The TED Meeting Phenomenon

Why are lessons from TED meetings so extraordinarily relevant to running successful businesses and organizations?

Have you watched a TED video?  Many millions of people have.  The TED meeting and its children, TEDx meetings, have become a popular genre for sharing ideas.  Indeed, the motto of TED is “Ideas worth sharing”.   There are many thousands of these meetings conducted around the world today.  Understanding where they came from and how they work will be the subject of several upcoming blogs.

The TED meetings were started by Richard Saul Wurman, an architect and prolific author, in the early 1980s.    “TED” stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design.  For Wurman, the idea was like having a personal dinner party in which the guests were very knowledgeable and experienced in certain fields, extremely articulate, and passionate about their beliefs.  They weren’t trying to sell you anything, they were sharing their most intimate discoveries and passions.  Speakers came from many backgrounds and spoke about totally unrelated topics.  Architects have to be integrators, so he was ‘architecting’ a meeting.  He even wrote a fascinating book called “Information Architects”.

Wurman was able to attract some amazing leaders in various fields to come and share their ideas.  He was also very good at juxtaposing speakers in a way that inspired the audience to think.  The audience members were just as prestigious in their fields as were the speakers.  Part of the ritual was that speakers had exactly 18 minutes to do their presentation.  Wurman would give a short introduction and let them speak.  As they got close to the allotted time, he would come on stage and start walking closer.  In extreme cases he would escort them off. There were no questions allowed.  Instead, he provided for one hour breaks between groups of talks to give the audience plenty of time to interact with both speakers and each other.

He developed a “10 Commandments for TED Speakers” that exists with some variations to today.   Here is the version I received in preparation for my TEDMed talk in 2009:

  1. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick
  2. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before
  3. Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion
  4. Thou Shalt Tell a Story
  5. Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Skae of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy
  6. Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
  7. Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desparate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
  8. Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
  9. Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
  10. Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee

You get the picture.  This was a very different type of entertainment…and experience.  Only the best of the best were chosen to speak…or demonstrate their skills.   Speakers were not paid.  In fact, in order to attend you had to pay a lot of money.  Skeptics, like me, had to be convinced that this was a worthwhile investment of money and time.

Why would people spend many thousands of dollars, on top of hotel and transportation costs to listen to a few folks speak?

It’s simple.  If you want to be inspired, stimulated, motivated, provoked, challenged and more, it’s hard to find anything that comes as close.  The lessons from TED meetings are extraordinarily relevant to running successful businesses and organizations.   More on that in subsequent blogs.

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About John

“John Abele is a pioneer and leader in the field of less-invasive medicine, For more than four decades, John has devoted himself to innovation in health care, business and solving social problems.” He is retired Founding Chairman of Boston Scientific Corporation. John holds numerous patents and has published and lectured extensively on the technology of various medical devices and on the technical, social, economic, and political trends and issues affecting healthcare. His major interests are science literacy for children, education, and the process by which new technology is invented, developed, and introduced to society. Current activities include Chair of the FIRST Foundation which works with high school kids to make being science-literate cool and fun, and development of The Kingbridge Centre and Institute, a conferencing institution whose mission is to research, develop, and teach improved methods for interactive conferencing: problem solving, conflict resolution, strategic planning, new methods for learning and generally help groups to become “Collectively intelligent.” He lives with his wife and two dogs in Shelburne, Vermont.”

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