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Updated: 2016-09-28T14:55:06+09:00

 



Using storytelling to make a case for social change

2016-09-28T14:55:06+09:00

I asked TEDxKyoto founder Jay Klaphake which of the many good talks at TEDxKyoto was a great example of storytelling, he replied immediately that it was the 2014 talk by Sahel Rosa. Sahel’s presentation is a wonderful example of a...I asked TEDxKyoto founder Jay Klaphake which of the many good talks at TEDxKyoto was a great example of storytelling, he replied immediately that it was the 2014 talk by Sahel Rosa. Sahel’s presentation is a wonderful example of a presenter using their personal story to (1) shine a spotlight on a social issue, and (2) to make a pitch for people to support her cause. Sahel takes us on a journey that begins with her own harsh childhood spent in an orphanage in Iran. She overcame impossible odds thanks to the love of a nurse who adopted her and moved to Japan. She also received help from a Japanese lunch lady from her school who rescued her and her adoptive mother who were living in a park at the time. Her presentation ends by building on the remarkable love and support from her mother and others in Japan to ask all of us to remember the thousands of orphans in Japan, many of whom are waiting for adoption. And she asks us to get involved in orphanages as much as we can to help improve the lives of the children there. She also mentions that her dream is to start a home for Orphans called “Sahel’s House.” allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/lKY9MCBfrq0?feature=oembed" width="500">The aim of good storytelling is to make people feel deeply and empathize with your situation. Many times while analyzing this talk I had tears in my eyes. Some of the things Sahel recalled will make anyone feel deeply moved, moved even to tears. Such as when Sahel recalled a time when she was bullied in school in Japan for being an orphan and another child said “You kids are living off our tax money!” That’s such a hurtful thing for a child to hear. Any audience member would feel great empathy for her. Or the time Sahel returned after twenty years to her orphanage in Iran. Children were so happy to see her success and hear her story, but when she asked a child what his dream was, his reply was “Ummm...I don’t know. I just want a mom.” This speaks to the helpless children often feel in orphanages, not in an abstract way, but in a concrete way that tugs at the heart.For the personal stories like this — “Telling Your Story”—there is another simple way to visualize the arc of the story. Most classic stories start in what’s called the “World of Perfection.” Then because of some incident, there is a descent into the “World of Imperfection.” In this latter world—which is often the biggest part of the story—our character struggles to overcome obstacles. If we put this on an X/Y axis, we can think of anything above the horizontal axis as Good Fortune (Positive, happy, normal life, etc.), and anything below the horizontal axis we can think of as Ill fortune (negative, unhappy, difficult, etc.). It is a simplification, but almost all storytelling arcs start near or above the horizontal axis, descend below, and eventually rise back to the “World of Perfection.” In Sahel’s case, you can see clearly how she starts positively in the current world and then descends into a world where there was some difficult to hear things about her personal story and the state of orphans and orphanages in Japan. By the end she ascends back up to a more positive world where there is hope for a solution and asks for three specific things from the audience. [...]



Storytelling advice from Akira Kurosawa

2016-09-15T19:47:38+09:00

Akira Kurosawa was one of the masters of cinema. Below is a six-minute interview where Kurosawa offers advice to aspiring filmmakers, but the advice can be applied more widely to other creative disciplines as well. If you want to make...Akira Kurosawa was one of the masters of cinema. Below is a six-minute interview where Kurosawa offers advice to aspiring filmmakers, but the advice can be applied more widely to other creative disciplines as well. If you want to make a film today, you don't need expensive equipment necessarily. Even a smartphone and a good microphone will do the trick. But before equipment and camera techniques comes knowing how to create a story. If you want to be a director, says Kurosawa, learn to write screen plays first. For a story, all you need is a pen and paper (or a cheap computer). When Kurosawa laments in the interview that most aspiring filmmakers want to get immediately to directing without first spending a lot of time learning the craft of story through the difficult task of writing, this is something that could be applied to other professional endeavors. Learning an art — any art — is not glamorous; it's tedious and difficult. Writing is hard and can be lonely. The most important quality to have, says Kurosawa, is to have "the forbearance to face the dull task of writing one word at a time." To have the patience to write one word at a time is key. Most people lack the patience to do this for very long, so they quit. But if you stick with it, Kurosawa says, over time the writing process will become second nature to you.   allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="344" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/r-McmgQbee0?feature=oembed" width="459"> PatienceKurosawa says the many younger people want to get to the end quickly rather than spending the long, tedious time in first preparing. Creating a film is an enormous task Kursosawa says, but the important thing is to not let yourself get overwhelmed by the size of the task. His advice is not just for filmmakers but for writers or anyone else who has a big, creative job to do in front of them. As he says, when you climb a high mountain you must not look up to the peak so often but instead focus on the ground just a head of you. Step by step you make progress. But if you keep looking up at how far you have to go to finish it will be discouraging and also distracts you from the moment at hand. When I got my first book contract ten years ago, I wondered how I could finish the book in time. Dan Pink recommended I read the book Bird by Bird, a book about how to get through large tasks by taking one step at a time, as the author's father once advised her 10-year-old brother, who was worried sick over the scale of a book report on birds. His advice: "Just take it bird by bird." Kurosawa here is giving similar advice."Don't ever quit."Kurosawa says that he encouraged his Assistant Directors to never give up on the script halfway through, but to go all the way through and finish it. Even if it is not the best (yet) it's important to develop the habit of perseverance and fighting through until the end. Otherwise, Kurosawa suggests, people will get in the habit of quitting when things get difficult or do not go well. Kurosawa also talks about the importance of reading books in order to become a better writer and a better storyteller. Reading a wide array of subjects over a lifetime gives one knowledge and perspectives in a kind of reserve which they may use in unforeseen ways in future. "Unless you have a rich reserve within, you can't create anything," Kurosawa says. "That's why I often say creating comes from memory. Memory is the source of your creation. You can't create something from nothing." As Kurosawa says, whether it is from reading or your real-life experience, "you can't create unless you have something inside yourself."I highly suggest you read this great book by Akira Kurosawa: Something Like an Autobiography   [...]



Five Essential Questions to ask Yourself

2016-06-20T16:07:27+09:00

It’s graduation time around the United States, and while many speeches are forgettable, some of them stick. Dean James Ryan’s speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education ceremony was one such speech. Dean Ryan’s central message is that developing...It’s graduation time around the United States, and while many speeches are forgettable, some of them stick. Dean James Ryan’s speech at the Harvard Graduate School of Education ceremony was one such speech. Dean Ryan’s central message is that developing an ability for asking good questions is key to one’s path to success and fulfillment. "I would urge you to resist the temptation to have answers at the ready and to spend more time thinking about the right questions to ask,” he says. The entire 24-min speech is here, but it is this six-minute section below that resonates most with me and many others. In this section Ryan says he believes there are five essential questions that we must regularly ask ourselves. Ryan's claim is that, if we get in the habit of asking these questions, we’ll have a great chance of being both successful and happy. And, he says, we’ll be in a better position to answer “I did” to the bonus question at the end of his list of five. (A summary of his list of five follow the video.) allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bW0NguMGIbE?feature=oembed" width="500"> (1) Wait, what?"Wait what is actually a very effective way of asking for clarification, which is crucial to understanding,” Ryan says. "The wait, which precedes the what, is also a good reminder that it pays to slow down to make sure you truly understand.” Many of us often have an unconscious bias toward information which confirms our own views about the world. In the 21st-century where social media allows completely made up “facts” to be circulated unabated, it's more important than ever to slow down, and to stop, and to question anything which seems too good (or bad) to be true. (2) I wonder, why/if?"Asking 'I wonder why' is the way to remain curious about the world, and asking 'I wonder if' is the way to start thinking about how you might improve the world. As in, I wonder why our schools are so segregated, and I wonder if we could change this?” This is perhaps the most fundamental question of all. This is one of the most powerful questions an educated person—regardless of their schooling—can ask. Questions such as: Is it so (I wonder)? Is it really true? How do I know that it’s so? What would happen if__? We begin tackling the really big problems in the world—and the big problems in our personal lives—with the smallest of questions: I wonder why/if?(3) Couldn’t we at least?"It’s what enables you to get past disagreement to some consensus, as in 'couldn’t we at least agree that we all care about the welfare of students, even if we disagree about strategy?'” This is a way to obtain some common ground and make progress, no matter how small. Ryan says that it’s also an approach for getting unstuck or for getting started in the first place. I have found this to be a mind-hack of sorts. One of our biggest obstacles to progress in our work is procrastination. Most of us procrastinate because we focus on the enormity of the project or on it’s conclusion, a conclusion about which we are uncertain. So instead of focusing on finishing the project, simply concentrate on getting started instead. Just start it, you tell yourself, don’t worry about how it progresses or about the long road to finish it. Simply start. When you tell yourself that you’ll just get started for a bit and not worry about the size and perceived difficulties of the entire project, it’s very easy to sit down and just have a go at it. Often, we’ll surprise ourselves which just how much progress we make when our only aim was merely to "at least get started." (4) How can I help? "We shouldn’t let the real pitfalls of the savior complex extinguish one of the most humane i[...]



Success & the Art of Developing Your Inner Coach

2016-05-12T16:21:48+09:00

Brett Ledbetter is a former college basketball player and author of the book What Drives Winning. I stumbled upon his TEDx talk somehow recently and I’m glad I did because it’s well worth watching. Brett's presentation showed good preparation with...

Brett Ledbetter is a former college basketball player and author of the book What Drives Winning. I stumbled upon his TEDx talk somehow recently and I’m glad I did because it’s well worth watching. Brett's presentation showed good preparation with a useful message, effective use of visuals, and a passionate, engaging delivery in front of a group of young people. Anyone will find the content useful, but younger people (and teachers) may find it especially helpful, even if only as a reminder. Brett talks about Basketball, but that is not the message. The message is not even just about sport, the message can be applied to life and work in general. Watch the video below or on TED.

allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="270" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/q7a5TIzOmeQ?feature=oembed" width="465"> 

Brett captured my interest in the first two-minutes by discussing the idea of each individual’s inner voice or private voice (or internal monologue). He asked us to question just how helpful our private voice really is. Here he introduced through video Dr. Jim Loehr. Loeher asks us if we would be proud to have the words of our inner voice broadcast on a wall for everyone to see, especially in tough times. He asks us to question whether our private voice is the kind of person that is really helping us out or is it breaking us down. I have to admit that this idea really made me think and feel a bit ashamed that often my inner voice is often not the kind of person I’d want to be around even today. When I was much younger — like the people in his audience — my inner voice was not a positive contributor all too often. So right away I was interested in Brett’s message.

I also loved the way he introduced the idea of process vs. results/goals by showing a basketball coach who maintains the same reaction to great failure and great success all within seconds of a thrilling finish of a basketball game. (Very effective use of the video.) Focusing on the process and the moment rather than worrying about victory or failure reminded me of this old Daisetz Suzuki quote: “The waters are in motion all the time but the moon retains its serenity." (See: Steve Jobs and the art of the swordsman).

“Winning is not a result. Winning is a process that is driven by character.” - Brett Ledbetter

Brett’s message may not be a new one, but the way he laid it out simply, clearly, and passionately was a nice refresher. I like the way he inserts video, quotes, and images/text into his talk. He does a great job, although a remote control would have helped him free himself from the computer. Still, a great message and a wonderful short-form presentation.

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Bill Evans on the Creative Process & Self-Teaching

2016-05-02T16:42:20+09:00

Many years ago I spoke of Bill Evans and his great appreciation of simplicity, and his capacity for tremendous amplification through honest simplification. Recently I stumbled upon a rare, 45-minute interview from the 1960s which Bill Evans did along with...Many years ago I spoke of Bill Evans and his great appreciation of simplicity, and his capacity for tremendous amplification through honest simplification. Recently I stumbled upon a rare, 45-minute interview from the 1960s which Bill Evans did along with his brother—also a wonderful pianist—Harry Evans. If you can find time to sit down and watch the entire interview, it may be the best thing you see all week. But to give you a feel of the message, let me place the videos here and highlight the key points along with my comments.Part 1 (on YouTube) allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="344" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YEHWaGuurUk?feature=oembed" width="464">  Above in the first clip Evans speaks of people’s tendency to approach a problem in its entirety in a vague, abstract way instead of just taking a small piece and focusing on that and really getting to know it and build from there. This, says, Evans is more honest. Here are just a few key quotes that stood out. "It’s better to do something simple which is real. It’s something you can build on because you know what you’re doing. Whereas, if you try to approximate something very advanced and you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t build on it." "No matter how far I might diverge or find freedom in this format, it only is free insofar that it has reference to the strictness of the original form. That’s what gives it its strength.""They’re trying to do a thing in a way that is so general they can’t possibly build on that. If they build on that, they’re building on top of confusion and vagueness and they can’t possibly progress. If you try to approximate something that is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t advance." The key, too, is learning to enjoy the struggle that comes from taking a part of the complicated whole and getting better at those little bits step by step. "It is true of any subject that the person that succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning and knowing that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and that he has to enjoy the step-by-step learning procedure." This is not to say that you should not be adventurous and take risks and experiment. Playing it safe is not what Evans is suggesting. What Evans is saying is that you need to understand the frame work and the rules and principles so that you can know for yourself what works (through your experiments) and what does not. Part 2 (on YouTube) allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="344" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5QdM0oxWOZw?feature=oembed" width="464">  In the second clip above, Evans talks about the fact that it took him many years of playing before he really felt he was able to freely express himself. Evans could sight read from an early age but could not play even a very simple song he says without sheet music. He spent a good part of his teens and 20s learning on the job and working hard on deepening his understanding of music and developing techniques. “The whole process of learning the facility to play jazz, is to take these problems from the outer level in, one by one, and to stay with it at a very intense conscience concentration level, until that process becomes secondary and subconscious. Now, when that becomes subconscious, then you can begin concentrating on that next problem, which will allow you to do a little bit more…" Many people see only the end result, instead of the long path and all the richness the journey will provide them. You don’t learn anything meaningful or accomplish anything worth contributing if you approach it thinking in terms of how can I get to that s[...]



Presentation lessons from Steve Pinker's advice on writing

2016-04-19T15:52:35+09:00

One of the most interesting books I read last year was Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Pinker’s book is a thoughtful, clear, and useful discussion on how we can...One of the most interesting books I read last year was Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Pinker’s book is a thoughtful, clear, and useful discussion on how we can make our writing simpler and clearer by avoiding muddy, confusing prose otherwise known as corporatese, legalese, academese, medicalese, bureaucratese, and officialese. Pinker explores what is called the Classic style of prose, a style of non-fiction writing which Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner dedicate an entire book to explaining in Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose. "The feature of classic style that makes it a natural model for anyone is its great versatility,” Thomas and Turner say in their book. "The style is defined not by a set of techniques but rather by an attitude toward writing itself. What is most fundamental to that attitude is the stand that the writer knows something before he sets out to write, and that his purpose is to articulate what he knows to a reader.” (Emphasis mine.) "Classic style is in its own view clear and simple as the truth. It adopts the stance that its purpose is presentation; its motive, disinterested truth. Successful presentation consists of aligning language with truth, and the test of this alignment is clarity and simplicity." — Francis-Noël Thomas, Mark Turner As I read Pinker's book I couldn't help but notice that much of his advice about writing also applies to presenting more effectively as well. Presenting and writing are different skills, but they are alike in that when done well both reflect a clarity of thought in both preparation and delivery. If you do not have time to read the book, Professor Pinker has several talks about the contents of his book available on YouTube, such as the video below. The video is well worth your time, but if you also do not have time to watch the video just yet, I have highlighted many (though not all) of his key points from his talk (and book) below. Along the way I’ll relate his advice about writing in the Classic style to the art of presentation. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OV5J6BfToSw?feature=oembed" width="500"> Classic style at a glancePinker early on presents key aspects of Classic style.     (1) The writer has seen something in the world.    (2) He positions the reader so she can see it with her own eyes.    (3) The reader and writer are equals.    (4) The goal is to help the reader see objective reality.     (5) The style is conversational.Non-classic styles are many. Academics, he says, write in a Postmodern or Self-conscious style in which “the chief concern is to escape being convicted of philosophical naivete about his own enterprise." Classic style is not interested in talking about the tools and structure of the subject but rather the subject itself. And yet, Classic style is not Plain style, Pinker says. You do not have to go to a bare bones, stripped down style. Classic style does not have to be Plain. It has to be CLEAR and words are chosen for a good reason. But the writing does not have to be absolutely plain — your character needs to come out. While Plain style is not the ideal, Pinker says (in many cases), it is nonetheless better than academese, and other forms of difficult-to-read prose.).  More aspects of Classic prosePinker lists some more aspects of the Classic style.    (1) Focuses on the thing being shown (discussed) not the activity of studying it.    (2) Assumes reader understands that concepts are hard to define, problem is difficult, etc. The reader wants to see what the writer will do about it.  [...]



Technology & humanity: The Luke Hand Organization

2016-04-08T15:16:57+09:00

The work of Hugh Herr and his bionic legs is such a remarkable story that it got me thinking about the possibilities. I immediately thought of the bionic hand Luke Skywalker received at the end of The Empire Strikes back...The work of Hugh Herr and his bionic legs is such a remarkable story that it got me thinking about the possibilities. I immediately thought of the bionic hand Luke Skywalker received at the end of The Empire Strikes back (called a Mechno-arm I believe). Luke’s hand was science fiction, but the technology that is being developed these days is approaching the level of that pictured in the world of science fiction. I’ve been researching issues related to generative design and 3D printing recently so I did a quick search to see if anyone was doing work in bionics directly inspired by the Luke Skywalker hand. This is how I found the Luke Hand project and a wonderful presentation by designer Shalom Ormsby at Autodesk's Pier 9. This is not a flashy presentation nor a dynamic TED talk. It was never meant to be. This low-key, authentic talk was given to a small group of peers at Pier 9. But Ormsby's cause is a great one and this talk deserves to be seen by a large audience. I hope you'll watch his talk and share it with others. It's fascinating and inspiring to imagine the possibilities. Luke getting his bionic hand. How long before something like this becomes real?What is the Luke Hand? At the moment it's fiction, just an idea, an artist's ideal of what a prosthetic hand could look like. In the presentation below, Ormsby says that the current state of prosthetics aim to make the hands appear real or to provide only basic functionality. But Ormsby insists "we can do better than this." And why not? Ormsby reminds us that technology has created remarkable things. We put men on the moon and brought them back safely to earth—and that was almost 50 years ago. Surely, Ormsby is suggests, human ingenuity can solve the problem of creating fully functioning prosthetic hands, something that can enrich the lives of millions, including many children. Technology has helped create amazing achievements, but "has been fairly deficient in terms of bionics, in terms of prosthetic development," Ormsby begins. So here Ormsby has stated what is and is hinting at what could be. Then he states the organization's objective in simple terms, almost Kennedy moon-speech clear: "To create an open source bionic hand that matches the functionality  of a human hand, built for a four-year old within four year." allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="268" mozallowfullscreen="" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/160162967" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="462">Pier 9 Presents: The Luke Hand Project with Shalom Ormsby from Pier 9. Ormsby does a good job of zooming out to show the general and zooming in to illuminate the particular. Stated another way the objective is clear: "It's time to make science-fiction bionics science fact." While Ormsby explains the WHAT and the HOW, as much as you can do in a brief short-form style talk, he steps back to state the WHY. Remember, while the what, how, when, etc. are crucial to understand, what audience really need to hear—and what is often missing—is the why. Why do you care? Why should we care? And why is this important locally and globally? The question an audience may have is "Why should the Luke Hand exist? For this Ormsby begins with something personal and emotional. I'll let you see for yourself what that is.LINKS• Luke Hand website• Luke Hand on Facebook• Luke Hand on Twitter• Crowd sourcing page [...]



A most inspiring TED Talk: Dr. Hugh Herr

2016-03-24T16:28:14+09:00

Recently, while researching the issue of generative design, I came across a short presentation on bionics by Bionics designer and MIT Professor Dr. Hugh Herr. The 8-minute talk was part of a keynote for Autodesk University 2015 on topics related...Recently, while researching the issue of generative design, I came across a short presentation on bionics by Bionics designer and MIT Professor Dr. Hugh Herr. The 8-minute talk was part of a keynote for Autodesk University 2015 on topics related to augmented cognition, generative design, additive manufacturing, etc. The things that people are able to do now with advanced CAD and other digital tools is remarkable. But when Dr. Herr took the stage to show a genuine, real-world example of human-robot collaboration, I was blown away by what I saw. When his talk was finished, I thought this was just the kind of thing that should be featured on TED. Sure enough, Dr. Herr had already spoken on the subject at TED in 2014. Watch the talk below or on Youtube. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="278" mozallowfullscreen="" scrolling="no" src="https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/hugh_herr_the_new_bionics_that_let_us_run_climb_and_dance.html" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="464"> Inspiring wordsDr. Herr's journey began in 1982 when both of his legs were amputated due to tissue damage from frostbite he incurred during a mountain-climbing accident. Doctors thought he'd never climb again. Herr aimed to prove them wrong. "At that time, I didn't view my body as broken," he says. "I reasoned that a human being can never be 'broken.' Technology is broken. Technology is inadequate. This simple but powerful idea was a call to arms, to advance technology for the elimination of my own disability, and ultimately, the disability of others." Herr shared his own story to make a larger point: "Every person should have the right to live life without disability if they so choose -- the right to live life without severe depression; the right to see a loved one, in the case of seeing-impaired; or the right to walk or to dance, in the case of limb paralysis or limb amputation. As a society, we can achieve these human rights, if we accept the proposition that humans are not disabled. A person can never be broken. Our built environment, our technologies are broken and disabled. We the people need not accept our limitations, but can transcend disability through technological innovation. Indeed, through fundamental advances in bionics in this century, we will set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience, and we will end disability." This is such a great example of the power of the visual to amplify the narrative. If we think of story as the struggle to overcome an obstacle, we can see how this kind of application of technology really lends itself to storytelling. The technology behind the solution and all the information, facts, and data are obviously important. Correct information & data are crucial. But people remember most the stories they hear…and see. Therefore, we have an obligation to make certain those stories are authentic, honest, and true. Dr. Herr’s story has all of that. It’s not about being slick or perfect on stage, it’s much more important to be real and to show and tell your story from the heart while at the same time supporting the narrative with a logical framework. Links• Bionxmed.co• Biomechatronics at MIT• Dr. Hugh Herr's bio page at MIT [...]