TEDxBigApple 2012: Disruptive Ideas for the Future Today

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“A disruptive innovation helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network, often entirely displacing earlier technologies.”

TEDxBigApple’s 2012 event this week in the West Village was themed around disruptive ideas with near-term impact in housing, biotech, local spaces, biomaterials, and fashion. It focused on ideas that are likely to change the world in the near term instead of those whose impact is in the past or the distant future. The purpose of the event was to spark discussion and connection.

Brian Lawrence, one of the organizers said, “All the speakers were talking about, in their own way, how to disrupt their own piece of the world.  They talk about their ideas — it doesn’t necessarily have to be disruptive technology — in the way we think about the world.

“Most of the speakers are world thought leaders in their specific industries or in their areas of work.   We try to capture the most innovative minds whose ideas can impact us in the next three to five years.  We felt these speakers were really going to make a dent in how we view the world.”

Patrick Govang, a green-tech innovator who is developing a disruptive model to enable local economic and resource sustainability, was one of the speakers whose ideas had the greatest impact.  As the founder and CEO of e2e Materials,  he is leading the way in producing new building materials made from soybean and flax seed that can be grown, processed, and assembled in the same community.

Biotechnology pioneer Joanna Aizenberg was the most fascinating as she delved into the world of bio-inspired materials, science and engineering.  As a professor at Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences and at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, she looks at imitating natures’ processes to solve human problems. “We solve complex engineering problems in what I call bio-mimicry,” she explained.

“After 3.8 billion years of development, failures are fossils; what surrounds us now is the secret to survival. Let’s look at a sea spong – a real organization in the deep sea – to solve problems. I think about how we can use nature and mimic it in interesting and extreme ways; first you have to look in nature to find something amazing, and then you have to uncover how nature does it. The next part is to try and mimic it; I try to mimic for high-tech solutions.  We can create new chosen devices – it’s pretty much stealing from nature, but it’s a rewarding experience. Nature has beautiful solutions and has something that is important:  the ability to create materials that can be multi-functional and that can adapt to their environment.”

Tom Igoe, a teacher at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, talked about how open fabrication can change the world.  He is co-founder of Arduino, an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible hardware and software.

Arduino is disruptive because it can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. The boards themselves can be built by hand or purchased preassembled; the software can be downloaded for free. The hardware reference designs (CAD files) are available under an open-source license that users are free to adapt to their own needs.

Then there was Nils Gums, co-founder of The Complex Group – was he really “disruptive?” He talked about how his group specializes in a progressive and comprehensive approach to video production and music in a multi-media landscape (i.e. going viral). He had one of the artists he manages,  a pop duo called Karmin, get up on stage to perform;  while the singer voice was amazing and the song catchy, it wasn’t as world-changing as the other presentations and was a tad heavy on the promotional side especially regarding their upcoming appearance on SNL.

However, all the speakers illuminated the crowd in their own ways.  Just to give a glimpse into the diversity of the innovators,  there was Chris Downey a site impaired architect dedicated to creating enriching environments for the blindNicola Twilley, the author of the Edible Geography blog whose motto is “waste not want not — insects included”;  Jeffrey Brenner who is disrupting how healthcare costs are approached in order to cut the cost in low-income areas; Kavita Parmar, a fashion maverick whose is updating the way people think about major fashion houses; and Vjay Govindarajan who is moving forward ideas using reverse innovation for third world countries.

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