The Need to Invite Provocative, Fresh Ideas

Did you ever think about buildings made of sky?

Me neither.

Until a recent TEDxEast event and a talk by artist Peter Wegner where he showed his audience a concept he came up with using the space between tall buildings and how sometimes that space appeared to be a structure to him when flipped upside down.

It boggled my mind. So beautiful.

In fact, much of this event was like that. For those not familiar with TED, it’s a nonprofit devoted to, as its tagline says, “Ideas Worth Spreading” and it began in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds -- Technology, Entertainment, Design. There are also regional “independently organized TED events” and this was one of those.

The name of Wegner’s talk – one of 30 that day – was “Nix, Nada, Nameless” and for some reason the title evoked the old Seinfeld episodes on “a show about nothing.” Of course, that show was far from nothing, especially considering it ended in 1998 and I just heard two guys talking about it on a recent train ride.

All of this, these thoughts and images swirling through my brain, are just the beginning of why one should engage TED. It provokes and enriches and sparks our own creative juices. For years I’ve been watching videos on the site, cherry picking Elizabeth Gilbert or Brene Brown or Steve Jobs. Or recommending it to life coaching clients.

But here’s the thing about actually going in person to hear a lineup of talks. You’re captive. You’ve put your trust in some organizers you don’t know. It’s kind of like flipping through a magazine and reading every article. Not just the ones that sound appealing or seem like your cup of tea, but all of them.

Let’s be honest. Am I typically going to engage anything where the word ‘genome’ is present? Let’s be really honest. Am I ever inclined to perk up my ears when science is in the room? No and no.

But I went open and receptive. Bring me what you will. And it was invigorating.

I’ve recently been in email correspondence with a friend who has been reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Her work, particularly that book, is at the heart of my coaching with clients and so I’ve taught it and continue to recommend the tools. This friend had written to ask me to clarify one of those tools, an artist date.

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you,” according to Cameron’s website. “The Artist Date need not be overtly ‘artistic’ -- think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration.”

TED is like a pile of artist dates.

There was fashion designer Samantha Sleeper talking about the quandary of labor practices that come with her business. And Oded Aharonson, a professor of planetary science at CalTech, talking about Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. And Antonio Bolfo, a photographer with stunning images of Haiti that told a story of light in all the darkness happening there. Imagine Broadway composer Michael Friedman sitting at a piano and taking us through the song writing process of a work-in-progress and then bringing out singers to execute it.

With all the negativity in the news cycle these days around unemployment and the bleak prospects of new graduates, how refreshing to be exposed to ideas, vision, transformative work.

I can’t imagine telling 13-year-old Cassandra Lin, who encouraged us all to be our own Superman, that her future is bleak. What with her and her friends innovating a program that takes used cooking oil and converts it into biodiesel that has already helped keep many families warm and has already expanded to 10 towns, she has a thing or two to teach the rest of us.

So much about that event will be rippling through my life for a while. Sometimes it’s great to decide to listen to a specific song on your iPod, but isn’t it often a different kind of thrill to randomly hear that same song when you flip on the radio? That’s because it’s a surprise. Someone else is serving it up.

Bring it.

It had never occurred to me how dramatic it would be to use the flip technology – the kind we usually see on those boards at train stations that keep updating -- in an art installation, but Wegner has done that as well. His “Monument to Change” at Stanford University startles and delights passersby with its colors and schemes and motion.

So happy to have exposed myself to all of it.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to