When we arrived in Cochin it was pouring rain, sheets falling heavily from the sky onto the lush coconut trees. Within the time it took to move into our hotel rooms the rain evaporated in steam, rising hot waves of humidity. ‘Welcome to Kerala,’ I thought.
I, along with most of the Jaaga crew and the other IDEX fellows, were attending the INKlive conference. The actual INK talks were being held a few kilometers away. Our tickets entitled us to watch the talks in an overly air conditioned auditorium as well as participate in various activities and workshops. As a result of this, and as a function of the cheaper ticket price, the demographic of the conference was much younger.
Nonetheless the conference provided some great workshops and access to a few really excellent talks.
I’ve pulled out highlights from a few of my favorite talks:
To kick off in style, David Gallo discussed the depths of the ocean. Our planet is an “ocean” planet with over 70% of the surface covered in water. But we’ve only explored about 5% of that. If the world were a football, however, the world’s water supply would fit into a ping-pong ball. The amount of drinkable water is therefore in very short supply. Places like India especially are dependent on the rain coming at exactly the right time in the right place for survival. As the global climate shifts, these rains are becoming less and less regular, less dependable. As we look to the future the unexplored depths of the ocean posses enormous potential for possible solutions. Gallo displayed videos of the amazing discoveries that his team and other oceanographers have already found in the vast unexplored areas under the sea. Again and again, he said, scientists would look at an environment and say “no life could live there, it’s too toxic, deep, barren, etc.” But again and again thriving ecosystems teaming with more life than the lushest rainforests on Earth have been unearthed, or perhaps more accurately un-oceaned. It is clear that we still have so much to learn from our own waters. It is in our interest to explore the ocean in order to better understand our planet and potentially find solutions to better prepare for the future.
Another highlight for me was Usha Uthup.** **
Usha’s energy was tenable, she exuded love for the audience, love for the spotlight. She cooed into the microphone in several languages her greeting before launching into her story of making it as the first real female rock star in India. As a young woman she broke the mold of the traditional Indian female vocalist by singing male songs and was often compared to the likes of Sinatra and the Stones. “A song is a song is a song,” she crowed, “it just brings people together.” After singing her first song of the night solo, she invited her daughter and granddaughter on stage to sing for the first time as a tri-generational trio.
The founder and CEO of Intuit, Scott Cook, came all the way from the Silicon Valley last weekend to share his insights into running a successful business that allows for fresh innovative ideas to blossom, no matter where in the hierarchy their originate from. Cook said that often the best ideas come from young employees who have a radical new take on how things could be run. However, due to hierarchy structures, these ideas never get the change to flourish. Cook created a system in which any idea can be experimented with real customers.
He went on to elaborate with the example of a current social entrepreneurial side project, which helps rural farmers in India find the best place to sell their products in the market using a SMS system. They text farmers the best money agents. Originally run as a pilot, Cook himself did not think it would work. But not only were farmers interested, different types of farmers than those initially targeted also participated.
In his personal life, with his family’s foundation, Cook is seeking out world transforming ideas like this one to make lasting impact. There are innovative ideas out there; they just need to the proper support to get off the ground. He’s helping put the money behind these ideas to help catalyze change.
The interview was lovely, showing how a large company can, not only transform its internal structure to encourage positive change, but also enable it for the wider global community.
As a political junky I was excited for Roger Fisk. He spoke about the power of networks and how he effectively harnessed that power in new and innovative ways for both of Obama’s presidential campaigns. Interesting talk, probably more so for the Americans among us.
Creative Writing: Write what excites you, protect your sacred creative space
I attended the Creative writing workshop. With a professional interest in writing and communications, I thought it would be interesting to revisit writing fiction. I’ve not written a word of pure fiction since I was in 8th grade. But I was excited to see what we would learn and try my pen at it again. Lavanya Sankaran, a celebrated Bangalore based novelist, led the workshop with a few simple rules, and a few exercises in writing.
Rule number one? Always know what excites you and write what excites you. If you are bored by what you are writing, how do you expect your audience to stay engaged?
Rule number two: never let your sense of self as a writer be tainted by other’s opinions. Don’t be in a hurry to show off your work, you’ll know when it’s ready to show the world.
She left us with a great quote about the craft of writing as well: “the best non-fiction reads like a story and the best fiction reads like the truth.” It was an excellent workshop.
All in all the weekend was interesting. But next time I’d like to attend the real conference and get to actually meet these amazing people!