November 09, 2015
Happy 50 Years to The Sound of Music
If you're over the age of 30, chances are you've not only heard of The Sound of Music, but likely grown up watching it with your family. While the birthplace of all it was in and around Salzburg Austria, oddly enough Austrians and Germans didn't grow up watching it nor did it create such a groundswell effect locally like it did in other countries.
In October, I was invited to Austria celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, which was originally released in 1965, a pivotal year for so many cultural and historical events.
Truth be told, I figured the movie (and musical) was more of a phenomena in the U.S. given its picture perfect Hollywood movie style with Julie Andrews at the helm, however on the ground in Salzburg, I learned that it was a huge hit in places you'd least expect it to be, like Australia and China.
We watched The Sound of Music every year as a family for as long as I remember and no doubt, as a child, I watched it more than once some years.
As a little girl, who can't relate to the "You are Sixteen" scene? Here, Liesl and Rolf sing this "coming of age" song in the romantic Gazebo setting as she looks to him for guidance at the start of womanhood.
While some women may roll their eyes at a scene that depicts a teenage girl being so wooed by a boy that she is putting all hopes in the notion of him "taking care of her," suggesting that she can't figure it out on her own, there's an inherent and natural softness and innocence that is so beautifully portrayed in the scene and so many of us can resonate with it regardless of where we hail.
Perhaps reliving the scene as I did in Salzburg this year, holds the same romantic and tender memory as it did over 40 years ago because of the fact that traditional role models defined by sex are falling away. All we're left with when the definitions of who does what is gone is the purity of another human being you fall in love with, sitting across from you each day.
And, getting support from the other isn't an act of weakness, but an act of strength especially when polar opposite energies (masculine/feminine) play their part in the story we call life, even if its not quite the fairy tale life Hollywood is so known for projecting.
Below, I return to childhood in the original gazebo, which we visited at night -- one of the many original filming sites of The Sound of Music movie.
The lovely calling of romance and the innocence of childhood is so compelling in this scene, particularly given the context and that it happens on the heals of Hitler and political turbulence during a volatile time for Austria.
"A bell is no bell 'til you ring it, A song is no song 'til you sing it, And love in your heart Wasn’t put there to stay - Love isn’t love 'Til you give it away."
You'll no doubt recognize the shot above as another memorable scene from the movie -- Schloss Leopoldskron and the façade facing the lake which represented the von Trapp residence.
It was in this majestic and historical building where they held the official press conference celebrating 50 years.
Speakers included four actors who played the von Trapp children -- Debbie Turner as Marta, Duane Chase who played Kurt, Heather Menzies played Louisa, Nicholas Hammond who played Friedrich, Johannes von Trapp, the youngest son of the von Trapp family in real life who lives in Vermont today, Governor Wilfried Haslauer, Mayor Heinz Schaden and the head of Salzburg Tourism Bert Brugger.
They held court upstairs in the Schloss Leopoldskron Palace's library, which dates back to 1736 and its ever so encompassing architectural details only added to the historical impact the movie has had on the world. Inside, while broadcast media set up cameras to film the event, I couldn't help but to be drawn in by Kleber's stucco work on the ceilings which has been described as “the best example of rococo stucco the land can offer”.
Below is a short video of Johannes von Trapp addressing attendees at the official press conference.
Johannes von Trapp, now 76, was incredibly charming as he sat at the helm in an Austrian uniform, recounting his memories and sharing tales of his own life, noting what was similar to the movie and what differed. For example, his family didn't really climb over the hills and trek across the border, but took a train and nor did Maria and the Colonel marry at St. Stephen's Cathedral in nearby Mondsee, which was where the famous church scene was shot towards the end of the film.
Afterwards, we hung out with the actors in front of the lake, the very same one with the gold statues we all remember so well from the von Trapp estate scenes.
Below, I'm gloriously positioned in between Johannes von Trapp and Nicholas Hammond, who continues to act and lives in the states. I did ask Nicholas to dance at the gala later a few times, but he politely turned me down, offering a stateside rain check, something that would no doubt be fun to take him up on someday.
With Heather Menzies at the Kulisse Salzburg (Festive Halls) cocktail reception gala, which preceded the grand finale event they held on Saturday October 17, 2015 in the Felsenreitschule.
With Nicholas Hammond at the Kulisse Salzburg terrace bar, which boasted incredible views of historical Salzburg beyond and below.
If all of this isn't nostalgic enough, group shots in front of the glorious Salzburg poster at the evening VIP reception was sure to give any attendee a melancholy moment or two.
Below, together with the other American journalists who flew in to cover the event. In total, there were 50 of us from 12 different countries.
While not a household name in the states, Uwe Kroger (below) is a known performer in Salzburg and plays Captain von Trapp in the most recent musical performance.
On-Stage Performance Brings Me Back in Time
This intoxicating gala brought me back in time, reliving all of those memorable Sound of Music moments I had as a child. Producer Carl Philip von Maldeghem and directors Andreas Gergen and Peter Ewaldt were behind the event, as was the Mozarteum Orchestra. The Mozarteum Orchestra provided the music, while soloists and the choir of the Landestheater stood alongside the original actors from the 1965 film.
Listen to Edelweiss from the main stage...
Climb Every Mountain
And now for my favorite, Do-Re-Mi (the lighting is terrible in the video, but the sound is captured well considering the size of the hall)
Together with Uwe Kroger, German-Serban singer Milica Jovanovic played Maria von Trapp which she has been doing since the 2012/2013 season.
At the end of the performance, original actors joined the stage, including Johannes von Trapp and his family (below). And, together, we sang. If I were to say participating and watching this extravaganza was moving, it would be a grave understatement. Bravo!
The Hills Are Alive: The Salzburgerland Road to Memory Lane
The tour of Sound of Music sites is definitely worth doing and Salzburg Panorama Tours are the most notable ones doing it.
Film locations include Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where Maria and the children dance and sing Do-Re-Mi, the Observation Terrace on the Monchsbert, where they sing a verse of Do-Re-Mi, Residenz Square where Maria sings "I have confidence in me," Summer Riding School (Festival Hall), where Captain von Trapp sings Edelweiss before fleeing to America and St. Peter's Cemetery where the family hides behind the tombstones.
Then there was Leopoldskron Palace which was used as the von Trapp villa as noted above, Frohnburg Palace, which is used as the garden gate, courtyard and facade of their villa, Untersberg, which is the opening and fleeing scene, Hellbrunn, which houses the original gazebo, Anif Palace, which can be seen in the opening scene, Hohenwerfen Castle, which is the backdrop for Do-Re-Mi, Mondsee and Mondsee Church (pictured below), where Maria runs to the convent and marries the captain, and Fuschl -- St. Gilgen -- St. Wolfgang, which are aerial shots you see at the beginning of the move.
Below, granddaughter of Maria and Captain Von Trapp, Elisabeth Von Trapp, joined our bus as we were ready to depart for the official Sound of Music tour to sing for us. Born and raised in Vermont, she has been singing since childhood and her voice has apparently enthralled audiences from European cathedrals to Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center.
Below, you can catch a glimpse of it live -- be prepared to have your heart melt...
We hit all the sites, including those out of town, such as the charming town of Mondsee, a 30 or so minute drive from Salzburg. Below is St. Stephen's Cathedral where the wedding scene of Captain and Maria took place in the movie as noted above.
New Sound of Music Trail in Werfen
We were fortunate enough to visit the new Sound of Music Trail in Werfen, a day before it officially opened on October 18, 2015. Here, you see the stunning shooting location where the picnic scene with Julie Andrews was filmed, teaching the children to sing.
This area on the outskirts of Werfen is known as the Gschwandtanger. The Sound of Music Trail is 1.4 kilometers long, with 12 information stations along the way, many of which are interactive.
What's astonishing about these locations are not just the outstanding views (we were lucky to have a clear day when we reached the top), but the fact that it has been viewed via this famous movie by over one billion people from around the world.
Here, you also have an opportunity to discover the beauty of Salzburgerland's mountains and alpine pastures. There were children on-site also, which made for incredible photos against such a picturesque backdrop. Quite simply put, it was magical!
AHHH yes Salzburg, glorious Salzburg, thanks for the nostalgic moments and for allowing the rare opportunity to celebrate with the actors and producers who created a musical explosion that changed so many people's lives.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SOUND OF MUSIC!!!
June 23, 2015
Digital Health Summer Summit & Their Digital Health Playground
I've experienced some of Digital Health Summit's energy, largely at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, where it has grown in size over the years and now represents some of the most innovative technologies happening in the health, wellness and medical arena.
Last week, they held their Digital Health Summer Summit in San Francisco, which consisted of a full day of panel discussions, keynotes and something they refer to as Digital Health Playground, which is an expo of companies showing off their latest products.
Photo credit: LearnersOnline.com
The reason I've been so interested in digital health lately is not just because of the marketing and communications work I've done for HAPILABS and Kolibree over the past few years, both of which announced the world's first in their respective categories (connected fork and connected electric toothbrush).
This world obviously got me into deeper into the world of quantified self and devices that measure everything you do, from the quality of your breathe, to your sleep patterns and the steps you take every day. While I find quantified self interesting and in some cases, leaps ahead of our time, empowering individuals about their bodies in ways that was never possible before, I'm also concerned about over monitoring since doing so means that the EMFs emitted and other electrical energy that comes from these devices are close to our bodies if not on them 24/7.
I for one sleep more peacefully when I'm far away from anything that has bluetooth or wifi connectivity and when I'm not using my phone for texting or browsing, I turn it to Airplane Mode as a safety precaution. That said, the benefits of self monitoring for more serious medical conditions can be a godsend, particularly for kids and seniors, so that other family members can stay on top of their loved one's health as well. It's also useful for sending data back to your family when you're traveling and they're not with you.
Photo credit: www.kpcb.com
The idea of digital health centers on the convergence of the digital and genetics with health, healthcare, medicine, living, and society.
The biggest benefits of digital health as noted above, include the empowerment of consumers to better track, manage, and improve their own and their family's health. There are of course compliance issues, as well as hospital and corporate adoption curves that run alongside these revolutionary changes happening in the digital world today.
At the Summit, we heard from Chief Medical Officer for AFIA Rob Smythe MD and author of The Digital Doctor, Professor and Associate Chair for the Department of Medicine Robert W. Watchter MD, who addressed the need for digital health to better demonstrate its effectiveness, as well as the issues around privacy, security and regulatory challenges.
With the abundance of health tech accelerators and seed funders pushing out a wide array of digital health companies, we also heard tips on how to avoid the funding valley of death given the long time gap between institutional funding and ultimate launch. Reps from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Launchpad Digital Health, dRx Capital AG and DNAnexus took this subject on, which was soon followed by an interesting keynote from Michael Blum, MD and Associate Vice Chancellor for Informatics and Professor of Medicine and Cardiology/Chief Medical Information Office at UCSF.
Other panels discussed how partnering with strategic companies can better harness the power of talents and resources from both sides.
One of the more interesting dialogues was between moderator Karyn Skultety, Ph.D. and VP of Health Services at the Institute of Aging, and Commercial Lead at Big Health Dickson Waterfield and Co-Founder of Ginger.io Karan Singh. I like what they're doing at Ginger.io, which uses smartphones to improve mental health care.
Their app uses sensor data collected through the phone and self-reported information to identify people who may need help. Providers can use this data to better deliver support to the right people at the right time, making care more timely, effective and engaging. Ginger.io's Android and iPhone apps use data from your phone to safely and securely watch for days when your health may take a hit.
The Dealmaking, Piloting and Scaling panel presented the question: You Have What It Takes? Travis Good, MD and CEO & Co-Founder of Catalyze, Molly Coye MD and Sense.ly CEO Adam Odessky took on the topic head on, sharing insights on how to sell, pilot and scale successfully within the healthcare system.
Questions addressed included what healthcare systems looking for when they evaluate new technology, are all hospitals different or are there unified approaches entrepreneurs can take when working with them, and do you have a product that hospitals can actually implement to scale, among others.
Although nature will always win if I had a choice between trees, mountains and lakes and gadgets, toys and devices, I am a bit of a tech nerd when it comes to nifty things that can improve the quality of my life or my productivity. I'd argue that more devices than not add hassle to my life and extra time trying to figure out how they work and their effectiveness than the benefit they may actually provide.
One of the more interesting products being shown in the Expo part of the show, a small area set up for companies to do demos and show off their greatest, was Breathometer. Their mission is to build the World’s First Portable Breath Analysis Platform to help people make smarter decisions, improve healthcare and to save lives.
You download the Breathometer mobile app on your smartphone, power on the Breeze product using the small button on the bottom of the product and the Breeze should automatically pair / connect with your smartphone.
Once connected, confirm it has been 20 minutes since your last drink, take a deep breath and blow into the mouth of Breeze for 5 seconds and Breathometer will give you your results. Beyond providing dependable blood alcohol concentration levels, the Breathometer app is designed to help you make informed, dependable decisions.
Another cool product at the event was Splitsecnd, emergency assistance the instant you need it. Splitsecnd is the only plug-in device that can provide live trip data, detect a crash, call for emergency help in less than 7 seconds and notify your emergency contact in an instant.
This is a great device when you're traveling of course, but it's also great for seniors and teenagers -- parents can not only detect if and where there has been a crash instantly, but monitor the driving behavior as well. The device plugs into any vehicle's 12V lighter outlet and uses airbag sensor technology to activate the emergency response system on impact, calling for help even when you can't respond.
The GPS monitoring features allow you to keep up with family and loved ones on the road. Using build in location software, splitsecnd works with local 911 dispatchers to send emergency aid right away. The splitsecnd response team will call your emergency contact so your family knows within minutes you have been in a car crash.
You can also view the past 10 trips of anyone on your account -- where and when they went and even the route they took. For android users only, it currently also tracks how often the driver texts while driving making it easy to see how often they are making safety a priority. Wow!
I also learned a lot about hearing loss -- I had no idea it was such a huge problem in the states, how much hearing loss impacts one's emotional state, how expensive hearing aids are and the fact that they're not covered by insurance. Huh? When they're priced in the $2-6K price range per hearing aid, imagine how many seniors go without, trying to live day to day without accurate hearing?
Apparently there are a significant and growing number of kids who suffer from hearing loss as well. I chatted to the Audicus team at the show, who focus on providing affordable hearing aids. Apparently traditional providers and manufacturers mark hearing aids up more than 10x to cover overhead and other miscellaneous costs whereas Audicus cuts out the middlemen by working with a top-tier, independent German manufacturer and delivering it straight to the consumer.
They believe that everyone deserves to "Live Loudly" so are focusing on dramatically bringing the cost of hearing aids down so it's more affordable to the average American. They also sell accessories -- two thumbs up!
Producer Jill Gilbert, Organizer and founder of Living in Digital Times Robin Raskin and their team put together an incredibly enriching event full of great ideas, people, products, services and platforms.
The event was co-hosted by CDHI - Center for Digital Health Innovation at UCSF -- more information can be found at www.digitalhealthsummit.com. Be sure to watch for their developments, updates, future event dates and locations.
June 09, 2015
Soaring Fees & Declining Airline Service Do More Than Disempower Customers
While I’m not a 100,000 mile gal, I spend a lot of time on planes throughout the course of a year. When it comes to flying these days, I think we can all agree -- it's a far cry from fun. Barely tolerable is what comes to mind.
Photo credit: Outsidethebeltway.com.
The saddening reality is that airlines worldwide brought in $31.5 billion in non-ticket revenue in 2013 -- including passenger fees -- which is MORE than 11 times their non-ticket revenue six years prior, adjusted for inflation according to CNN Money. Unfortunately, there's little that we can do about it. There's no plea here and our voices go unnoticed....otherwise, the price increases wouldn't continue to soar year after year, not to mention new fees being added for incredulous things.
Photo credit: Dave Granlund.com.
Customer feedback no longer matters since it's become an industry that treats people more like helpless cattle in tow than worthful customers they care about "serving." Truth be told, I haven't had a memorable and rewarding experience flying coach in about 8 or 9 years and it's getting worse.
The smile comes on the video screen welcoming you prior to take off and if a video isn't enough to make the whole experience feel less personal, I saw a recent clip where an unnamed airline actually replaced people with avatars.
During that "happy" video, you're reminded that if you didn't bring your own headset, you can get one from them for a mere $5 and that's before you have to pay for the in-flight entertainment, no longer free. I'm old enough to remember when all of the "now" perks were just part of your normal travel experience -- the headsets, the meals, the movie, changing your flight date or time and hell, American used to give away pens and decks of cards.
Meals in coach used real napkins laid out on the side of your plate and silverware -- I'm not sure how I'm going to take a pilot down with a butter knife and silver fork, but hey, clearly they're still worried about it. If it’s domestic, I oscillate between my two favorite U.S. carriers – Delta and American and if it’s international, I try to use one of their partners for the mileage points although frankly, it's becoming less compelling by the day since it's a helluva lot of work to get "status" points and once you've killed yourself on god awful flights to get them, your perks and benefits get set back to zero before you have an opportunity to relish in boarding ten minutes early and that one bag free perk.
I avoid United as they remain as anti-customer as Comcast does on the corporate brand list....the two companies should do joint seminars on how to piss off a customer the most in a one hour period.
Photo credit: www.thefinancialbrand.com
If I don't have a choice to go with a preferred airline partner for international flights, I choose an airline that is known for its service and simplifies traveling for me at a minimum, or in the rare case, doesn't penny pinch me for everything. Virgin of course is the best known in this category stateside and they just came out with a credit card deal that allows you to change your flights for no fee. Remember those days? How bliss: "Customer-driven" decisions like that make me not want to ever fly another airline. When you purchase a car, design, color and safety matter a whole lot, but at the end of the day, the emotional reason for the purpose is how great you feel when you’re driving it.
Does it add to your experience and do you enjoy getting to your destination? The same applies to an airline experience. Too many airlines think they’re in the transportation business when they're in the hospitality, service and customer experience industry, even more than a 5 star resort is and frankly, I'd argue than any other business.
That might surprise you but in a 5 star resort, I’m not counting on service non-stop for anywhere from 3 to 24 hours like I am on a flight. From movies, wine, blankets, headsets, your bag, to a fee for the privilege of sitting in a middle seat towards the front of plane or boarding a few minutes early in a line that is now longer than the regular one. I've even heard rumors that American is going to charge extra if you want to sit next to someone else, even if there are plenty of empty seats available. WTF?
In 2012, airlines raked in around $6 billion according to USA Today, and airlines made over $20 BILLION with my least favorite airline leading the way - United ($5.4 Billion) according to CNN Money. Australia's Qantas Airways made $56.21 per customer -- the highest amount in that particular survey. Apparently the revenue came mostly through selling frequent flier points to partners such as hotel chains and car rental companies.
Airlines that made the most from baggage fees in order of milking you dry (from a 2014 Marketwatch article), include Delta, United, US Air, America and Spirit. Airline fees have risen from $2.8 BILLION in 2007 to over $30 BILLION in 2013 according to CNN Money. Below is a chart pulled from the same piece - original link below the image.
Photo credit: From CNNMoney.
Years later, I still hear arguments that they have to continue to rake us through the coals because of 9/11 and they'll also argue that gas prices have gone up so they need to compensate for that too.
While that may be true, gas has also oscillated and while it was extremely high a couple of years ago, we paid $1.77 a gallon in America's Midwest this past January. And, let's be honest, ticket prices have also gone up and flights are fuller than they've ever been before - it's very rare that I have an empty seat next to me and usually I'm sharing my paid seat with someone else when they can't fit that comfortably in their own. (this happens a lot btw)
It takes the fun and the pleasure out of traveling. Travelaholics or business travelers who hang their hat on airlines frequently will admit that if we could skip the airline process to get to their destination, they would. In other words, it's the worse part of the travel process -- getting from A to B is NOT about transportation, it's about the experience you have on the way.
This is why people smile when you mention the word Virgin -- it's because Richard Branson gets it. I also had the opportunity to meet Richard's CEO of Virgin Produced Jason Felts at Idea Festival last year and he is one of the most down-to-earth souls you'll meet sitting that high at the helm -- authentic and fun! His persona and energy gives you the feeling that he actually "cares" about their customers and I'll take it a step further, their experience of the world -- inside Virgin and out.
When I fly coach, it's such an uncomfortable experience that it's often difficult to imagine the joy I'll have when I finally get Italy, South Africa, Japan or wherever my journey might be taking me. Who doesn’t want to feel great on the journey there?
The problem is that most of us haven’t felt “great” on a journey to their destination in….well, years. We've all become accustomed to airline mediocrity, being treated as cattle (harsh, but true) and nickeling and diming every object we want to use and every move we want to make. As one woman put it who was standing in the security line before me at JFK recently, “now, it’s cattle in, cattle out, and no extra brownie points for being nice to the agent even when they were rude to you."
Most airlines have lost the essence of what matters to customers and forgotten what business they’re in. Virgin gets it right most of the time even though they were forced by competition to follow suit with with some of those ridiculous charges. That said, Richard Branson understands that he’s in the “travel experience” business -- my tagline, not theirs. It makes more sense for entrepreneurs who have successfully run high end theme parks or "high touch" resorts to run an airline since their approach to service and delivering an extraordinary experience are both so far beyond the mentality of most airlines, that their airline would likely very quickly stand out as the "Purple Cow".
Branson realized he had to build in “aha” moments into the Virgin flying experience, from check in to behind the doors of the Virgin lounge and ultimately the on-board service.
There are a few airlines who can get away with being in the transportation business like Ryan Air, where service and quality matters a whole lot less since you're paying so little for such a short flight. In a short flight scenario where the best deal is the order of the day, that free cushioned blanket and not paying for that tasteless processed meal isn't your top priority.
Travel is all about the emotions and memories you have during your journey, whether it's the journey of getting to a destination or an activity at a destination itself. Think about it. The Eiffel Tower is just a structure – a very large and beautiful structure, but a structure in the middle of a city nevertheless. People have come to associate romance with this structure and as a result, there have been hundreds of proposals in front of it. The emotion that is associated with this structure is significant for many. Paris exudes romance and restaurants and hotels embrace it - it's part of the French culture.
Exceptional service and including standards like a checked bag and more than just peanuts and pretzels on longer flights MUST BE the airline industry’s romance. Service and over the top customer care is to airlines what that memorable romantic experience is to Paris and why so many people flock to this popular European city.
While 9/11 was used as the primary reason airlines started tacking on additional charges, let's face it -- that was a long time ago and business & finance sites have reported how just how well the industry is doing. The additional charges have gone from annoying to ridiculous in some cases, outlandishly absurd in others. Rather than look for ways to innovate around customer service, they have looked for more ways to nickel and dime without creating more value and "high touch" moments for the customer.
Airline service used to be amazing however frequent flyers can attest that the "lack of caring” started before 9/11. And, it's not as if airlines have been at the forefront of innovation. The same inflight magazines and barf bags line the back of the seats together with the traditional safety cards we had so many moons ago. And let’s be honest, the tray tables are cheap and flimsy and really not suitable for drinks. I remember useful cup holders on the back of some airline seats but haven't seen those in years. There's no place to put that cuppa coffee while you’re working on your laptop or even reading a book.
Rather than provide a memorable experience, what I’m left with today is a series of inconveniences, thanks to a direction that some operations head at one of the airlines started and others followed. Let’s look at a series of pissy moments I didn’t have to endure two decades ago, most of which defy logic and are nothing short of infuriating for a customer. That said, they have become so common that outlandish fees have become the status quo and we now live in a world where each trip is more painful than the last.
Photo credit: FareCompare.com.
Booking a ticket: booking through an airline rep or agent on the phone now cost a fee - not the case 20 years ago. Since when did charging for a phone call to SPEND money with a company become okay? Imagine Macy’s charging you extra to make a purchase with a live person.
Booking a ticket online: while in theory, booking online has made things easier since you can jump online at 2 in the morning and purchase a ticket which I've done often, you incur fees and all sorts of cancellation policies that now get applied to the booking site as well as the airline.
Case in point is a ticket I booked through Expedia with Delta last year. When an emergency came up, I needed to change the ticket date and time from a flight from JFK to San Francisco. Expedia informed me that I needed to pay a fee to them as well as a fee to Delta for the change fee, on top of whatever the difference in fare was. After a whole lotta digging, I learned that the very same flight at the very same time 5 days later had many more seats than the original flight I was on, however the change fee for my $318 flight was slated to be $298.
When I looked at booking a new flight for that same route, there was only $14 difference in fare, and yet what I would be faced with was cost of a brand new ticket.
Blankets: Seriously? I once had a stewardess on United slip me a blanket saying she couldn’t bear to charge me because she found it so insidious. While I’m not a United fan, be assured that I have never forgotten that magic moment. Even though I still won’t choose to fly United because of so many previous bad experiences, she was a standout and her "out-of-the-box" attitude should be applauded, a rarity in the airline business today. Imagine a hotel charging for blanket and pillow use?
Headphone Charges: See above. Are you kidding? It is any wonder that there's hundreds of articles out there begging the question, “what’s next on the nickel and dime me menu? Toilet paper or the privilege to use the bathroom?” Oh yeah, lest not forget I can keep them, like I need 25 flimsy plastic headsets at home. At the very least, they don't charge you for using your own though it's probably on someone's list.
Change Fees: In the “we still care about customer service” days, we never had to pay for standby for same day flights if a seat was available in your class. Today, regardless of availability or the situation (see bullet 2 for an example of defying logic), you pay a change fee plus the difference in fare – same day, different day or anything in between. Bravo to Virgin for nuking that rule if you sign up for their latest credit card - oh so very smart! Doesn't it just warm your heart to hear that?
Additional Leg Room Charges: Remember the days when you could move to a better seat if space was available on the plane? Even if something is open in the emergency row or a preferred section (which it never is anymore), you can no longer sit there without incurring an additional $50 fee. Shouldn't seat leg room (and chair room) be ample to sit comfortably for a long haul?
Seats Are Getting Smaller And Yet: See above. It’s so politically incorrect to ask, but have the seats gotten smaller or are too many of us getting larger and larger? When I've raised this issue to other travelers and travel writers, they all agree that I shouldn't publicly bring this up because of the sensitivity around it.
Even if that's the case, if we don't discuss it openly, how can we come to a politically correct resolution? If someone is so large that I have to share part of my space with them in a way that is uncomfortable, then I no longer have a full seat even if I paid extra for that seat in Economy Plus. If I should be forced to pay more for a seat that is simply closer to the front of the plane, shouldn’t I pay less for less than a full seat? It may sound insensitive, but we need to figure out politically correct ways to handle this moving forward, sensitive or not.
More $$$ To Sit Closer to the Front: See above. Beyond absurd, they have created a "class" that applies to sitting closer to the front of the plane even if it's a middle seat – yes a middle seat with no additional leg room.
Paying More for a So Called Better Seat -- What About Paying Less For A Lousy One? If the airline thinks that sitting in a middle seat closer to the front should cost more, what about charging less for the aisle seat right next to the toilet or galley?
Let’s be honest - these are lousy seats, from dealing with the foul smell from the bathroom to the noise and chaos around the bathroom from the door constantly opening and closing. If they’re so hell bent on charging more for a middle seat closer to the front with no added leg space, why not charge less for a crappy seat where you can’t sleep or get any work done or if you get stuck in the back?
Wifi: Seriously, $30 for a flight? For those of you have used the various services know, wifi is rarely reliable for the entire flight. I have had so many touch and go issues with GoGo that I've been too frustrated to write about it yet. The codes either don't work or when they do work, I'm connected but then thrown off 15 minutes or an hour later.
Meals: The worse thing about meals on airlines today isn't even the extra charges even though we never paid for food 20 years ago either. Most of the food is processed or junk food (chips, nuts, processed meat and cheese and candy bars) and they charge a lot of money for the privilege of eating packaged food infused with sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, sugar and too many other unmentionables not worth naming.
For those who eat healthy and eating healthy is an important and integral part of your life, eating on airplanes today is a non-starter unless you're in First Class or bring your own meal on board. Europe still “gets it” and hasn’t dropped to American airline food “flight” standards, at least not yet….
Drinks: Most airlines now charge more for a beer or glass of wine than at a pub or bar, even from an expensive city. And, the prices for the cheap labels they serve keep going up.
Baggage Fees: Fees, fees and more fees. Now of course, you can often get your first bag for free if you gladly hand $100 or more a year for the privilege of spending money on their credit card.
Inflight Entertainment: Now, not only do we have to pay to see movies, but we often have to pay for each movie. The same applies to television. I was on a recent flight whose airline name I’ll omit, and on the TV menu, I had to pay $4-6 per episode.
TV used to be free for unlimited viewing and you never had to pay for a movie or the fee for a cheap plastic headset. In some cases, you can buy a bundle deal for a longer flight, but it's not cheap, especially if you have fidgety children at your side.
Arguing with Airline Staff About Why X is Wrong or Some Hidden Fee: while we may have add to endure a frustrating moment when our flight was cancelled, delayed or we were re-routed, airlines used to sort it out and even apologize profusely for the inconvenience.
Even when it wasn’t a technical issue, you were sent to a nearby hotel and given a meal voucher – in other words, you felt understood and cared for, and that they felt sorry for the situation, which can sometimes result in missing a family reunion, an important birthday gathering, wedding, business meeting or worse. I chatted with about a dozen people on a recent flight who were over 35 but under 60 (it was a long delay) and I was disheartened by their countless horror airline stories.
Perhaps there should be an "Airline Stress Tax" that gets reimbursed to the flyer? The toxic stress you often endure from flying is significant and has a price and yet airlines don’t seem to put a value on it. Trust me, frequent flyers do and, they are, but sadly there are few options today if any that make flyers feel empowered as a customer.
As extreme as you might think my bullets are, I’m simply trying to prove a point. These insidious add-ons have become so commonplace that we forget how emotional taxing each and every one is and how the combination of all of them has moved us out of an era of great service, something America was once notorious for, and into an era which focuses solely on increasing corporate profits over customer joy. A couple of exceptions are worth noting, something that would have been a normal airline customer experience in the past.
Sometime in the last six months, I ended a business meeting early in New York and wanted to get back to the west coast early. The thought of enduring the “fee” process or even calling to find out how ridiculous the additional charge would be, I decided not to make the call because of the stress involved in doing so, so simply headed to the airport instead. An odd thing happened. I was interjected in the queue by an overly friendly Delta representative who asked what flight I was waiting to check in for and when I explained that I had hoped to get on an earlier flight but wasn’t optimistic for all the reasons outlined above, he opened up a closed gate which led me immediately to a private area.
When I reached the service agent, I was checked into the earlier flight (4 hours before my original one) without getting out my wallet. A new boarding pass printed out with an aisle seat (my preferred choice) very close to the front on the 1 pm. No fee or some saga story about "it's our policy, I don't make the rules." What happened? I pinched myself not believing it was real and that I had somehow been transported back in time to a more formidable time.
Getting home earlier that day transformed my week given the grueling schedule I had gone through the previous ten days. I remember a time when it was simply a standard protocol for how an airline took care of their customers, an era where we weren’t nickeled and dimed for every transaction and every move, an era where we felt as if we mattered and our repeat business mattered.
A similar situation happened with American Airlines a week later when my baggage was 5 pounds overweight and the gleeful service agent let it slide. I was stressed about it for two days before my flight knowing that my bag for that trip would be heavier than most since I was heading to Vermont to review a ski resort and the temperatures were slated to be in the teens.
Most of the time, my bag weighs in at between 35 and 42 pounds, so why shouldn’t that one trip with a slightly heavier bag slide? In the above two cases, both service reps decided to let "policy" slide which resulted in memorable airline moments and a more loyal customer.
Maybe the Delta rep saw how exhausted I was and maybe the American Airline ticket counter agent liked my smile or saw that I had just taken an American flight three days prior, OR maybe they are just rare individuals who don’t think of their roles as airline employees but as vehicles for customer happiness. (Note my current frequent flyer status on Delta is significantly higher than American)
There is a huge value to be placed on a happy customer, a loyal one who will not just come back again and again but sing their praises when they're not flying. Most airlines have lost sight of who and what they represent as a business. When brands have been around for awhile, they can become complacent. Look at how god awful United’s brand was for years and while avid travelers still complain about them, their image has somewhat improved, but only marginally so.
Most people know the story of Canadian musician David Carroll whose guitar was broken by United -- on YouTube as of writing this, his protest song has received nearly 15 million views.
As for soaring fees and service going down the drain, it appears that customers are powerless at changing the current status quo. The first shot in the war over bag fees came in May of 2008, when American Airlines announced it would be the first legacy carrier to impose a “first checked-bag” fee (Spirit and Allegiant had such a fee at least as early as 2007 from the research I've dug up).
According to a useful article on airline fees from Christopher Elliott (link below under useful resources), the North American airline industry collected an estimated $8.2 billion last year for just fees for items such as checked baggage, premium seat assignments and early boarding privileges — a $700 million increase from 2013.
Isn't it time that these rules got reversed?
A question to the airlines heads making these “fee” decisions at home base: do you want to be seen as a transportation company that gets a customer painfully from A to B or would you like to be in the “ultimate experience” business, creating memorable moments for your customers in the way that Zappos has done so successfully over the years? The airline who truly figures this out will transform the travel experience forever.
Useful Articles on Airline Fees
- How Refundable Are Airline Fees from Elliot.org: http://elliott.org/the-navigator/refundable-airline-fees-not-much/#more-35966
- Airline Fees Are Out of Control But Who Can Stop Them: http://elliott.org/blog/airline-fees-are-out-of-control-but-who-can-stop-them/
- Are Airline Fees Being Properly Disclosed? http://elliott.org/blog/are-airline-fees-being-fairly-disclosed/
- Are Airline Fees Anti-Family? http://elliott.org/blog/are-new-airline-fees-anti-family/
- Maybe we should stop calling them Airline Tickets: http://elliott.org/is-this-a-scam/maybe-we-should-stop-calling-them-airline-tickets/
- 2010: Spirit Airlines breaks a new bag barrier by imposing a carry on bag fee (something Rick Seaney predicted one of the airlines might do, nearly a year before it happened)
- 2008: In August, JetBlue announces it will charge $7 for a pillow and blanket (but you can keep them, like I really want 25 of these at home after a year's tally of flights)
- 2008: US Airways begins a highly criticized practice: charging for all drinks (including water, coffee, and soda)
- 2009: US Airways stops charging for all drinks (mainly because no other airline dared join them)
- 2009: Airlines began adding surcharges to tickets for “peak travel days” in September of ’09; originally this surcharge was imposed on the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s holiday periods.
- A great article on airline fees across most airlines from AirFareWatchDog: http://www.airfarewatchdog.com/blog/3801087/airline-fee-chart.html
- Airline Fees Ultimate Guide (another great resource from SMARTER TRAVEL -- you can even download as a PDF): http://www.smartertravel.com/blogs/today-in-travel/airline-fees-the-ultimate-guide.html?id=2623262
April 29, 2015
Melding of Minds on the Future of Humanity Over an Arc Fusion Jeffersonian Dinner
Ever heard of a Jeffersonian dinner? I've been invited to one or two over the last few years, one of which was being held in Washington DC, where it was birthed in the 1800's by none other than Thomas Jefferson himself. Because of those invitations, I had some vague idea of what they were, but never actually participated in one until the Arc Fusion folks hosted one recently in San Francisco.
Photo credit: www.smithsonianmag.com
Rewind the clock to 1819 and visualize yourself at a long and decadently adorned table with Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, his elegant Virginia home. Around the table, you're seated with a group of people steeped deep in culture, philosophy, education, history, politics, art, literature, science and theology.
The idea behind a Jeffersonian Dinner is to bring people together from different disciplines, creating a new cause-centered community around a topic of importance or significance you might want to discuss for whatever reason. This can be done to tap into new resources, raise funds for a non profit or important issue, or simply to expand the group's thinking about a variety of topics.
It's important that it be somewhat intimate so 12-15 people at a table is a good size and I'd argue that while someone's home isn't a requirement, it makes it more personal -- a private dining room could also work.
The purpose of the Jeffersonian Dinner is to build a sense of community and partnership around a shared interest or theme. One of the rules is that everyone participates in a single conversation and are not encouraged to engage in one-on-one dialogues with their partners on either side.
Photo credit: blog.asana.com.
How fitting that the San Francisco Arc Dinner be held at the 1880's Payne Mansion on Sutter Street and also how intriguing that the topic at hand was not about the past, but about our fears and concerns for the future, say in 100 years.
David Ewing Duncan kicked off the event. A historian, author, journalist and also CEO of Arc Fusion, which celebrates the conversion of IT, healthcare and biotech, David decided to take us down memory lane before dinner.
Photo credit: Arc Fusion Website.
We went back to 1915 and recalled some of the provocative insights, inventions and historical moments of the time. Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis Complete Idiot's Guide to Beating Stress was out at the time (surprising I know), the first EKG was used in 1913 and OMG was first used in 1917 (yes really).
The industries David and his team at Arc are most interested in exploring are at the intersection of what is happening in health, IT and biotech. It's not hard to see why, with nearly $800 billion being spent on health and wellness and $1.1 trillion on IT services with $50 billion on Health IT alone.
He asked attendees before they came to the dinner whether they felt they'd be alive 100 years from now. 18% said yes whereas 82% voted no. In case you think that even 18% is insanely overly optimistic, remember that the audience is highly vested in technology and some are actually working on the most important research in the fields on longevity/aging, science, technology and medicine.
The same audience voted on what will be most important to humanity's fate in 100 years -- 40% voted for politics whereas it was no surprise to see technology lead that vote at 60%. As far as the impact on humans in the next 100 years, 36% felt it would be in gene editing and a whopping 70% went for stem cells. Pharma only came in at 11% which tied with health and wellness and bionics took last place at 9%.
Other things on people's minds included mood manipulation, synthetic biology, longevity tech, next generation deep learning and renewable energy.
James Canton asked the audience to imagine a future where embedded devices and technology automate the work, resolving issues that need to be addressed in our bodies. The truth is that nano and quantum technologies are expanding so rapidly that we are now in a game changing time for our health. Innovative ecosystems will start to do disease detection for us, hopefully before it turns into disease.
Drew Endy asserted that learning "how to" solve problems is the secret to sustaining life over the long haul. His deepest wishes include a future where biology will have distributed manufacturing and distributed systems and that humans will start to think of a world outside of themselves. Hear hear.
Casey Lynett addressed where we are going with Alzheimer's pointing to some important finds for this disheartening disease that seems to be soaring not reversing.
Artist and molecular biologist Una Ryan showed us her work, reminding us of the beauty inside our bodies through our cells, our protein and our blood. She refers to the image below as the Tree of Life since it contains everything that makes our bodies operate.
The food they served at the dinner was not surprisingly farm-to-table and organic. It was also very purposely selected based on a fascinating premise -- each ingredient was chosen to serve every vital organ of the body. Dishes ranged from salads and nori rolls to fresh fish and wine for the heart -- two thumbs up for the Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon that showed up on our table.
The most riveting part of the evening, at least for me since it touched on some of the most controversial conversations happening around healthcare today, was the fireside chat between venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur Vinod Khosla and renowned doctor Dean Ornish.
Both visionaries took the stage to share their take on the future of healthcare. Vinod formed Khosla Ventures to focus on both for-profit and social impact investments and as a big believer in the importance raw data can have the future of health, he invests in both healthcare and biotechnology.
Says Vinod, "almost nothing that is relevant in medicine today will be relevant in 20-30 years. Even though some of it may still be true, it will be too imprecise to be that useful so no one will use it." He asserts that medicine will be mostly science and data driven over the next 10-15 years.
He added, "we will have more research opportunities but we won't use them because we won't have the causality which is most important."
He also went on to say that we won't use doctors that much in the future to get a diagnosis and what we may pay more credence to is the doctor or (non-MD) who has the highest EQ not the highest IQ. Hear hear Vinod! I couldn't agree more. Bedside manner, using common sense and logic and listening between the lines to a patient is something that so many traditional doctors so sadly "don't get."
Dean takes a slightly different approach although they agreed more than disagreed. While he agrees that data gives us a lot of useful information we may not have had access to twenty years ago, if all we are is a set of algorithms, then humans can simply be replaced by an app. The reality says Dean is that we are so much more.
What I love about Dean's approach and always have ever since I first met him now over a decade ago, is that while he's far from a luddite, he tries to get people (and the industry) to look at the underlying cause of an issue. He believes that lifestyle and diet shifts are fundamental game changers, pivotal to reversing symptoms and in many cases, the disease itself.
He's interested in lifestyle medicine which is very low tech, but the power of low-tech interventions is very very real and something that techies sadly discount all too readily, focusing most of their time on connected devices, data and the Internet of Things.
Personally I lose sleep at night thinking about how so many brilliant scientific and medical minds can be so misguided, overlooking the raw fundamentals of what can keep us healthy and happy, holistically so.
Bottom line, we need to treat the underlying cause and also look at the mind, body and spirit, NOT just the body alone.
This integrated approach is what the techies and scientists keep missing and a sad reason why insurance companies put holistic care like acupuncture and body work, organic food, diet modifications and supplements last on the priority list.
It's the same broken record when it comes to addressing the disgusting impact that processed foods are having on Americans today. (Note: processed food ingestion is increasing globally of course, but the yanks still sadly take the cake when it comes to fast food and boxed processed ingredients as their go-to- diet). I digress but the whole thing sickens me so much that I can't help but vent at times like this.
Truth be told, as Dean took the provocative and controversial low-tech stance amidst so many tech-centered entrepreneurs in the room that night, I wanted to stand on my chair and boldly blurt out - "GO DEAN and oh btw, don't stop here!"
He is a big advocate of lifestyle and diet changes and given recent research findings, they're finding that the same lifestyle interventions that deter heart disease are the same ones that can keep prostrate and breast cancer at bay and even in some cases, Alzheimer's.
You can apparently see a positive and reversing effects to 500 genes over the course of 3 months through lifestyle changes. For most chronic diseases, which account for 86% of issues, we can reverse their onslaught through shifts in our lifestyle and diet.
Dean thinks that we'll see a future where the placebo effect will be more important not less. Why? Because, it works.
Vinod doesn't disagree with Dean although he wants to see data behind it, proving that it's real. In his view, the math is the math of networks, but agrees with Dean that diet is important and that symptoms are the wrong way to look at a disease.
Given that we live in an information age and are drowning in so much data we don't know what to do with it, I agree with Dean that while data may be important and there's no doubt having access to what our bodies are doing and why is useful, its only part of the equation. Plenty of people have data but even if you know that smoking cigarettes can kill you, if you're suffering from deep anxiety and depression, you're not going to quit smoking anytime soon.
Anxiety and depression are very real, particularly in the states. The stats are going up and pharma companies are making millions on drugs, some of which cover up the real issues that lay behind what is making them depressed in the first place.
Dean asserts that what is even more vital is the mantra I keep beating people over the head with every day: the more so called connected we are, the more disconnected we are....I mean physically and emotionally disconnected, not the fact that we can now communicate with people instantaneously on Facebook or Skype from our cell phones in real time.
What's really missing is the deeper sense of meaning you get from being physically and emotionally connected to others. There's no doubt that people need to rediscover inner peace, joy and purpose in their lives.
Bottom line, it's all about changing the raw materials we give to people and place as a priority. I'll end with this note and thought to reflect on: if we can take this "ground level" low-tech approach seriously by beginning with the things that provide deeper purpose and meaning, then we can really begin to accelerate healing. While data can continue to feed the bigger picture, if we don't get back to the fundamental basics of what feeds the soul, we'll remain a far cry from a truly sustainable solution to holistic health, happiness and well-being. A big high five to Dean Ornish!
For more information on Arc Fusion, check out their site at http://arcprograms.net/ where you'll also learn about their upcoming Arc Fusion Summit being held in southern California September 1-2, 2015. What David has created is a truly innovative, future thinking and leading-edge organization and he has managed to bring together some of the smartest minds to address what both plagues and interests us most today.
April 29, 2015 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On Health, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, Reflections, San Francisco, TravelingGeeks, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
February 27, 2015
Immerse Yourself in Wisdom, Compassion & Connection at TEDxBerkeley 2015
The sixth annual TEDxBerkeley, which will fill Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley CA tomorrow, February 28, will focus on Wisdom, Compassion and Connection. On stage in front of over 2,000 attendees, 57 speakers and performers will share riveting insights on these important and pivotal themes.
From Indian & Japanese Performers to Renowned Leaders, Professors & Apple’s Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, don't miss the Live Stream at www.tedxberkeley.org.
This year’s inspiring line-up aims to transform the way we think about ideas that can re-shape the world’s priorities in education, science, the environment, healthcare and beyond, all of which is center to the core of TED.
Apple co-founder and philanthropist Steve Wozniak will close this year’s sold out event. Those interested in hearing the 2015 speakers and performers can tune into the live stream at http://www.tedxberkeley.org starting at 10:00 am PST. The social media hashtag for the event is #TEDxBerkeley.
The complete line-up this year includes the following performers, thought leaders and visionaries, listed under the “theme” they will present.
UC Men’s Octet: UC Berkeley A Capella Group
Prasad Kaipa: CEO of Kaipa Group, Business and Leadership Coach
Adora Svitak: Activist for Feminism & Youth Causes
Marc Gopin: Director, Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution
Carolyn Gable: CEO and Founder, Expect a Miracle!
Eric Holt-Gimenez: Executive Director, Food First
Dan Garcia: UC Berkeley Computer Science Professor
Valerie Joi: Musical Minister
Cal Raijin Taiko: UC Berkeley Japanese Performance Drum Group
Suzanne Ackerman-Berman: Transformation Director, Pick-N-Pay, South Africa
Dr. Victoria Kisyombe: Innovator in Women Empowerment
Alison Meyer: Leadership Coach, UC Berkeley Assistant Professor
Mike Robbins: Life Coach & Author
Meera Shenoy: Founder, Youth4Jobs
Dan Viederman: CEO of Verite
New Orleans Manifesto: New Orleans Jazz Band
Cal Bhangra: UC Berkeley Punjabi Dance Group
Richmond Sarpong: UC Berkeley Chemistry Professor
Emily Levine: Producer and Comedian
Dr. Eric Rasmussen: CEO of Infinitum Humanitarian Systems
Viviana Guzman: Flutist who has performed in over 100 countries
Steve Wozniak: Apple Computer Co-Founder and Philanthropist
I am thrilled to be a co-curator again this year, together with co-curator R. Jennifer Barr and curator Erin Roberts. Also a huge hats off to platinum sponsor Fetzer Institute for helping us make the event more global than ever. Other sponsors include Food Should Taste Good, Positive Energy, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, 18 Rabbits, Victor Hugo Winery, OneSquigglyLine, Noah’s Bagels, Ben & Jerry’s, Livestream, Hootsuite and MailChimp.
January 12, 2015
CES 2015 Wrap Up: From 3D Printing & Connected Devices to 4K TVs & Infrared CamerasThere was no shortage of companies jumping on the "we must be connected to everything, or else.." trend that was central to most announcements coming out of this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week, an event that I've been going to for a couple of decades.
It was even the heart of Samsung's keynote address this year. At the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the main building for CES's heftiest exhibitors, it was Samsung (not Apple) who stole the show with its ever so impressive 360 screens that circled around its booth, showing flashy and compelling videos of cars racing and more.
It was all about their 4K TVs, which are bendable, flat and curved although Samsung had plenty to offer in the mobile, audio and home automation space as well. Samsung JS9500 series is a new concept in UHD (4K technology), which they tout as eco-friendly. It uses nano-crystal technology and an intelligent SUHD re-mastering picture quality engine, which gives vast improvements in contrast, brightness, color reproduction, and detail.
People seemed to be raving about FLIR at my evening networking events, a new infrared camera that connects to smartphones at around a $250 price point. As crazy as this sounds, the camera can spot pets and animals in the dark, as well as detect cold air drafts and leaking pipes in walls. FLIR ONE translates thermal energy into dynamic color images for personal safety, home repairs, outdoor adventures, and even artistic expression.
The "all things connected world" seemed to proliferate the Sands Convention Center, located just off the strip a stone's throw from the Wynn Hotel, where I demoing and singing Kolibree's praises, the world's first connected electric toothbrush with truly interactive feedback, gamification and 3D motion sensors. The toothbrush tells you how you've brushed, where you've brushed and where you haven't.
We had a dentist on-site who is also an advisor to the company explaining why this is important and how knowing where you're not brushing well empowers you to brush better next time around. In the old world, you'd only get that feedback from your dentist once a year, a far cry from the world we live in today where nearly everything can be connected thanks to Bluetooth technology.
A bit like Fitbit for your teeth, who also had a massive presence on the show floor not far from we hung our hats for the week, Kolibree differs from other connected brushes on the market, thanks to its proprietary technology, in that it provides an interactive map telling you exactly where you've missed, as well as where you've over-brushed and under-brushed.
All that data can be kept private or shared with your dentist, which is the first time that the dental industry will have access to this kind of data, all of which can be incredibly useful for both dentists and users.
Kolibree has teamed up with Dentegra who also had a presence at CES this year -- the combined forces will offer incentives and discounts on dental care, as well as 25% off the Kolibree toothbrush through the new Dentegra Smile Club to be launched early this quarter.
While healthcare is an obvious win for the connected market (think measurement of your sugar levels in real time if you're diabetic, feedback on your sleeping patterns so you can rectify through diet, exercise and other things, heart monitoring and reminders to take drugs), there were a host of other connected devices trying to prove that they were truly useful too.
The truth is - some were and some were....well, not so much.
New connected devices on the market seem to come in all types and sizes -- from blingy necklaces that vibrate when your husband sends you a text and baby diapers that let you know when your kid has pooped to washing machines, interactive cameras and Raticator, a rodent detectors that notify you when it has caught a rodent -- yes really (see the rat trap, a rat trap that uses a wifi chip to alert you when it electrocutes the rat).
Connected devices can truly be useful but quite honestly, only when the connection is used to solve a problem we have or make our lives easier in ways that matter. I understand the value of connected watches within reason, but when I asked one vendor what the default was on the completely flat shiny silver faced watch, he told me it was how many steps I took and I'd only get the time after a second tap.
Huh? That's like telling me that my smartphone's default is digital games and a list of recommendations on restaurants before being able to make a call. I want a watch to first and foremost give me the time and my phone to first and foremost allow me to make calls.
When the watch becomes stylish and adorns me with a l'il luxury I might not have had otherwise, it gets a little more interesting however, at least for a woman. So far, all of these connected gadgets seem to be designed by men for men -- big, bulky, black, silver and red seems to be the order of the day.
The gold and sparkling diamonds of Burg's blingy smart watch drew me over to their booth. It works via a SIM card on an Android 4.4 operating system, and is activated. The price point for this stainless steel and Swarovski crystal device is between $500-600. They also offer a range of fun colored sportier watches that track your activities.
Swarovski also had their own presence on the show floor and while I'm not much of a bling girl, I loved the designs of their soon to be released smart watches, most of which come with accompanying narrow glittery bracelets.
Glitter, diamonds and also black, white and midnight blue. They were my favorites of the connected watches and jewelry and I can't wait to test them out when they hit the market.
Misfit is also working with Swarovski on a new line called Shine. The Shine Collection includes the Swarovski Shine Activity Tracking Crystal and accompanying accessories.
Additionally, I loved the latest watches from Guess at the show, touting rich colors and elegant design. You can get scrolling alerts across a Led screen or be alerted via a vibration and it uses voice commands to communicate with your cell phone.
The watch is water resistant, and comes in midnight blue (for men only -- a shame since it's my favorite one of all the options), brown and rose for men, white and black for women and white with a bit of bling. The watches use Martian technology, which I wrote about in mid-2014. The line, which supports both iPhone and Android, is slated for a September or October launch of this year and will retail for around $350.
One of my favorite companies making tracking watches is Withings -- they had me at "hello" last year when they showed off their Activite watch in a beautiful and elegant soft brown leather. We can't wait to test it out in the next few months.
This year, they were showcasing Activite Pop, a line of watches that is focused on the more adventurous. Pop comes in lots of fun colors and like their other watches, you have easy access to both the time and notification of your activity so you know where you stand throughout the day and can decide what your next move should be.
Also showing off fun jewelry was FashionTEQ. Their Zazzi bracelet offers an elegant and more discreet way for women to receive messages and reminders when you have your cell phone in your pocket or purse. Why would I even consider the geekier options designed by men for men when I could wear something that looked like this? I'd love to test it out in my daily life in the not too distant future.
Speaking of jewelry, the connected vendors weren't the only ones fed up with the fact that techy products don't cater to women enough. Meet GemPhones.
I fell in love with these elegant ear buds disguised as a functional but beautiful necklace you can wear around your neck. A dressier option is one that resembles pearls whereas the funkier hipper brown and black motif is a nice everyday option for the younger hipster and frankly, for a woman in her forties. I'm game and can't wait to test these out.
Another mobile accessory I discovered solves a real problem -- LOST ear buds. I don't know about you but I'm constantly misplacing them, leaving them in the wrong bag or getting them tangled when I need them most. Sound Pockets has come up with a way around that by creating a plastic pocket that attaches itself to the bottom of your cell phone case and they're available in lots of fun colors.
A perfect solution for the college student and for the forgetful and busy among us who need a handy way to keep track of them.
Also for the active enthusiast, meet the ever so cool Rocketskates. They had a massive booth in the center of the Sands, where you could watch demos of people using the skates or even try them out yourself, which I did of course.
Blissfully happy at the end of my try....they're a bit like a cross between a segway and rollerskates.
Below is a little video of my experience with them so you can get an idea of how they work.
3D printing was another hot trend at this year's show. In the Sands alone, it seemed like the aisles of vendors touting their latest 3D printing solutions was never going to end. At one point, I found it a little dizzying and frankly, confusing.
While in no way yet mainstream, 3D printing, despite its hefty price point, is now a feasible possibility in today's world. Take a look at some of the objects these vendors were showing off in their booths -- from fashion and leather cell phone cases to sailboats, toys, dolls, objects and even food.
I had an incredible experience inside the massive 3D Systems booth (note that the funky leather smartphone cases above were made from one of their machines). Sense is a portable 3D scanner that can capture objects (including people) at 10 by 10 feet and its claim in addition to high quality scanning is that its price is much more reasonable than its competitive counterparts.
Below is a shot of me holding the captured image of "me" after they scanned me on the show floor.
The Sense is the only 3D scanner to deliver precise instant physical photography, so everyone can capture his or her scanable moments. Sense has flexible scan size and can capture everything from a picture-perfect cupcake to a full-body selfie, processing data in seconds for an instantly 3D printable file. Sense comes with an intuitive user interface with easy and automated zoom, track, focus, crop, enhance and share tools. Below is a video of my experience.
The 2015 CES Innovation Awards had its own section at the show, where they highlighted companies making cool and leading edge products.
Most of the products were displayed behind glass cabinets so you see but not touch and the range of solutions were vast.
In the Connected Home area, I discovered Edyn Garden who has a solar-powered Edyn smart garden system that takes the guess work out of gardening with their Wi-Fi enabled Edyn Garden Sensor.
The sensor monitors environmental conditions to make smart recommendations about what to plant and when to fertilize. This unique sensor works alongside the Edyn Water Valve and Edyn app to provide automatic watering options that deliver water when, and only when, plants need it, helping to conserve water and other precious resources.
The Fitness Section, where Activity Meets Tech, was bustling and this year, it seems as if there are now countless FitBit-like solutions that take fitness tracking and feedback to an entirely new level.
Lighting has been making a lot of new advances lately for both larger enterprises and new solutions consumers can use in their home -- from improving efficiency to controlling your room's colors and mood. Meet ilumi whose vibrant booth ambiance drew me over to learn more.
You simply download the free ilumi App from the App Store or Google Play, screw in your ilumi lightbulb and turn them on. You can control and customize each individual ilumi or groups of them - you can also program an ilumi light or set of lights to sync with certain music to affect a room's mood, make them change colors or diffuse them in some rooms and not others.
It is all done through a simple-to-use mobile dashboard, allowing you to take control of your home or office's lighting in just a few swipes or clicks. I think the idea is great, loved the team and can't wait to put them to the test - we hope to review them in the coming months ahead.
The Digital Health section was exploding with solutions that ranged from sugar tracking as mentioned above and activity trackers to tools to rest the mind. Muse has an interesting approach to settling your over active mind and had an experiential chair set up so you could put it to the test. And, so I did....
I sat inside a comfy chair while the brain sensing headband was place around my head with the goal at putting my mind at ease. As eerie as this sound, the headband essentially reads your brainwaves read while giving you simple activities and games to reduce stress, strengthen your brain and help you relax via its EEG sensors, all of which are constantly detecting and measuring your brain activity.
Below is a video someone from their team shot as I went through the process on-site.
I found CES this year to be more interesting than last although I wished I had time to really explore the LVCC in depth. I was living and breathing the Kolibree toothbrush and Dentegra's Smile Club for the week so amidst the buzz of home automation, fitness, 3D, cameras, audio devices and TV sets, it was rewarding to see Kolibree shine at CES for its second year in a row.
Last year, we only had a prototype to show and this year, Kolibree could demo two new mobile apps and talk about the compelling collaboration with Dentegra to help make dental care more affordable. Kolibree could also tout that its most advanced connected toothbrush will by shipping by the end of January. From gadget press and mom bloggers to Associated Press TV, NBC News, and even Sears Television, the team demoed to the world.
Kudos to Kolibree's team in Paris for getting the toothbrush ready for this very important show and for market and to the Dentegra team for coming up with an innovative way for uninsured consumers to receive affordable dental care through its Smile Club. Alas, with another CES behind us, it's now time to transform how Americans view dental care.
Photo credits: Top photo by Duke Chung from venitism.blogspot.com, Raticator from epestsupply.com, Flir One photo from their website, Samsung photo from Samsung website. Dentegra Smile Club mobile screen shot from the Dentegra Smile Club.com website and second ilumi photo of the mobile app from justelementary.com. Videos and all other photos courtesy of Renee Blodgett.
January 12, 2015 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On Health, On Innovation, On Mobile & Wireless, On Science, On Technology, TravelingGeeks, Videos, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
January 11, 2015
Kolibree Connected Electric Toothbrush at CES 2015, First of its Kind with 3D Motion Sensors & Interactive Feedback
Kolibree was in full force last week at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. It is the only connected electric toothbrush on the market that gives you real-time feedback using its 3D sensors (9 axis), and built in accelerometer, gyrometer and magnetometer. Kolibree’s proprietary technology knows whether you’ve effectively reached every zone of your mouth and statistically what areas you have missed.
Once you brush your teeth, feedback on how well you’ve brushed goes directly to your smartphone via Bluetooth and the data is stored in an individual profile – you can also store countless people’s brushing habits on one smartphone, making it motivating for the whole family.
The data can be kept private or shared with your dentist. “What’s great about the Kolibree toothbrush, for a dentist who focuses on children’s dental care, is that I can see how well they’re doing and can coach them on where to improve. For patients who have just had dental surgery, I can even recommend which vibration is the most effective one based on the condition of their mouth,” said Holly Hasegawa, DDS, MS, Co-Founder and Advisor of Kolibree. Below, Holly demos Kolibree to an eager-to-learn consumer.
The toothbrush has built in sophisticated sensors and spatial analysis which not only records where the brush is in your mouth but also understands how to collect and decipher that data so that it becomes truly useful for both users and dentists.
Pirates is the answer to the biggest challenge parents and dentists have – motivating their kids to brush for two minutes without getting bored. The game, which was developed using the open Kolibree SDK, rewards kids with coins when they brush correctly and spend enough time at each location of their mouth. After a series of brushings, parents and dentists have access to an interactive map showing the over and under brushed areas, data that can be used to help kids improve.
Kolibree Coach is a brushing app that tracks brushing movement and location and alerts you of your brushing accuracy in real time using a green or red halo, all while allowing your favorite music to play in the background. It makes the once boring two minute brushing time fun and engaging.
The app is the first of its kind to not only analyze the movement like many 3D motion sensors can but detect the location of the brush in your mouth. It can be customized by dentists who can coach their patients where to spend more time in neglected areas and program a lighter vibration after surgery...and, rewards are given for progress.
Kolibree also announced a collaboration with Dentegra Insurance Company, which focuses on providing affordable dental care for individuals and groups. Users who sign up for the Dentegra Smile Club have the opportunity to earn rewards and incentives for brushing properly. Once certain brushing milestones are met, users can earn points redeemable for a cleaning and checkup from a Dentegra network dentist. The Dentegra discount plan will not be an insurance program.
Kolibree also offers an open API for iPhone and Android, which means that developers now have access to the most advanced dental tracking device on the market. The SDK also offers access to the Kolibree dental professional platform linking dentists to patients and to the rewards system, which further enhances the brushing experience.
The Kolibree connected electric toothbrush will start shipping in the U.S. this month and in Europe later in Q1 2015 and is priced at $199 retail.
Those who sign up for the Dentegra Smile Club will receive a discount on the toothbrush and can receive discounts from Dentegra network dentists. The Dentegra Smile Club is slated for launch in San Francisco and Austin in Q1 2015. For more information, visit dentegrasmileclub.com.
The companies received some great media buzz at the show, including interviews with NBC News, Associated Press TV, New York 1, Sears Television, VentureBeat, Ubergizmo, Washington Times and a host of others.
Disclosure: I provide consulting services to both Kolibree and Dentegra. Photo credits: Pirates screen shot courtesy of Kolibree, Dentegra mobile shot courtesy of Dentegra and all other photos courtesy of Renee Blodgett.
November 25, 2014
SAND 2014, The Nonduality Event That Bridges Science & Spirituality
SAND is such a great name for a conference and no, it doesn't hold that acronym because it's a travel conference that focuses on adventure in the sand. SAND stands for and is about all things that encompass Science and Nonduality.
The mission of SAND is to forge a new paradigm in spirituality, one that is not dictated by religious dogma, but based on timeless wisdom traditions of the world, informed by cutting-edge science, and grounded in direct experience.
I first attended the event two years ago (see my blog post from 2012), when it was held in Marin, just north of San Francisco. While they have an annual event in Europe as well, the U.S.-based event is always held in California.
This year, they headed south and set up shop for their nearly week long event at the Hayes Mansion on Edenvale Avenue in San Jose California, a resort which was once a lavish private estate.
People across continents and from all walks of life started flowing in on October 22 for this annual gem of an event. It was an entirely different vibe this year and I'm not sure if it was due to its extravagant venue choice, the fact that the quality of the content was even better or that I'm a little further along on my spiritual journey. My guess is that it's a combination of all three.
Surrounded by lush, emerald green lawns, accented with gardens of vibrant, colorful flowers and guarded by towering palm trees, the 100-year old mansion was transformed into a spiritual wonderland inside and out. Outside was an experiential oasis, which included a sound therapy tent run by Danny Goldberg (below).
Here, you could lie down and go into a deep hypnotic relaxation through a series of vibrational sounds. The sounds and vibrations of singing bowls, gongs and chimes guide us into a deep meditation, passing through our body and opening blockages while allowing our minds to quiet.
A wide range of ancient world traditions from Confucianism to the Pythagoreans’ claimed that sound could not only "tune the soul" but affect our cosmological & social worlds as well. I couldn't agree more - the experience was transformational.
Also outside was another relaxing technique in the form of a bed, a floating bed that is. The Floating Bed, a company started by John Huff, is mishmash of creativity, comfort and paradise. Says John, "not only is it great for a more relaxing and deeper sleep, but also useful for people with disabilities such as Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PDD-NOS, Aspergers, Fragile X, ADD, ADHD and others.
Allowing the swinging bed to gently swing you back and forth while watching the world walk by, was a lovely way to spend a relaxing hour at the conference. I imagined where I could put such a contraption in my home and then remembered that I lived in a city. One can dream however, one can dream...
While the first time around, I tried to take in as many sessions as possible, this time I honored a more non-intentional flow. In other words, I didn't map out my agenda in advance nor did I make sure I had to attend every important talk by every renowned academic or yogi. I went with the flow and what my own bio-rhythm told me to do.
Using this approach, I met exactly who I was supposed to meet at the right time. By being as present as I could at every given moment despite the intellectual and spiritual eye and audio candy being thrown my way, the individuals I met, the experiences I had and the conversations that transpired along the way, were that much more powerful.
Being in your body as much as possible at an event like this is as important as digesting the data if not moreso, for it is through your body and spirit that you transform, not through your mind. From TransDance, yoga and meditation to art expression, RUMI poetry readings and Qigong with master Mingtong Gu, there were a number of ways you could experience mind/body immersion.
The community itself is what allows you to better process what you process during your SAND experience. Most of the people who attend could also be speakers, which is how profoundly interesting the attendees happen to be, alongside warm, authentic and soulful.
This is a community that spans religions or simply has none, however their core is central to the nonduality vision, which is to embrace a new integrative paradigm in which science and spirituality reenter into meaningful dialogue.
The idea is to authentically bridge an empirically responsible and non-dogmatic spirituality with a humanistic science willing to consider questions of context, perception, meaning and purpose. AND, that is precisely what happens at SAND....the melding of ideas across cultures and disciplines is discussed in hallways, in the bar, the experiential rooms, at the sessions, and over dinner.
In between the formal and structured content is quite frankly, is where the real magic happens at SAND. Below, co-founder Maurizio Benazzo talks about his own insights and inspiration for starting the event.
Imagine a conversation on healing the schism between science and spirituality while forging a new understanding of what it means to be human, with a professor of science, an emergency room doctor, a holistic healer, a film producer, a musician, a martial artist and a technology entrepreneur all within an hour.
Mind boggling is an understatement and within that boggling comes a little bit of chaos and confusion, all of which is designed to open you up to new possibilities and definitions of humanity as we currently understand it.
The result is a profound mashing of ideas through both heart and mind, allowing you to leave not just refreshed and re-centered but able to tackle the world around you in a much more compassionate way while leaving ego behind at the door.
The more you tap into the world of consciousness and interconnectedness, the more you are able to celebrate the mystery of life and the love that emanates from it, a far cry from seeing the world and the players on its stage as cynical, which is easy to do given how unconnected people around us seem to be on a daily basis.
Those who are some of the best in the world in helping you tap into your highest levels of consciousness showed up at SAND for the week, including the likes of Rupert Spira who led some of the morning meditation sessions -- I loved his calmness and powerful presence.
Other session leaders, speakers and topics included Yasmin Bar-Dor on finding harmony in this moment, John Hagelin on entanglement, space-time wormholes and the brain, David Barash on biology and self as functions, Meriel Gold on the ground of being, John Prendergast on secrets of the heart, Richard Lang on seeing who you really are, Sally Kempton on Shakti and self awareness, Ellen Emmet on the awakening body and Gabor Mate on mind/body unity and the stress/disease connection -- this was a powerful talk btw.
There was also Adam Hall on the polarity paradox, Stanly Klein on quantum mechanics and the entanglement of life (this went deep, so artists and right brain thinkers beware), Scott Kiloby on addiction, Paul Smit on enlightenment for lazy people, Edward Frenkel on mathematics as hidden reality, Swami Beyondananda on inter-spiritual nature and conscious agents, Donald Hoffman on entangling conscious agents, Nick Day on how movies and storytelling can connect us across time and space and Lothar Schafer on quantum reality and the spiritual mind.
And this my friends, is nowhere near an exhaustive list of the talent and pure energy I discovered at SAND this year.
Some of my Top Highlights:
- Judith Orloff who suggested that vulnerability is our deepest strength. She says, "being in fear makes you present." Check out radicalchoices.org.
- Coleman Barks and his beautiful RUMI poetry readings (below and my slightly cut off video of him speaking here).
Attendees who asked and challenged questions like:
- When you're practicing the passion of your life, you're not seeking, you're cultivating.
- What if we were free enough to be whatever we happen to be at any moment?
- What's key is being intimately honest and present with where you're and being okay with all of it regardless of what is going on.
Susanne Marie who suggests that Embodiment is never ending. (in the peach sweater below) She says, "the wholeness realizes there's a process going on. Know that nothing can be lost in that process. Step back from the experience and realize you are the space that everything is arising from.
The space itself is the whole and within that wholeness, that's all there is." On fear, she says, "one of the ways to deal with fear is to break it down into sensation.
Everything you're feeling is part of your own wisdom -- your own wisdom, which is the purest kind. If we can get close to that fear, we'll suddenly notice an awareness of a piece of it that we define as fear and something else that we inherently already know.
That knowiness of what is allows us to step back from the fear while at the same time walking towards it. Once you walk towards it and rest with it, there's a reflective piece of it all that you just know. All experience is good. One piece of what I'm feeling is not any worse than another because it's all part of a greater force at work.
Fear is all of these aspects of emotion and none of it is separate from God. When you are truly there with that, fear is just a sensation, nothing more....and then you'll find that the fear dissipates." I loved her energy!!
Gary Weber, who talked about the necessity to upgrade our mental operating system. He says, "if we can change our thinking just how we did from flat earth to round earth, we stand a chance."
He described the challenges with our current problematic operating system and how to decrease your self-referential internal narrative, fears, and desires and function more clearly and effectively, operating in "now, now, now" from a place of peace, presence and stillness.
See his video on this topic, which has much of the same content as his SAND presentation. I love his style and his ability to nail the most fundamental obstacles that get in our way through humor and direct candor. More info at www.happiness-beyond-thought.com.
The Importance of Breath. So often, we are running around and don't think about how we're breathing, how shallow it is and how often we actually hold our breath without even realizing it. I discovered SPIRE, which is currently in beta. Below, founder Neema Moraveji gives me a demo.
Spire monitors and analyzes your breathing patterns in real time to show when you are focused, tense, or frazzled. Stress triggers the brain's 'fight or flight' response, causing elevated heart rate, muscle tension, and shallow breathing. Your breath connects to your brain through the longest cranial nerve, the vagus, to influence your body, brain, and state of mind.
Improving the way you breathe eases pressure on the heart and cultivates a 'rest and digest' response in the brain. Spire helps monitor this and gives you feedback in real time and over time so you can improve your breathing and therefore, your overall quality of your health and your life. Below is an interview I did with Neema. Have a listen.
Film - All About Nothing from directors Paul Smit and Robert van der Broek. I had an opportunity to speak to Robert briefly afterwards who came over from Holland for the event - I loved his energy, so be sure to watch out for the film in the U.S. More info on Robert's site at www.allesoverniets.nl.
Qigong with Master Mingtong Gu: in this very educational and yet completely in your body session, Mingtong Gu took us through the various meridian points of our bodies and as we went there, we focused, chanted and released, relaxing into our breath and into the presence moment.
Wisdom healing Qigong was credited as the most effective method of Qigong healing by the Chinese government in 1997. Its success lies in these six treasures, or golden keys as it is commonly referred to: Haola ("I AM"), Inner Smile ("I am LOVE"), Service ("I am Connected"), Trust ("I am Enough"), Chi Field ("I am a co-creator") and Practice ("I am NOW").
His teachings involve showing people how to get energy to flow more freely through movement, sound and mind visualization and meditation.
I also discovered another product, which isn't quite there yet for consumers given its $13K upward price tag, however could be a godsend for health practitioners and holistic healers. The brain child of Harry Massey and Peter Fraser, miHealth is a practical system for detecting the body's fields and correcting areas in the most need.
I tried this nifty device on site and sat with Todd Zimmerman from NES Health (the parent company) who walked me through the process, how it works and where it can be beneficial in both clinical and non-clinical worlds.
After placing my right hand on their non-invasive, clinically researched, handheld device, the miHealth system did the rest.
The combination of the connected device and powerful software produced a print-out of areas where I had blockages. This biofeedback allows practitioners to locate, unblock and release energy blockage in areas of the body. The idea is to see beyond symptoms and provide a more effective and targeted way to rejuvenate the body's energy by releasing energy blockages throughout.
From scientists, philosphers, physicists, spiritual healers, sufi and zen teachers, yogis, and anthropologists, to musicians, artists, film producers, academics and psychotherapists, the nondual conversation is a rich and rewarding one, for through all of it, there's a desire for oneness, something that if we were all to allow ourselves to go there, would be the most peaceful serene sensation we've ever known.
Through that level of personal transformation, we can transform people around us, including the planet. And, while on this path to a so called golden age for humanity, you'll found beauty, purpose and deeper understanding in the simplest of things.
Truly, the....simplest of things, the opposite of complexity, which is what we're getting hit with on a daily basis, one of the most dangerous ones being, digital information overload.
November 25, 2014 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On People & Life, On Science, On Spirituality, On Technology, San Francisco, TravelingGeeks, Videos | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 24, 2014
Idea Festival 2014, Where Creativity & Innovation Converge
Imagine an eclectic conference in the heart of bourbon country that brings together thought leaders, big thinkers, educators, scientists, politicians, urban planners, technologists, authors, artists, students and musicians under one roof? And...that is not by all means an exhaustive list.
Idea Festival is the one event that I've jumped on an airplane for every year, bound for Louisville Kentucky to make the time for a four day discussion on creativity and innovation.
Last year's event coverage will give you a taste of who they attract and while the focus may change slightly depending on who's on the main stage, the mission remains the same: to Stay Curious.
Think of it as an intellectual playground in one of America's most interesting southern cities where people celebrate ideas, creativity and transformational learning across multiple disciplines, including science, technology, design, education, philosophy, business and the arts.
While not in any of these categories, Walgreen's Chief Diversity Officer Steve Pemberton received a standing ovation for his talk that not just touched on diversity but what it means to be human. His childhood was far from stellar, yet he managed to rise above inequality and obstacles thrown in his path to where he sits today.
Truth be told, his talk makes you care about kindness, rethink adversity and if you're a business, understand the importance of diversity.
Overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, Pemberton has gone from being a forgotten ward of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to becoming a trailblazing Divisional Vice President at Walgreens and the first Chief Diversity Officer for the 113 year old company.
Prior to that, he made history as the first Chief Diversity Officer and Vice-President of Diversity and Inclusion for an Internet start-up while at Monster.com. His memoir, A Chance in the World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found a Place Called Home, chronicles his difficult path through foster care and his determined search for his family.
It is an inspirational story that crosses generations and cultures, but specifically whispers to those who have had the odds stacked against them. Pemberton's relentless journey to overcome his setbacks, find his biological family and right the wrongs of his parents' past is a model for all families to follow. It is a true testament of faith, fortitude and forgiveness and his talk brought his personal story to life in a heartfelt and very human way. As an audience, we wanted to cry and laugh with him at the same time. Pemberton believes that who we are, our triumphs over adversity, and our successes begin and end with family.
His rivoting talk was an exceptionally powerful sentiment from a man who fought to find his way and who in the end believes that you can choose your family after all. Hear hear. CEO of Virgin Produced Jason Felts was also very inspirational, earmarking all the reasons why your status in life isn't the main indicator of whether you'll be successful in life or not.
As one of the youngest CEO's within the Virgin Group of companies, he oversees the group's expansion into the film, television and new media content business. While he may not have had to overcome adversity in the same way as Pemberton did early on in life, Felts isn't an ivy league college graduate either.
He comes to the business without the external accolades and degrees that a large brand might look for, yet he is now spearheading the Virgin Produced business, successfully bringing it to the next level. Richard Branson saw a gem when he met one and since 2010, Felts has been combining the strength of his raw wisdom, his film experience, his authentic charm and down-to-earth approach to running a business to the Virgin Group.
What I loved about Felts when I first met him was his presence. How rare is it to find someone operating at that level who actually not just has presence on stage, but is truly present with you "in the moment" regardless of what value you can give him.
I have met and worked with my fair share of CEOs and celebrities in my life and more often than not, the charm is accelerated only when they realize you can give them something they need.
Not the case with Felts. Like Branson, he hates the status quo, and word has it that "he’ll cut off your tie if you wear one into his office." His background is primarily in film and TV production, so it's ever so fitting that he's such an instrumental force behind the entertainment side of Virgin's business.
Says Jason on the Idea Festival stage, "Create content that inspires. Trust comes first, competency second and then creativity." He notes that at Virgin Produced, that the culture is a combination of down-to-earth and creative. "People don't operate from a place of ego," he says.
"We talk issues out like a family." He sees Richard Branson as a tremendous mentor, a personality which is hard not to love. As a man who who has always led with adventure, he has never let obstacles get in the way of business or life. Branson chooses his partners, not the other way around Felts learned when he came on in 2010. It was a leap of faith on both sides and it appears to have paid off.
The word trust came up a few times, which is a great way to lead your business. Jason says, "Everything else follows trust! If you surround yourself with people you trust, the rest comes. Revenue follows trust!"
The Virgin brand for him exudes a combination of innovation, creativity and value for the money. He says, "with Virgin movies, we want people to leave thinking there’s a sense of fun, adventure and thrill to the Virgin brand as well as a sense of wish fulfillment and social responsibility. We follow our gut and we've been winning so far."
He feels that the traditional trailer is dead....and deceiving. "There’s way too much content out there and it's a little misleading," he says. Content overload is certainly not a new problem but it has now expanded into all areas of digital content including movie trailers.
He says that their movies are not going to appeal to everyone, but if it touches a certain demographic, then it’s a check box for them since they lead with quality, not revenue.
Felts thinks we need to start tailoring things to the individual and become more personalized. Later in his talk, I learned that it wasn't Branson who passed on the heartfelt authenticity and warmth that Felts so naturally exudes; it was his mom.
He shared one of his mom's sayings: "Love the ones you're with” and it's something that Felts practices. I met him at the beginning of the conference and every engagement I had with him throughout the event albeit brief, was genuine. Imagine if all leaders and CEO's could be that present who they could further inspire, motivate and ignite? He ended with a comment that touches on the infiltration of technology in our lives, something he also practices by not using his cell phone when he's with his family.
His parting comment: "I think it’s up to forward thinking people to keep us together as a community rather than breaking us apart." Thanks for being so damn refreshing Jason Felts. I loved your energy, your talk and your very fun suggestion to bring the audience up on the stage with you at the end of your talk for a true-blue selfie!
Wired Magazine and New York Times writer Clive Thompson amused us with his tantilizing talk about technology, social media and the changing landscape; how technology is fundamentally changing the way we think....often in ways we don't fully understand.
He cites an example from a Clarke college professor who said this of her students: they were often content to get a bad grade from me than have the Wikipedia community tell them their research is sloppy.
There's no doubt that thinking about knowledge, education and the perception of both has changed dramatically over the years.
We still gravitate to what we know and feel comfortable with just as we did 100 years ago and today, our peers are doing very different things and communicating in ways that the last generation doesn't quite understand.
Texting, sexting, facebook pokes, tweets and Instagram shares have become commonplace, not just once a day but regularly throughout the day, whether or not school or work is part of that day. While like continues to find like, multiples exist more than ever in the past. You know -- that big idea you've got? Well a couple dozen other people around the world also have it and unlike 50 years ago, they can share that idea instantaneously on the web, whether or not they've created a patent for it or plan to.
He has learned through his observations over the years, that as social media has exploded, the way we learn and think has changed. Thompson says, "we try harder, think more deeply and analyze more clearly when someone is watching."
Citing another piece of research from "Mimi in Tokyo," he shares that young lovers in Tokyo in the 1990's found that texting makes them feel closer than even a phone call." It makes sense in some ways since texting not only provides the immediacy of a response but its lasting and you can scroll back and look at those whimsical and romantic messages hours later.
For those who don't understand Twitter, he tries to explain its value in this context: a few ambient signals mean nothing on their own but months of them starts to have meaning which ultimately becomes ambient awareness -- kind of like what happens when we have ESP and can sense people's thoughts." As a regular Twitter user, I see this all the time and over time, learn more about people I've known for over ten years by observing their tweets over a couple of months.
It's astonishing and eye opening, however those who are new to social media or simply don't want to invest the time, still can't get their head around it.
Other interesting observations from online behavior found that weak ties in our lives (i.e., people we see once a year perhaps) can be more powerful in some cases than strong ties (people we see every day and are close to). Quite often, the most new and valuable information comes to us from people we don't know very well.
The notion is that people in our closer circles are too similar to us so we don't necessarily learn something new from them. The other trend is data gathering and data crunching.
Suddenly people are becoming accustomed to monitoring not just any data trend, but their own personal data, on a regular basis. Fitbit and other digital health connected devices such as the Kolibree connected toothbrush are prime examples.
You can have data about your behavior in real time on your smart phone, data that you can share with your loved ones, doctor or dentist. Is this trend turning everyone into data scientists? And, if so, what will the impact of that be on medicine, healthcare as we know it and general wellness and being?
What about once all of that data becomes connected? AND, what about when our minds can become "connected?" What is the powerful explosion that we could see in the future when we start collaborating on things that collectively and individually fascinate us?
How do we effectively tap into collaborative thinking? People are already doing it in multiple ways, ranging from individual data collection around a regional environmental disaster to solving a medical research problems.
One of the things we talk about a lot in Silicon Valley is the power of collective data and thinking.
Crowd-sourcing, crowd-thinking and crowd-creating are topics that are sprouting up as TED talks, at salons in people's private homes and in my own tech circles.
If gamers can tackle a ten year old protein folding mystery in HIV research, then what else could we solve from human collective intelligence?
I think about the empowerment this approach can have with children. Coming from an era where children were around to be seen, not heard, I know countless people from my generation who have confidence issues as a result of that mantra and way of thinking. I'd love to meet the next generation of students where the power of human collective intelligence is applied in schools and at home.
Thompson points out that private thinking is of course still vital and that we need "metacognition" aka to think about our thinking. Which problems are better to solve in public collectively and which ones to solve privately in solitude?
I agree with this, however the problem with the growing interest in an always on world where everything is open and digitized is that people sometimes forget that some things truly remain private and should. It takes discipline and a little reflection (which I feel that we rarely get in an "always on" world) to know where to turn and when. Philosopher Stephen Cave discussed how the relentless quest to live forever...physically, spiritually or perhaps through a legacy, has influenced and shaped civilization since the dawn of humankind.
He points out that its not just our lives here, but eternity, which is what makes every 'holy war.' He notes that we think the world is dependent upon our perceiving ourselves within the world, but in fact, its just an illusion in our brains.
Every creature is trying to pass on their genes in order to reproduce and survive, so this is part of our desire and fascination with living forever, at least through legacy. If our time is in fact limited and not eternal however, then the way we spend that time matters.
He humorously says, "imagine that you go to an upload enter every week and upload your mind for a new upgrade or app. You could essentially save your brain to this upload center and then if you were to get killed in a car accident, you would simply re-upload your brain into another body and have a replicate of you. But...it's still a copy."
In his book, he tackles all the things that compel humans to “keep on keeping on,” including some mind-bending thought experiments you could do yourself.
He teases out the implications of each immortality gambit, asking, for example, how long a person would live if they did manage to acquire a perfectly disease-free body. Or what would happen if a super-being tried to round up the atomic constituents of all who have died in order to resurrect them? Or what our loved ones would really be doing in heaven if it does exist? Or what part of us actually lives in a work of art, and how long that work of art can survive?
He makes you think about immortality in a very different way and as a result, focus on things that do matter in the process -- at least, that's what his talk did for me. If we could only be present on the hear and now more often, we'd have less fear, uncertainty, doubt and chaos in our lives.
Coming over from London, Claudia Hammond took on the topic of Time, making us think differently about how we perceive time. She talked about how and when time appears to be distorted, such as when we're not feeling well, are sick and have a temperature, are depressed, or not feeling as confident about ourselves.
She has been so fascinated by this topic that she has gathered research and examples of people's interaction with time itself. You could try your own exercise by counting a series of “how am I feeling now?” and Now? And Now? Count up all of these emotional moments and see how you perceive time throughout the process.
What fascinates her about time, is that there have been years, decades and centuries that have passed by before our lives, yet we always have a different idea of the length of time as we get older. Apparently 1 in 5 people visualize time laid out before them.
They might see the year laid out in front of them in space and time for example. This is you if you can see in your mind’s eye what you are doing in February of a particular year.
There are 2 different kinds of time metaphors she notes. The Time Moving Metaphor, where you stay still and time comes towards you and the Ego Moving Metaphor, where you see yourself running and going towards time. Perceptions of time in our personal life are around 3 months.
If you think you saw friends 3 months ago, it might actually be 4 or 5 months. For other types of events, it’s a few years. When you think something happened 3 or 4 years ago, it might be a third longer or in some cases, even longer than that, such as 9/11 or a political event.
People don’t report that days go really fast, but do report that weeks and months fly by. If you ask someone when they’re older, what song they love, they’re more likely to pick a song they loved between the age of 15 and 25. Memories seem to be stronger during that period of time.
Try this exercise out on a few friends and see it this applies. She suggests that if you want to make a weekend seem long, do lots of new things you haven’t done before. For example, do something new you've never done before in the morning and something entirely different in the afternoon. Doing so in this pattern will create new memories for you. Creating new memories makes you think less about time because you’re too busy having a good time as you create new and fresh memories, not ones that make you feel stagnant and still.
If time is going slowly, it may mean you don’t have a lot going on in your life. Then there's the perception of time in the future. "There’s been less research on how we perceive time in the future and more on how we perceive time in the past,"says Hammond. "We can actually go back in the past and recall our first day at primary school, but if asked to imagine that you’re going to a friend’s wedding in the Caribbean, you can build visuals of what you think it will be like and how the weekend will go, but it’s a entirely different memory and idea of time."
The general concensus is that we’re bad about making predictions about time and tend to underestimate how long something will take us.
To improve memory and our perception and improvement of time, she suggests picturing yourself doing an activity you need to do over and over again. Fascinating talk. I also loved her energy and it was fabulous to hear a British accent on stage!
I've known Virginia Postrel for quite possibly 20 years or so. I have always loved her work as far back as I can remember when she was more focused on politics than style. Today, and for many years now, she has been focused on style and the power of glamour although her work spans a broad range of topics, from social science to fashion, concentrating on the intersection of culture and commerce.
Writing in Vanity Fair, Sam Tanenhaus described her as "a master D.J. who sequences the latest riffs from the hard sciences, the social sciences, business, and technology, to name only a few sources."
She has written a few fascinating books worth mentioning. including her most recent one -- The Power of Glamour: Longing and the Art of Visual Persuasion, as well as The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies.
Her talk focused on the Power of Glamour and how it impacts us in our daily lives, from politics and sports to health and fashion.
She so beautifully separates glamour from glitz, revealing what qualities make a person, an object, a setting, or an experience glamorous. What is it that creates that pleasurable pang of desire—the feeling of “if only”? If only I could wear those clothes, belong to that group, drive that car, live in that house, be (or be with) that person?
Postrel identifies the three essential elements in all forms of glamour and explains how they work to create a distinctive sensation of projection and yearning. She delves deep into what glamour really is—not just style or a personal quality but a phenomenon that reveals our inner lives and shapes our decisions, large and small.
By embodying the promise of a different and better self in different and better circumstances, glamour stokes ambition and nurtures hope, even as it fosters sometimes-dangerous illusions. From vacation brochures to military recruiting ads, from the Chrysler Building to the iPad, from political utopias to action heroines, Postrel argues that glamour is a seductive cultural force.
Its magic stretches beyond the stereotypical spheres of fashion or film, influencing our decisions about what to buy, where to live, which careers to pursue, where to invest, and how to vote.
I saw Peter Van Buren on the Idea Festival two years ago after he launched his book We Meant Well and we all thought he was a brave soul then. His story is a complex one and definitely not short. As a former United States Foreign Service employee, he went through a struggle with the Department of State after writing his first book.
In detail, Van Buren gives an eyewitness account of the civilian side of the surge—that surreal and bollixed attempt to defeat terrorism and win over Iraqis by reconstructing the world the U.S. had just destroyed. Van Buren shared his year-long encounter with pointless projects, bureaucratic fumbling, overwhelmed soldiers, and oblivious administrators secluded in the world’s largest embassy.
Since then he has been giving talks about his story but now has a new heartfelt mission. His latest book Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent documents the changes happening in America that are negatively impacting the 99% and helping to make the top 1% earners flourish more than ever.
As documented on the web, Ghosts of Tom Joad is a reimagining of Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath, brought into our own era.
The book traces the dilution of our middle class, their replacement with the working poor, and examines the effects of this not just on our economy, but on our society, our nation, our America. Like Grapes of Wrath, Ghosts is a factual look at ourselves is wrapped in fiction, in this case, a single Ohio family touched by the changes in America from the 1950s through today.
The book is a story about growth, failure, and redemption, tracing the rise of the working poor and the don’t-have-to-work-rich as it follows the fortunes of the protagonist Earl. A product of the post–Korean War era, Earl witnesses his parents’ kitchen table arguments over money—echoed in thousands of other Rust Belt towns—experiences bullying, relishes first kisses, and comes of age and matures as a man before the economic hardships of the 1980's and 1990's wear on his spirit.
On the Idea Festival stage this year, Van Buren brought up fact after fact supporting some of the core changes happening in corporate America, particularly the top American employers and the impact on the 99%.
While costs are skyrocketing, wages are not keeping up with inflation and it's becoming increasingly difficult for the now 99% who are struggling to survive in today's increasingly competitive world. As he did two years ago, he brought this knowledge to life in a very human and compelling way, so rivoting and passionate that you feel as if you want to help in some small way. And as you think about helping in some small way, you realize that you too are being impacted by these economic changes in more profound ways than you may have first realized.
The theme here is the obvious growing divide between the working class and that 1% - in other words, what has happened to the middle class as we knew it? He threw out some stats. 10% of wealth holders own 70% of everything and the U.S. is ranked 85 on the economic inequality scale.
Did you know that Bill Gates could buy Boston and have a billion left over? And, did you know that 1 out of 3 retail workers get food subsidies because they can't earn enough not to? Poverty is a $14b business he cites. He gave advice to the students in the room - "don't buy into the myth," he told them. "The U.S. is in the 20% of nations that doesn't offer some kind of nationalized healthcare. We have convinced people that if you don't work, you won't get healthcare. We've convinced ourselves that if we raise the minimum wage that we'll have less jobs out there. Don't be afraid. There needs to be more interplay between us and those who control everything.
The people who have the most to gain from the system have created the system. We saw the greatest redistribution of wealth in the 2008 recession. The pattern continues. Stand up and have the conversation so that this pattern doesn't continue any longer."
He is working on a new book Post Constitutional America, which will cover what we've lost as a nation since 9/11, including our privacy. Insightful, sad and disheartening, yet with knowledge and awareness comes empowerment and power.
Other powerful talks came from Jason Padgett and Joshua Greene (both pictured below). Jason was a former furniture salesman who was violently assaulted, which resulted in a serious head injury.
The result was a brain who thinks differently, so differently that he now sees things in complex mathematical structures and patterns. He shared his remarkable journey with us and whether you're passionate about math or not, you couldn't leave the auditorium without feeling intensely moved by his story and more keen than ever to understand the hidden capabilities of the mind, learning and the nature of reality itself...
Joshua Greene is a Harvard professor who connects neuroscience, psychology and philosophy to illuminate the root causes of modern conflict in the world, along with the moral, political and ideological fault line that divides us. His talk was entitled Us and Them.
The real question at the end of the talk to ourselves was are we the "us" or are we the "them?" and how many of us have been both over the course of our lives? His talk was based on his book Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason and the Gap Between Us and Them.
Essentially the notion behind the book comes from the thinking that our brains were designed for tribal life, for getting along with a select group of others (Us) and for fighting off everyone else (Them).
But modern times have forced the world’s tribes into a shared space, resulting in epic clashes of values along with unprecedented opportunities. As the world shrinks, the moral lines that divide us become more salient and more puzzling. We fight over everything from tax codes to gay marriage to global warming, and we wonder where, if at all, we can find our common ground.
Through his research, he reveals the underlying causes of modern conflict and lights the way forward. Greene compares the human brain to a dual-mode camera, with point-and-shoot automatic settings (“portrait,” “landscape”) as well as a manual mode.
Our point-and-shoot settings are our emotions—efficient, automated programs honed by evolution, culture, and personal experience. The brain’s manual mode is its capacity for deliberate reasoning, which makes our thinking flexible. Point-and-shoot emotions make us social animals, turning Me into Us. But they also make us tribal animals, turning Us against Them. His work is important as was his talk.
Geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan talked about the rapidly changing global scene and its potential impact on international business, finance and the U.S., Lee Billings took us into a world of five billion years of solitude, Wynton Marsalis discussed the dynamics and irreplaceable role of art and creativity in America and Julia Whitehead led a conversation on the life, ideas and enduring influence of Kurt Vonnegut. Andrea Nicholas and Sarah Eichhorn explored how math and science can help ensure our survival in a zombie apocalypse (no typo here and yes, it was a fascinating talk), Sam Van Aken incorporated art and ideation in a way that can transform and confuse the common sense of practices; the established order of things, Ben Malphrus and Roger McNeil took on the subatomic world of quantum weirdness and black holes, Debbie Millman focused on overcoming rejection and failure and how its presence can be a necessary part to your path to success, and Tyler Cowen explained why being satisfied by "pretty good" in today's innovation-driven, hyper competitive world may in fact be just a fast track to irrelevance.
An annual presentation at Idea Festival for many years now, Creative Capital shows up with a handful of creative artists. Creative Capital has awarded $30 million to 530 groundbreaking artists nationwide through funding, counsel and career development services.
This year, Ruby Lerner once again brought their latest artists on stage to show off their creative ideas and projects in a session entitled "Art on the Edge."
Each year as part of Idea Festival, attendees flock to the annual Taste of Innovation event. This year’s Taste of Innovation had an interesting twist to it – it was a Taste of Innovation + Bourbon, so fitting for a Kentucky based food event.
This food lover’s event is always held at Churchill Down’s Millionaire’s Row, also fitting given that it’s the same venue as the infamous Kentucky Derby where people flock to from around to sip some of the finest bourbon in the country, wear exquisite hats that would make the Epsom Downs attendees jealous and watch horses win races that bring in millions.
Below, some of the locals who showed me a night out on the town and introduced me to some of the more interesting bourbon creators and makers.
The Rise Group exuded energy on the main stage, demonstrating all the ways we can operate at a higher level.
Their methods are grounded in everyday language of how we present ourselves and how we think, using tactics and tools to enable us to become more creative and innovative in our daily lives. Their presentation was fun, thought provoking and energetic and these principles can be used in corporate America, at a start-up or in our personal lives.
While every year they have bourbon vendors on-site, this year let bourbon led the way with taste and education. Top bourbon experts were on site to answer questions and give pours, with Chef Dean Borbett acting as the Master of Ceremonies.
With the help of the Kentucky Distiller’s Association and Kentucky Bourbon Trail, tastings were available from major distillers as you also walked through the history of bourbon and bourbon cocktails. Bourbon was also woven into some of the dishes, the best of which was the bourbon braised short ribs prepared Manhattan style by Churchill Downs.
Be sure to see my extensive write up on this year's Taste of Innovation 2014 event. I loved every taste we had, but another one of our top picks this year was Marketplace who served Italian pork meatballs with a tasso ham sauce, polenta, feta cheese and granulated sumac.
Everyone was talking about their perfectly made polenta all night and in fact I heard a few say, they'd return just to eat the polenta alone it was so delicious. Hats off to Chef Dallas McGarity and his team.
See my write up on last year's Taste of Innovation, from 2012 Taste of Innovation and 2011. Check out our Kentucky Events section, which will include coverage of Idea Festival from last year (Idea Festival 2013), Idea Festival 2011 and Idea Festival 2012 and also our Kentucky Food & Wine section where you'll find plenty of recommendations and visual treats on the top Louisville Restaurants.
Louisville restaurants we've written about over the years include Proof on Main at the well renowned 21c Museum Hotel, where I stayed this year, Seviche Restaurant (loved their seafood bisque - hats off to chef Anthony Lamas, Lilly's (I love Kathy's approach to cooking, her sweet potato gnocchi with country ham, kale and bourbon mustard cream sauce from a previous year was to die for as was this year's portobello mushroom soup, although we have yet to review Lilly's), Milkwood, Decca, Game (for every kind of game imaginable), La Coop Bistro, Mayan Cafe, Harvest, Jack Frys and The Blind Pig in Butchertown which is no longer open.
This year's delicious picks include Basa Restaurant for Vietnamese Fusion style dishes and Rye on Market. Also be sure to read our Kentucky Food section for more details. (Top Kentucky Restaurants / Best Food in Kentucky / Best Food in Louisville).
Photo credits: top photo credit from blogs.uoregon.edu, Digital Overload photo www.principals. com.au. All other photos Renee Blodgett.
Note: I was a media partner of the Idea Festival and have been since the very beginning - I'm a huge fan of the event and think it is under recognized for its talent, work and mission. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.
November 20, 2014
Surf Summit, Where Technology, Entrepreneurism & Surfing Meet
Imagine a conference that combines surfing, technology and entrepreneurship on Ireland's magical wild coast. A subset if you will of Dublin's Web Summit, the first ever held Surf Summit brought 200 attendees to the west coast of Ireland to join in discussions, surfing and other adventurous and cultural activities.
When I told people I was going to an event where they planned to surf in Ireland's coastal waters in the middle of November, they looked at me as if I was a bit mad, unless of course they happened to be Canadian or from a Nordic or Celtic country.
You see, the Scots, the Welsh, the English, the Scandinavians and the Canadians thought this sounded perfectly normal, for when you come from a country where it is cold and rainy, you need to have a "can-do" attitude regardless of the climate or you simply won't experience anything at all. I learned this from living in England many moons ago and it has made me a lot more resilient because of it.
Iceland is another great example of where their personal and cultural life infiltrates into their business life in a positive way and adds to the entrepreneurial spirit, rather than detracts from it. I was born into water -- in other words, I grew up on lakes, was thrown into one before I could walk and was waterskiing by 5.
None of that quite prepares you for the cold waters of the Atlantic, however the enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs at the Summit made it easier to embrace it all. Below is a beginner lesson on the shores of Keel Beach on Achill Island which is part of West Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way.
Achill Island is the largest island off the coast of West Ireland. The island is a magical place where the light seems to bless the Irish coast regardless of whether its foggy, cloudy, raining or clear blue skies and sunny, a rarity, especially in November. That said, we had our moments.
Other adventurous activities took place as well such as zorbing, rope climbing, zip lining, and archery thanks to the guys at Wild Atlantic Way Adventure Tours.
I had oddly never heard of zorbing and when they told me it involved getting thrown into a massive inflatable ball and being thrown vigorously down a hill, I was thankful I was on the archery team. That said, when I walked past the ball on my way to Archery, I couldn't help but be mesmerized, so much so that I looked at Jenni, the Finnish girl I was hanging with at the time and said, "let's do this."
Next thing you know, we were inside a massive inflatable ball, strapped in on all sides and yes, thrown down the hill. Needless to say, it was a blast and our screams surpassed all the others we were told.
I decided to go ziplining as well, since I've always loved the sport. While it may not have been as invigorating as the times I flew through the jungles of Costa Rica, Ecuador or Hawaii, it was fun nevertheless.
Below, people threw themselves towards a target hanging from a tree, with both themselves and the target connected to ropes.
Instead, there were two teams and rather than shoot an arrow into a target (speaking of targets, check out my most recent encounter with guns in Kentucky), you shot rubber objects into the opposing team.
I felt as if I had signed up for a history lesson on what it was like for the Scots to win a war before there was ammunition. Only in a Celtic Land I was thinking to myself throughout the entire process, but with a smile on my face.
Speaking of Celtic Lands, it wouldn't be a conference in Ireland if it didn't have plenty of beer and pub culture.
On the main drag of Westport lies a few renowned pubs my old friend Peter told me about, which is worth having a pint or two if you make it to Westport.
Enter McGings on High Street and Matt Malloys on Bridge Street, both popular favorites among locals. Matt Malloys is known for its live traditional Irish music and Matt has purposely kept the pub small, so that they can congregate - as they do, from all 32 counties - to enjoy a pint and a tune.
At the evening sessions of the event, they served Guinness on tap which is always a treat, since regardless of whether you only like Guinness or love it (I'm in the last category), it always tastes better in Ireland.
Ask anyone who has been to Ireland and is a regular Guinness drinker and they'd have to agree. In the midst of all of these physical activities which we never seem to incorporate into our more stationary tech events in the states, was a series of talks over meals.
We heard from John Huikku who has done everything from lighting and compositing, to 3D matte painting, environments and look development. He spent 15 years working at Disney and worked on Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in New Zealand of all places. Edgars Rozenthals talked about drones, Airdog and Kickstarter, Andrew Cotton talked about surfing but also big ideas and equating his daredevil life riding the waves (such as him tackling the surf created by the St. Jude's Storm in Portugal recently), to taking risks and chances in business and life in general.
While you may only think risk behavior on waves that could kill if you hit them wrong may only be a male choice, think again! Anastasia Ashley, who was drawn to the ocean as early as she can remember, was body boarding by age 4 and surfing by age 6.
She has since become a prodigy and has won over 200 amateur events, including the NSSA National championships at age 16, before she turned professional full time.
She loves the immediacy of digital media for reaching fans. She says, "I could be shooting something for a brand or a magazine and it can be up within a few days" which is a great way to deepen the engagement.
She adds, "when you're in the media, you read everything about yourself," but has learned to love it all -- the good interactions and the bad.
When you're a celeb female surfer and do a twerking video, you shouldn't be surprised when it suddenly goes viral and gets 7 million views.
While there are lots of positive sides to what she has accomplished, she acknowledged that "females in any sport get the short end of the stick," referring to men who still tell her she doesn't deserve her fame and notoriety." Jimmy Gopperth and Jonny Golding talked about what you can take from rugby and apply to business, of which trust and teamwork were his top two.
Decision making was another biggie, particularly making decisions under pressure, which happens as much on the field as it does in and out of the board room. Niall Harbison encouraged people to take risks. Being a true entrepreneur says Niall, means that you can't be afraid to fail.
Other tips to entrepreneurs included banging the door down no matter how hard it seems, not taking no for an answer, having incredible focus on your main goal, instilling amazing culture into your business and thinking globally beyond your own geographic borders.
He has high ambitions for both PR Slides, which recently raised €500,000 in funding, and Lovin’ Dublin. The latter sells Dublin as a hipster paradise somewhere between London, New York and Berlin, but it has been accused of loving Dublin and not Dubliners.
He said that he learned a lot going through this process, including that even if you hear people on the street using words like ‘knacker’ and ‘junkie’, it doesn’t mean you should write it. Below, the film panel...
We also heard from Ireland's prime minister Edna Kenny who talked about a very proud Mayo county.
He stuck around for awhile to chat with entrepreneurs, take photos and share what he does well - storytelling with a dry and charming sense of humor.
Below is a snippet from his talk.
And, of course, there was traditional Irish music wherever we turned -- from the classic pubs in downtown Westport and nearby villages to our evening sessions at the Hotel Westport, which is known for hosting conferences and events.
Below is a snippet from their playing.
What was so unique and special about Surf Summit was its intimacy and its location, which almost has spiritual qualities. The nature, the air, the skies, the rainbows, the breeze, the sand, the long dry grass - all of it was magical!
Combine that with a couple of days of fascinating conversations about start-ups and entrepreneurship with founders from nearly every continent, and apps and products that cross a myriad of industries, from gaming, drones, digital entertainment and mobile social apps, to luxury, lifestyle, healthcare, travel, transportation and insurance, it was all there.
Ultimately, smaller and carefully targeted and curated events are going to win as we see a proliferation of tech events in the same on-stage session formats with crowds too large to make sense anymore.
I think choosing an out of the way location is also a great idea, since it shows commitment on those who sign up -- and its not easy to leave, encouraging intimate talks and connections during the days and evenings.
And, in this case, I got to see a little bit of West Ireland, which was as beautiful and special as I thought it would be. Bravo Achill Island, Wesport, Wild Atlantic Way and Mayo County!
All photo credits: Renee Blodgett, except for Malloy's pub, which is from their website.
Both video credits: Renee Blodgett. OTHER GREAT RELATED POSTS TO READ: See our other posts on Ireland, Food & Wine in Ireland (including Dublin restaurant reviews), Web Summit 2014, the Top Travel Apps from Web Summit this year and Ireland tech events and top Ireland festivals.