This Holiday Season, Give Someone the IdeaFestival

During this special season, give someone the gift of the IdeaFestival.

The IF Team invites you to give a 2015 IdeaFestival Pass to yourself, a friend or colleague this holiday season at our lowest rate of only $325!

IdeaFestival 2015 will once again be held in Louisville from September 30th - October 2nd, 2015. Your Festival Pass provides admission to all sessions during the Festival, as well as invitations to other IF - related activities. You will also have the opportunity to meet and interact with world class speakers and some of the smartest and most accomplished people around. 

If you need a reminder of the value and mission of IdeaFestival, please take a moment to watch this video from our Founder, Kris Kimel. This limited time offer will end on December 19th!

Please take a moment to give the perfect holiday gift now.

Stay curious!

Lessons from the IdeaFestival

Having met and been exposed to some of the most innovative and creative people around during my time with the IdeaFestival, I like occasionally to reflect on what I've learned. A couple years ago I put it this way in a post, "The IdeaFestival Is about "This Too.'"

I've learned from many people at the IdeaFestival. From Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I learned history will occasionally deliver overwhelming news from the clear blue. It just happens. I learned from Jane McGonigal that games can be used to make a better reality rather than as a means of escape. I learned from Teller that knowing secrets behind the curtain didn't diminish the joy of staring slack jawed at dancing golden spheres. I learned from Burt Rutan that with supreme imagination and determination, we can trip to space in safety and return in comfort. Someday, I'll do that. The elfin and poised Daniel Tammet argued during the most recent IdeaFestival that when we think in similes and puns, we're thinking not unlike a savant. I learned that his prodigious mathematical and language abilities are not so far removed from yours or mine.

I learned that there isn't a mind to waste....

So in the spirit of the holiday, today I wanted to pass along some of the things I've learned while working with the IdeaFestival.

Whether one is an entrepreneur or artist, productivity comes from habits and routines. Work matters. Creative productivity, however, often comes from changing up the routine. Creativity Post:

The best ideas come from living life. From talking to others, reading, and watching and trying and testing and traveling and experimenting. Even an interaction at the grocery store or an observation at school can be the seed for an article or research inquiry or character background, if I’m paying attention.

It reminded me that discomfort will often let you in on a secret, if you're paying attention.

Breakthroughs are not about process, but changing a mindset, about looking at the same problem from a different angle, as Kris Kimel talked about in this video. For any business, an over-reliance on process can leave it vulnerable to the change it didn't see coming. Yes, you get more of what you measure. But not everything of value can be measured.

From entrepreneurs, I've learned that an abilty to concisely and memorably explain an idea is the difference between having it remembered in the future and having it forgotten. As an introvert, I'm still working on speaking up - as well as unapologetically spending the time alone that will let me be my best.

From Stephen Cave and other philosophers who have appeared at the IdeaFestival, I've learned that reason can take one anywhere, that uncertainty is a friend, doubt a friendly antagonist and that a radical skepticism should be avoided. Belief is indispensable.

It's just about putting one foot in front of the other.

From IdeaFestival 2013 speaker Maria Konnikova, I learned that observation is still the most useful and accessible of tools, if we can but manage to live in the moment. In an age of endless distraction, it's not as easy as it sounds.

Daunting challenges are conquered one step a time. From Philippe Petit I learned that it's the first - and last - steps that matter most.

Watching the fantastic Creative Capital artist Robert Karimi (pictured here) in October, I realized that enthusiasm flowing from a love for what you are enthusiastic about can win over an audience.

Thinking about thinking, I know now that our conscious, sentient selves, the mysterious part of us that can hold out possible worlds and slowly turn them over and around for examination is a feature, not a bug. Consciousness for computer, as Nicholas Carr pithily put it, would be a bug-as-bug. Humans can find deep meaning and value in a reading of Shakespeare's Henry IV as well as in spreadsheets and big data. We are the wiser to remember that. 

In the midst of dire statistics about growing economic inequality, I learned from Tyler Cowen that because information is so widely available, the humanities (and some technical expertise), may be more important than ever. For this humanities major, that observation was comforting.

From Oliver Burkeman, I learned that at the summit of human kind is not happiness, but meaning, which can be had in nearly any circumstance. And from interative artist Raphael Lozano-Hemmer I learned that the pleasure of great art isn't isn't about information. It's about communion, about a set shared experiences. What we know depends in part on how long we can sit quietly with each other.

I've learned that poets are systems thinkers and that One Big Idea can be all consuming, if not an outright danger, because creativity and new beginnings can mean, and so often do mean, letting go of ideas.

Have a great weekend!

Stay curious.


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee




IF Ucut - Watch Peter Zeihan at IdeaFestival 2014

At IdeaFestival 2014, geopolitical strategist Peter Zeihan provides insight and context to the rapidly changing global scene and its potential impact on international business, finance and the United States. By identifying global demographic, cultural, political and economic trends, he paints a fascinating picture of what the interconnected geopolitical landscape could look like in the not too distant future.

This video is part of the IF Uncut series, IdeaFestival talks brought to you in their entirety. Enjoy!

Stay curious.


One to One: Mining Astroengineering Talent in Eastern Kentucky

Kentucky has natural resources beyond coal in the eastern mountains. In fact, it's been mining astroengineering talent for a few years now.

In this KET video, Morehead State University Profs. Ben Malphrus and Roger McNeil talk about the work being done at the university to teach the space sciences, as well as the growing recognition it has received for its expertise in very small spacecraft.

The craft you see on the table is a full-size engineering, or non-flying, model of the Cosmic X-ray Background Nanosatellite, or CXBN, designed to characterize specific energies from the Big Bang's remnant X-ray radiation. On board the flight model is some of the world's most sophisticated X-ray detection hardware.

Spacecraft of this size are almost always boxy "cubesats," which can be mixed and matched like Legos to create satellites of various shapes and sizes. CXBN is an example of a two-unit Cubesat, or 2U. The creator of the Cubesat is professor emeritus at Stanford University, Bob Twiggs.

He's now teaching a new generation of rocket scientists in his role as a professor at Morehead State.

We'll continue to highlight videos from our friends at KET as they are released.

Stay curious.


The Dangerous Man Has One Idea

I'm a sucker for a pithy quote, and yesterday, thinking about the IdeaFestival, one came to mind the exact phrasing of which I soon realized I had forgotten. After some quick research, I discovered that the quote could be found in a piece at the New Yorker titled The Possibilian, which describes the career arc and ideas of David Eagleman, a scientist and polymath. Like IdeaFestival 2014 speaker Claudia Hammond, who referenced some of Eagleman's work in Time Warped, her book, and at the festival, Eagleman has an intense interest in our perception of time. The New Yorker:

What would it be like to have a drummer’s timing? I wondered. Would you hear the hidden rhythms of everyday life, the syncopations of the street? When I asked the players at Eno’s studio this, they seemed to find their ability as much an annoyance as a gift. Like perfect pitch, which dooms the possessor to hear every false note and flat car horn, perfect timing may just make a drummer more sensitive to the world’s arrhythmias and repeated patterns, Eagleman said—to the flicker of computer screens and fluorescent lights. Reality, stripped of an extra beat in which the brain orchestrates its signals, isn’t necessarily a livelier place. It’s just filled with badly dubbed television shows.

So what does time have to do with the IdeaFestival? Humanity's "extra beat," is according to Eagleman, the time it takes to produce "the best possible story about what’s going on in the world." That extra beat is not the world as it is, but a world that makes sense. Aside from the startling observation that we all, therefore, live ever so briefly in the past, being extra sensitive to "the world's arrhythmias and repeated patterns" is a particularly valuable talent. The world is indeed a livelier place because of it.

There is a great deal of anxiety today about the economy, and understandably so. Peter Van Buren and Tyler Cowen talked at length at the festival about the growing economic divide. So I was encouraged listening to Cowen at the festival when he remarked that those who would succeed would cultivate that "extra beat." Context, an elasticity of thought, a head full of ideas from history, from literature, from the sciences and the arts - these things cannot be duplicated in a world where software has replaced so many jobs. Unlike the ever present ordinating machines we have created, humans know what they know. Nicholas Carr, another favorite thinker of mine, cleverly amplified this point recently on his blog when he said that in the strictest terms, consciousness for computer would be a disaster, a "bug-as-bug, not bug-as-feature."

How sad, then, that we strive to eliminate so much surprise, or quickly discount ideas that fall outside our immediate experience. No one knows - in the moment - what ideas will prove valuable and what ideas will not, and so it's important to be open to them precisely because they are new and different. 

The quote I went looking for turned out to be a prescient comment made by Francis Crick to Eagleman early in the younger man's career, and is quoted in The Possibilian. It goes to the beating heart of discovery, to a danger today of being a prisoner of the moment, and, if I may, of prizing efficiency instead of transcendency. Eventually transcendency suffers the consequences.

Before Francis Crick died, in 2004, he gave Eagleman some advice. 'Look,' he said. 'The dangerous man is the one who has only one idea, because then he’ll fight and die for it. The way real science goes is that you come up with lots of ideas, and most of them will be wrong.'

I don't know about you, but I find comfort and freedom in that.

Stay curious.


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

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