patient. A patient who needed to get healthy fast. That patient was my government.”

Kenya has 17% unemployment. She went through business processes – business registration, permit request and more – and discovered their length of time to complete was astronomical. Through Dr. Wayua’s work, Kenya’s ranking on the World Bank’s Competitiveness Index improved from 136th out of 189 countries to 96th.

Dr. Wayua closed with, “What makes governments healthy is when healthy cells like you and me get on the ground. We need to make some space for healthy cells to grow and thrive.”

My Key Takeaways
As I drove away from the event, this year’s talks left me with the following thoughts:

  • No problem is too big to solve. People are designing solutions to transform people’s lives for the better in medicine and cancer research, governments, military, law and more.
  • The time to act on your idea(s) is now.
  • You can convince, move, and influence people through stories. This isn’t anything new, but with content reduced to 140 characters, many of us no longer seize opportunities to read and hear stories.

Want to relive great talks from past TED@IBM events? Watch them here.

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