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Glints and Gleanings from TEDGlobal 2014

TED signAttending a TED event is like spending 5 days surrounded by shiny objects – great opening lines to speeches, weird facts, interesting turns of phrase, amazing visuals, and those random ideas that you get that are sparked by something that the speaker says, and more –  and from amongst all this having to choose what to pick up and take with you. These are some of the shiny things that I picked up this year:

  • My top 3 speeches this year were by:
    • Melissa Fleming about generations living in refugee camps and why educational opportunities are critical. People in camps have time to prepare for their return – the average time in exile is 17 years! Her question: can refugee camps become centres for academic excellence?
    • Glenn Greenwald on why privacy matters – he invited anyone watching who said that privacy didn’t matter to email him all their internet passwords so he could read through everything and publish whatever he wants, and
    • Kimberly Motley is a former Miss Wisconsin who is now the only foreign litigator in Afghanistan, focusing on using the laws to protect.
  • Privacy speaker and scientist Andy Yen, one of the founders of Proton mail (email encrypted by default), reminds us that our data can and will outlive us. He also mentions the benefits of using the CERN cafeteria to develop an idea – you have 2000 free engineers between 12 and 2pm.
  • Joanna Wheeler’s theme was how to use storytelling to stop violence, based on her experience working in South Africa. Her business card was a story cube with her address on it, and the key messages of her talk (in images), printed on a piece of A6 paper that you can cut out and make into the cube.
  • The break area of the beach venue (the tent-like auditorium they built from scratch on the Rio beach sand where the talks were held) was filled with different diversions when you want to do something other than think.

TED interior

  • Batalho do Passinho is a new Brazilian street dance out of the favelas of Rio  combining the anxiety of fighting with the poetry of dance, and the Bottle Boys are Danish singers/musicians who use only bottles and their voices to cover popular songs. (The Bottle Boys played at one of the evening TEDGlobal parties on the beach in Rio. Their “Call Me Maybe cover got hoots of laughter and lots of applause.)
  • I didn’t know that 2/3rds of the population of  Sub-Saharan Africa has access to a cell phone signal (one fifth of these people have 3G or better data service). Steve Song’s talk was about not waiting for someone else to “build an on-ramp to the internet”, and the opportunity cost for those without access is skyrocketing as technology comes on and is ubiquitous.
  • One speaker, Sipho Moyo, asks, “How do we feed 10 billion mouths? There is no answer that doesn’t involve Africa.” She put up a blank slide, and said it was a picture that hadn’t yet been taken – it was a picture of Africa feeding the world. (She also points out that in the $110b chocolate industry, 70% of the cocoa comes from West Africa”, interesting for a Switzerland-land-of-chocolate-based person like me).
  • There’s a new food scanner called Tellspec being developed that you can put next to any food (including baked goods with no labels, etc.) that will tell you the composition of the food.
  • Architect Alejandro Aravena used a chalkboard for his talk about participatory design for low cost public housing – they build people half a house and then let the people living in it build the other half in the years that come, to suit their needs and with their own style. This innovative housing project is half the cost (obviously) and fits into the cultural norm in Chile (and many other countries) of building your house little by little over the years.
  • The auditorium was filled with different kinds of chairs. Every day you could try a new one and sit upright or sink into a comfy couch.

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  • Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler says on Mondays and Wednesdays he “learns how to die”. He calls these his “Terminal Days” and does things he would do if he had gotten news of a terminal illness and didn’t have much time left on earth. He runs a company without “rules” and gives people Wednesdays to do what they would do if they were retired. He ran board meetings with 2 seats for the first two people who showed up, whoever they might be in the company.
  • I liked that they gave a pair of Havianas flipflops with the gift bag, along with an Entreposto beach/picnic blanket with grommets so you can tie it down in the wind.
  • The Beach area with all the deck chairs and umbrellas was a great place to unwind and reflect on what you heard, and the sand was so hot that you needed those flipflops (if you didn’t want sand in your shoes!)

TED beach

  • Linking the digital with the physical – With a 3D printer they printed a car in 2 days in Manitoba. A Chinese company is printing 5 houses a day for under $5000.
  • Bel Pesce’s TED University speech was about 5 ways not to follow your dreams (from believing in overnight success to believing that your goal is the end goal.)
  • Journalist Bruno Torturro of MediaNinja opens by asking, “Has anyone has been exposed to tear gas?” He shows the simple molecule that he says is trendy with police and says that it makes your eyes burn and also opens them (in his case to the power of independent broadcast). He has helped create a network of experimental journalists who use mobile equipment to live stream political protests in “post television formats”.
  • I have never eaten so much quinoa as I did that week with TEDGlobal in Rio, who knew how many ways you could fix it.

I enjoyed going back through my notes to write this blog post and see what had endured for me a month now from being with TED in Rio. There are plenty of shiny objects still glittering around in my mind!

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TEDGlobal 2013: Think Again – What’s Going On Around the Talks?

I am here at the TEDextravaganza which is TEDGlobal, featuring a week of over 80 TEDTalks on the main stage, including musicians, and 16 shorter talks at TED University, which is when the audience takes the TED stage.  But that’s not all (if that wasn’t enough!)  BTW, the TED Blog is a great place to get descriptions of the great talks we are hearing.

Around the fantastic TED talks that are delivered is an interesting set of activities, demonstrations and thoughtful details that make for a full week of fascinating, if a bit extreme, sensory input for TED participants. I wanted to take a little pause here in the action to note some of the great ideas on the event design aspect that I think are interesting and might be inspiration of other’s learning events. This is taking a heroic effort at self discipline to write this as there is not a nanosecond of down time for reflection programmed into the schedule.

For learning event organizers, it is very tempting to focus all energy on the content of a workshop or conference- and primarily on what happens on the stage. But learning and interaction can happen everywhere, and although participants might spend some 20+ hours sitting in the audience, as we are this week, another 2-4 hours per day find them in the venue at breaks, meals, waiting for sessions to start and chatting about them once they are over, etc. That can add another 20 hours of programmable time to your agenda, which you could either ignore and leave to serendipity, or cleverly use to integrate more learning activities and opportunities. And to be noted – with these latter you don’t have the design constraints of seated participants all sitting side-by-side looking forward in a dark room.

What has TEDGlobal come up with this year to help people deepen their experience with the topics of the talks, get to know one another better, and feed their brains and bodies? Here are a few things I am doing:

Play Pong with Drones: I spent a break with an impromptu team holding a green panel and coordinating directional messages to our drone (a quadrirotor, or Quad) to win a game of Pong. This game was being played by three flying drones from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (introduced to us by speaker RaffaelloD’Andrea). We had a whole session on “those flying things” which featured speakers exploring the use of electric autonomous flying vehicles for everything from environmental monitoring (Lian Pin Koh), delivering medicines to hard to reach villages (Andreas Raptopoulos) to the real possibility from lethal autonomy of these flying machines of a robot war (Daniel Suarez).  You clearly get the good with the bad with this technology.

Take a Ride in an Electric Car: I booked at the TEDDrive desk a pick-up in an electric car to go to a TEDx dinner last night. All week, TED offers rides in electric city cars to participants with a little lesson on how they work (fast charge- 30 minutes, or overnight, and these five passenger cars can make it up to 70 miles on one charge in good conditions – cold weather uses the battery faster, so do various features like aircon, heater, windshield wipers etc.) I didn’t know the display was so easy to understand and helpful regarding how long you have left to drive on your existing charge. Tempting…

Start a Fortune Cookie Conversation: At the breaks and lunch, brightly wrapped packets of fortune cookies are temptingly set out on all the tables. In each cookie is not a fortune, but a good conversation starter question to get things going with the new people you are perching with at the table.

Go Talk to An Author: I spent another break at the TED Bookstore with Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist, TEDGlobal speaker and author of “Welcome to your Brain”, feebly and rather desperately trying to inquire if her years of conclusive research on the tenacity of weight set points might possibly be wrong (unsuccessfully as you can imagine). I wanted to speak to her because I have been feeling very smug at recent weight loss and was rather distraught at her talk’s message that I would simply gain it back to my body’s set point unless I was prepared to stay on the diet for the rest of my life. Apparently weight set points can go up, but rarely go down (I can still hope I am one of those rare cases). She is advocating mindful eating as an alternative to dieting, which sounds like another year of learning and effort. She also encouraged me at the end of our chat to get a standing desk, as new research is showing that sitting down is also killing us.

Eat Sensibly: Well I had to put this next. TEDGlobal is great at providing interesting and healthy snacks and meals. Little signs tell you that, with this snack, you are getting IRON or VITAMIN D, etc. No doubt so you can practice more mindful eating. We even got a “map” of the Grand Opening Party food offerings with titles of food stations such as Convey (Sharpes Express 1900 Sweet Potato Cakes) , Explode (Exploding bitter dark chocolate with granite shots), Honeycomb (Lapsong  Souchong Tea Smoked chicken) and Distinguished Doughnut (Savory rocket pesto doughnuts).


Print an Iconic Image: Getty Images is here with their digital archive and you can spend as long as you want to find a photo you like, after which the team prints it in A3 and you pick it up at the end of the day. I found a terrific BW photo of the terrifying, highest-roller-coaster-in-the-world, which is at Cedar Point in Ohio, which I faintly think I have been on but must have blocked it out. Or maybe not – we did learn from speaker Elizabeth Loftus that there is no evidence that we repress memories and banish them from our memory. We are however susceptible to false memories which can be introduced and adopted; so maybe I didn’t go on it, but my parents wanted me to think I did and was too scared to repeat, so they didn’t have to queue up for it.

Talk to Unusual People: With the help of the largest name tag imaginable, which includes: photo, name in 44 font, your title and location, and a line that says “Talk to me about:” followed by three words of your choice, you see lots of people standing in line for the designer coffees and teas holding up their name tags for people to read, or to photograph in order to get back to them on something or other they were discussing. This keeps happening even on Day 4 – 600+ people from over 66 countries, and you continually meet new people even up to the last day. The TEDConnect app is also very helpful to find and talk to people and, in addition to the daily schedule, includes your TED Top 10 – ten participants generated by the “secret” TED algorithm which should be of particular interest to you.
There is no opportunity to be bored, and even very little opportunity to reflect in between the tsunami of ideas and conversation that wash over your brain at any given moment. Whether you seek it – like when I went to join a little chat with American photographer Mary Ellen Mark, who is showing her photos from a recent project in a Kenyan hospital ward – or if it comes to you  – like the fascinating discussion I found myself in with a quiet Taiwanese dancer who explores cultural identity with her body – the TEDGlobal experience is not just sitting in those comfy seats in a dark room for many hours over five days.
Hmmm, maybe in the future we could have the healthy option of standing in the auditorium too. I might suggest that – the TEDGlobal organizers seem to be delightfully open to everything.

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“Howtoons” – Tinkering, Making and Mashing

I’ve had the word “Howtoons” written on my bulletin board for several years.

For me, the word has become emblematic for mashing things (anything) – combining, mixing, using them in ways you might not have thought about before – to make something new and even more useful. And there are blissfully no rules to this.

In the case of Howtoons it is using cartoons and comics to help people learn how to do things (versus pure storytelling and entertainment alone).

I love the word “Howtoons” for what it reminds me to do. It’s almost a one-word checklist for:

  • Is there something completely different I can do with this thingy?
  • Can I put something from another field, sector, industry, country, department, etc. with this to get something fresh and new that I can use? (I wrote a little about this in 2008 in a post called “Keeping it Fresh” after my 5th circus performance as a spectator in a month, and again in 2011 in 10 Different Ways to Do Anything: Get Inspiration Anywhere)

And when I googled “Howtoons” just now, I was even more delighted with some of the sites that use this moniker.

At the Instructables website, they call Howtoons “weapons of mass construction” and show in comic strip format how to make everything from a Marshmallow Shooter to a Turkey Baster Flute. They say they use OpenKidsWare much like MIT uses OpenCourseWare for wider distribution.

The Howtoons website itself is more of a one-pane cartoon, very sophisticated and embedded with what makes great comics, where they manage with this format to explain how to make their alka-seltzer powered rocket and spring loaded chopsticks. They also explain that Howtoons are what you get when you take a comic book artist, an inventor and a toy designer and put them together. Another successful mash-up!

Ever in search of innovative ways to help people learn, I have been delighted with what I have heard in the last year about the “Maker” movement (not as in True Blood) and tinkering, as ways to bring innovation and creativity to learning. These were both featured at the DML (Digital Media and Learning) Conference earlier this year – they even had on their Conference Committee a “Making, Tinkering and Remixing Chair” – Mitch Resnick.

DML sessions included Tinkering with Tangibles (digital textiles), Making Makeshop (on designing making experiences with families), Literacies of Making, Mobile Quests (that remix public events for social change), Design Tinkering  – that was a breakout – very fun!

In the Design Tinkering workshop, each table had the same pack of materials and some instructions. Two tables each had the same instructions -e.g. there were two sets of instructions – one was prescriptive about what to do with the materials, the other said (as below) “build and explore as much as you can about the materials provided”. We tinkered, and it was great fun re-purposing familiar materials into new things (the “thing” we made below lights up, not sure how useful it is otherwise, but we enjoyed our work)!

At TEDGlobal this year, we were also treated to talks on tinkering and making, with an interesting one by the co-founder of Arduino, Massimo Banzi. Arduino makes the cheap open-source microcontroller, a small programmable computer that has launched a thousand projects (like the DIY kit that sends a Tweet when your beloved houseplant needs watering.)

Another TEDGlobal speaker, Ellen Jorgensen, talked about her do-it-yourself biotechnology lab where you can walk-in and do biotech research in a community lab like GenSpace (where you can “hang out, do science and eat pizza.”) TEDGlobal itself even had its own MakerSpace where you could do your own DNA extractions, among other things. I wrote about my bio-molecular self-assembly experience in TEDGlobal2012: What’s Going On Right Now?

I will keep that word “Howtoons” right in front of me on my white board. For inspiration, and to prompt me to combine, recombine, mix and mash my learning tools with each other or even very different things – whether its cartoons and how-to advice or others (and I’m sure I can think of a way to use that Turkey Baster Flute in my work…some how…)

TEDGlobal 2012: A Moment in Time – What’s Going On Right Now?

TEDGlobal 2012 started yesterday in Edinburgh for 700 people from 71 countries. With the theme “Radical Openness”, we have been treated to the first 23 short presentations from TEDUniversity, which are given by audience members who apply and are informed 3 weeks before the event that they have been selected to speak. 

These talks give a sense of who is in the audience, and it ranges from Julian Treasure –  a four time TEDU speaker who talks to us about designing with your ears, and how noise can affect everything from accuracy in hospital staff to levels of helpfulness in employees in open plan offices – to a Minnesota Librarian Ann Treacy, a first time TEDgoer, who implores us to use “Ready, shoot, aim!” to promote agility and support more iterative learning processes.

I am watching this from the simulcast area, and there is also a lot of activity going on here. In addition to the seemingly constant supply of warm cinnamon buns, there are people shaking glass vials of bio-molecular self-assembly (this below is a tobacco plant virus that I have managed to assemble myself), and explaining different kinds of tea and coffee collection, and brewing processes (the peony white tea is delicious).

The screens everywhere tell us that today at 5pm, the singer Macy Gray is doing a book signing, and people every are talking or blogging (like me) or tweeting (hashtag #TEDglobal). The main stage programme starts in a hour with 79 speakers scheduled to give their TEDTalks in the next four days.  It seems relatively quiet now here in the main simulcast room outside the main stage, the calm before the ideas storm.

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What’s in a Name (Tag)?

For years, name tags looked something like this (above): Name, title and organization. Small, business card size and with a pin on the back that always meant that no matter how many times you adjusted it, it listed slightly to starboard. The printing was also pretty small, making people with personal space issues perpetually nervous.  Name tags are changing, here are two I received more recently that start to work for you on a lot of levels.

This GTD Summit name tag is twice as big as the first, measuring 9cm x 11cm and popped into a sleeve hung on a sturdy cord. The first name is pulled up by many font sizes, and your identity within the community gathering is added to the information given. For an international group, skipping the official title and adding your country helps give more backstory for discussion.

This name tag, used by TED Global this year (as last year), is even bigger. Measuring in at 12cm x 19cm, it is laminated into a block hung by a cord connected by clips on both sides – this you can see from a distance which helps at crowded receptions and also presumably to monitor entry to the venue and satellite events held all over the city. On the name tag the first name again stands out, encouraging people to be on an informal,  first name basis. The photo is an interesting addition (mine is pretty standard, but many people had unusual studio photos that gave away some secrets of their passions). Below the title, organization and place of origin (also helpful for languages), comes a section called “Talk To Me About:” followed by three key words. We were asked to pick these to add to both our online profiles as well as our badges, to give anyone approaching a substantive starting point for a discussion. Again, lots of creativity can go into these three words.

Another cool feature of this  name tag was that on the back you had the programme for the week, colour coded day by day, with the session titles, speakers names and timing. Social events and venues were also added. So when you are sitting in a big conference hall waiting for a speaker, or at coffee wondering if you wanted to go back to the big room or sit in the simulcast lounge, this information was at your fingertips to update you on what’s happening and for quick decision-making about where you should be at any moment.

In the end, a name tag is both for the person wearing it as well as everyone else attending the event, it provides provenance, establishes identity in the group, and also, if it is designed to do so, can help encourage engagement that starts further down along the usual small talk trail of questioning.

The next time you make one, think about how the name tag can be an intervention in itself? Think about how many different items of information are useful to include – and what you want the impact to be. Can it help people be on time, help people find their own language groups,  identify similarities and diversities for you so that you can get right into the most interesting conversation, encourage informality by picking out the first name, give you the sense of being one of the in-crowd by wearing a huge identifier?

Now, that’s what’s in a name (tag)! Any other innovations to this workshop staple to add?

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TEDGlobal: On My Way!

Oh, it’s been busy busy busy, but for a week, time with stop, and I will paddle around with some 700 other people in a veritable sea of “ideas worth spreading” at the TEDGlobal Conference next week in Edinburgh.

I have done the suggested prep – I noted and contacted my Top 10 TEDGlobal attendees (TED uses a “secret” algorhythm to generate that.) They all have something in common with me – either the key words they picked, their profiles etc.

I have updated my own profile, so that other attendees get the latest info about me. I packed my business cards which have different images reflecting the different kinds of work I do, so I can customise the image for the people I meet (See: Make Your Business Cards Moo). I have a thick notebook, and rain gear.

I even re-read my last year’s blog post on How to Go To TED, and am always very happy when I re-use my learning. I also tidied up my TweetDeck columns so I can follow the #TEDGlobal tag, and use it to find people and keep up with what’s going on onsite. This year, however, TED tells us that people using smartphones and laptops must sit in the back rows of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre where the main stage is located.

TED is known for bringing to the stage people with remarkable ideas, who are not always household names (yet). On the agenda this year are Malcomb Gladwell (writer), Alain de Botton (philosopher), and Thandie Newton (actor), among many others – see the speaker list here.  And there is normally a secret guest – last year it was WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, this year it could be anyone…

I have not been able to entirely clear my calendar for the week, although that is highly recommended by the TED organizers. But I do have a set of connecting questions I would like to ask the people I will meet there, bringing together my world and the eclectic TED world. For example, how can other learning events have similar pull power that people will actually prepare for them? What are some of the features that make an event so exciting that people will update their profile before they go?  TED has a lot of “pull” power, and although I can guess some of it, I have my own reasons, and it would be interesting to hear from others what makes them so eager to come for this learning extravaganza…

I will do my best to blog and Tweet, but will probably do it at night, as I can’t see myself in the back rows at such an exciting event!

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How to Go to TED (or at least TEDGlobal)

(Note: I went to TEDGlobal this year in Oxford, so this is written from my experience, and may be very different for the other TED events.)

Going to TEDGlobal was like jumping into an icy stream, or swimming in Lake Geneva at 4 degrees C. It took endurance, a little craziness, and provided that kind of a wake up and direct reconnection with so many of life’s support systems. That for me was the WHY, here is the HOW…

T is for Technology

To connect with a TED event, the main port of entry is through the TED website, which is interesting all by itself as it features links to the “riveting talks by remarkable people” videos from past TED conferences that we know so well.  If you want to explore joining a TED conference, there are four now – the TED Conferences link will show you where applications are currently being accepted (yes, you do have to apply to go to a TED event). The four include the Long Beach, California TED, TEDActive in Palm Springs (simulcast of the Long Beach TED), TEDGlobal in Oxford, and new this year, TEDWomen. There are also more and more TEDx events around the world, which are independently organized TED events.

It must be said up front, attending a TED event can be a rather expensive proposition, an investment you could say, with published prices ranging up to USD6000 for the Long Beach main event. Having said that, there seems to be a lot of variation in what people pay, and some ways to join an event that are supported, such as through the TED Fellows Programme (there are Fellows and Senior Fellows). You can also try to make an individual case for a reduction, this has worked for some in the past. Another option is to gather a small group and follow simultaneously one of the events online through a TED Associate Membership, at a reduced rate. We had a group of participants in Kenya following the TEDGlobal event; at one point they hooked up a video link and we exchanged a “Hello!” with them from the Oxford Playhouse.

If you decide to apply, the electronic application form is available on the TED website. You will want to spend some time on this: the questions are provocative and are the main way that the selection team assesses your application if you are not known to them. A key word for TED is “curation” (a curator is content specialist responsible for an institution’s “collections”. ) So everything from the chemistry of the participant group, to the framing of the talks, is highly managed and choreographed.

Once you are there, at the TED event, a notable “T” stands for Take your Toys. You will see people tweeting, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, you name it, from the event – either live during the talks from the back row of the auditorium (audibly enforced), or in the simulcast lounges set up for spill over and for this purpose. The amount of e-chatter that comes out of the events through every technology imagineable is amazing. You can take a technology holiday yourself, but will still want some way to capture your thoughts as they roll through your head at 200 miles an hour over the week-long event.

E is for Education
(Actually, it is officially for Entertainment, but Education speaks more to me!)

There is a lot to learn, both at the TED event and prior to it. Before you get there, do some “self” learning –  you will be asked the question “Why are you here?” by everyone you meet, and if your answer is not satisfying enough, you may be asked it twice. Look deep and be ready with a good, authentic answer to this question. This is not just why are you at TED, although that is also interesting to people, but Why are you on this planet? (This was something I noticed on my first day there which I blogged, “TEDGlobal: Why Am I Here?) This conference is full of social entrepreneurs, angel investors, many people with great ideas to share – their answers to this question are fascinating.  After all, TED is about ideas worth spreading, make sure you have yours ready.

There is also quite a bit of information on the TED website, which merits attention (probably more than I gave it in the busy weeks prior to the event.) There was an interesting matching exercise, which identified 10 other participants that you might like to look up. I did have a few people find me, and should have printed my list! If I was doing it over again, I would have spent more time with the online participant list (there was none printed) to identify people that I wanted to find and meet from amongst the 700 attendees. There was a tag wordcloud produced (we each picked 5 tags for ourselves for our profile), which could help narrow down the participants to some groups of interest. These tags were also printed on the helpfully large name tags (11cm x 19cm). No matter who they were, everyone was incredibly accessible, and the TED community norm was definitely to approach anyone for an introduction and a chat. There was also much waiting-in-line-time (more this year according to veterans) as lines formed in front of the Oxford Playhouse for main stage sessions. I would go much earlier to queue up than the 15 minutes recommended to get a good seat, if that matters to you, and the Lucky Dip of wait companions in line make it all the more worthwhile.

Finally, educate yourself about your baggage limit if you travel by plane; you will get a pile of big books and a TED gift bag (more like a napsack) of many delightful and sometimes bulky items like Mike Dickson’s Please Take One* (One Step Towards a More Generous Life), a bobble, a handy Rhodia notebook, BBC Earth Life on DVD, more films and books and technogadgetry, even a magic wand, by far the most talked about inclusion, from The Wand Company.

D is for Design

Design expresses itself at TED in many different ways. There is of course the content about design, as well as the overall stylish design and curation of the event, and all the satellite events. I noticed design in a few other simpler places. For example, if you like people watching at airports, you will just love doing this at TED. The great part is that you can walk up and talk to these passers-by, versus watch them on their way to Gate 48. You can also afford to be yourself with this group, you don’t need to pack that conservative kit that you might take to a normal conference. Nothing is too unusual for this crowd. I enjoyed talking to The Retronaut at one evening reception, creator of a visual time-machine, who in addition to having a fascinating story delightfully looked the part.

Other often hidden innovative “design” elements that I noticed included titles and labels, and business cards, to name a few. First of all, everyone was a Founder, Owner, a Maker or a CEO. There were also bio-inventors, creative directors, and rational optimists, voting system designers, plant neurobiologists, whistleblowers, humourists – what do you call yourself when you are doing something that not many other people are doing?

And then what about that business card? They were being exchanged fast and furiously. One artist I met specialised in invisible paintings, and she wrote on her business card in invisible ink (the kind you need to hold to a lightbulb, I hope my CFL will work!) Another green designer worked only in bamboo, and his business card was printed on a thin slice of this favorite material. A staff member of Foursquare.com invited people on the back of her card to “Collect all 6” (and presumably she would have been happy to give 5 more if someone had asked). Another staffer of a company that traded in (presumably happy) digital labourers sported a ’50s black and white photo on the back of his card provocatively asking you to find, “How many happy people in the picture?”

How to Go to TED

These are some of the things I thought were interesting to keep in mind if I went to TED again, or which might be interesting for others who are considering, or going, for the first time. Overall, I thought it was a wonderful experience, and I’m happy I went.

I came away in awe of the imagination of humanity, at the creative pioneer spirit. And definitely benefitted from the refreshing paradigm-shifting that undoubtedly results from repeat practice (like 100 times in 5 days) in thinking laterally about just about everything.

One thing I would definitely do differently next time and would encourage first-timers to do – I would apply to speak at TED University, where participants apply to speak on stage in shorter increments (there are even 3 minute slots), to share their work and thoughts. That would add to the stress a little, and also greatly add to the benefits of going to TED.

Did You Know? Some of the Things You Learn at TED

A week of TEDGlobal Talks leaves you with many lasting impressions and some very interesting things to mull over – especially after hearing almost 100 hand-picked speakers in under 5 days. Here are some of the fun facts that just won’t leave me alone…

  1. Some resources for the future may not come from earth – one 500 meter asteroid is worth $330billion dollars due to the concentration of platinum group metals (let’s get it from space – it currently takes 1 ton of rock mined on earth for one pea size bit of platinum), according to Eric Anderson.
  2. There is a new insurance only sold online for Finnish students first leaving home called “Undo” (as in if something bad happens they can Control Z – the site has YouTube videos of the kinds of things that can befall young people with skateboards, cupboards and the like), as told by Jeffrey Mann.
  3. We eat 500g of insects per year, as all processed food is allowed to include x number of insect parts, and campari and surimi “crab” sticks are coloured with natural dyes from insects (which cost the same per ounce as gold). This good news from Marcel Dicke.
  4. One pig becomes 185 products, from ammunition to bread, from train brakes to a heart valve. The pig is all around us. A catalogue of Dutch pig number 05049 was produced by Christien Meinderstma.
  5. Math teaching is all wrong, according to Conrad Wolfram. Calculations are only one part of math, perhaps the least interesting part, and certainly the only part that computers can do well. So why is that the only aspect of maths we are being taught in school, and especially why are we doing it by hand?
  6. According to Economist Tim Jackson, we buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to make impressions that don’t last on people we don’t care about.
  7. We should be calling ourselves Coctivores instead of omnivores because we are animals that live almost entirely on cooked food (just look at our teeth – we did, all 700 of us in the audience at TED). Heribert Watzke told us that we have developed such big brains because cooked food gives us more energy. (He also told us we have two brains, the second is a small one in our stomach.)
  8. Dimitar Sasselov, working on Harvard’s Origins of Life Project, gave us some news from the Kepler telescope – apparently the Milky Way is rich in small earth-like planets, a first batch of 60 are ready for further study to see if they are habitable.

That’s TED. It’s still swimming around in my head as I try to process it all.

Well, we can just take our two brains, computers, a few pigs and some delicious insects to another planet, and send back asteroids to pay for our UNDO insurance, just in case it doesn’t work out…and we just won’t care what other people think.

TEDGlobal: Why Am I Here?

Why am I here?

No, not why am I at TEDTalks.

Why am I on this planet?

I am here at TEDGlobal with hundreds of people who know exactly how to answer that question.

And they can do it in 5 minutes or less.

Which is pretty impressive, to say the least.

I just finished watching the TEDFellows speak on the O’Reilly stage at Keble College in Oxford, with some 15 young(er) first time TED speakers sharing their take on that question. For example, the creator of an installation art project that aims to connect people living thousands of miles away from a conflict zone to the daily death toll (to move from 2D statistical deaths reported in the media to a more sensory experience of them.) Including time to reflect on how our actions those thousands of miles away may be contributing to them.

Other TEDFellows shared discoveries on using banana peels to clean toxins from water, using poetry to access the unseen (for the poet this was “bringing” her Nigerian neighborhood to central Boston.) Using mobile technology to make organic farming “sexy” to younger farmers in Kenya, and attracting the attention of the “Afghanistan” generation in the USA who doesn’t watch the news on TV (but they are all over Facebook.) And more inspiring answers to the question “Why am I here?” How would you answer?

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On My Way To TEDGlobal!

I leave tomorrow for a week of TEDTalks (Ideas Worth Spreading) at the upcoming TEDGlobal conference in Oxford. The theme this year is perfect as far as I am concerned – “And Now the Good News”.

The speaker roster is also exciting, TED is known by its slogan, “Riveting talks by remarkable people”.  At this TEDGlobal there are even a couple of people speaking that I have written about in the past, such as Tim Jackson (Changing Social Logic: Learning for Fitting In) and Sugata Mitra (Apparently children can teach themselves anything – can we do that too?)

I’ll also attend TEDUniversity on Monday where audience members can take the stage in shorter presentations. The audience of 700 that attend have applied to go (my application took me 5 hours to write!) and by their profiles, look to represent an eclectic cross section of the Technology, Environment and Design communities (and more) that make up TED. I will let you know which speakers I found the most inspirational, they will no doubt quickly appear on the TED Talks list, and look forward to my experience becoming a TEDster!