National speakers announced for TEDxIndianapolis

The full line-up of TEDxIndianapolis speakers was announced today. Here’s a glimpse at each national (and international) speaker and their BIG IDEA.

Gary Benenson: Are You Smarter Than Your “Smart” Phone?
New York, NY

Gary Benenson is a professor of Mathematical Engineering at City College of New York. Prior to becoming an educator, he was an electronic design engineer.  He is Project Director of Physical Science Comes Alive, an NSF-funded effort to integrate engineering, math, science literacy and art in the elementary grades. Benenson is co-author of the five “Stuff that works!” curriculum guides that make use of artifacts and problems from children’s own environments.

Big Idea:
Bad design pervades our daily lives.  We seek information from our gadgets, but receive double-talk instead; search in vain for appliance controls that were once obvious; give up in frustration rather than consult a manual or 800 number. Each of these problems is crying for redesign, which might be as simple as adding or changing a word. We design things constantly, but rarely think about design. Good design proceeds from analyzing failure, and by listening to users, who are the experts on dysfunctional products and systems. Inspiration can come from anywhere, especially children, who are often the worst victims of bad design, and the most creative designers. This presentation will feature examples of bad design, redesign, and design by children.

Rosan Bosch: Design As A Tool for Development
Copenhagen, Denmark

Rosan Bosch is the founder and creative director of the Copenhagen based design agency Rosan Bosch Studio. She has worked professionally with art, design and architecture for more than twenty years and has specialized in using design as a tool to develop better and more inspiring school environments.

Rosan Bosch Studio is globally known for its school projects, which emphasize a modern and innovative approach to the development of differentiated school environments. Especially the colourful and imaginative interior design for the Swedish Vittra schools has become famous around the world. Rosan Bosch is also widely renowned for her playful and unconventional design solutions created for a range of different customers such as LEGO, Copenhagen University, as well as the Danish Government. Currently Rosan Bosch Studio is working on a large school project for the Sheikh Zayed Academy in Abu Dhabi.

Big Idea:
In order to change the common perception of education, as a slightly boring or unpleasant duty that you simply must overcome, Rosan Bosch believes that it is necessary to both change the way we educate and the physical environment of our educational institutions. Based upon the believe that livelong learning and development are basic human conditions and necessities, equal to eating and drinking, Rosan Bosch designs learning environments that reset students perception of learning. Rosan Bosch designs schools that are playful and meaningful experiences, motivating students to continuously challenge themselves and engage in the society surrounding them. The radically different design inspires children to take responsibility for their own learning process and prepares them for a future of on going learning and developing.

Catherine Chalmers: Collaborating with Insects
New York, NY

Catherine Chalmers holds a B.S. in Engineering from Stanford University and an M.F.A. in Painting from the Royal College of Art in London.  She is an artist and filmmaker whose work explores the dynamics between nature and culture.  Often she raises the plants, small animals and insects that appear in her work but currently she filming and photographing leafcutter ants in Costa Rica.  She has exhibited her artwork around the world including MoMA P.S.1, New York; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC; MASSMoCA, North Adams; Kunsthalle Vienna; MOCA Taipei; among others.  Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the New York TimesWashington PostTime Out New YorkArtNews and Artforum.  She has been featured on PBS, CNN, NPR, and the BBC.  Two books have been published on her work: FOOD CHAIN (Aperture 2000) and AMERICAN COCKROACH (Aperture 2004).  Her video “Safari” received a Jury Award (Best Experimental Short) at SXSW Film Festival in 2008.  In 2010 Chalmers received at Guggenheim Fellowship.  Chalmers lives and works in New York City.

Big Idea:
Were it not for insects, we would all be dead.  If mammals were to disappear, and leave humans as the sole representative, the planet would still hum along, differently perhaps, but the juggernaut that is us would not be in peril.  Without insects, though, the soil would rot, plants would fail to pollinate, the dead would not recycle into new life; the ecosystem would crash in a matter of months.  And how do repay the insect world for supporting us… by hating them.  Art intertwines with what matters the most to a culture.  It has always seemed odd to me that something so central to our survival has no meaningful representation in our culture. My work aims to change that.

Patti Digh: Grant Specificity to the Other
Asheville, N.C.

“If the Buddha had two kids, a dog named Blue, a Southern accent, and a huge crush on Johnny Depp, his name would be Patti Digh,” wrote one reviewer after Digh’s grassroots bestseller, Life Is a Verb: 37 days to Wake Up, Be Mindful and Live Intentionally, was published. The book was based on Patti’s popular blog,, which she began following the death of her stepfather – just 37 days after he was diagnosed with cancer.

Patti is a Southern-born master storyteller whose stories are full of humor, poignancy, surprise, pain, and knowing. Patti is the author of six books, with her newest The Geography of Loss, scheduled for release January 2014.  In addition to her writing, Patti’s consulting work has focused on re-imagining K-12 education. Her comments on diversity, global leadership, and learning have appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The London Financial Times, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal.

Big Idea:
It’s so easy to see people as “whats” and not “whos.”

We do it all the time – businessman, yuppie, mom, punk, black, white, janitor, freshman, guru, CEO.

As humans, we are categorizing and story-making animals–using language to create expediency and neatness, and using story to put meat on the bones of those categories, whether true or not. We do it without thinking. It serves a purpose. For some, it aids in marketing, for example; for others, it creates (a false sense of) safety.

But it denies the complexity of human interaction. And it also keeps us from mixing it up, keeping us in “gated communities.”

The only way out of those gates is to grant specificity to the other.

John C. Havens: Shift the Impact of Modern Technology
New York, NY

John is Founder of the H(app)athon Project, a contributing writer for Mashable, and author of H(appy: Claiming Your Value in a Connected World. (2014). The H(App)athon Project intends to crowdsource a vision for a new happiness economy–utilizing emerging technology and the growing body of happiness indicators around the world. Havens has advised dozens of clients (Gillette, Merck, HP) on social/emerging media. He’s also a blues musician.

Big Idea:
Quantified Self.  The Internet of Things.  Big Data.  Augmented Reality. These are four overwhelming technologies transforming our culture and business faster than we can catch up.  Each of these technologies are building off one another and bringing innovation at speeds we have never experienced in modern society. We have two choices in the wake of this information explosion: struggle and become lost trying to identify every piece of data and tech platform coming our way, or, pause and reflect … it’s time to be in control, and decide what information and technology is relevant to you and your business.

Steven M. Johnson: Mental Mixers for Imagining Future Products and Scenarios
Carmichael, CA

Inventor/cartoonist Steven M. Johnson, born 1938, has created a “line” of alternative products and systems, including cars with closets and chaise lounge lawn mowers, that will benefit or at least amuse his fellow consumer-citizens. His drawings have been featured in publications everywhere. His books: What the World Needs NowPublic Therapy Buses, Information Specialty Bums, Solar Cook-A-Mats and Other Visions of the 21st Century; and Have Fun Inventing.  His talk centers on his unplanned foray into futurism and his accidental inclination to mix-n-match.

Big Idea:
Inventor/cartoonist Steven M. Johnson, born 1938, has created a “line” of alternative products and systems, including cars with closets and chaise lounge lawn mowers. His talk centers on his creative technique of “thought-spinning”, a process of speeding up normal perception of everyday visible things and mashing them with distorted and dissimilar things.  This mental mixer has resulted in a lifetime of unplanned forays into imagining the future.

Christian Long: Wonder, By Design
Columbus, OH

Christian is an educator, school planner, technology expert, advocate for innovative learning communities, and educational futurist with Cannon Design. He was the founder of Be Playful, a collaborative global design agency focused on the intersection between school planning/design, emerging technology, and future trending.  He will talk about how to design the learning of the future.

Big Idea:
We live in the most extraordinary of times, a time rich with stunning innovation, discovery, and remarkable human potential. To that end, this is a time that should inspire a culture of extraordinary learning, where students of all ages are invited to tackle the world’s most compelling questions and problems alike. Yet, the overwhelming education conversation today is one of limited aspiration, test scores, political argument, economic discord, and the sense that we are ignoring a learner’s internal imagination while focusing more and more on emerging tools. And so, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we redesigned learning as an act of compelling wondering? Or, to rephrase it a bit, we focused on wonder, by design?

Florian Riviére: Abracadabra

Florian Riviére is an “urban hacker.” Inspired by hacker & DIY culture he reinvests and diverts public space to allow citizens to reclaim their urban environment. His interventions located between militant expression, design of public space, upcycling are spontaneous and raw, using objects found in the street to show the functionality of sites and the impact of direct user action on urban space.

Big Idea:
The world is a theatre of infinite possibilities. And to be connected to this potential we should hack the reality and begin to think out of the box and the cage which reduces our visions and expressions. We should reclaim our senses and our imagination to create a world beyond definitions and predefined paths conditioned by our education. Being able to enlarge and shape our world, our surrounding means to repossess our autonomy and freedom to create our own life. The world is not a one way direction, open it to make your own, to be an actor of your life.

Davy Rothbart: The Surprising Ways Our Questions Connect Us (Rothbart will also serve as the TEDx Indianapolis emcee)
Ann Arbor, MI

Davy Rothbart is the creator of Found Magazine, a frequent contributor to public radio’s This American Life, and the author of a book of personal essays, My Heart Is An Idiot, and a collection of stories, The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas. He writes regularly for GQ Magazine and Grantland, and his work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Believer. His documentary film, Medora, about a resilient high-school basketball team in a dwindling town in rural Indiana, premiered at the SXSW Film Festival, and will be released nationwide in November, 2013. Rothbart is also the founder of Washington II Washington, an annual hiking adventure for inner-city kids, and author of the recent TED book How Did You End Up Here?: The Surprising Ways Our Questions Connect Us. He lives between Los Angeles, California and his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Big Idea:
Talking to strangers — sharing our own stories and listening to stories from the people with whom we’ve crossed paths — we have the power to find joy, connect deeply with others, and broaden our perspectives. I’ll share dozens of my favorite questions to ask a stranger by interviewing someone from the audience live on stage.

Andrés Tapia: Why Diversity is Upside Down
Chicago, IL

Andrés Tapia is senior partner of Korn/Ferry International. He joined KF/I’s global diversity & inclusion consultancy, the largest in the world, in September 2013. Previously Andrés served as President of Diversity Best Practices (DBP). During his tenure the membership of DBP’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) thinktank grew while he also successfully launched its first ever D&I consulting business. Before that he was Hewitt Associates’ Chief Diversity Officer and Emerging Workforce Solutions Leader, where he was responsible for leading the company’s internal global diversity transformation as well as starting and leading its D&I consulting practice offering solutions to Hewitt’s clients. Andrés is a published writer and prominent speaker. He is the author of The Inclusion Paradox: The Obama Era and the Transformation of Global Diversity (now in its second edition). He holds a B.A. in history with an emphasis in journalism and political science from Northwestern University. He is married to Lori, a musician, and they have a daughter, Marisela, who is a professional flamenco dancer.

Big Idea:
We live in an Upside Down World. So much of what we know of how the world works has been flipped on its head. The US’ position in geopolitics. The way healthcare will work in the US. How products get manufactured. How we consume entertainment. How we connect with one another. The best practices have become obsolete. But we’re not sure what the new and next practices are.  If all these and many more things are in the midst of questioning their basic presuppositions, then diversity should be no different.  In what ways is diversity upside down?

Risë Wilson: What is a Citizen Artist and Why Should We Care?
New York, NY

Risë Wilson is committed to lifting up the value of creativity in our every day lives. She is the founder of The Laundromat Project, which mounts topical and timely art programming in local laundromats as a way of amplifying the creative power available in neighborhoods like Bed-Stuy, Harlem, and the South Bronx. Risë was recently appointed the inaugural Director of Philanthropy for the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation in order to help shape the foundation’s grant-making priorities and to fulfill its belief that art can change the world.

Big Idea:
From economic and community development to grassroots organizing, artists are harnessing the power of imagination to solve significant community challenges. The presence of artists in movements for change is not new, but this breed of “citizen artists” is. They are redefining activism, engaging their neighbors as partners and collaborators, and in the process underscoring what is possible were the concrete skills of creativity taught as a core literacy. If we learned the mechanics of creativity the way we learn our ABCs we would have a populace of change-makers, able to envision a better world and equipped with the hard skills to make it so.


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