TEDx brings big ideas to Big Sky
By Joseph T. O’Connor EBS Editor
BIG SKY – What began in 1984 as a conference to share new ideas concerning technology, entertainment and design has become the most renowned speaking series in the world. TED Talks now encompass nearly any conceivable topic, and occur around the globe in more than 100 different languages.
And now an independently organized version of TED, called TEDx, is coming to Big Sky.
On Jan. 28, the first-ever TEDxBigSky will offer six hand-picked speakers at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center to tell their unique and groundbreaking stories related to the 2017 event’s theme: “Big Ideas Under the Big Sky.”
Outlaw Partners—the media, marketing and events company that also publishes this newspaper—launched the idea to bring a TEDx event to Big Sky when its Media and Events Director Ersin Ozer reflected on the journalism and stories coming out of the region.
“I was inspired by our magazine, Mountain Outlaw, to put on this event on a live platform,” said Ozer, who chose a group of Big Sky community members to sit on the TEDxBigSky committee and bring the concept to fruition. “Outlaw has mastered the art of storytelling. We tell stories with our media, graphic design, videos, marketing and events, so producing TEDxBigSky brings it all full circle.”
Past TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, Bono, author Elizabeth Gilbert and Sir Richard Branson, among scores of others. TEDxBigSky presenters will have up to 12 minutes to deliver their talk to the audience.
In an effort to reflect the spirit of TED’s objective to share “ideas worth spreading,” the organization in 2009 created TEDx, events that allow independent organizers to put on TED-like talks in their respective communities around the world.
While TED conferences are held annually in Vancouver, Canada, along North America’s west coast, numerous TEDx events are underway at any given day and time at multiple locations on Earth. The TEDx concept is to bring big ideas and profound conversation to issues and ideas at local levels. These events use similar formatting to TED events through free licenses provided to successful applicants by TED.
Under these license agreements, TEDx organizers cannot profit from the event. It’s all about the speakers’ stories and the reflection they inspire.
Ozer and the committee have spent the past 12 months planning for TEDxBigSky, searching for speakers that would leave an impact on viewers.
“We networked and researched and found some special people who would tell their stories and share ideas that will leave the audience members inspired and with their jaws to the floor,” Ozer said. “People can expect an event that will grow into an annual destination celebration. It’s something that I think Big Sky is hungry for.”
Visit tedxbigsky.com for more information, updates and ticket availability.
Below are Q-and-As with three of the six speakers. See the Jan. 6 edition of EBS for Q-and-As with the remaining three speakers.
Linda Wortman has accomplished more than most – the 23-year Big Sky resident has scaled Mount Kilimanjaro with Conrad Anker, she’s run a 5K race in every U.S. state, and is working on running a 10K on every continent. And she’s done it with one lung.
Explore Big Sky: What inspired you to give a TEDxBigSky talk?
Linda Wortman: Nine years ago I was diagnosed with lung cancer and I never smoked. The shock could have blown me over with a feather. Most people do not know that lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer worldwide.
EBS: Tell me about the instant you were diagnosed with lung cancer. What went through your mind?
L.W.: I was going to die. The crazy thing is that when you ask about statistics, the numbers haven’t changed since the early 1970s. You ask what the survival rate is [and] they give you a 15 percent chance of living one year after diagnosis. The reason is that lung cancer is a silent killer.
EBS: And they removed one of your lungs?
L.W.: Most people do not know that you have five lung lobes, and a lot of people do not know you have two lungs, each about the size and shape of a football. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic removed all of my upper left lobe and most of my lower left lobe.
EBS: You and your husband Jerry started the Wortman Lung Cancer Foundation two years ago, you’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with Conrad Anker and run a 5K race in every U.S. state. Do you feel like you have something to prove to yourself or to others?
L.W.: Yes, I want to create awareness about lung cancer. If you catch it in time you’re going to have a great quality of life and you can come run with me. And with [our] foundation, when we have our races, the medals say, “Race plus Research equals Results.” And our logo is a right lung and a running shoe. I tell people that the Mayo Clinic took out my left lung and put in a running shoe. And that began my lifelong passion for spreading education and awareness for this disease.
EBS: What has your experience with lung cancer taught you about bravery and resilience in the face of adversity?
L.W.: Lung cancer has become my blessing. At the Mayo Clinic, they gave me an opportunity to accept cancer. How many people or doctors do that and say it’s OK to have cancer? Their research includes every continent in the world, and they have doctors at the Mayo Clinic from all over the world. That creates a mindful atmosphere for doctors and patients.
When I became mindful and was given permission from this medical team to learn how to take time out and to accept cancer, I was able to take time with meditation and visualization of the disease to better fight it. You can do anything, and I wanted to share this with other people. – J.T.O.
Parisa Khosravi reported for CNN from nearly every major world event in the last three decades. She and her family immigrated to the U.S. from Iran in 1979, working her way up from an entry-level position to senior vice president for Ted Turner at the world’s first 24-hour news network. Khosravi, who won numerous distinguished awards for her journalism, now owns a consulting company and speaks to audiences about a variety of topics from Iran and Cuba to women in leadership roles, journalism and team building.
Explore Big Sky: Over your 28-year journalism career, you covered Tiananmen Square, the Rwandan Genocide, both Iraq wars, Hurricane Katrina and the end of apartheid, among many others. What stands out to you when you look back on your years at CNN?
Parisa Khosravi: I feel truly privileged to have been in the front-row seat of so many historical events. It’s really humbling and the responsibility was truly awesome and sobering. I’ve seen the [media] business change so much in the past few decades… The flow of information and the access we have to information is unprecedented. But at the same time, I question whether we’re more informed.
EBS: In what ways during your time at CNN did you come across issues we’re seeing today where people are having trouble discerning between fact and fiction in the news?
P.K.: I think the world of Ted [Turner], and his vision in creating CNN. Part of his motivation was to better inform the world and through information bring about more understanding and compassion for one another. Education is a huge part of it. From young ages we should be teaching critical thinking and questioning, and how to be able to distinguish between credible and invalid news sources.
EBS: You were senior vice president in charge of global relations for CNN Worldwide, and the network’s first ambassador. How did these positions inform your ability to communicate more effectively?
P.K.: All of us are so vulnerable, no matter where we are and who we are. That’s the reality of life and is so important to keep us humble and grounded. Our reporters were reporting across the globe, to the globe. You have to connect on a human level and that is the most effective communication no matter where you are.
My perspective and mindset has certainly evolved throughout the years as an immigrant, as a journalist and as a mother. Each has had its challenges and opportunities. I’ve taken the lessons from all of them and thought of them as gifts.
EBS: Tell me why you feel your voice at TEDxBigSky is an important one.
P.K.: This story I’m going to talk about I’ve never spoken about. It’s very private and personal to me. It’s about my son and his voice. I’m telling his story and he cares so deeply about what he has to say that I feel it’s my duty to become his voice. My whole background … I feel like all of that was to prepare me to be his mom, to be part of telling my son’s story and making sure his message is heard. – J.T.O.
Andrew Crawford’s story sounds like fiction the first time you hear it. The Montana native was a symphony violinist and spent a decade as a professional snowboarder. Crawford then began an academic journey at Flathead Valley Community College, earned a mechanical engineering degree with a minor in aerospace from Montana State University, and interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Crawford then was offered a job at X, Google’s “moonshot factory,” working as a program manager on Google’s self driving cars—that program has now become its own company called Waymo, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet.
Explore Big Sky: I understand you spent time as a symphony violinist. Do you still play?
Andrew Crawford: I was raised on the classical violin and played with orchestras and symphonies all through high school. I played in the Central Oregon Symphony in Bend, Oregon, and now I just play for fun—I love the violin but it was hard to travel with it snowboarding.
EBS: You were also a professional snowboarder, interned with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and are now working on self-driving cars. What has been the most challenging experience of your life?
A.C.: I think school was the most challenging, but was also the most rewarding because it showed me that I was capable of much more than I thought. As you go through a degree like mechanical engineering there are lots of different areas of expertise that you can think about. And for me, I just gravitated toward space.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would intern with NASA—twice with the Jet Propulsion Lab, once at NASA Ames [Research Center]—and meet with astronauts and work on spacecraft. While I was at MSU, I worked at the Space Science and Engineering Laboratory … and helped build and launch MSU’s (and Montana’s) first satellite in space [called] HRBE, and that was a darn good feeling.
E.B.S.: What inspired you to speak at TEDxBigSky?
A.C.: I’m a huge advocate of education. I’m a non-traditional student and went back to school when I was 31—I started at the lowest level algebra class. Over the years I’ve just really grown to appreciate how important education is, and if I can help promote that I feel it’s my civic duty. And because I got my degree from MSU, it’s wonderful [that TEDxBigSky] is in a place near my alma mater.
E.B.S.: What would you tell a young person in Montana who dreams of becoming an engineer?
A.C.: To absolutely go for it. And that they have what it takes. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met are from Montana, including my professors and classmates. If I can go back to school at 31, anyone can do it. I wasn’t a straight-A student. I had to work really hard to get B’s and A’s. Montana provides the environment to really learn, primarily because of the people.
E.B.S.: How long will it be before we start seeing self-driving cars on Montana’s roads?
A.C.: I hope very soon. I would love that and it’s really, really neat to see them on the roads here in California. It would be a dream of mine to see them in Montana someday. – Tyler Allen