The TED Meeting Phenomenon – Chapter 2

In the previous blog I explained the history of the TED Meeting (actually the official name is the TED Conference) and how it has become a new genre of dialogue that has both grown and been copied around the world.

Richard Saul Wurman sold the TED Meeting to Chris Anderson, a British entrepreneur and publisher in 2001. Anderson bought it through his Sapling Foundation so that it became a not-for-profit.  Despite the high cost of admission, which was $6000 per person in 2007, demand for the event and related activities, including international meetings, continued to grow dramatically, and the prestige of having given a “TED Talk” grew with it (great for your resume).  Anderson was a creative marketer and came up with TED Prizes, TED Fellows and other initiatives which strengthened the TED community.

He continued to video the presentations as Wurman had done before, but decided to experiment with the idea of putting some of them online for free.  The response was so phenomenal that he decided to turn his concept upside down.  Since his vision had always been “Ideas Worth Spreading” he built a website around the talks.  The conference was the engine to generate the great content, but the website was the amplifier to take these ideas to the world.   In July 2012, a total of 1300 TED talks had been posted, with 5 to 7 additional talks posted every week.  In June, 2011, the number of views passed 500 million.  By November, 2012 it had exceeded one billion!   If you’ve watched a TED video you have to appreciate the production quality of each talk.  Multiple cameras, excellent audio and professional operators assure first class output.

Obviously not every talk is fabulous.  So, not every talk is posted.  But the real reason there are so many good talks is that Anderson introduced a new concept in 2009 called “TEDx”.

As the TED website explains, Continue reading

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: Continue reading

Collaboration and The Marshmallow Challenge

Some years ago Tom Wujec, author, Senior Fellow at Auto Desk and an amazing graphic illustrator gave a TED talk called “The Marshmallow Challenge”(video below). In the talk he described how different groups of individuals approach a technical design problem.  The objective of the exercise was for each group to build the tallest free-standing structure in 18 minutes with one yard of tape, one yard of string, 20 sticks of spaghetti and a marshmallow. The groups in this exercise ranged from CEOs to MBAs to lawyers, engineers, architects and kindergartners. The results of this challenge showed how these different groups worked together on the challenge.

Perhaps the most surprising result of this experiment was that the children did better than the CEOs and the MBAs were the worst!  The reason the children did so much better was because their design process included prototypes and instant feedback from each other sharing what they learned along the way. They discarded the failed ideas and built on their successful structures. The MBAs on the other hand spent much of their time debating who would be in charge and what plans they would follow. Architects and engineers did pretty well.  The message taken from this exercise is that how we collaborate is influenced by our habits and the cultures we come from. Understanding and managing those cultures is essential for effective collaboration.