TEDx What Now

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The dust has settled after TEDxGR 2012, but the question posed by the event remains: “What now?”

The daylong happening was centered around 12 speakers from a range of backgrounds including design, technology, science and philosophy. Speakers were brought in from around the country with the intent of infusing Grand Rapids with fresh perspectives and bringing national conversations to a local setting.

Beyond providing an opportunity to rub shoulders and make new connections, the event gave business leaders a chance to examine themselves and their companies through a different set of lenses.

Journalist LZ Granderson, a CNN contributor and senior writer at ESPN, received a standing ovation in response to his speech on what he calls the “secret gay agenda,” namely the U.S. Constitution. Granderson noted that beyond the “feel-good” reasons for having provisions to protect LGBT employees, businesses today have a very tangible cause for taking a supportive stance.

“If you look at the initiatives started by some of our most successful companies — from Starbucks to Microsoft to Nike to all global companies — all have provisions so there is no discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Granderson. “So if you’re a college or a business, and you’re looking to grow, and you don’t have this provision in place, what are you saying to potential employees? What are you saying to the business world at large?”

Granderson, a Michigan native and former writer at the Grand Rapids Press, notes the negative effect voting down an anti-discrimination ordinance in 2011 has had on the Holland business community. “You’re not going to get the type of talent you want for your business if the community is perceived to be closed off and behind,” he said.

Another TEDx speaker, Joan Borysenko, Ph.D., founder of Mind-Body Health Sciences LLC in Boulder, Colo., shared her thoughts on the importance of resilience in both the personal and professional realms.

“When the economy crashed in 2008, some people despaired, some became depressed, and some people not only bounced back and survived, they actually thrived,” said Borysenko.

She pointed to the auto industry in Detroit as an example of one industry rising from the ashes. “It reinvented itself. That’s what we’re going to have to do. A lot of systems around the world have been outgrown, they’re failing,” said Borysenko. She believes companies and individuals able to adapt, synthesize and be whole-brain thinkers will be the ones to survive in the future.

“Change is an amazing thing. Sometimes it’s foisted upon us, and it calls on us to bring forth strengths and cooperate in ways we wouldn’t have before,” said Borysenko.

Paul Kortman, owner of local business Connex Social and a TEDx attendee, said, “TEDx is fantastic for the business community. For one, we all get to talk and meet, but more importantly, events like this elevate Grand Rapids to a national level. Those of us in business need a vibrant city in order to attract talent and customers. Opportunities like TEDx draw attention to Grand Rapids and highlight how alive our city is.”

For Bill Holsinger-Robinson, an organizer at this year’s event and incumbent host to TEDxGR 2013, the real action wasn’t taking place on stage.

“The event is less about the speakers and more about the audience,” said Holsinger-Robinson. With a sold-out audience at the Civic Theatre and more than 800 students and educators watching via Livestream for Education, organizers hoped to provide the catalyst for innovation and partnerships in the community.

“We’re setting the right conditions for something great to happen,” he said.

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