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RapidBlog: How local connections are bringing TED founder Richard Saul Wurman to town

Bill Holsinger-Robinson

TED founder Richard Saul Wurman is kind of a big deal, and the fact that he's speaking at TEDxGrandRapids next Wednesday is pretty big, too. Bill Holsinger-Robinson shares why Wurman is coming, and why it's good for West Michigan in this week's RapidBlog.
Next week Wednesday, May 7th, hundreds of local residents will gather at The Civic Theatre for TEDxGrandRapids. Hundreds more will join us via free livestream events across the city and throughout the state. Now in our fourth year, we will be using our theme, ”What's Connected?”, to explore both the things – trends, policies, historical events – that are connected, as well what genuine connection is, especially in this age of omnipresent technology and fast-paced lifestyles.
Photo by Rob VanderSlootWe'll host a total of 15 speakers on Wednesday, and one of them will be TED conference founder Richard Saul Wurman. In addition to founding the TED Conference in 1984, Wurman also invented the field of information architecture, has published 83 books, founded the WWW Conference, and has spent years thinking and learning about how we create meaning in our physical environment. His work has had deep implications on placemaking, technology design, and the spaces where we spend our time.

TEDxGrandRapids is one of thousands of independently organized TEDx events around the world, so it's no small thing that he's chosen to come speak at ours. And I think the story of how we're able to bring him to our stage really illustrates the kinds of unique connections and collaborations that already exist here in West Michigan.
At an early West Michigan Design Week meeting, the team collected an aspirational list of possible speakers. Wurman’s name was near the top of the list. Because of my work with The Understanding Group, I knew that local information architect Dan Klyn serves as Wurman's biographer and is an avid collector of his work. I also knew that Design Week would coincide with TEDxGrandRapids – as well as (I later found out) with the International Downtown Association (IDA) Midwest Urban District Forum, hosted the same week by Downtown Grand Rapids Inc (DRGI). Because of the generous, productive relationships that exist between leaders at so many local organizations, we were able to start conversations about what it would take for us to cooperate to bring Wurman here.
When we bring in speakers for TEDxGrandRapids, we never want them to be exclusive to our event. Our inclination each year, when drafting a list of speakers to invite, is to ask other local organizations who they'd love to have in Grand Rapids. Because we believe that TEDxGrandRapids is only valuable if it benefits the entire community, we always try to create opportunities for the broader community to benefit from events, access, and exposure while our speakers are in town.
Back to Wurman: Thanks to the collaboration between a number of local organizations and their willingness to organize and pool resources as a collective, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc will hear Wurman give a keynote at their conference on Tuesday, West Michigan Design Week will host him at a public reception on Tuesday evening, and we're able to have him kick off our day on Wednesday morning at TEDxGrandRapids. Without the relationships between several groups in town, including AIGA West Michigan, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc, Kendall College of Art and Design, TEDxGrandRapids, the American Institute of Architects, and the West Michigan Design Week planning committee, this wouldn't have been possible.
I think having Wurman, an internationally recognized figure, come to Grand Rapids shows that we are doing meaningful work. That we have an attractive community of talented people. And that our collective initiative has drawn him to come. He's built his career on upending tradition, challenging assumptions about environment, and asking deeply penetrating questions, so having him here will also stretch our ability to gain insight and perspective about our own community. He'll push us to take a critical look at ourselves and to be open to new ideas; he'll likely push a few buttons and say something with which you wildly disagree.
That's good. I think bringing Richard Saul Wurman here – and the 14 other smart, dynamic speakers – will be good for the whole community. And I hope that as you hear his message, whether at the Civic Theatre, Design Week, the Downtown Grand Rapids Inc event, or via our TEDxGrandRapids Livestream, you'll be reminded that it's local connection and collaboration that make his being here possible.

Over the course of his career, Bill Holsinger-Robinson has been an entrepreneur, consultant, executive, scholar, chef and competitive cyclist. He's a pattern recognizer with a love for new ideas, problem solving and story-telling. Some of his most notable projects include: Co-Founder and Managing Director of HUB Grand Rapids, Lead Organizer of TEDxGrandRapids and the Frederik Meijer Endowed Honors Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation with Grand Valley State University. Bill was also the founding Executive Director of ArtPrize and President of Pomegranate Studios.
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