Technology feedback

Published on April 8th, 2013 | by Kara Tabor, Multimedia Editor

TEDxCoMo: The power of feedback


Feedback, whether it is desired or dreaded, is becoming an increasingly integral catalyst for innovation in journalism, business, technology and beyond. At times, we find ourselves suffering from an over-saturation of data and information in the mainstream, unable to sift through ceaseless overloads. During others, we lack the openness to see the impact of our own decisions on others. There are even instances in which we have to give and accept feedback to progress in achieving our goals. Through all the noise and static and distraction, we need to find and harness the power of feedback.

This year’s TEDxCoMo conference highlighted exactly that: the feedback loops that are critical for generating collaboration and progress in many of the most important fields today. TEDxCoMo featured a long lineup of talented speakers from various industries and walks of life, most coming straight from the Columbia, Missouri area. Here is a sampling of some of the most inspiring talks:



Journalism is one area in particular in which the value of feedback loops has started to make or break the quality of news. With changes in technology that have allowed for media to reach out and touch the consumer, journalists are channeling the power of feedback loops to foster strong connections from the local to global level. It all starts with the ability to listen.

Joy Mayer, associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and director of community outreach at the Columbia Missourian, kicked off the event with a talk on engagement and the need for openness to every sort of feedback. Starting with an anecdote about being corrected by her son who was reading to her while she was checking email, Mayer’s presentation stressed the importance of finding value in the harshest of criticism.

A practitioner of mission driven journalism, she talked about openness and adaptability- elements crucial for knowing the extent of one’s impact on an audience and how that effect can be made better. But, according to Mayer, an invitation is required. If a journalist or anyone else looking for feedback is not willing to receive what may be hard criticism, stagnation will occur and improvement will stall.

Mayer’s talk certainly was a reminder that without a responsiveness to feedback and the effort to make alterations based off of commentary, we lose the chance to improve and risk leaving our commenters a little frustrated sometimes. After all, citizen collaboration with the media is no longer a foreign concept.

The next to speak was Sarah Hill, 12-time Emmy award winning reporter for Veterans United Network and formerly KOMU. She is no stranger to the revolution in social media; however, unlike many other experienced journalists, she has fully embraced the tools it offers to connect with viewers in novel ways. Human Media is the name of the game that she has immersed herself in, using the availability of video communication to reach citizens far and wide.

Utilizing video chatting, Google+ Hangouts and Twitter in her reporting, Hill had this to say: “You want to grow the roots of your social media tree not only wide, but also deep.” Displaying the various ways she integrates the viewer into the media she creates, she was able to exemplify how face-to-face engagement has given her the ability to make her journalism an interactive experience.

As a part of her work at Veterans United Network, Hill has tapped into the power of the webcam to bring men and women who have served our country to different spots around the world with Veterans Virtual Tours. Since deployment has forced members of the military to use video-chatting to stay in contact with loved ones back home, she noted that they are feeding the bubble up of Human Media.

With Human Media taking off in today’s practice of journalism, soon no viewer will be out of reach.



For an idea to be given the opportunity to transform into a product, a service or even a company, it must be expressed. More importantly, in most circumstances it must be analyzed, critiqued, and tweaked before it can stand on its own two feet. Feedback in business often times enriches and emboldens ideas like coffee beans going through a roaster.

Nate Olson can relate to this notion. Olson is a Specialist in Entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation based out of Kansas City, Missouri, who started the 1 Million Project over a year ago after sensing the need for collaboration in entrepreneurship communities. In his talk, he presented his hypothesis that communities are built over relationships, which in turn are fostered around commonalities – a love of coffee being one that millions of people share.

After observing the fragmentation of Kansas City startups over a year ago, Olson drew inspiration from the centers of innovation that were the coffee shops of 15th century Europe. So far, his project through the Kauffman Labs has united entrepreneurs in a coffee-laden forum where they have the ability to collaborate and build on ideas to create viable companies. Currently, the project has spread out of Kansas City to cities like Des Moines, Iowa, and is projected to hit 14 new cities this year. Coffee may appear to be a fairly innocuous liquid, but Olson’s project proves that the feedback loops that it generates can revitalize lagging innovation anywhere.

Being funny these days relies on more than personal talent alone. Zach Beattie, a student at the University of Missouri and leader of the Comedy Wars improv comedy troupe, isn’t afraid of making decision at a moment’s notice – he thrives off of it. In his talk titled “The Art of Improvisation,” Beattie emphasized his point that improvisation and the open-mindedness that is a prerequisite are tools that both great comedy and great creativity need to thrive.

Laying down the ground rules of improvisation that Comedy Wars uses in their shows, he stressed four in particular:

  • Rule One: Everyone is a genius. This means that disagreement with the phrase or topic an actor picks is a big no-no.
  • Rule Two: “Yes, and…” In improve situations, one idea cannot stand alone, so it is the job of the other participants to stay on their toes and help the topic at hand flourish into something of quality.
  • Rule Three: Play. Taking advantage of the moment to have fun and create is key.
  • Rule Four: Let yourself fail. If creativity is never unleashed, where will innovation come from?

Beattie’s suggestions that the world of business desperately needs more improvisation were wise beyond his years. By stating that humans are so comfortable with routine and pre-prescribed processes that they are afraid of their ideas and filter them, he hit the break in the feedback loop spot on. If individuals, groups and businesses fail to take risks, build off of others and listen, creativity can’t thrive.



Rapid advancements in technology are making it easier all the time to collect data, build networks, and diagnose disease. Now, along with the groundbreaking technologies available, innovators are incorporating the most vital element of all: the human connection.

Imagine being born in the third-world without access to proper medical care. Imagine going blind as a result. Nahush Katti, a senior at Rock Bridge High School in Columbia, wants to eradicate a problem that 230 million people worldwide suffer from due to to lack of medical treatment – vision loss. Unsettled by the struggle that his own grandfather faced in getting medical care in rural India, Katti was compelled to use his skills to try to do something about the problem of medical access in the third world.

With the help of a colleague, he developed an app that has the ability to diagnose a host of eye diseases, including cataracts. Because of the relatively cheap price of the app and the expectation than in a few years over 97 percent of India’s population will have cell phone access, the feedback that Katti’s app generates has the potential to save lives.

Dr. Chris Fulcher works hard to help others better comprehend their world. As co-director for  the Center for Applied Research and Environmental Systems (CARES) at the University of Missouri, he has constructed systems that channel multitudes of data types into programs that make pattern recognition in society all the easier. Speaking on the topic of “Visualizing People, Place and Possibility”, Dr. Fulcher presented Community Commons, an interactive tool that incorporates geographic information systems (GIS) and allows for users to access over 7,000 layers of data in any groupings imaginable.

How is this so important to the theme of feedback? Due to the unlimited possibilities of the technology, people are now able to view data about their towns, cities, states and nations that affords them the capability to process feedback in the form of data and make decisions accordingly. Dr. Fulcher gave the example of using the program to compare data on children in poverty and quality of area schools. With this ability, people driven decision making can mesh with technology to make improvements to the world we live in.

Growing up with parents in the military, he spent his youth in a multitude of different cities and countries. With Community Commons, gaps that maybe before existed in distance and data are gone. As Dr. Fulcher closed his talk, he stated: “It’s not about distance; it’s about how we connect the dots.”

Detachment from the human side of technology, journalism and business is no longer permissible in this age. If TEDxCoMo made any impact on the Columbia community this past weekend it was this: we need to pay less attention to ourselves, our data, and our projects in order to see the feedback that brings innovation full-circle.

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