TED…The experience of a lifetime…every year

On 4-7 February I attended my second TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), marking the conference's 25th anniversary. Unlike last year when I was at the "overflow" site in Aspen while the main event was in Monterrey, this year I attended at TED's new permanent location (for now) at the Performing Arts Center in Long Beach, California. Although I was sad that Tara Whittle (who brought TED into my life) and Judith Katz were at Palm Springs (remote site this year, 400 people), and I missed them, I was thrilled to be with 1,300 people from 51 countries experiencing TED live and not on TV. TED does not disappoint. It is a place where people unveil their latest inventions, discoveries, ideas, and scientific breakthroughs. It is seeing and hearing genius, and being inspired by it. People connect and join together to create something that changes the world and they credit TED with both the meeting and the inspiration. Google and Apple Macintosh are some of the inventions/concepts that were first unveiled at TED.But TED is not a place for longwinded speeches. Some presentations run 3 or 6 minutes. Major presentations (of which there are about 20 a day) are maxed at 18 minutes--no overtime, even for presenters like Bill Gates and Al Gore. Say it in 18 minutes or host Chris Anderson starts walking up the steps. There is also a TED University that happens a few times during TED in a separate room, before the main sessions. At the one I attended, there were 18 presentations in 1 hour and 45 minutes.

So TED is a fire hose of knowledge coming at you from fields and topics far and wide. It is TED's job to put before us the latest and most brilliant thinking on earth (with a United States and California lean). It is our J-O-B as "TEDsters" (yes, there is a little of a cult feeling) to bring the information and knowledge into our being, into our thinking and work, and to make something out of it.

This year's TED included presentations on: deep space.........................................deep seas robotics..............................................electric/green cars food security and safety..................vertical farming saving orangutans............................wind suit flying making cheese..................................giving away shoes to the needy giving away rice on the Internet....rock climbing giant waterfalls in NYC....................blowing glass bring creativity to the layout of newspapers......dance and music performances what young men are learning from porno movies about what women want

I want to share some context and to give you a portion of the view from walking about TED for 3 days (8:00 am to 11:00 pm every day including a gala every evening).

Once again I was stuck with the elitism of the whole thing. This year I tried to refine my calling them elites...they are mostly creative elites. They are fun to watch and talk with and be around, but they are not my hang-out-with-for-the-rest-of-my-life group. I think Judith's and my attendance is part of the cosmic joke that has us show up in places where a Jewish woman from Queens and an African American man from the inner city of Philly would never have imagined. Walking around TED, I bumped into Arianna Huffington, Glenn Close, Forest Whitaker, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock (he performed, his 12th TED)--they are just hanging out for four days to learn and interact like the rest of us. There are few places where you can bump into Robin Williams and then sit next to Paul Allen (co-founder of Microsoft) or chat with Richard Rockefeller...definitely the creatives and the wealthy.

As for content, below are a few of my thoughts regarding some of the presentations I attended. You can see many of the TED presentations online at ted.com.

Juan Enriquez talked about the Economy. I was struck by a quote that he used that fits all our clients:

The key to managing crises Is to keep an eye on the long term While dancing in the flames                                     Sir Philip Hampton                                     Chair, Royal Bank of Scotland         

                          And, in these times you must "Cut AND Grow."

David Hanson is working on empathy in robots. WOW!!!! He talked about how Google search currently does not understand our intent when we ask a question and therefore gives us 100 answers, 99 of which are not what we are looking for...Some just the wrong category...right words, but not related to our meaning/intent. I took from David's 18 minutes that as he programs robots with "empathy" it is one step from programming robots to understand our intent. So, robots will be/are able to think faster than us humans, to be more invincible than us humans, to have empathy, and understand intent.

The BIG Question becomes what is our value-added as homo sapiens at some point in time. It takes me back to TED 2008 and a BIG Question there (somewhat serious and somewhat not), but a WOW for me: Maybe we have this whole thing inverted with the machine, maybe we humans are here to enhance the evolution of the machine and not the other way around. Sure does seem like a case I could argue.

Bill Gates talked about how in a regular classroom, teachers are not told how good they are at their primary task of teaching students. For our KJCG clients (and others) it is redefining what is "good."  What is "good" leadership this decade? What should be measured? Should we still be focusing on feedback (maybe some) or on feedforward? (Yes, and a lot.) Lots of organizations are measuring leaders based on 80% delivery, projects, product process and 20% people. As one person said, we can get an 80 grade/B without the people part. This has to change. At minimum it needs to be flipped to 20%-80%. And we need to measure inspiring people to do their best work, to enable and facilitate partnership (person-to-person), collaboration (group/function-to-group/function) and inclusion (a system mindset and everyday behaviors). We need to change the feedback and feedforward for manager-leaders in our organizations. It needs to focus on how they inspire people, develop people, create sustainability with and through people, and create future leaders. And the most important source of feedback and feedforward is the experience of the people working with the leader.

One of the favorite statements that Judith Katz and I like to say is a quote from one of our favorite CEOs, Hal Yoh, of Day and Zimmermann:

                        "A leader's job is to:                                     Grow the business                                                 Grow your team                                                             Grow yourself

If you are not doing all three you are not doing your job and doing what the organization needs of you."

Ben Zander talked about three opportunities in every situation in life:

  • Resignation
  • Anger
  • Possibilities

I think there are probably a few more, and people often pick up one of these three. AND, Ben is probably one of the best "getting the audience thinking, learning and performing (singing)" entertainers/conductors there is. Always brings the crowd to its feet.

Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, talked about the next evolution of the web--Linked Data. Linked data is about bringing related data together in very user friendly ways and creating data-to-data relationships, meaning and connections. This fits what Judith and I are working on with our clients and our next book: The Connected Organization. We humans are seeing the future through our technology and it invites us to think about the human interaction possibilities.

Nandan Nilekani made several good points about India, but the one that struck me was that India (and China) are going to skip the Industrial Revolution.

Oliver Sacks, made an intriguing comment that we see with our eyes, and we also see with our minds.

It speaks to the need for people to imagine the change they want. Judith and I have been urging the people in our client systems to create new stories, create a "Shared Narrative" that becomes a reality in their minds. It is clear to us that to move change fast, people have to see it in their minds' eye. And we need to point out examples of the change-in-action so people can see and "touch" it.

A comment from TED (who knows from where):

            Say "YES" and let the idea go forward.

Sounds like a wonderful way to live life and to enable creativity and empowerment. It is all about finding the "Yes."