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Hamilton TEDx hosted an event under the theme: “Rethinking Today, Reinventing Tomorrow,” with speakers Laura Engelhardt ’95, Vasant Dhar, and Juvencio Maeztu P’20 on Feb. 24.

Engelhardt founded Neutrality Now, a provider of mediation and arbitration services in the New York metropolitan area. In her talk, “Stop Preaching to the Choir and Become the Devil’s Advocate,” she shared a story from her first year at Hamilton in which she and her suitemate were discussing the topic of abortion. Her suitemate told her that he was pro-choice at the time, because if his girlfriend had gotten pregnant, he would want her to have an abortion, but when he would grow older, he said he would probably be pro-life, because “people shouldn’t have abortions.”

Laura Engelhardt ’95
Laura Engelhardt ’95

Engelhardt was stunned by this response because she found it to be amoral, but she explained how that interaction made her realize the importance of an unpopular opinion or a devil’s advocate in a discussion. In today’s digital age, she said, we are so equipped to judge based on perceptions while we fear being judged ourselves. Therefore, instead of listening to or thinking about other viewpoints, we are quick to defend our own ideas and reject difference.

“My very candid suitemate, in that moment, said something that was guaranteed to please no one. I’m so grateful for him for his willingness to share that opinion,” Engelhardt said. “I now view that moment as one of the greatest learning experiences… of my entire life. I’m worried that you all won’t have that opportunity. Not because you’re unaware, but because you fear the judgment of your peers.”


Vasant Dhar
Vasant Dhar

Dhar is a professor at the Stern School of Business and the Center for Data Science at New York University. His TED Talk, “When Should We Trust Machines?” addressed the increase of use of automated machines and artificial intelligence (AI) and how we use them according to how high-risk the outcome may be. He created a tool to map out how much we trust a machine depending on two elements: the predictability of a problem and the worst-case scenario of that problem.

“If a machine never makes mistakes, we should trust it. Even if it does make some mistakes and they’re not costly, that’s still okay,” Dhar said. “But at some critical level of cost, we begin to lose trust. This model also explains why we might trust a machine with making investment decisions but not with driving us around, despite the fact that market predictions are often wrong whereas driverless cars hardly make mistakes.”

Juvencio Maeztu
Juvencio Maeztu

The final speaker, Maeztu, is CFO and deputy CEO of IKEA Group. His talk, “Purpose in Business – the Era of Inclusive Leadership,” explored a novel approach of working with people to lead a business. He referenced Ingvar Kamprad, founder of IKEA, who passed away last month, as a prime example.

“For many, his greatest legacy will be that he was one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the last century. But for the almost 200,000 people working across IKEA, he was more than that. It was the way he led the company successfully by putting people at the center of the business,” Maeztu said. “There are many people struggling to get by each day and the quality gap is widening between the richest and the rest, and that’s why inclusive leadership in companies is more relevant than ever today.”

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