Stanford's successful STAN serves as prototype for future events
STAN – Society, Technology, Art and Nature – featured inspiring Stanford speakers and performers in an intimate setting. It may serve as a model for a TEDx Event being considered for campus next spring.
If there was ever any doubt that Stanford attracts, employs and educates some truly inspirational and riveting storytellers, it was dispelled Saturday morning at the university's first STAN event.
Take, for instance, alumnus Chip Conley, who started Joie de Vivre, a chain of boutique hotels that he hoped would be a calling for himself and a joy for others. It was, until abruptly it wasn't.
In the midst of economic downturns, Conley found himself facing bankruptcy, ill and depressed. The downturns threatened his business and led to the demise of close friends. Conley himself nearly died. If anything could go wrong, it did.
That's when he found himself in the self-help section of a bookstore, seeking to save his company. There, he rediscovered philosophy and found a way to create a self-actualized company and a renewed love of life based on a better understanding of the power of emotions.
"As we mature as a capitalist society," he said, "one of the most important things we can do to remedy bad decision making is to better understand our emotions. That's my story, and I'm going to stick to it."
This is 'hash tag: #STAN11'
Conley was among the speakers and performers at STAN, which stands for Society, Technology, Art and Nature. About 200 faculty, staff, students and alumni were invited to attend the jam-packed, quick-paced event, which was modeled after the famous TED Conferences.
Chip Conley speaks in front of a slide of Abraham Maslow, an American professor of psychology who founded humanistic psychology.
"This is STAN, or what I like to call 'hash tag: #STAN11.' In this day and age, if an event isn't tweeted, it didn't happen, " said alumnus, entrepreneur and emcee David Hornik, as he kicked off the four-hour event. Indeed, the event was designed to satiate the short attention spans and need for immediate informational relevancy that characterizes the electronic age.
Hornik was given the unenviable challenge of weaving together a lineup that ranged from inspirational personal stories to film clips to blue-grass performances – intertwined with lessons from topics ranging from entrepreneurship to artificial intelligence to human trafficking. And, all the subjects were summarized in just 18-minute segments.
STAN's amazing stories
The Arrillaga Alumni Center's ballroom was transformed, featuring a stage fronted by a scattering of comfy, red beanbags. A giant jib with a camera swiveled back and forth, recording the event for airing on iTunes U and the Stanford channel on YouTube.
The participants, Hornik noted, had widely varying stories to tell, but the one thing they shared, he said, was passion. The group, he said, was "eclectic and brilliant, but what distinguishes them is that they love what they do."
For instance, basketball coach Tara VanDerveer talked about her most memorable "wow" moments over a career characterized by NCAA championships and an Olympic Gold Medal. But it isn't the wins she remembers most; it's the players, including alumnae Jennifer Azzi, an Olympian who went on to star in the WNBA.
"We were visiting the Ukraine," VanDerveer remembered. "It was 4:30 in the morning. It was freezing. When we went out, there was a huddle of old women begging by the bus. Most of us, including me, just passed them by. Out came Jennifer Azzi. She gave them all a little money and a hug. And then everyone got off the bus and did the same, including me."
PhD candidate Cecilia Mo recounted her research in human trafficking and the inspiration she gains from victims of slavery to pursue "actionable compassion."
Chevron petroleum engineer and alumna Aysegul Dastan shared her journey of growing up in a small town in Turkey where girls could aspire only to elementary school. With the support of her brothers, she was able to pursue her education and earn a PhD from Stanford.
Jennifer Aaker, the General Atlantic Professor of Marketing in the Graduate School of Business, joined Nathan Waterhouse, who leads Open IDEO, to describe the power of social media to encourage social activism and – in their case – to prompt people to volunteer as bone-marrow donors.
STAN as prototype
STAN may prove to be a model for similar future events. The university has secured a license for a TEDx Event in spring 2012. TEDx Events are community-based, independently organized, live events that, like STAN, are designed to inspire and provoke.
"STAN is a prototype to test the concept and format of TEDx before we move forward," said Melinda Sacks, director of media initiatives in the Office of Public Affairs, who produced Saturday's event. "We are exploring which type of event might best meet our needs and most effectively tell Stanford's unique stories, in addition to engaging the global community."
Over the next several months, Sacks said, the Office of Public Affairs will review all aspects of STAN – from the logistics to the blogging that occurred to the video production to the audience reaction –before deciding what type of follow-up event will best fit the Stanford community in 2012.
STAN speakers and performers, she said, were chosen from Stanford alumni, faculty, staff and students based on the diversity of topics they could address and their ability to inspire through words, music, film and dance.
The speakers also included Andrew Ng, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, and alumnus Damon Horowitz, philosophy professor, co-founder of Aardvark and Google's official house philosopher/director of engineering.
Among the performers were Nimbleweed, which started as a Stanford dorm jam band; alumnus filmmaker Paul Meyers; senior Becca Richardson; and dance division faculty member Aleta Hayes, choreographer for the Chocolate Heads movement band, which also performed.
"We chose people who are doing timely, relevant work that would be of interest to a wide, general audience and would be translatable in a short-talk format," Sacks said. "We were also looking for speakers who would inspire and engage the audience. Obviously this handful of speakers is a tiny representation of all the great potential speakers at Stanford."
Although the success of the program will be studied by the Office of Public Affairs, the minds of audience members are already made up.
"The speakers were awesome," said alumnae Anne Gomez, who has organized TEDx Events in San Francisco.
"Tara was the most inspiring," said JJ Harris, whose husband graduated from Stanford. "She made me remember what is important in life."
You don't feel like you are at a conference," added Leticia Britas Cavagnaro, a Stanford alumnae who teaches creativity at the d.school. "You feel at home, with a much more personal connection with the speakers."
"I liked the wide variety of disciplines represented," said sophomore Steven Greitzer. "Everyone is having a very important impact on the world."
Melinda Sacks, email@example.com, (650) 521-1908