Review: TEDxSMU was disruptive, on purpose

Follow-up stories about TEDxSMU.

By Laura Noble
Pegasus News - The Assignment Desk

DALLAS — Exploring the idea of “disruption,” big thinkers and the curious of mind gathered at the Wyly Theatre on Saturday for the third annual TEDxSMU – a day of discussions and lectures from some of the world’s biggest innovators facilitating productive change.

Intellect and creativity were palpable as TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) devotees poured into the Wyly’s lobby for coffee before a packed Session I program kicked off.

TEDxSMU 2011
See a slide show from TEDxSMU. camera
Pensive and almost ominous cello music was played by Jaewon Ahn as attendees were ushered to their seats. The music slowly built to a climax that evoked rapt attention and, perhaps, a feeling of genius.

Following in the past two years’ footsteps, TED Content Director Kelly Stoetzel and New York-based poet Rives co-hosted the day for a third time, this year with much more forte and energy. From start to finish, from the LED stage lighting wall to the beanbag pit in the theater’s middle, it seems TEDxSMU finally hit its stride this year from a logistics perspective.

Modeled after the annual TED conference in Monterrey, California, TEDxSMU is an independently organized program designed to spark the contagiousness of ideas worth spreading locally. Rives best summed up the phenomenon of TED in a comical statement on stage: “Dreaming of giving a TED talk is the smart guy’s version of everyone else’s dream of giving an Oscars acceptance speech.”

Session I ran the gamut of big ideas and Oscar-worthy talks, starting off with a presentation about the human genome and where human evolution is headed, given the genetic alterations we’re becoming more capable of executing. Biofuel and sustainability followed in the next talk, and design dominated the remaining two lectures. Architects Peter Brown and Brent Brown, the last two speakers, boiled down some big ideas into local examples with historical inspiration to motivate the audience to seek ways to improve our community in Dallas. Brown left the stage with a noble charge to all: “Go and design the hell out of our city.”

Before a break for lunch on corporate-sponsored floors of the theater, Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Lisa Loeb quietly took to the microphone with her acoustic guitar, leading the audience into a palette-whetting sing-along of the classic summer camp tune, “Peanut. Peanut butter. And jelly.” and her latest children’s release, “The Disappointing Pancake.”

Session II got off to a soft start with audience participation: open-mic opportunities for 30 seconds to profess, “What I know for sure…” In this portion of the afternoon, the diversity of ideas didn’t stop stimulating the mind. One woman spoke about designing the disruption you wish to see in the world, while the next played out theories of math and music. “Math is music for the mind. Music is mathematics for the soul,” said Scott Douglas. SMU’s Dean of the Meadows School of the Arts Jose Bowen played out this theory of Beethoven as the original software designer Bill Gates – highlighting some very fascinating comparisons.

Peter Thum, the Matthew McConaughey lookalike who founded Ethos water – also known as Starbucks’ bottled water – took the audience through a motivational challenge to explore angel investing. He also shared his latest project called Fonderie 47, which is currently working to disarm child soldiers in Africa by buying AK47s and melting them down into jewelry and other objects of beauty.

After a dramatic and emotional interpretive dance choreographed by Bruce Wood and performed by Nycole Ray, the session ended in a standing ovation and plume of talcum powder dust: Disruptive, but dynamic.

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