Max Linsky is a writer and curator of the nigh-indispensable and writerly Longform.org who attended the 2011 IdeaFestival. In this guest post, he passes along some of his thoughts on IF 2011. Thanks Max! - Wayne
It's been a little over a month since IdeaFestival 2011, but I'd rather think of it as 11 months until the next one. That's a central theme of IdeaFestival, of course: looking ahead to what's coming next. Whether it's what experiments in space can teach us about medicine or what the infinite universe can teach us about ourselves, the topics discussed at IdeaFestival all face forward. You can't help but leave inspired. And, if you're lucky, a month later you'll still remember a few things. Here are five ideas I picked up during IdeaFestival that I haven't been able to shake:
Elizabeth Scarpf and the Power of Persistence
Don't know who Elizabeth Scharpf is? You will. The young founder of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), Scharpf changing the lives of women in Rwanda by creating low-cost sanitary pads—a glaring need around the world. Just tremendously inspiring work. But there was another part of her talk that I haven't been able to shake: once she had the idea for inexpensive pads, Scharpf threw herself utterly and completely into the making it a reality. She volunteered at conference after conference to network, cold called anyone she could think of, worked long hours for nothing. The takeaway: you can have no shame if you're trying to change the world.
Tim Donaghy's Can Teach You About Something Other than Gambling
For the non-sports fans out there, a quick primer: a few years ago, Tim Donaghy, an NBA referee, was busted for betting on basketball games. That's about as cardinal a sin as you can find in the sports world—information from Donaghy was being passed along to the mob—and he was rightly vilified. What happened next, though, is where the story gets interesting: Donaghy didn't decamp to some cave somewhere and hide. Instead, he started talking about what he'd done. He did it in a book, he did on 60 Minutes, and he did it at this year's IdeaFestival. The guy stood on stage and told his story, (numerous) warts and all. Yes, he was selling books. And, yes, he had the uncomfortable air of someone desperate for forgiveness. But he was also sending a message to everyone in that room: even if we make a mistake—even if it's an epic, catastrophic, front-page-news mistake—the story isn't over.
Wes Moore Is Going to Be President
I'm not going to try to put into words the hold Wes Moore had over the room. Let's just say it was total. The guy has a riveting story—you should read it for yourself. Or just wait until, say, 2028, when he's campaigning for the White House.
We're Not Alone
Here's a challenge: condense the entirety of humanity's understanding of physics into a 50-minute lecture, use that knowledge to make the case for infinite universes, and try to have anyone in the crowd understand what you're talking about. That was what Suketu Bhavsar tried to do, and while he wasn't entirely successful—an embarrassing amount went right over my head—I latched onto one part of his talk. The laymen's version: OK, so say the universe is infinite. (Just give me and Suketu the benefit of the doubt.) That means there is another world exactly like ours. There's another you. There's another me. And, while I know this sounds kinda ridiculous, I've found myself taking comfort in that idea over the last month. Particularly when I screw up. There's something comforting about knowing that, even if I put my foot in my mouth or bungled a presentation or missed a deadline, there's another me out there who knocked it out of the park.
Louisville Is a Foodie Paradise
A short list of things I loved about Louisville: the bourbon, running by the river, the bourbon, the Muhammed Ali Museum, the bourbon. But the hands-down highlight of my non-Festival activities was a dinner at the Brown Hotel hotel prepared in the kitchen by executive chef Laurent Geroli. I'll avoid the details—no need to make you jealous—but, trust me, folks in Louisville know how to cook and they know how to eat. It was a meal I'll never forget.
Same goes for the IdeaFestival. See you there in 11 months.