TED Talk on Biomimicry: One of the best TED presentations ever?

One of the things I have noticed while watching the TED Talks is that many of the speakers often get really rushed because they only have 20 minutes to present (and their audience is expecting a lot as well). Most presenters decide to that they will talk really fast (like this talk by Carl Honore, where, ironically the subject is how to slow down) or just jam an outline of a longer talk into the allotted time (like Anthony Robbins does in his talk). It is, of course, very hard to present a powerful talk no matter what the time limit, but the pressure of a “short” timeline can really fluster some. Of course, Martin Luther King proved that one can change the direction of an entire movement in less than 20 minutes. If you watch that video of him delivering the speech at the Lincoln Memorial it is surprising to note that the line “I have a dream…” does not come until the last 5 minutes of the speech.
Some of the TED speakers really rise to this pressure and deliver talks that are well composed and delivered with a calm and focused demeanor. Sir Ken Robinson does so in his talk on creativity driving home his key points with humor and storytelling.
Yesterday I watched Janine Benyus’ talk on biomimicry and while I was struck by the content (more on that in a bit) I was even more impressed with her style of presentation. In the last half of her talk she started to go through some slides that laid out 12 separate points about the power of using nature as a guide for design. Even though her time was limited she did not rush through the slides or the points that she was trying to explain. She took her time with each and in the end she ran out of time after only 9 points. I can say, from many years as a presenter (and audience member) I have rarely seen a speaker do what she did: she was just willing to stop at 9 points and leave it at that. One of the most important guidelines for presentations is that it is better to leave your audience with a few really important points that they will remember rather than rushing through your material and having the audience forget almost everything you have to say. That is the guideline, but the reality is that very few people can accomplish this when the pressure is on.
Now, I could argue that 12 points is too many for people to remember, but really they were more like examples of her key points. So she was willing to stop at just 9 because she knew that she had made her case. But the thing that makes this presentation even more amazing is that the moderator allowed her to continue with the last three points with the instruction, “Just the 10 second version of [slides] 10, 11 and 12”. Although this was certainly generous (given the strict time-keeping at TED) it was a recipe for disaster: would she muddle her message by rushing through the last few minutes? Well, she stood up just fine, ignored the newly set countdown (10 seconds per slide? c’mon) and stuck with her original pace to complete her presentation. She truly does have “nerves of steel”. Or perhaps, given the focus of her talk, “nerves of spider silk”.
In this talk Janine Benyus accomplishes what truly gifted presenters should aim for: having the topic and material become the focus of discussion. If you watch this talk you may end up saying “I didn’t think her style was all that great, but the slides and content was incredible”. That, in my opinion, is true success in public speaking: letting the material take center stage and get all the “credit”. It is something I have really never been able to accomplish consistently because I tend to be such a showman in my presentations. It is an understated style that I doubt I will ever really attain.
So watch her talk. I won’t bother explaining any more about the content here. It’s better to just watch her talk:

PeopleSoft: Letters to my CEO

I worked at PeopleSoft from 2000 to 2005 and I really did enjoy my time there as a Sales Consultant. Over the years I got to be friends with many people at the company and I concentrated on building a large network of people that could support me in the work I did. In 2004 Oracle was attempting a hostile takeover bid of PeopleSoft and the PeopleSoft CEO, Craig Conway, was fired by the board. In his place they brought PeopleSoft founder (and former CEO) Dave Duffield. Dave was extremely popular at PeopleSoft and his return was really welcomed, particularly for those who had chaffed under Conway’s somewhat dictatorial rule.

I would count myself amongst the group that was excited about Dave’s return late in 2004. I was hopeful that things could be turned around at PeopleSoft and that we could fend off Oracle’s advances. Although I had only met Dave once before at a huge company party (I just shook his hand and said "hello") I really wanted him to succeed in his position, and wanted to do whatever I could to help in that effort. So just a few days after he had resumed duties as CEO I wrote him an email offering my assistance. This led to a series of emails (and in-person conversations) with Dave over the next few months. Below is the text of the first email I sent. I clearly remember sending the message and then getting a response from Dave less than 90 minutes later. Although I don’t feel comfortable sharing Dave’s actual email response (since they are his words, not mine) I can say that he encouraged me to continue with my communications, and I obliged.


Welcome back. I am a Technical Solution Consultant in the Western region and I want to offer you my insights into life of an individual contributor at PeopleSoft. In fact, I would like to update you regularly on “Life in the Trenches” – a weekly update on what I am hearing from customers, employees and partners about how our direction at PeopleSoft is being perceived. I realize that one of the toughest parts of being a CEO is getting real information from your people – I don’t want that to happen now that you are in charge.

I will send an installment of this message each week (probably Monday or Tuesday) with a read receipt – tell me if you want me to stop, I am sure your inbox gets full quickly. I will try to keep it brief, but with detail available should you choose to read the entire message. This does not need to be a dialog – a simple “keep ‘em coming” or “cut it out!” will suffice.

Life in the Trenches for Week of October 4th, 2004

General Climate for Employees

Last week’s news of Craig’s removal and your return to CEO was received with varied opinions internally. One of my counterparts whom has been with the company for over ten years described it as “having only an upside, the question is how much of an upside”. For my personal opinion see “My Personal Opinion” below. In general I found that people who actually were around during the last company downturn 5 years ago were more pessimistic – they remembered how the company struggled at the end of your tenure as CEO and are perhaps more likely to believe analysts that say the company is being set up for a sale. Some folks that were not around before Craig (like me) have an excitement about the change. From many I got the sense on Friday and Monday that employees just feel like it is just one more Oracle nail in our coffin. Most hold out some hope that your employee focus will at least mean a good result in case of a takeover.

General Climate for Customers

I spoke to several customers last week as well – I expect to do more of that this week. I was very clear with customers about how I felt about the change, but I the concern I heard from them was consistent. A Program Manager at one of our major customers (I won’t use names to protect the AE) described the chaos going on at his company. They have a ton of PeopleSoft installed – from HR to CRM and there are multiple projects in the works along with active sales cycles. All of this has been thrown into question by the Oracle bid, and the change in leadership only adds more questions. Because the PM is such a coach for PeopleSoft it is clear that he was concerned about his position in the company with such uncertainty surrounding PeopleSoft. He called to get my opinion but I can’t say that my view (See “My Personal Opinion” below), however positive, reassured him. It is going to be a tough road with some customers. I will prod some of my other coaches over the next few weeks to get a better sampling.

General Climate for Partners

I have a special relationship with Microsoft – I have served as the de-facto technical liaison to Microsoft for the past 2 years, and I get to spend a lot of time interacting with their staff – hence most of my partner insights will center on Microsoft. I spent the week prior to the announcement working the Microsoft booth at Connect. Microsoft was, of course, extremely upset at the IBM announcement because they perceived it as a move towards the Java architecture. The removal of Craig was seen as a positive thing – Craig was not liked at Microsoft because of his comments last year about .NET being “like asbestos” – but you and Aneel Bhsuri are an unknown. I think the change has convinced Microsoft to take a little time to consider what comes next – they were seriously considering upping their relationship with SAP and cutting off PeopleSoft altogether after the IBM announcement.

First off, I heard a rumor describing the change over three weeks ago – I dismissed it as wishful thinking from the old guard. I have to say I was ecstatic to find it was actually true. I have high standards for leadership – I am an excellent follower (and have been a leader at times as well) but I have little tolerance for ego and micromanaging. I am excited to have a leader of your caliber and caring in charge of PeopleSoft. It gives me renewed vigor in my job and makes me hopeful for the future. That is the sentiment I consistently project when talking with customers, partners and employees – it is what I truly believe. I am offering my insights because I want to see you, and the company, succeed. I know that to be successful as a leader you have to get honest feedback from your followers – that is what I hope to provide from my little corner of the world.

Keep in mind that my opinion is colored by my position in the company – I am an expensive and valued resource that is difficult to replace. I have been a consistent performer and I am well regarded by my peers and management and I have a large network in the industry. So I believe I can afford to be optimistic – others are not so lucky. I also have confidence in your leadership because of an interaction that we had when I first started with PeopleSoft. I sent you a message regarding how I was inspired by your creation of "Maddie’s Fund". You later had my letter published in the Maddie’s Fund newsletter – it was at that point that I knew you were a leader who actually listened.



VC Gets mushy about environment

The 2007 TED conference talks are being released at TED.com and one of the first talks is from John Doerr, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. If you have never heard of John or his company, then you probably have not be involved in Silicon Valley much. John is arguably the most famous Venture Capitalist of our age: he is quoted and mentioned in multiple books and has helped finance deals with Google, Amazon and Intuit, to name a few.
VC’s are generally not known for being touchy-feely types: although they are often visionary in their approach, they are mostly focused on creating massive wealth for themselves and their organizations. They are not the group you turn to when you are considering how to make the world a better place. I do realize many of them would argue with me about that, but that’s my opinion.
John’s talk is focused on green technology and it is very emotional. There are some (unintentionally) funny moments, like when he talks about his realization about the CO2 crisis and the reaction of him and his partners: they got on planes and flew all over the world (spewing lots of CO2 in their wake). But it is clear that he is honestly concerned about the situation of the planet and he is a powerful voice amongst the sort of folks that attend TED. If he and VC’s like him really put their money into green tech over the upcoming years it will have a huge effect on the industry.
So although it is easy to poke fun at folks like John for “Going Green” (it’s not like he is adopting a life of voluntary simplicity or anything) it does demonstrate the amount of real focus that global warming is getting. And the fact that he showed true emotion at the end of the talk sets an example for leaders in our world that may have lost touch with their feelings along with the needs of humans on this planet.

Big Trimet Improvement on Google Maps

A while back I built a special map in Google Maps to list all the stops around my house with links to the transit tracker. You can see the map I made, although it is not of much use unless you live in Lair Hill (in Portland, OR).

Today I just noticed that the standard Google Maps interface now has little icons around Portland for each bus stop – and if you click on them you get the tracker information for each stop. This is great stuff! You do need to zoom in down quite a bit to see the stops, and it does include the streetcar, Aerial Tram and Max lines. Very cool. All they need to do now is put the Stop ID for each stop as well. I have also noticed that not all stops are shown, but there are plenty enough to get by.

PS. Sometimes this stuff rolls out to just a limited audience, so I am not sure if everyone can see the stops on google maps yet.

The war of Modernists and Traditionalists

I have been watching many of the talks from TED recently. I have enjoyed many of them, but the two below left me cold. One is by Rick Warren, a pastor and author of “Living a Purpose Driven Life”. The other is by the noted philosopher/atheist Dan Dennett who rebuts Rick Warren’s book and talk.

These talks sum up the battle between Modernists (Dennett) and Traditionalists (Warren) as described in Anderson and Ray’s “Cultural Creatives“. As a Cultural Creative, I find these arguments to be entirely missing the point. Science isn’t the knowledge of all things any more than religion. Continuing this battle does not move the human race forward on any scale. If you are wondering what in the world I am talking about, get Anderson and Ray’s book.


(We left NYC on March 28th)
It was great to end our trip in New York amongst family members. Although we had been treated very well by all our hosts around the world, nothing really compares with family. We started the trip out seeing family in California and then in Hawaii (Dave’s second cousins Kathleen and Jean-Paul) and ended it with family in New York (Julianne, Valerie, Bill and Susan). It really made us feel like we were coming home.
So after a 4:00 AM wake-up call we were out in front of Bill and Susan’s place ready for our ride to the airport. Luckily we were still on London time, so it did not feel all that early to us. Bill, of course, saw us off from the front steps.
Caleb managed to find the latest Garth Nix book at the airport, so he had some reading material for the flight home. Also note the little mouse on his lap: it was one of the toys he got at FAO Schwarz.
6 hours later we were back in the Northwest, although it was Seattle, not Portland, where we first landed. The flight was on time and we relaxed most of the way, although everyone was excited about getting home. From Seattle it was only 45 minutes by plane to Portland, but it was on a small commuter plane, which have never been popular with Meta. But her time travelling in much riskier conveyances seems to have given her a different perspective and she did not mind the flight at all.
We were picked up at the airport by Anna’s kindergarten teacher, Sasha Etzel. There was no one else at the airport to meet us; we had been hoping for a crowd. But it was fantastic to be home and the weather was clear and bright. It was wonderful to see Sasha’s smiling face (and big car with seatbelts!) and we talked and laughed all the way home. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon when we pulled up to our house (school was still in session next door at Cedarwood).
As we drove up we could tell something was brewing from the huge signs all over our house.
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Out in front of the house were at least 30 kids and adults from the school that all screamed as if we were the Beatles as we drove up.
We were mobbed once we got out of the car

And the fourth graders picked up Caleb and carried him around like a hero coming home
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After the cheering stopped Ms. Abi-Nader led the class in their goodbye song.
It was a truly wonderful greeting that we will never forget. It was great to be back home!

Start Spreading the News

(We arrived in NYC on March 25th)
For us, London was cold. Cold and hard because that was the kind of cash it demanded. Cold because Spring had not yet sprung and the climate was bitter. Cold because we had no friends or family there to welcome us. We were ready to be home.
Our flight to New York City was on Virgin airlines and it was scheduled to leave at 4 PM. Although the flight was not long (6 hours or so) we would cross 5 time zones and we expected the jet-lag to be difficult. There were huge lines at the airport because it was the start of the English spring break and it took over an hour and a half for us to drop off our bags (we had already checked in online). While standing in line to drop our luggage we were informed that our flight was five (!) hours delayed. It was going to be a long trip home it seemed.
We arrived into JFK at 1 AM, cleared customs and headed outside to catch a taxi. There were tons of touts waiting for us, offering rides into the city in their cars but frankly, compared with the touts of Cairo, their attempts were weak. We grabbed a taxi and directed him to West 22nd in Chelsea.
Before leaving Cairo we had put out a call for help to our family and friends – we didn’t have any contacts in London or New York and needed some help. Dave’s family came through – he has distant relatives in NYC and his mother stays in contact with them. Bill and Susan Shanok are Dave’s second-cousins once-removed (Bill is Dave’s great-grandfather’s brother’s grandchild) and they have owned a place in the city for over 40 years. We had no idea what to expect, but we were happy not to be staying in a tiny hotel again.
The worst thing about the delayed flight was that we arrived on Bill and Susan’s doorstep at 2 AM. Bill did not seem to mind and was up to greet us.
Bill and Susan had four grown kids that are no longer at home. They put us up on the top floor of their three story Brownstone, where we had two separate rooms and two bathrooms; more space than we had seen in quite a long time. The beds were comfortable and we slept soundly all night.
In the morning we woke up and had a breakfast around the kitchen table downstairs and Anna went on a walk with Bill and their beautiful Collie.
Bill and Susan's Collie
We had a lot planned for the day: with only two full days in New York we had a lot to do. We headed off early to see Dave’s step-mother, Julianne. She lives on the Upper West Side, near Central Park. We took the subway to get there and it was a cool, but beautiful day out. Julianne met us on the street and we took a quick tour of her place before setting out for the park.
Anna, of course, had to have a try a carrying Julianne’s cute little dog.
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After the park we headed to the Natural History Museum, which was very close by. It is an amazing museum (and we had seen our share of museums by this point). The kids loved the displays.
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Our tour of relatives was not complete though because earlier in the day Meta had called her first-cousin once-removed (Meta’s Mother’s cousin) and arranged a meeting. They had not seen each other since they were little kids and we were set to meet at a pub near her apartment. Valerie is the same age as Meta and has a son just a few years older than Caleb. She has the same smile as Meta and her mother:
Caleb had fun learning a little about pool
It was a very full day and we slept well again, despite the jet-lag. The amazingly comfortable and welcoming quarters that Bill and Susan probably had something to do with our sound sleep.

Before we had left on our 6 month odyssey we had promised the kids that they at the end of the trip we would visit the most famous toy store in the world, FAO Schwarz in New York City. They mentioned this fact several times during our travels, and today was to be the day. Once a five story toy retailer downtown, they had moved to a smaller shop after declaring bankruptcy a few years back. Although they did not have a Ferris wheel or merry-go-round like in the old store, there was still a guard at the front door.

Inside were huge stuffed animals

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that were outside our budget as well as our luggage weight limits. The kids got a few toys and really enjoyed their time at FAO Schwarz.

Next we went on to the Empire State Building. We ended up not going up to the top (it was quite expensive and none of us were that keen on it anyways) but we did take some shots in the lobby and looking up the tower.

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Then we made a trip to another nearby icon, the Brian Dube store. If you have never heard of Dube, then you probably are not a juggler. It is one of the most famous brands of professional juggling equipment available, and Dave has been using Dube’s equipment for over 20 years. It was the first time he had been to the actual shop, and it was a fun diversion for everyone.

We also took the dog for a walk down to the local dog-run where Anna was in Pooch Heaven
We ended the day back at Bill and Susan’s place and got ready for our trip back to Portland.