What I meant to say was…

What I meant to say was…

First, a huge thanks for Pascale Lehoux and her team for organizing the TEDxMontrealQuartierLatin event. The speakers were wonderful and the entire day was a great place to make connections.

I just watched my talk. In general I think I did a decent job of conveying my message. But there are two things I want to reflect on in this post. If you want to jump ahead and watch the talk feel free. But I encourage you to follow me on my little reflection, watch the video at the suggested time and please send me feedback and comments.

First, just as Rome, a TED talk is not built in a day. Nor is it built by an individual.

A bit of back story. When I found out I was accepted to do the talk I had a few general ideas of the message I wanted to convey but I was at a lost on how to do it. I decided to poll my friends and family to get their cycling stories. I’ve picked out a few quotes from the number of emails and conversations I had with friends and family. These were influential in my thinking and in my presentation.

Learning to ride a bike is on the best examples of the principle – learning by trial and error. This is how children learn, and how adults should learn, but we forget this and the thought of failure is so anxiety provoking that we miss out on many of the best learning experiences.” Rachel Gough

For Christmas 1973, Guy, who had a 10 speed bike then, put the bike beside the Christmas tree with my name on it. I was so thrilled to own my first bike- a men’s again but one that I could straddle and ride with the seat put to the lowest position. And with that bike, I rode every day to my summer job at Elmwood Lodge on Arlington Avenue which was over a 30 minute bike ride but much better and faster than taking the bus.” Anita Fuller

Getting “the hang of” riding a bicycle is one of life’s “ah ha” moments.  Monica’s moment came with the features of a circus performance.  There was spectacle, laughter, and the tingling of fear.  It was a warm summer evening, with a late sunset, and some of the neighbours were sitting on their front steps enjoying the air.   The kids were ready for bed but were spending a few minutes in the front yard before being tucked in.  Monica was dressed in a long cotton nightgown.  She decided that she would take one last crack at the bike.   She rolled the bike out to the middle of the street got on and … went, but not slowly or cautiously, but quickly and with a bit of reckless shimmying back and forth. The speed billowed Monica’s nightgown as she flapped down the street. The neighbours who witnessed this feat were astounded and laughing.  Monica’s parents were also amazed, but were concerned. Did she remember how to brake?  She was okay going in a straight line, but would she fall if she turned at the end of the block?  Would she keep going through the intersection and off into the sunset?  Luckily, she stopped her flight at the end of the block and did a repeat performance. The onlookers’ initial fear melted away, she had “got it”.  Monica was now on two wheels, and experiencing the joy of motion and freedom.” Lee Fuller

Thank you friends and family and I hope I have captured your passion and enthusiasm for story telling in my talk.

I know that TED talks are (in part) suppose to make scientific work accessible but I wanted to acknowledge the researchers who, in some way shape or form, influenced my talk (though this is not meant to be an exhaustive list and the categories are not mutually exclusive). Dear friends and student collegues: Martine Shareck, Stephanie Alexander, Marianne Beaulieu, Marie-Claude Tremblay, Etienne Juneau, Candace Bloomquist, Scott Forbes, Karen Glazebrook. Profs past and present: Nancy Gyurcsik, Kevin Spink, Larry Brawley, Kent Kowalski, John Farthing, Lise Gauvin, Kate Frohlich, Louise Potvin, Yan Kestens. Great thinkers: Albert Bandura, Pierre Bourdieu, Émile Durkheim, Donald Rubin, Donald Campbell, Julian Stanley, Barbara Tabachnik and Linda Fidell.

Second, I said earlier that I think did a decent job of conveying my message. But that is not the point of TED. The point of TED is excellence. In their presenter instructions they say that you should ‘strive to create the best talk you have ever given. Reveal something never seen before. Do something the audience will remember forever. Share an idea that could change the world.’

I could use the excuse that I am not as experienced a presenter as most TEDsters but that would be bunk. What I think about when I watch the video, and judge that it is not as good as it could have been, is the process I went through to write and practice the talk. It took time and multiple versions. It took feedback from trusted friends and fellow presenters. Just as an example of how much the talk evolved, I’ve posted three different written versions of the talk, the original draft (1.1), the halfway draft (2.5) and the final version. It’s remarkable to me how much the talk evolved. Take time to read at least the first draft and final versions and watch the video.

Version 1.1
Version 2.5
Final Version

Now if you read the final written version it is obvious that I didn’t convey the message of my third point very well. It was not excellent. This is unfortunate because the last point is critical to my argument. This happened in part because I freaked out a little when I saw that only had 4 minutes left to speak to my last point and make my conclusion. In part because I did not practice enough and was having so much fun that I allowed myself to get off track, which resulted in me not having enough time. But moving beyond excuses, let me elaborate a little on my last point.

Like many presenters at the talk my first two points spoke to the interaction between design and users. Fine. My last point however, differs from the other presenters. It suggests that when BIXI was launched it not only interacted with users of the program, it also simultaneous interacted with non-users and the city itself. Non-users began to see, hear and even talk about the BIXI program. For more detail see the halfway draft. As well, the city began to see itself as ‘cyclefriendly’. These interactions are important in terms of how the program was adopted and why it was initially successful. They may also give us hints about future success.

I guess my point is that TED talks do not end at TED. The thinking and the exciting things that people are talking about at TED continue well after the conference. My goal with this post is to suggest that continued reflection helps to put a ‘TED talk’ into context. It is not a ‘one off’ but sustained thinking that builds on the work of others. We ‘stand on the shoulders of giants.’

Last I have to poke fun at myself a bit because both TED (#134) and cycling (#61) are listed as ‘stuff white people like.’ Here’s a highlight but I encourage to check out the entire posts.

TED: “So when a white person finds out that you have a PhD and visits and attempts to engage you in a conversation about String Theory, you should know that all of their understanding comes from a twenty-minute talk they listened to while running on a treadmill. You should also be aware that the average white person considers their knowledge on the subject to be on par or superior to yours.

Cycling: “But not all white people love bicycles in the same way, there is much diversity. First up, we have the younger urban white folks who absolutely love their fixed gear bicycles. These are seen all over college towns, Silverlake in LA, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Queen West in Toronto, and Victoria, British Columbia.”

I would add the Plateau in Montreal and mention that I live in that neighbourhood. I’ll let you guess whether or not I ride a fixie.

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