Lifelong learning, keynote speakers and the art of connecting the dots

One of the traits of outstanding educators is a willingness to ask questions. And they don’t stop at the “what” or “how.” They also want to know “why.”

Ashley Judd, ISTE 2014 Keynote SpeakerThat was the case recently when a handful of folks on social media wondered why ISTE selected Ashley Judd as its opening keynote speaker for ISTE 2014. She’s an actor, after all, they said. What could we possibly learn from her? I was puzzled by the comments because, even though it was only four or five voices, it represented thinking I didn’t recognize.

As educators and part of the ISTE community, we identify ourselves as lifelong learners on a journey together in a humanitarian endeavor: education. We talk about learning from one another. About working for the greater good. About living professional and personal lives of purpose and service.

The fuel for being able to accomplish all that is wisdom. And wisdom doesn’t come only from within the walls of our own home, our own workplace, or our own “world.” To that point, Harvard researchers spent six years studying innovative entrepreneurs to find out how their creative processes work. They identified five primary skills that innovators regularly practice. At the top of the list? The ability to make connections across a variety of disciplines. In other words, innovators are people who cross-pollinate or use ideas from other industries to spark their own creativity.

And, according to Tom Kelley, author of The Ten Faces of Innovation, “Cross-pollinators can create something new and better through the unexpected juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas or concepts. They often innovate by discovering a clever solution in one context or industry, then translating it successfully to another.”

So, what about Judd’s life experience might be relevant to our own? In a field like many others, where absence can mean the stalling of a career, she semi-retired in the middle of her career to earn a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She has visited and advocated for grassroots programs around the world, carrying a message of empowerment and equality to heads of state, donors, the private sector and the media. She gave the keynote address on the modern slave trade to the 2008 General Assembly of the United Nations; testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the urgent need to prevent the spread of HIV to girls and women; and filmed three documentaries seen by more than a billion people worldwide. She has served as an expert panelist/moderator at conferences such as the Clinton Global Initiative, the Women Deliver Conference, the International AIDS conference and the Global Business Coalition to stop HIV, TB and Malaria.

She’s also known as a gifted storyteller, who said at a TEDxNashville event, “At the end of our lives, all we have is our story.”

And she should know. She’s an actor who’s had a successful career and who has chosen to leverage her resources and position to serve the greater good at a global, humanitarian level. She hasn’t squandered her unique platform, as do so many others. Instead, she has chosen to give back in significant ways. That’s a story in itself.

I can’t pretend to imagine what Judd has learned through her global humanitarian outreach. But I do know that I’m eager to listen to someone who has made the choices she has, and who is willing to share her story in a way that can impact lives – even lives well outside of her own industry.

If there’s one thing everyone in the ISTE community can agree on, it’s that we want our annual conference to provide the content and environment for new and different thinking. For our minds to be challenged. For cross-pollination to be nurtured. For innovation to be triggered.

I’m more than open to the idea that a humanitarian who just happens to be an actor might just be the perfect cross-pollinator for a room full of world-changers.

Brian Lewis, ISTE CEOBrian Lewis, M.A., C.A.E., chief executive officer, is an energetic education advocate and leader specializing in management and governance, policy, corporate communications, branding and marketing. His passion for building vibrant, mission-focused teams and fostering organizational brand strength, coupled with his ability to advance long-range growth plans, make him a dynamic leader poised to help shape ISTE’s future.

Brian provides leadership for ISTE’s Washington, D.C., and Eugene, Ore., offices and directs organizational planning and performance while working with the ISTE Board of Directors to ensure effective governance as well as legal and ethical integrity.

One thought on “Lifelong learning, keynote speakers and the art of connecting the dots

  1. I have just finished reading the article you wrote on ISTE community, Opening keynote speaker & Greater good. I want to tell you how much I appreciated your clearly written and thought-provoking article.

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