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Ignite: The talks of TED@WellsFargo

TED curator Cyndi Stivers opens TED@WellsFargo at the Knight Theater on February 5, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

World-changing ideas that unearth solutions and ignite progress can come from anywhere. With that spirit in mind at TED@WellsFargo, thirteen speakers showcased how human empathy and problem-solving can combine with technology to transform lives (and banking) for the better.

The event: TED@WellsFargo, a day of thought-provoking talks on topics including how to handle challenging situations at work, the value of giving back and why differences can be strengths. It’s the first time TED and Wells Fargo have partnered to create inspiring talks from Wells Fargo Team Members.

When and where: Wednesday, February 5, 2020, at the Knight Theater in Charlotte, North Carolina

Opening and closing remarks: David Galloreese, Wells Fargo Head of Human Resources, and Jamie Moldafsky, Wells Fargo Chief Marketing Officer

Performances by: Dancer Simone Cooper and singer/songwriter Jason Jet and his band

The talks in brief:

“What airlines don’t tell you is that putting your oxygen mask on first, while seeing those around you struggle, it takes a lot of courage. But being able to have that self-control is sometimes the only way that we are able to help those around us,” says sales and trading analyst Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez. She speaks at TED@WellsFargo at the Knight Theater on February 5, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez, sales and trading analyst

Big idea: As an immigrant, learning to thrive in America while watching other immigrants struggle oddly echoes what flight attendants instruct us to do when the oxygen masks drop in an emergency landing: if you want to help others put on their masks, you must put on your own mask first.

How? At age 15, Elizabeth Camarillo Gutierrez found herself alone in the US when her parents were forced to return to Mexico, taking her eight-year-old brother with them. For eight years, she diligently completed her education — and grappled with guilt, believing she wasn’t doing enough to aid fellow immigrants. Now a rookie trader guiding her brother through school in New York, she’s learned a valuable truth: in an emergency, you can’t save others until you save yourself.

Quote of the talk: “Immigrants [can’t] and will never be able to fit into any one narrative, because most of us are actually just traveling along a spectrum, trying to survive.”


Matt Trombley, customer remediation supervisor

Big idea: Agonism — “taking a warlike stance in contexts that are not literally war” — plagues many aspects of modern-day life, from the way we look at our neighbors to the way we talk about politics. Can we work our way out of this divisive mindset?

How: Often we think that those we disagree with are our enemies, or that we must approve of everything our loved ones say or believe. Not surprisingly, this is disastrous for relationships. Matt Trombley shows us how to fight agonism by cultivating common ground (working to find just a single shared thread with someone) and by forgiving others for the slights that we believe their values cause us. If we do this, our relationships will truly come to life.

Quote of the talk: “When you can find even the smallest bit of common ground with somebody, it allows you to understand just the beautiful wonder and complexity and majesty of the other person.”


Dorothy Walker, project manager

Big idea: Anybody can help resolve a conflict — between friends, coworkers, strangers, your children — with three simple steps.

How? Step one: prepare. Whenever possible, set a future date and time to work through a conflict, when emotions aren’t running as high. Step two: defuse and move forward. When you do begin mediating the conflict, start off by observing, listening and asking neutral questions; this will cause both parties to stop and think, and give you a chance to shift positive energy into the conversation. Finally, step three: make an agreement. Once the energy of the conflict has settled, it’s time to get an agreement (either written or verbal) so everybody can walk away with a peaceful resolution.

Quote of the talk: “There is a resolution to all conflicts. It just takes your willingness to try.”


Charles Smith, branch manager

Big idea: The high rate of veteran suicide is intolerable — and potentially avoidable. By prioritizing the mental health of military service members both during and after active duty, we can save lives.

How? There are actionable solutions to end the devastating epidemic of military suicide, says Charles Smith. First, by implementing a standard mental health evaluation to military applicants, we can better gauge the preliminary markers of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Data is a vital part of the solution: if we keep better track of mental health data on service members, we can also predict where support is most needed and create those structures proactively. By identifying those with a higher risk early on in their military careers, we can ensure they have appropriate care during their service and connect them to the resources they need once they are discharged, enabling veterans to securely and safely rejoin civilian life.

Quote of the talk: “If we put our minds and resources together, and we openly talk and try to find solutions for this epidemic, hopefully, we can save a life.”

“We all know retirement is all about saving more now, for later. What if we treated our mental health and overall well-being in the same capacity? Develop and save more of you now, for later in life,” says premier banker Rob Cooke. He speaks at TED@WellsFargo at the Knight Theater on February 5, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Rob Cooke, premier banker

Big idea: Work-related stress costs us a lot, in our lives and the economy. We need to reframe the way we manage stress — both in our workplaces and in our minds.

How? “We tend to think of [stress] as a consequence, but I see it as a culture,” says Rob Cooke. Despite massive global investments in the wellness industry, we are still losing trillions of dollars due to a stress-related decrease in employee productivity and illness. Cooke shares a multifaceted approach to shifting the way stress is managed, internally and culturally. It starts with corporations prioritizing the well-being of employees, governments incentivizing high standards for workplace wellness and individually nurturing our relationship with our own mental health.

Quote of the talk: “We all know retirement is all about saving more now, for later. What if we treated our mental health and overall well-being in the same capacity? Develop and save more of you now, for later in life.”


Aeris Nguyen, learning and development facilitator

Big idea: What would our world be like if we could use DNA to verify our identity?

Why? Every year, millions of people have their identities stolen or misused. This fact got Aeris Nguyen thinking about how to safeguard our information for good. She shares an ambitious thought experiment, asking: Can we use our own bodies to verify our selves? While biometric data such as facial or palm print recognition have their own pitfalls (they can be easily fooled by, say, wearing a specially lighted hat or using a wax hand), what if we could use our DNA — our blood, hair or earwax? Nguyen acknowledges the ethical dilemmas and logistical nightmares that would come with collecting and storing more than seven billion files of DNA, but she can’t help but wonder if someday, in the far future, this will become the norm.

Quote of the talk: “Don’t you find it strange that we carry around these arbitrary, government assigned numbers or pieces of paper with our picture on it and some made-up passwords to prove we are who we say we are?  When, in fact, the most rock-solid proof of our identity is something we carry around in our cells — our DNA.”

“To anyone reeling from forces trying to knock you down and cram you into these neat little boxes people have decided for you — don’t break. I see you. My ancestors see you. Their blood runs through me as they run through so many of us. You are valid. And you deserve rights and recognition. Just like everyone else,” says France Villarta. He speaks at TED@WellsFargo at the Knight Theater on February 5, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

France Villarta, communications consultant

Big idea: Modern ideas of gender are much older than we may think.

How? In many cultures around the world, the social construct of gender is binary — man or woman, assigned certain characteristics and traits, all designated by biological sex. But that’s not the case for every culture. France Villarta details the gender-fluid history of his native Philippines and how the influence of colonial rule forced narrow-minded beliefs onto its people. In a talk that’s part cultural love letter, part history lesson, Villarta emphasizes the beauty and need in reclaiming gender identities. “Oftentimes, we think of something as strange only because we’re not familiar with it or haven’t taken enough time to try and understand,” he says. “The good thing about social constructs is that they can be reconstructed — to fit a time and age.”

Quote of the talk: “To anyone reeling from forces trying to knock you down and cram you into these neat little boxes people have decided for you — don’t break. I see you. My ancestors see you. Their blood runs through me as they run through so many of us. You are valid. And you deserve rights and recognition. Just like everyone else.”

Dancer Simone Cooper performs a self-choreographed dance onstage at TED@WellsFargo at the Knight Theater on February 5, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Dean Furness, analytic consultant

Big idea: You can overcome personal challenges by focusing on yourself, instead of making comparisons to others.

How? After a farming accident paralyzed Dean Furness below the waist, he began the process of adjusting to life in a wheelchair. He realized he’d have to nurture and focus on this new version of himself, rather than fixate on his former height, strength and mobility. With several years of rehabilitation and encouragement from his physical therapist, Furness began competing in the Chicago and Boston marathons as a wheelchair athlete. By learning how to own each day, he says, we can all work to get better, little by little.

Quote of the talk: “Take some time and focus on you, instead of others. I bet you can win those challenges and really start accomplishing great things.”


John Puthenveetil, financial advisor

Big idea: Because of the uncertain world we live in, many seek solace from “certainty merchants” — like physicians, priests and financial advisors. Given the complex, chaotic mechanisms of our economy, we’re better off discarding “certainty” for better planning.

How? We must embrace adaptable plans that address all probable contingencies, not just the most obvious ones. This is a crucial component of “scenario-based planning,” says John Puthenveetil. We should always aim for being approximately right rather than precisely wrong. But this only works if we pay attention, heed portents of possible change and act decisively — even when that’s uncomfortable.

Quote of the talk: “It is up to us to use [scenario-based planning] wisely: Not out of a sense of weakness or fear, but out of the strength and conviction that comes from knowing that we are prepared to play the hand that is dealt.”


Johanna Figueira, digital marketing consultant

Big idea: The world is more connected than ever, but some communities are still being cut off from vital resources. The solution? Digitally matching professional expertise with locals who know what their communities really need.

How? Johanna Figueira is one of millions who has left Venezuela due to economic crisis, crumbling infrastructure and decline in health care — but she hasn’t left these issues behind. With the help of those still living in the country, Figueira helped organize Code for Venezuela — a platform that matches experts with communities in need to create simple, effective tools to improve quality of life. She shares two of their most successful projects: Meditweet, an intelligent Twitter bot that helps Venezuelans find medicinal supplies, and Blackout tracker, a tool that helps pinpoint power cuts in Venezuela that the government won’t report. Her organization shows the massive difference made when locals participate in their own solutions.

Quote of the talk: “Some people in Silicon Valley may look at these projects and say that they’re not major technological innovations. But that’s the point. These projects are not insanely advanced — but it’s what the people of Venezuela need, and they can have a tremendous impact.”


Jeanne Goldie, branch sales manager

Big idea: We’re looking for dynamic hotbeds of innovation in all the wrong places.

How? Often, society looks to the young for the next big thing, leaving older generations to languish in their shadow until being shuffled out altogether, taking their brain power and productivity with them. Instead of discarding today’s senior workforce, Jeanne Goldie suggests we tap into their years of experience and retrain them, just as space flight has moved from the disposable rockets of NASA’s moon launches to today’s reusable Space X models.

Quote of the talk: “If we look at data and technology as the tools they are … but not as the answer, we can come up with better solutions to our most challenging problems.”


Rebecca Knill, business systems consultant

Big idea: By shifting our cultural understanding of ability and using technology to connect, we can build a more inclusive and human world.

How? The medical advances of modern technology have improved accessibility for disabled communities. Rebecca Knill, a self-described cyborg who has a cochlear implant, believes the next step to a more connected world is changing our perspectives. For example, being deaf isn’t shameful or pitiful, says Knill — it’s just a different way of navigating the world. To take full advantage of the fantastic opportunities new technology offers us, we must drop our assumptions and meet differences with empathy.

Quote of the talk: “Technology has come so far. Our mindset just needs to catch up.”

“We have to learn to accept where people are and adjust ourselves to handle those situations … to recognize when it is time to professionally walk away from someone,” says business consultant Anastasia Penright. She speaks at TED@WellsFargo at the Knight Theater on February 5, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Anastasia Penright, business consultant

Big idea: No workplace is immune to drama, but there are steps we can follow to remove ourselves from the chatter and focus on what’s really important.

How? No matter your industry, chances are you’ve experienced workplace drama. In a funny and relatable talk, Anastasia Penright shares a better way to coexist with our coworkers using five simple steps she’s taken to leave drama behind and excel in her career. First, we must honestly evaluate our own role in creating and perpetuating conflicts; then evaluate our thoughts and stop thinking about every possible scenario. Next, it’s important to release our negative energy to a trusted confidant while trying to understand and accept the unique communication styles and work languages of our colleagues. Finally, she says, we need to recognize when we’re about to step into drama and protect our energy by simply walking away.

Quote of the talk: “We have to learn to accept where people are and adjust ourselves to handle those situations … to recognize when it is time to professionally walk away from someone.”

Jason Jet performs the toe-tapping, electro-soul song “Time Machine” at TED@WellsFargo at the Knight Theater on February 5, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

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