If you haven't heard of the TED Conference, and you are interested in new ideas, prepare to discover a whole new infusion of the kinds of fresh thoughts that are influencing and changing the world as we know it.
Founded in 1986, TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and is dedicated to "ideas worth spreading."
I first learned of TED almost 20 years ago when I worked for a branding company. My boss had gotten a rare invite to Monterey, California, where he paid a few thousand dollars to listen to a series of speakers giving 18-minute talks on their ideas. He returned energized by what he heard, which the TED website describes perfectly as "riveting talks by remarkable people."
These remarkable people have included the likes of Jeff Bezos, Billy Graham, Thomas Dolby, Al Gore, Seth Godin, Stephen Hawking, and Jane Goodall, people whose ideas and perspectives have influenced our culture and the world.
TED has grown from a once-a-year elite event to a global phenomenon. The next TEDGlobal will happen in Edinburgh Scotland in July 2011, and then TED2012 starts next February 12 in Long Beach, CA. These are four-day events, and they're not cheap ($7,500 for TED2012) and you must apply and be selected to attend. Even web access is a significant investment.
So let's be realistic… most of us are not going to be able to attend TED in person or even watch via web as it happens. But no worries, because there are two ways the rest of us can have access to these amazing talks.
1. We can watch TED talks online.
In 2006, everything changed when TED began posting free video of TED talks.
There are now 917 talks available free on their website and they are constantly adding more. You could choose any one, without even looking at the description of it, and find yourself entirely engrossed, perhaps in a subject you'd never even considered before.
Please, if you find yourself with some time on your hands, don't turn on the TV. Instead start watching TED talks.
Shelagh Mulvaney, Assistant Professor of Nursing at Vanderbilt told me, "The thing I love about TED is that you find things you didn't know you were interested in, and there are people who connect the dots in ways you didn't even know needed to be connected. It's stimulating and makes you feel alive." Exactly!
For instance, one of my favorite TED talks is Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist who describes her incredible personal experience having a stroke, moment by moment. Her story is so remarkable, moving and inspiring that when I went to get the link for you, I had to watch the whole thing again. It's not often you get to hear a leading brain scientist talk about her first-hand experience of the true nature of consciousness and perception.
With 917 online sessions, you can listen to 11-year-old Chinese violinist virtuoso Sirena Huang, see Madeline Albright talk about women's issues and foreign policy, watch Jamie Oliver, winner of the TED Prize, talking about teaching our children about food, or be amazed at designer Tom Wujec's "marshmallow challenge" that shows why kindergartners are better at finding collaborative solutions than CEOs.
One friend told me his favorite talk was by Paul Stamets, a mycologist who talked about 6 ways mushrooms can save the world. Did you know mushrooms can clean toxic soil?
With TED, you see very cool stuff that will get you learning and thinking about ideas in a different way.
2. Live TEDx Events are popping up all over the world.
The massive success of TED led to the creation of TEDx, where "x = independently organized TED event." Communities, organizations and people are creating TED programs at a local level.
Last weekend wasTEDx Nashville, a one-day event with 18 different presentations. At a ticket price of less than $50, with no application required, anyone can attend. The audience was filled with fascinating people, which makes for great networking, and they build social time into the day.
This was the best fifty bucks I've spent in years.
The theme was "A Sense of Wonder," and each and every presenter taught me something new. Some of them left me changed forever.
- Becca Stevens is an Episcopal priest and founder of Thistle Farms and the residential community of Magdalene, supporting women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction. She talked about how to give women another chance at a self-sufficient life.
- Inventor and rocket innovator Tim Pickens and his daughter Sarah talked about his life spent designing his breakthrough rocket bikes fueled with rubber, his work on NASA projects as well as independent efforts to create new kinds of spacecraft.
- Brain surgeon Reid Thompson, the chair of neurosurgery at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center shared his passion for operating on the brain with such energy and delight that I was even able to watch a short video of surgery without having to cover my eyes. If I ever need brain surgery, I want Dr. Thompson, please.
- Five-time Grammy Award-winner Roy "Futureman" Wooten conducted a large orchestra that included banjos, steel drums and his own invented instruments, telling the story of composer Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, known as "The Black Mozart."
- Actress and author Ashley Judd, arrived at the last minute from a hectic book tour for her new book All That Is Bitter and Sweet, and shared, from the heart, her story of leaving her acting career in 2002 to travel to the notorious brothels and slums of southeast Asia, where she began to compile the stories of the people she met, and to view her life's work as an act of worship.
So what does this have to do with work and business? Well, everything, I think.
Engaging with topics like this opens your mind, stimulates your imagination, and brings fresh perspective to who you are, what you think and what you do. Learning and exploring new ideas is good for every part of your life.
Please check out the TED website, watch some talks, see if there is a live event coming to your area, and if you would, share your experience. What's your favorite session?
For more about expanding your mind and getting the most out of networking at events like TEDx, check out: