It’s hard to single out one high point from the myriad during the first day - but it’s worth pointing out that in a day packed with luminaries from Fast Company, Zappos, RISD and more - the standing ovations were reserved for two young women - one in high school, one in middle. One a poetic orator whose poise and delivery made all others pale in comparison, the other a 7th grader who has done more good to further recycling and green biodiesel home fuel for the needy than most may do in their lifetime. Yes - 12 years old. I am such a slacker.
Two memes that emerged for me during the day: rethinking what defines the meaningful unit of measure, and the notion of luck. Alan Webber (@allanmwebber), one of the founders of Fast Company, talked about news and Newsweek. Peter Menzel & Faith D’Aluisio talked about daily diet intake around the world. Josh Koppel (@scrollmotion) and Richard Saul Wurman talked about a page. These constructs - a week of news, a daily diet, a printed(?) page - may be artificial, but interestingly they do serve the purpose of providing context. Context for our own frame of reference, for our shared understanding, for our conversations.
In looking at how we consume news, my mind goes to our Sunday NY Times. Alan cleverly referred to it as ‘a magazine in disguise’ - a week’s worth of news, analysis and interpretation, all packaged up in a form (the paper or an app) and at a time when we have the ability to consume it (if we’re lucky, sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee or two). Through that lense, a weekly publication such as Newsweek makes more sense. As he so aptly put it, our current normal of 24x7 news is not news, it’s noise. Without reflection and context, it’s no more than static. I do wonder though if the delivery for a weekly magazine is better suited to an iPad app in order to deliver the content in a timely and relevant enough manner.
Peter and Faith spent months travelling around the world looking at what is the measure of a diet during a day. Looking at 80 different people, roles, cultures, lifestyles and how they both shape and are shaped by the food that is available and consumed was fascinating. Beyond the implications about nutrition it explores how food connects us to our families, our neighbors and our heritage - and how that has changed with the increasing globalization of our lives. Not just the measure of a day - but a window into the fabric of our lives and our societies.
But what about a page in a book or a magazine? On the web? Pages on paper are defined by physical limitations, which were aped by web sites and now mobile phones and tablets. That mimicry is breaking down in some ways with clever ‘limitless scrolling’ on some sites, but it’s a tweak and not much more. But that convention gives us context: how far are we through a book, how we talk with each other about a particular passage. While Richard derided the mimicry of the ‘page flip’ on the iPad, one can’t completely dismiss the familiar context it brings. An evolution that utilizes the context of use however was presented by Koppel: an iPad textbook app that groups content by ‘chunk’ or topic, rather than by page, and incorporates all of the screen and UI capabilities of the device and truly new, unique and (to use Jason Fried’s (@jasonfried) preferred phrase) useful way. So a new, more meaningful unit of measure emerges, that maps to the context of how we learn and interact more naturally, rather than bound by paper of the page.
But what of luck? Not just the measure of how lucky or unlucky you are - but how open you are to being lucky. Tony Hsieh (@zapposceo), CEO of Zappo’s talked about a simple question asked of prospective employees: are you lucky or unlucky? It’s more about your perception of yourself and how open you are to finding opportunities that determines this. Be open to new experiences, seek out ones that give you purpose, ones that drive you. As much as some may not have liked the ‘embrace your inner stupid’ thread started by Wurman, in doing something of the sort you open yourself to the joy of not knowing, of seeing things anew and filling the blank space with knowledge. John Riin had a similar quote talking about exploring the relationship between DNA, RNA and protein: “come into a landscape with clear eyes and no knowledge.” Again the theme of being open to seeing begets the opportunity to see new things and arrive at better outcomes. Or to say it another way - to make your own luck.
Don Tapscott (@dtapscott) put it another way: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Now what that opportunity may be we have no way to know, but if we are prepared - intellectually, emotionally, physically - we are empowered with the choice in how to embrace it.
“When the story changes direction abruptly, how willing are we to accept that?” asked John Winsor. Some of the best things that have happened to me in my life are a result of these turns in the story. Being here at BIF most recently. But the standout, life-changing turn came in how I met my wife and family. My eyes were not open to meeting a woman who already had two children. But I was smart enough to see that my preconceived notion of whom I should meet paled in comparison to the new reality before me, and before I knew it I and my 3 dogs and moved in with Ellen, Trevor and Phoebe and my story now includes a family. That’s luck beyond any measure.
There’s much more to tell about these past two days, but I hope you’ve enjoyed this small slice of what stood out in my mind from the first. Check out all of the speakers’ stories here with images, audio and more.