Mick Ebeling & Jeanne Marie Olson

Committing, Then Figuring It Out with Mick Ebeling

“Commit. And then figure it out.” That’s the philosophy Chicago Ideas speaker Mick Ebeling lives by.  It’s the philosophy that led to the creation of the EyeWriter (50 Best Inventions of 2010) and a 3D prosthetics printing lab in South Sudan (TIME: “it’s hard to imagine any device here doing more to make the world a better place”). And it’s what drew him to his latest project—one that has just entered “the figure it out” stage—that aims to build cost-efficient technology to help a wide swath of children with cerebral palsy learn to walk.

Mick Ebeling & Jeanne Marie Olson

Mick Ebeling joined host Jeanne Marie Olson at the Tribune Tower’s Campbell Hall on Monday, February 2.

“Naiveté is incredibly, incredibly, powerful,” Ebeling said of his first forays into health technology and his founding of the for-profit innovation center, Not Impossible Labs. “That naiveté, that curiosity…that kids have—that’s what we [should] want to get back to,” Olson echoed.Ebeling shared his work philosophy on the Chicago Ideas stage on Monday, February 2. Joined by host Jeanne Marie Olson, a local designer and consultant, the pair discussed how Ebeling took skills he learned at his day job as a film producer and applied them to an unlikely secondary career: medical innovation.

Ebeling sees much of his work as fitting into the broader maker trend, although his projects are distinctly socially conscious and innovative, almost radical in their approach. He and collaborators designed the EyeWriter—a device that allows paralyzed individuals to create art using only their eye movement—using a pair of sunglasses from the Venice Beach boardwalk, a web camera and some copper wire. All told, the parts cost under $100, and the team made the instructions available online.

“Doing good is good business,” he explained of his approach to his innovations.  “Doing good is good branding.”

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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