Sometimes you meet people that surprise you. At least, if you’re open to it. Last Thursday, at the livestream viewing event of TEDxChange in Riga, we were forced a bit to be open. The event started with a short session of speed-networking: 2 minutes of chat with a stranger focused on a question, then change and a new question. Although the idea of speed-networking, or speed dating is not really new, it was the first time I was involved in a thing like that. And I liked it. Without this session, I would have not know life-coach Roland, who gets inspired by people, or Atis, who tested the lessons of Derek Sivers and the Dancing Guy on how to start a movement leadership lessons from the dancing guy. And Daniels, who recently spent some days in Istanbul, loved it and realized that one thing he still believed in was himself. Which, mind you, is a powerful notion. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to have faith in you?
So, the start of the TEDxChange live viewing event was great. And then, on screen, we saw a familiar face: Chris Anderson of TED, live on a stage in Berlin. A bit of a special moment, considering the fact that the event was watched live in almost 200 places around the world. In settings like the one we were part of.
Listen to the people
I watched three of the talks, and found some common themes. The first one was by Jeff Chapin, who shared his experience of improving sanitation in Cambodia, by using human centered design principles. His talk was eye-opening, and reminded me a lot of the sanitation challenge on OpenIDEO. One of the things he highlighted, was that if you are looking to solve an issue, it is imperative to listen to the people whose issue you want to solve. Listen to their requirements, understand their habits and thoughts, their culture.
The third talk had a similar thought, but presented in a different way. Theo Sowa introduced several wonderful African women to the world, because she had experienced that in many conferences and projects, people were talking about the issues of Africa and African women, without including them into the conversation. There are a few African women that are looked to when it comes to this, but, as Theo Sowa pointed out, it’s hardly fair to put the responsibility for a continent on the shoulders of only six women. Especially when there are so many.
The power of the people
The second talk of the evening might have sounded a bit dissonant in this. Sven Giegold discussed renewable energy and how protest against nuclear power in Germany has turned into a movement that led to regulations like feed-in tariffs for renewables and eventually the closing of all nuclear power stations in Germany. A people’s movement, powered by the demand of citizens. But, there’s still a long way to go to break our need for fossil fuels. Despite great regulations in Germany, and many other countries, which also have led to technological development and innovation, renewable energy is still not cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Two things prevent that, in my opinion. One is that, as Mr Giegold noted, the cost of health and environmental damage linked to the winning and production of fossil fuels is not incorporated in the price of it. The industry is one that has perfected the mechanism of externalising costs. Which, in simple terms, means shifting the cost of health and environmental damage from the producers to the tax payers. Another one, is that the current technology, and paths the innovators are looking at, have limitations in terms of efficiency and environment that create a barrier for bringing down the cost of energy production. Many of the renewable energy technologies look at cost-optimisation from the old mass-production perspective. It’s time to let that go, and come with real break-through innovation by rethinking solutions, using design principles. Or look at technology that is already available.
For me, the biggest take away of TEDxChange this year was the importance of listening to ‘users’ and their thoughts, requirements and culture. If you don’t do that, you will never come up with a sustainable solution that actually works.