5 Lessons in Innovation from TEDxBYU

There’s nothing like a custom event lanyard to make you feel official. Thus, with my official TEDxBYU lanyard, sitting in the Covey Center auditorium for the official TEDxBYU event, I was feeling, well, official.

Until doubts started to creep in.

I want to change the world someday. How? I don’t know yet, exactly. But sitting there surrounded by bright BYU students and reading the accolades of those on the program, I began to feel a bit small in comparison. How can normal people without a fancy title make a difference from where they are? The answers came, unsurprisingly, from the talks themselves in the form of five simple principles.

  1. Begin with compassion. Matt Taylor, who leads strategy and operations at IDEO.org, a nonprofit firm that “focuses on applying human-centered design to poverty-related challenges,” defined compassion as “empathy and the desire and will to do something about it.” Compassion is seeing the people around us, feeling empathy for the problems they face, and wanting to act on those feelings. The first step to changing the world is having the desire to do so.
  2. Break your silence. One of the TED talk videos played at the event was by slam poetry champion and teacher Clint Smith, who said, “Silence is the residue of fear…Who has to have a soapbox when all you’ve ever needed is your voice?” Those who wish to make a difference must break their silence, find their voice, and join the conversation about the problems they want to solve. Talk to one person at a time and get involved in issues you care about.
  3. Implement simple solutions. Nicolas Fusso, a social entrepreneur, stressed the fact that inventions don’t become innovations until they reach the people they are meant to help. Therefore, being an innovator is sometimes as simple as getting a proven solution to the people who need it, like decreasing malaria outbreaks by distributing mosquito nets in hard-to-reach places, for example. The takeaway? Don’t disregard simple solutions, and be tenacious when implementing them.
  4. Figure out who your Maestro is. Percussionist Casey Cangelosi played an inventive cymbal piece incorporating background voices, irregular rhythms, and words on a screen. The situation of the piece was a performer auditioning to play for an exacting maestro, and it became less clear as the piece went on whether the maestro was an actual person or the performer’s own self-critical thoughts. Thus, the maestros to listen to–whether they be other voices or the voices in your head–are the ones who encourage you to reach your goals.
  5. Be persistent. Social entrepreneur Jane Leu remarked that “what masquerades as a good idea is often strong execution and years of persistence.” Got a good idea? Be flexible, but stick with it.

I came out of this event with the realization that the people with titles were just people–but people who cared enough to act. The definition of an innovator is someone who cares enough to act, and those who act make a difference.

Ariel Szuch is an English major (BA ‘15) and editing minor with an appetite for innovation, intelligent conversation, and Cadbury mini eggs. She is the project manager for innovation.byu.edu and assistant web director for Mormon Insights.
Photo courtesy of Lawrence Wang on Flickr under the CC BY-SA 2.0 License.