Limitless! TEDxYouth Comes to Austin

There is a place where the youth reach for the stars and the adults follow along the way. That was the essence of Limitless – an independently organized TED event that was held at Westlake High School on March 30.
Possibly the best way to spend a Saturday where nobody seemed to care how old you were but just that you were there.

Red-and-Black-on-White-LimitLess-Logo1-e1351915347566
Community is LIMITLESS
TEDxYouthAustin is the brain child of Louis Lafair, a junior from St Stephen’s School who felt that it was time to bring TEDx to his generation. He reached out to Nancy Giordano, the champion behind TedxAustin and like all good stories go, the plot thickened, the cast of supporting characters gathered and March 30th was executed with aplomb. Supported by Eanes Independent School District, TASB and a host of mentors, sponsors and partners, it marked the beginning of many others to follow.  Louis explained that it was not about one school against another. The event had students from over 70 schools attending and managed to make it more about “us” over “them”

A wonderful thing happens when adults understand mentoring is about guidance and not about control. About standing behind but letting go. Allowing the youth to take charge of the event design, AV and format resulted in a great blend of content set to context.

Invest in Wonder
With a theme like Limitless, the speakers may have been twelve or forty but their message was young, spirited and filled with the art of the possible. The Westlake Performing Arts Center was full and the organizers wanted to make sure that the students got to sit front and center with the adults filling in the seats on the sides. We were asked to put away our various devices and not get distracted with the social chatter . So I had to scribble furiously in the dark.

Josef Asfouri, the middle school award winning concert pianist kicked off the event followed by Chris Kocek, CEO of Gallant. I met Chris before the event started and asked him why he was excited about the event. He said “Creativity is limitless and there are people who tell me that they are not creative. Everybody is creative.”

His talk was exceptional because he was able to take his message and put it in a format that kids could then remember. Many times we tend to ramble when talking not understanding that what we are talking about makes sense only to us because we have become old friends with our own content. To be an effective speaker, your material needs a structure, just like a house needs its foundation and its beams.

Chris spoke about seeing the world with a fresh set of eyes, learning as many languages as you can, asking questions no one else is asking and the importance of play.
GrassDreaming

Shree Bose walks on stage, looking a little like Mindy Lahiri but without the dizziness. She talks about WONDER and takes us on a fascinating trip on cancer drug resistance. A Texan native, her world changed when she won the Google Global Science Fair, met President Obama twice and is studying at Harvard. Dreams incubate well in wonder and persistence. “Ignore that you are not smart enough. I got rejected a lot…the best part about being young is that you do not know yet what you are not supposed to do…you will never know unless you try. The world needs your dreams.”

She is followed by Ashley May, a senior at Westlake High School who loves chemistry with a grand passion. She decides to educate us about the four most dangerous elements and you know that she has memorized each and every element on that periodic table. She talks about Mercury, Strontium, Thalium and Arsenic with a fervor that other kids her age would save for a rock star. She finishes her speech by saying “Chemistry is not for everyone but curiosity is.” When she leaves the stage, you are left with a strange urge to look up the periodic table.
Passion is contagious, alive and forever young.

Other speakers include Garrett Weber Gale, Olympic Gold medalist who talks about the importance of showing up, hard work and acknowledging the others who have carried you along your journey. Behind every success story lies many minds, hands and hearts.

Michael McDaniel from Frog Design is passionate about innovative and inexpensive ideas nested in practicality like the urban cable project – The Wire. Of course he makes us smile when he unscrambles “Keep Austin Weird” to “Keep Austin Wired”.

Equally compelling are the Future City middle school planners, Dillon Samara, Everest Maher and Evan Trumeters who  demo their innovative Hydroflap System designed to solve the current environmental problem of water runoff.

Brandi Clark Burton shows us how much food is wasted. She throws staggering stats at us. “25% of what comes into the US household goes into trash” “40% of our food is wasted from farm to table.” Waste in the middle of hunger. “50 million people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

Peter Stone, a professor of Computer Science at UT Austin spoke about nearly a decade spent on RoboCup to his team finally emerging as reigning world cup champions. Truly nothing worthwhile happens overnight. There is no magic bean, or a bean stalk leading to a golden goose. What is consistent through these talks is the theme of persistence.

I am not prepared for Jia Jiang who talks about the power of audacity. He left his job four days before his wife gave birth to their first child and hits a roadblock as many of us have done. But Jia decides to start his own 100 Days of Rejection Therapy. He says that we are always faced with regret when we choose not to take steps because of the fear of rejection.
When you accept rejection, then you are no longer afraid of it. It will no longer dictate your next step.
“Rejection is someone’s opinion of ourselves. Regret is your own opinion of yourself.”

Inspiration
What I loved about the format was the easy mix of serious talk, video clips and energetic art. We are introduced to Premiere and Final Cut, an A Capella group from MacArthur High School in San Antonio. International Champions in 2011, this group performs without instruments, in perfect rhythm and to a thunderous ovation. Forget Glee.

We are treated to the powerful poetry of Jaoquin Zihuatenejo, World Poetry Slam Champion, who conveys through voice and motion how the youth can reverse the stereotype. Care. Share. Dare.
He has the students fired up and standing up clapping furiously because his words of change and revolution, have touched a chord. He is not preaching to them. He has connected.

“So maybe I don’t have to be just warrior
or just poet
maybe I can be both
or maybe all I have to be
is the most beautiful thing that I can be
that which I am”

When some toddlers were vying for tiaras, Ruby Jane fell in love with the fiddle. Seventeen today, this beautiful young lady inspired all of us with her unflinching belief in herself. The youngest fiddler invited on the Grand Ole Opry, she has reinvented herself and forged her own path by pursuing singing and songwriting. She says between playing her music and singing her song,Listen to the voice that says you can have an influence no matter what others say. We all have this voice. Lots of people regard it as the voice of fantasy. I think of it as the voice of potential.”

Closing Class Act
Life can be cruel. Life can be callous. Lizzie Velasquez could easily have stayed with that notion and she talks about a hateful Youtube video with millions of views that could have broken her spirit. She says When I was born with a rare and undiagnosed syndrome, the doctors said I could accomplish nothing in my life. My parents took me home and raised me completely normally.”
“You can choose to be happy or choose to give up”
Though she is 24 years old and weighs only 62 lbs, her impact makes her a giant among us. She has been a motivational speaker for 8 years, has written two books and working on her third. She graduates this year from Texas Tech.
“Every nasty comment made me work even harder.”
Recently another video made the rounds on YouTube. Lizzie said she had one good cry and she said to herself, “Smile Lizzie. What great accomplishment is this video going to lead to.”
“I look at this battle and I realize that the best revenge is through your accomplishments. So yes I have won.”

The Brain Spa
Time to connect was provided during the short break and at the reception held in the Chaps Court. Food for thought was provided by different sponsors. Pizza, ice cream, sushi for the more refined palate.

To get students to give up their Saturday willingly when they could be anywhere else is no mean feat. To bring them to the venue and to have them stay the entire day would equal to “success”.  To have them stand up and applaud the content meant that seeds of possibility were planted.

We don’t always remember everything we learn. We do remember those moments in our life when inspiration takes root and activates the dream.

I caught up with my daughters who enjoyed volunteering and said “So what did you think?” One said, “I need you to look at some of the songs I have written.”  The other one said “I want to become an environmental activist”

I hear ya. I know this was your event but it has triggered off a whole domino of ideas in my own head.  Let’s go change the world.

Final Act. Ruby Jane with Premiere & Final Cut.
Final Act. Ruby Jane with Premiere & Final Cut.
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The Ladder

The story goes that
When you are young
You must search for the ladder

Your education is first geared
To find the bottom rung
When you graduate, cap and gown
Thrown asunder, clutching a piece of paper
That says you now hold the key
To take the first step

The first step is not the hardest here
You run towards it, a little afraid
But it feels like you have finally
Found a clue to what
Will keep you busy
For a long time in your life

Now you are part of the ladder
And as you start the climb
There are so many goals to reach
You now meet the others
The race begins

Who will climb the highest
Who will climb the fastest
Who was the youngest
Who was most promising
Who was the smartest

So many superlatives
So many opinions, perceptions
And marked preferences
Tagged, and you are it

Some will lose hope with the climb
Content to stay on the middle rung
Some will rise with each step up
As the atmosphere thins
The perks, first class
A corner office
A coveted parking spot

The ladder holds them in its thrall
And identity is found in a business card
But stories always have a twist
The harder you hold on
The longer you stay
The more you enjoy us vs them
The less time you have to
Contemplate your descent

Unless you found a way
And you understood
That a ladder is one way
Only when propped up
But placed flat on the ground
It shifts from Me to We
It encourages connection
It becomes a path
It becomes a bridge

— Shaku Selvakumar March 2013

Fish in the Cityhttp://vladimirkush.com
Fish in the City
http://vladimirkush.com

LinkedIn and the 5 Cs of Success

Most folks who know me know that I have been bullish on LinkedIn for a long time and I recently tweeted that I was in their 1%.  It feels good to be in the 1% of anything even though that narrows me down to 1 in 2 million.

I joined LI in 2005 and at that time very few people I knew were on the platform.  Today, there is one rule of thumb in the business world.  If you have time for only one platform in your busy life, take to LinkedIn.

Customer Centric

Many make the mistake of valuing packaging over substance.  Yes I can’t emphasize enough the value of a great UI, the product features or the importance of design.  But these would be irrelevant if you did not understand your audience.  To rise above the social clutter and to become the preferred medium to a very demanding corporate audience, LI had to capture and conquer the essentials.

They had to become a strong networking site.  They had to provide their audience with the tools to showcase their talents.  They had to bring in the environment that could make it happen.  When I started getting inbox requests from headhunters, I knew their gamble had paid off.  Two key segments accelerated growth.  When the sales team and the C-Suite who are typically too busy to join fanpages on Facebook or tweet about the big event, signed up to connect with their clients and network, it signaled a shift from social plus to meeting a business need.

Content

Initially not a strong player in content curation or creation, this changed when LI acquired Slideshare early 2012. It signaled the arrival of a robust content strategy with context setting.

Leena Rao writes in TechCrunch “LinkedIn has just acquired professional content sharing platform SlideShare for $119 million in cash and stock. SlideShare is a sharing platform for business documents, videos and presentations. SlideShare lets anyone share presentations and video and also serves as a social discovery platform for users to find relevant content and connect with other members who share similar interests. The company also has a huge enterprise following, and companies like IBM and others use the platform to curate content from all of their employees and partners on a branded page. SlideShare users have uploaded more than nine million presentations, and according to comScore, in March SlideShare had nearly 29 million unique visitors.

The acquisition makes a lot of sense from a product point of view. SlideShare recently deepened its integration with LinkedIn, and the two companies have compared their relationship to Chocolate and peanut butter for professionals.”

Connection

Connecting on LinkedIn in the past was about your virtual Rolodex.  It stayed dormant and apart from adding the reference tool, LI didn’t have much else to offer than using the site for your resume.  Today, the very ease of being able to endorse your connections for skills with relative ease has changed the nature of the game.   LI understands the essence of business, the power of networking and quid pro quo.  Giving and receiving is the basic currency of society.

According to Peter Rusev at LI, “In less than six months, 1 billion endorsements have been given out on LinkedIn representing thousands of skills, ranging from Visual C++ to Water Treatment and Creative Writing to Fitness.”

Credibility through Influence

I can follow Barack Obama, Tony Robbins or any other from the 220 and growing influencers on LinkedIn. When LI encouraged leaders and subject matter experts to share their knowledge, it embarked on an influencer engagement model that surpasses any other in the field.   In October 2012, LI launched the ability for members to follow an exclusive group of Influencers.  Itamar Orgard writes “Today, the list of influencers has grown to 220 leading professional voices, from the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic to the Chief Scientist at Bit.ly. The topics have been equally wide-ranging: The head of a non-profit explaining how to take a sick day; a world-renowned venture capitalist detailing China’s problem with paid spammers (and how to fight back); a bond king asking what we can learn from nepotism in professional football; and an organizational psychologist on why we hate teams at work. Collectively, these influencers have already posted more than 2,300 original posts on LinkedIn.”

Consistency

I use three social channels regularly for content sharing and context setting.  The others are used but need-dependent.

I said a couple of years ago, when I was speaking on a panel at Content Marketing World, that “Twitter is a bar.  Facebook is your living room and LinkedIn is your corporate happy hour.”  I will amend that.

Twitter is still a bar.  You walk in at 8 am and you may tweet and if nobody is around, your tweet drifts away.  You might have to repeat your order to the bartender a few times before it can get heard.  You will also have to scan the peeps for some are out to just market the bejeezus out of you.  For newcomers, Twitter is a lonely bar. They walk in and nobody knows their name unless they have VIP status.  Then they go straight up to the suite.

Facebook used to be a cozy living room where everyone was assured of a conversation that would stay within the four walls.  But today, Facebook is more like a big fat Indian wedding as the privacy laws have changed.  You know many of the folks there but it depends if you are from the bride or the bridegroom’s side.  There is a lot of eavesdropping.  Everyone is showing off their jewelery and their glittering saris.  You are never sure of the gossip that a single “comment” can evoke.

LinkedIn has stayed consistent to its game.  It used to be just a local office but now it has grown to become a global company.  Here you have more access to your colleagues, you can get a reference, you can convert your profile into a resume.  Then there are water cooler conversations within a group and if you need a private discussion, there is the inbox.  Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn has moved steadily up the ranks without taking sudden, edgy, arrogant “take it or leave it” steps.  Recently, it crossed 200 million users.  Those users have invested time on a platform and have included some personal details.  That is valuable data to possess.  Would I deactivate my account on LI to draw a line between business and personal?
No.
I have business history here.

Consistency is the sister of credibility and trust.  We perceive consistency to be a drudge and the anti thesis of innovation.  That is not true.  Innovation that succeeds and sustains is very often rooted in and stays sane in the slow and steady race onwards.

No, I don’t work for LinkedIn or related to a family member or affiliated with any of their agencies.

Yes, I am bullish on LinkedIn and will stay that way as trust is a currency that doesn’t fluctuate.

Shaku Selvakumar on LinkedIn

1 Billion Endorsements http://blog.linkedin.com/2013/03/06/1-billion-endorsements-given-on-linkedin-infographic
1 Billion Endorsements
http://blog.linkedin.com/2013/03/06/1-billion-endorsements-given-on-linkedin-infographic/

Working from home vs showing up at work

Working from home with Dilbert
Working from home with Dilbert

So Marissa Mayer ordered Yahoo employees to punch the card again and show up at their cubicles.  So what? Why is there such a fuss about a CEO who feels that she would like teams to collaborate in person? There are other corporate crimes far more serious that folks should rant about.  Perhaps you feel that it is the right of the employee to make that choice.

I did both.  I worked for a great start up and showed up everyday, sat at my desk and commuted back home.  I then worked for IBM where I had the option of turning up at my Burnett office or working from home.  I can see both sides of the coin and I can understand that it is not a heads you win, tails you lose option.

5 reasons to show up at work

1. Connection

Start ups are fast and furious.  You have funding that needs to be stretched.  Teams are working against the clock very often fueled by something larger than themselves.  There is an energy in a start up that is contagious.  Connection is very critical for a successful start up.  At Webify, we had Beer Fridays, developer weekends, pizza nights, bowling, skeet shooting, Hail Mary rallies and lunches were the teams would step out to grab a bite and discuss something that was brewing.  Over a short period of time, connections that were built in that small company continues to stay strong even after we were acquired.  Even after we moved on.Connections can start anywhere.  On a phone call, via email, via twitter but face to face strengthens the bond.

2. Collaboration

Yes, I have collaborated successfully working from home and we have worked with many teams.  But there is something to be said about sitting face to face at a meeting.  Think tanks, brainstorming, chalk boarding work well in person.  When you are in a room with other people you have to be present.  It is much easier to get distracted when you are working from home and you are on a conference call, pressing the mute button so you can heat a snack or answer an instant message.  Nobody can see you.  Nobody knows how much of you is in active participation mode.Collaboration has worked successfully for virtually connected companies like IBM.  But we still have enjoyed immensely the few times the team has been able to meet in person and suddenly the mind shifts from anonymous to someone you know.

3. Cooperation

It is easier to seek someone’s help if they are sitting next to you.  People will go out of their way to help you if they have some sort of a working relationship with you.  It is easier to be a stickler for rules when you are isolated.  Isolation also guarantees a lower propensity to seek new solutions to old problems.  It is much easier to coordinate an impromptu meeting to fix a critical problem by walking around and getting teams together than it is to schedule a conference call with key players.  There were many times, I would walk over to get my CEO to sign off on a marketing initiative or speak to the development team for their help on an analyst recommendation.

4. Community

When I would work from my IBM offices, we would meet for lunch.  I would go and mingle and get to know other folks from other departments at the Diversity Day or at a Halloween party.  I would make an effort to upgrade my skills by taking some of the courses on Career Day or show up with my children on Take your Child to Work Day.  At Webify, we had Christmas parties, we had All Hands Calls, we celebrated birthdays.  We spend most of our adult life at work and the relationships you form here stay for the rest of your life.

5. Communication

There is a reason why the best salesmen understand that relationships are forged by contact, communication and connection.  There is a reason why our sellers are on the road most of the time.  They know that face time (not Apple’s product) is persuasion time.  They know that likeability is a strong factor in getting their foot in the door.  That is also why we continue to host big events all over the world, in spite of technology making it possible to convey all this knowledge through virtual worlds.  There is still no substitute for a handshake.

I don’t deny the benefits of social collaboration tools and how a Social Business provides the framework to make all of the above more feasible, effective and productive.  I have also enjoyed the benefits of a flexible work environment.  It has provided me with the option of working from home.

But I have also skipped meals.  I have woken up at 5 am to get on conference calls.  I have stayed up till midnight to speak to our team in Australia.  I have stayed glued to my desk looking like something that the cat dragged in on a dark stormy night.  I had in a strange way become more isolated from my family because once I was working, they only got an impatient wave, a muted “What do you want? Don’t you know I am on a call.”  They would reply “You are always on a call.”

Yes I was always on a call.  I was always working at my desk.  My posture suffered.  I gained weight and didn’t mind being unkempt for most of the day.  There are no boundaries when you work from home.

Besides innovation is contagious.  It is like a virus.  Try it.  Get into a room with other people who are engaged, positive and want to change the world.  You will walk out with many ideas.

I leave you with another case in point…missing great onsite conversations such as these:

The Office

Toby:  Actually, I didn’t think it was appropriate to invite children since it’s, uh, you know. There’s gambling and alcohol… And it’s in our dangerous warehouse. And it’s a school night. And, you know, Hooters is catering. You know. Is that- is that enough? Should I keep going?
Michael: Why are you the way that you are? Honestly, every time I try to do something fun or exciting, you make it not that way. I hate so much about the things that you choose to be.

Six Simple Pleasures during my Sabbatical

So if you read my December blog post, Daring to Dream again or you have spoken to me recently you might know that I am on a short “sabbatical”.  No, I am not off to find myself.  I think I have a good idea of who I may be, pimples, wrinkles, cellulite and all.

This time off is more to air my brain and pump my heart.  I define “airing the brain” as the overdue effort that every human must make to clean out all the mildew, clear the deck, throw the junk so you can come back to the war front, ready and willing.  In the past, I would swing from one vine to the next with maybe two weeks of transition between jobs. That time was hardly enough to clear the garage or unpack from a hectic and rushed vacation.

This time off has been a gift to myself that I have earned.  Of course, I have discovered a few simple pleasures of slowing down.

1. I hear you
The other day I called my parents in India and instead of cleaning the dishes with my neck bent over unnaturally, I sat back, sipped my coffee, actually listened and had a conversation. When I put the phone down, I realized I hadn’t done this for a long time. The act of being completely present and respectful during a conversation. It is not just with your family, it is with every one around.  I have accrued so many deferred lunches, coffees and catch ups, that had I mapped that to a credit card, I might be hauled to court for unpaid bills. Relationships still need to be maintained the old fashioned way.  No matter the advances in social technology tools, your true clout will increase only if you invest your attention.

Our world has become a compression of everything. Micro blogs, instant pictures, abbreviated texts, staccato calls, rushed meals…that we think if our time does not have the ROI of 3X that it is being wasted.  My daughter texted me the other day when I told her that we couldn’t attend some concert.  She said “Mom! YOLO!!”  I wonder what is the definition of speed to her generation where all fat is trimmed and all communication condensed.

2. My virtual world is not World of Warcraft
Before the advent of gaming, my virtual world shifted from one day to another.  Pemberley, Thornfield Hall, Mordor, Ayodya.  There was Alice, Peter, Scarlett, Sita. Over the years, instead of finishing, I found that I had started accumulating books that I would defer for another day. By the time I would hit my bed exhausted and still anxious about work not completed, I would read two pages and doze off. So Blink took one month, The Power of Habit is still calling my name, and I am yet to finish Cutting for Stone.

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.” Anne Lamott

I have bookmarked pages, downloaded pdfs and highlighted videos telling myself that someday I will find the time to get to all this great content.  You have to finish what you start or you will have a series of unfinished sentences, unwritten books, unclaimed emotions, unused gifts and untethered dreams.

Now I can read, take a class, or find out why Joan Didion kept a notebook or what Susan Sontag thought about love by going through brainpickings.org and not feel guilty about it.

3. One body for this one Life
My daughter has a mid morning break where she forgets about Math, US History and how an apple defined gravity.   Instead she heads to the playground with her friends for some fun time.  It is called exercising the body after exhausting the brain.  I put this up on my FB wall recently to remind myself that the car needed maintenance.

Dear Body,
I want to apologize for treating you so callously.
I have run you down.
I have starved you sometimes and then binged some.
The little water I have given you was an after thought.
I have not walked you enough or given you fresh air.
I have forced you to sit slumped over a desk without a break and fried your brain with my cell phone.
I have driven you crazy with stress and worry. I have raised your blood pressure with anger and frustration.
I have deprived you of adequate sleep on many nights.
Yet you have rarely let me down.
Please take me back, my best friend. I promise I will dedicate this year to your good health.
With all my gratitude

4. Staring into the distance
Please don’t hate me as you are reading this especially if you are in crisis mode. I used to be in crisis mode. Now I look outside my window or walk around and let the fresh air jumpstart my tired brain and my jaded eyes.  Ideas only hang out in well ventilated spaces.  Some are brilliant, some impractical, some whimsical.

Daniel Gilbert states “We live in a world in which people are censured, demoted, imprisoned, beheaded, simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air. Yes, those vibrations can make us feel sad or stupid or alienated. Tough shit. That’s the price of admission to the marketplace of ideas.”

The other day, I wrote an entire framework for my next business only to find that after 24 hours I wasn’t excited about it. But the best part is that there are more ideas from where that came from. I just had to slow down to listen and now I am cataloguing it more diligently.

5. Memory muscle
“How did I miss that?” No matter how much I tried to keep up with all the planners and the gadgets, that refrain was constant in my brain. Hamstering was part of my parenting act. “Did you do your homework.” “Did I sign her up for Taikwondo?” “We have two recitals in two different schools on one evening?”
Many times it was missing a whole chunk of a dialogue because I was busy working on a launch deadline or something else while my child was explaining something. You know how children talk. They start right at the beginning when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and then they get tired of their own story and by the time it gets to the end, they forget to tell you the time, date and the key details. But if you are listening, you remember to prompt and ask the right questions.
Now I get to chauffeur, listen to them instead of getting on a conference call and not worry about rushing back.

6. Write me a river
What is great to see is the way so many have embraced writing.  So easy to blog.  So easy to write on your wall.  So easy to Photoshop, Instagram, Vine and Storify. So easy to capture what should not be forgotten.  The undeniable truth of our existence and our visibility.  In his brilliant book Stumbling for Happiness, Daniel Gilbert adds “Our inability to recall how we really felt is why our wealth of experiences turns out to be poverty of riches.”

There is an attic and a basement in each of us, stored with unrivaled wisdom that will be thrown away when we finally meet our maker. This time out is my own Dumbledore’s pensieve where strands of memory are recollected, shaped and then formed into words to inhabit paper.

Of course the icing on the “sabbatical” cake is being able to go grocery shopping in the mornings, take care of other traffic light errands, reconnect with friends for lunch and stand in line without fretting at the DMV.
Spiral of time. Courtesy vladimirkush.com

Spiral of time.
Courtesy vladimirkush.com