Innovators turn 'disruption' into positive change
February 14th, 2012
01:26 PM ET

Innovators turn 'disruption' into positive change

By Heather M. Higgins, CNN

(CNN) - Disruption is often associated with negativity – it implies trouble and confusion.

But, once in a while, a good shake-up may be just what the world needs. Nearly 400 creative thinkers gathered in Lower Manhattan on a recent Saturday to fuel a dialogue that aims not only to spark innovation but to propel change in the next three to five years.

The early February event was billed as “TEDxBigApple Disruptive Ideas,” and it provided a platform for an impressive roster of 15 change agents. Speakers ranged from physicians to fashionistas, green-tech innovators and urban planners. The group is purely volunteer-driven. It's independently organized but is designed to mimic a TED-like experience. TED is a group dedicated to "ideas worth spreading."

“Our speakers addressed the difference between innovation and invention, and challenged the audience to design a better ride, instead of just a better horse,” said Parneet Gosal, an event organizer and founder of the digital strategy consulting practice Seedwalker.

Here's a look at a few of the recent TEDx speakers, and their ideas on disruption:

Tom Igoe, professor

One of the presenters, Tom Igoe, a New York-based artist and associate professor at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program, explores ways to allow digital technologies to sense and respond to a wider range of human physical expressions. Igoe co-founded a revolutionary programming tool to simplify the use of microprocessors like Arduino. It is intended for artists, designers, and hobbyists interested in creating interactive objects.

With the cherry-red TEDx letters illuminated on the stage behind him, Igoe stressed the importance of making objects, but more importantly, how we use them and interact once they are created.

“What our devices do is less important than how they change our relationships to each other,” Igoe told the audience.

Chris Downey, architect

“Sometimes you find disruption, and sometimes it finds you,” said Chris Downey, another speaker and San Francisco based architect who lost his sight four years ago. “There is a disruptive idea for you.”

How does one work in a visual field when they are unable to see?

In January 2009, 10 months after going blind, Downey had the opportunity to join the team building the Polytrauma-Blind Rehabilitation Center, an addition to the VA Medical Center in Palo Atlo, Calif.

“For the first time, I saw how blindness brought value to the team, project, and client,” Downey said, “It went from being a disability to a real strength.”

Delight is often defined in visual terms, but Downey is focusing on the non-visual aspects of architecture, like acoustics, touch, and smell, that can be just as pleasurable. Next on the horizon? Reinvent the art museum by creating a multisensory experience.

“The blind are excluded either overtly or passively from art museums,” he said, “How much richer would it be to have that connection?”

Vijay Govindarajan, strategy and innovation expert

Another distinguished speaker included Vijay Govindarajan, known for espousing reverse innovation.

“It is not optional, it is oxygen,” he said while explaining how this is a significant growth opportunity for American corporations going forward.

It is logical to see why a poor man would want a rich man's product, but what about the other way around?  Govindarajan says we must create goods like $2,000 cars so the 4 billion people who are considered poor, are brought into the consuming business and not priced out of the market.

"The innovations for the poor will come to transform the lives of the people in the rich countries," he explained.

Govindarajan, the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, believes housing is a human right and he is developing the world’s first $300 houses for developing nations.

Nils Gums, music manager

Nils Gums is co-founder of The Complex Group, an artist management company that engineers viral videos for musicians like Karmin. Using an outside the box approach, Gums successfully took Karmin, a Boston-based pop duo, from YouTube to Madison Square Garden and Saturday Night Live in about six months.

"A purple cow is you finding something unique in yourself, in your artist, or in your brand or company and being able to visually showcase that," said Gums as he spoke about his model for viral success.

Karmin takes chart-topping songs and gives them an entertaining twist.  Amy Heidemann, the speed-rapping Katy Perry look-alike's rendition of Chris Brown's, "Look at Me Now," has logged more than 57 million views. Gums combined the video with an accompanying audio asset and merchandise for an instant point of sale.  The Berklee College of Music graduate is monetizing talent by redefining artist development in the new media landscape.

Joining Gums was Kavita Parmar, a maverick fashion designer who is shaking up the supply-side prosperity chain. Parmar founded the IOU project to give a face and name to the artisans who weave the fabric of our clothes. In addition to the live speakers, TEDxBigApple ran three TEDTalks videos including John Hunter, Tony Porter, and Clay Shirky.

Each speaker has their own ideas about innovation. For now, revel in the disruption.

“We want you to be participants, not just passive listeners,” said event organizer and acoustic consultant at Arup, Dave Rife.

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. In home personal training

    When 400 creative thinkers gather in Lower Manhattan that's called a great idea.How does one get tickets for something like this?

    April 22, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Reply
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    August 1, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  3. Lee Hawkins

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    May 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  4. ">


    February 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  5. yet more ideas that sound nice but are totally unrealistic

    $300 houses sound like a wonderful idea, but please don't delude yourself into thinking that the rich will ever seek to emulate the poor by buying the same cars and homes. that's why they want to be rich in the first place.

    February 16, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  6. Jameson

    What has long been suspected is now confirmed – Ted has jumped the shark.

    February 16, 2012 at 2:34 am | Reply
  7. us1776

    They just want to rain on somebody else's parade.

    These "innovations" are nothing more than copies of existing technologies.

    Hardly makes for innovation.


    February 15, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  8. Iben il Latleee

    The thing about innovation is that you can't choose who will make the innovation until it has already occurred. The best innovators watch their fellow humans, and ask, "Why is it done that way?" "Why do people sit at their desks chained to a box?" "Why are paper maps the only way to find your way around town?" A reverse is negative innovation. For example, Architects killed off the cities in the 30s with the sterilization of the city, eliminating stores and bars at the base of skyscrapers, replacing them with stone and glass entryways. This led to suburbia, and it's effects...

    February 15, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply
    • sporkbelly

      IBM was an innovator during the holocaust. so I guess your right. They still trying to innovate under the guise of a smart planet. More like smart surveillance

      February 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Reply
    • Bill Palmer

      Your observation about the sterilization of the cities due to the elimination of "user friendly" stores, restaurants, clubs, etc at street level is so true. Some communities have managed to reverse or resist this, Pasadena, California being an example. As a result downtown Pasadena has become a desirable place to live, shop, walk about, be entertained, etc. We need more urban cores like this.

      February 17, 2012 at 6:21 am | Reply
  9. 60minuteman

    Would one of you innovators PLEASE come up with a way to disrupt everybody's need to burn gasoline!

    February 15, 2012 at 11:09 am | Reply
    • Iben il Latleee

      Physics is a harsh taskmaster, and cares not a bit about our wishes or desires. There is no alternative fuel, no alternative miracle that replaces oil. Enjoy our modern world while you can, for when it's over it's back to subsistence farming with stones tied to wooden sticks (think Russia circa 1910).

      February 15, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
      • 60minuteman

        Well that's certainly a gloomy view of innovation. You should return to your cave now.

        February 15, 2012 at 11:30 am |
      • Easy E

        We don't need to give up gasoline, just our source of the base stock. Instead of drilling for petroleum, we should grow biomass and convert it (gasification followed by gas to liquids) to transpo fuels. We actually already have the technology, it's just a matter of time to wait for oil to become expensive enough for it to be economical.

        February 15, 2012 at 5:39 pm |
    • sporkbelly

      Look up steve myers. he made a car run on water. He was killed for being to innovative in disrupting oil companies profits and power.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  10. Roger

    Three Stages of Reaction to Revolutionary Ideas

    1- It's completely impossible

    2- It's possible, but it's not worth doing

    3- Like I said, I knew it was a good idea all along

    -Arthur C. Clarke

    February 14, 2012 at 11:04 pm | Reply
    • Cihan

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      March 19, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
  11. Shahabz

    Without commenting on this article itself, I thought the following article would have a far greater impact on humanity and science. I could not pass the opportunity to share this with whomever is interested. May be CNN should think about writing a detail article on this one.

    February 14, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
    • Dave Bradshaw

      The authors need to publish their findings in an internationally recognized peer-reviewed journal. . If their theories are original and have any validity, I am sure journals will be delighted to publish.

      February 16, 2012 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  12. PJ

    "Victim of Delusional Thinking"- Personal responsibility- Like Goldman Sachs, AIG, Bear Sterns, and BOA who destroyed $11TRILLION in American Wealth with the Derivatives based Economic meltdown and have yet to restore ONE PENNY of this destroyed value? NOPE! NOT A CONSERVATIVE! Punish Criminals? Bush, Cheney, Boehner, McConnell- All in Office before Obama and did NOTHING to find and punish those responsible for said meltdown. Fewer Handouts- TARP, a BUSH creation- HANDOUTS FOR THOSE SAME CRIMINALS! Lower taxes? Unless they apply to the Middle Class with a Payroll Tax cut and then we have to "pay for it" first. Strong Defense? The DOD has lost every single War it has started in the past half century- Vietnam; Iraq; Afghanistan- Are you kidding? $700 BN/Yr. and you still screw up. The CONSERVATIVE Way isn't just the Right to Fail- it's the Guarantee to Fail. Losers. Innovation? How about "Burn the One Percent Alive"- That's Change!!!!

    February 14, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  13. REally !

    Mr Victim,
    The list that you have here has been torn apart by your favorite cowboy !
    Can't afford most of it now ! Personal responsibility is a good one and that should include GOP politicians too !!

    Haha !! Wake up it is 2011, your father is in Washington if you want to ask for handout !

    Ignore the poor and soon you will have ton of them, handouts are bad but if you do not take care in the toughest times than you would not have (actually we don't) enough money to punish them.
    That is called riots, we are not too far from that and then see the how our country looks like !

    By moron !


    February 14, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  14. How Dare He

    Extra points if you can somehow blame Obama...

    February 14, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
    • sporkbelly

      I blame your ignorance.

      February 15, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Reply
  15. How Dare He

    Lets see how many conservatives can bad mouth the concept of creative thinking....

    February 14, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
    • Matt

      Yea.. Your an idiot..

      February 14, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
      • How Dare He

        Its all in jest, believe it or not I have seen good ideas come from conservatives before. Non are coming to mind right now, but you get the point.

        February 14, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
      • victim of democrat hypocrisy

        Here are a few:
        Personal responsibility.
        Fewer handouts.
        Punish criminals.
        Strong defense.
        Lower taxes.

        February 14, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
      • AmesIA

        Conservatives started the creation of our National Parks, conservatives of today would sell them off for exploitation. Conservatives created the clean air and clean water acts, conservatives today defund enforcement and would eliminate the regulations. Conservatives emancipated slaves, conservatives today would be happy to help for-private prisons put poor and petty offenders to hard labor as was done for 80 years after the 14th amendment.

        February 14, 2012 at 5:16 pm |

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