The Trajectory of an Idea

Thursday, July 24, 2008 - 12:27 pm

The Trajectory of an Idea

Our rebroadcast of “Play, Spirit, and Character” allows me a natural entry point into sharing the incredible and unforeseen paths this program has taken over the past year. It also reminds me how important it is to get out, attend events, and experience what other people are imbibing. Doing this is one of the best ways of finding interesting program topics that are truly relevant in one’s daily life.
Over the past year, this program has resulted in a strange and wonderful lifecycle, which I’ll quickly recount with bullet points:

  • I attend the 2007 PUSH Conference at the Walker Art Center and hear Stuart Brown speak, then
  • Hearing the audience response to Stuart Brown’s presentation, I recount my experience while speaking with Krista and the staff. Krista says book him, then
  • Krista interviews Dr. Brown. The conversation takes a rather serious tone to begin and rather dark by discussing mass murderers. We question whether it would make an interesting hour of radio since the conversation lacked the levity and playfulness we expected when thinking about a show on play, then
  • Mitch collects compelling audio of kids swimming, dogs frolicking, and immigrants playing softball that illustrate points made. A show is produced, then
  • I contact National Geographic photographer Norbert Rosing and pair his images with Stuart Brown’s talk to produce a brief narrated slide show. and other social sites pick up “Animals at Play” resulting in more than three million views on and 125,000 views on YouTube and Vimeo, then
  • We partner with USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and the News21 Initiative to present a student’s production of young adults swinging on the rings in Santa Monica, then
  • I get a call from a documentary producer at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) asking about the popularity of the polar bear/sled dog video for their documentary on polar bear fever, then
  • Photographer Norbert Rosing phones to tell me the traffic to his site has more than tripled and that he’s moved his polar bear photography books and photos to the home page because they are selling so quickly, then
  • An editor from a London tabloid paper e-mails asking for the original scans of the polar bear/sled dog images for a feature piece, then
  • Paul Holdengraber from the New York Public Library on 42nd Street invites Krista and Stuart Brown to be part of their NYPL Live! series. The evening results in a sold-out house, then
  • The following week The New York Times Magazine’s cover features an in-depth piece, “Taking Play Seriously,” keying off of the event and Stuart Brown.

I attended an “ideas” conference with the thought that I would learn a little something new and meet a few people in the process; I had no intention of doing research for future SOF shows. That is, until I heard gasps of awe from the crowd during Stuart Brown’s presentation of polar bears and sled dogs playing in the wilds of Canada, and passionate discussion about raising kids with a sense of play and bringing that same sense of lightheartedness to work.

The journalist in me kicked in; I’m supposed to act on behalf of you, of those who can’t attend such events and share that information. Some of my colleagues were skeptical about the conference. They professed that the connection of ideas was nothing new or groundbreaking — but that wasn’t the point.
We work in a rich media environment in which we’re constantly bumping into other areas of discipline and making those connections. I get the privilege of actually sitting next to folks who work on documentaries, epicureans who write cookbooks and produce wonderful food shows, classical musicians and new media gurus, investigative journalists, and so on. Oh, and MPR brings in fabulous speakers like critic Terry Teachout, former CNN anchor Aaron Brown, classical musicians Trio Medieaval, and Ray Suarez to speak to us when they’re in town.
Most people don’t experience this panoply of big ideas on a daily basis; they work in very specialized industries making the numbers work and the products better. They may love their jobs, but they thirst for greater understanding and to simply play at the idea of an interconnected world of seemingly disparate ideas. I believe we did that with this show, and it makes me proud.

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is the cofounder of On Being and currently serves as chief content officer and executive editor. He received a Peabody Award in 2007 for his work on “The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi” and garnered two Webby Awards (in 2005, and again in 2008). The Online News Association nominated his journalistic work multiple times in the general excellence and outstanding specialty journalism categories. Trent’s reported and produced stories from Turkey to rural Alabama, from Israel and the West Bank to Cambridge, England.

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