First TEDx Edwards AFB sparks innovation discussion

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Col. Randy “Laz” Gordon, Lead for the Secretary of the Air Force’s AI Technology Accelerator, talks to guests during a presentation at the Edwards Air Force Base first-ever TEDx talks in the Benefield Anechoic Facility at Edwards AFB, Calif., Nov. 12, 2019. Gordon shared his experiences on innovation, implementation and breaking barriers while serving in the Air Force. Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) is a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. Meanwhile, TEDx events are organized independently under a free license granted by TED, according to the TED website. (Air Force photograph by Richard Gonzales)

The 412th Test Wing hosted its first-ever TEDx talks in the Benefield Anechoic Facility at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Nov. 12, 2019.

Technology, Entertainment, and Design is a nonpartisan nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. Meanwhile, TEDx events are organized independently under a free license granted by TED, according to the TED website.

About 100 invited personnel attended the TEDx, which was staged in front of the backdrop of an F-16XL, one of two versions of the F-16 Fighting Falcon ever made with a delta wing designed to test out new concepts in a military fighter aircraft.

Featured guest speakers were retired Air Force Lt. Col. Kelly Latimer, pilot with Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit; retired Army Col. Peter Newell, CEO of BMNT, an innovation consultancy; Col. Randy “Laz” Gordon, Lead for the Secretary of the Air Force’s AI Technology Accelerator; and Command Chief Master Sgt. Ian Eishen, 412th Test Wing command chief.

“This is a world-class lineup—we have brought rock stars here today to ignite your continued interest in this journey that we’re on of innovation,” said Brig. Gen. E. John Teichert, 412th Test Wing commander. “Use today to be a further spark that ignites your interest and your passion in making things better for us and for the warfighter, here at the center of the aerospace testing universe.”

Topics ranged from the Virgin Orbit Launcher One program to innovation leadership topics, but all centered on the theme of ‘Laying the Foundation for Tomorrow’s Innovation’.   

The execution of hosting a TEDx event was months in the making and involved a full Team Edwards effort, but the idea stems from Staff Sgt. Michael Meyer, fighter lead crew chief, 412th Maintenance Group, and is rooted in the first Eddie’s Challenge campaign of the SparkED innovation team, formerly known as the Hustle Squad.

“We wanted a way to showcase innovation in a prestigious way,” said Meyer. “I thought what better way than TEDx.”

Early in the year, Meyer applied for the permit and licenses to conduct a TEDx and received approval in about six weeks. His next task was to book guest speakers.

“I wanted speakers that would educate the workforce,” said Meyer. “Speakers who could talk about breaking barriers and how it impacts the workforce.”
Admittedly, he was surprised by how willing people were to speak.

“I sent an IM (instant message) to Peter Newell, who was the CEO of a company, to see if he would come down … thinking he would be too busy,” said Meyer. “But, he responded with ‘of course,’ which caught me by surprise.”

The event was live-streamed on Edwards’ intranet and simultaneously streamed at the Edwards AFB Theater for viewing by base employees.

This TEDx followed the launch of the latest innovation campaign called “Eddie’s Challenge 19.2” and demonstrates the culture of innovation at Edwards.

“It’s exciting that this event is coming off the heels of our kickoff of the latest innovation campaign,” said Teichert. “The last innovation campaign we had started last January and as we tallied out the amount of interest in that campaign … we didn’t just set the stage for other bases in the Air Force, we dwarfed the rest of the innovation campaigns throughout the Air Force.”