By TIM MASK
For the MBJ
Any of you who are familiar with much of the work I do or the efforts in which I am involved know that I am a huge advocate of Mississippi. I see our potential and all the innovative aspects of our society and it gets me really excited about the future. I’m the first to say we should stop with the knee-jerk apologies and pointing out the negative. That being said, sometimes you have to call a spade a spade.
Once again, we’re in last place.
TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) and the TEDx conferences (independently organized TED licensed events) are a global phenomenon that have showcased some of the most creative thinkers and innovative ideas of our time. Hundreds of TEDx conferences have been held throughout the United States and thousands worldwide. Every state in the country has hosted at least one TEDx event. Every state, that is, except one. You guessed it.
Yes, Afghanistan has hosted a TEDx conference. But not Mississippi.
That changes as of Nov. 6. A consortium of public and private organizations and companies, as well as dedicated volunteers, have come together to make TEDxJackson a reality. While we may be the last state to host a TEDx event, we’re dedicated to hosting the best.
I didn’t want to write this piece as just a trumpet piece for TEDxJackson. I wanted to focus on the impact of a TEDx conference for our state — the economic, cultural and marketable impact.
(In case you’re wondering, it is against the rules of TED to name a TEDx event after a state. It has to be specific to a city, neighborhood, region, etc.).
First, let’s look at the economic impact. There is a school of thought that says that TEDx conferences have no real economic impact on an area. Beyond a one-day boost of food sales, residual retail sales and potential overnight hotel stays, this is correct on the surface. The real economic impact of TEDx in general, and TEDxJackson in specific, isn’t going to be hospitality tax revenue. Rather, the impact comes in the currency of gray matter. Ideas. Energy. Kinetic ideation. TEDx speakers are curated to ensure that topics are ideas worth spreading. TEDx audiences are curated to ensure that people intrigued by evidence-based solutions and hungry for innovation are brought together for a concentrated experience. The event is meant to inspire and motivate. Inertia for education and entrepreneurism are inevitable products. The theme of TEDxJackson is “Fertile Ground.” This is a reference to all the potential that Mississippi holds and what will germinate from seeds of ideas. Think of TEDxJackson as a fertilizer.
Which leads me to the second point of impact — cultural. I said earlier that I hate the knee-jerk apologies and “aw shucks” mentality that a lot of us have when we’re out in the wider world. We’re a very humble society. We can keep our humility, but it wouldn’t hurt to dilute it with a bit of swagger. Texas was a Southern backwater 100 years ago and Silicon Valley was full of apple trees (not AppleTM trees). You wouldn’t know it to talk to Texans or Siliconians though. We have a lot of great, innovative and world-changing things happening in Mississippi, too. We Mississippians need to know about these things and not be hesitant to evangelize it. Magnolias and catfish are great and certainly a intricate part of our culture, but so are aerospace and polymer science. We should be able to speak flawlessly and passionately about both aspects and the synergy between them that makes us Mississippi. TEDxJackson will give us a wider platform and higher podium to help amplify that message.
Amplification segues into the final point I wanted to make about the impact of TEDxJackson — our marketability. I’m an advertising guy, so I’m especially sensitive to this one. We must be ambassadors of our own innovation, but we must also be able to leverage a message across communications platforms to change what other people think about us. Change starts from within, but isn’t truly realized until it is recognized from the outside. Marketability is what will help Mississippi reverse our brain drain. Marketability is what will bring next-generation companies to our state. Marketability is what will inspire our young people to be great entrepreneurs. There are many, many marketable aspects of Mississippi, and TEDxJackson will be another avenue to showcase these, and one that will have the innovation version of the Good Housekeeping Seal.
The overriding spirit of TED is “ideas worth spreading.” TEDxJackson will plant these seeds in our fertile ground and help grow the Mississippi of tomorrow. Yes, we are the last. But we will be the best.
Tim Mask is a vice president with Maris, West & Baker Advertising and a co-organizer of TEDxJackson. www.mwb.com @timmask