— Jenny Neill

TEDxRainier11: To Gain, In Translation

Some understanding can only be developed by crossing boundaries or shifting context. For example, imagine studying a foreign language. You come across a word that doesn’t have a direct translation. What process do you go through to figure out what it means? Studying in isolation, you may look up related words or concepts. But without a word-to-word translation available, you first must broaden the context before you can uncover the meaning.

A well-curated conference experience can speed up and amplify the process of gaining knowledge. TED (an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1996 based on an already established lecture series devoted to, as the tag line so succinctly declares, “Ideas Worth Spreading.” The non-profit now supports many offshoots, including TEDxRainier, an event produced annually in the Seattle area. This year’s theme, selected by the 2011 event curator Phil Klein, was “Gained in Translation: Ideas Crossing Frontiers.” (PDF)

Crossing language boundaries is one way that we gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic. But, as Will Hewitt so bluntly asserted in his talk about singing for 15 minutes a day, “Words are really flimsy messengers for the fullness of experience.” TEDxRainier11 speakers condensed into 9-10 minutes many complex topics that in a traditional trade show or classroom format might take a dozen or more hours to explain.

Challenged to give “the talk of their lives,” TEDxRainier11 speakers used music, video, humor, and audience participation to engage us. Much of the “magic” in ensuring the presenters were prepared was good old-fashioned rehearsal. The experts and artists practiced eliminating jargon and tangents in order to communicate clearly and succinctly to listeners from outside their professional domains. They did not disappoint and nearly all gave us a challenge of some sort before concluding:

That last suggestion came from comedian Chris Bliss who spoke about why comedy can so successfully catalyze the spreading of an idea. “Every act of communication is an act of translation,” he stated early in his presentation. One of his premises was that effective humor uses deception based on fact to change the context of an idea. When it works, that shift leads the listener to find new questions and perhaps new solutions. As Phil suggested to me, we gain access to more fruitful dialogs when we “…leave room for the imagination, for not having all the answers.”

Questions for this Thursday’s #Innochat:

  • To (again) quote Sarah Stuteville, “What would you do if you could do anything?”
  • What tools or processes do you use to shift your working context?
  • How do you encourage listening and understanding during the innovation process?
  • How do you avoid the trap of “having all the answers?”

I invite you to join me for a discussion of these questions in 140 characters or less on Twitter this Thursday, November 17 at Noon (Eastern time). Follow the #Innochat hashtag to join in. For more about this weekly online discussion, visit Innochat.com.