TED is a not-for-profit organization which invites speakers (who are sometimes called “TEDsters”) to speak about their ideas at conferences (TED talks), with the individual speeches, each limited to 18 minutes, being video recorded and made available over the internet, for free download/streaming (on www.ted.com).
Speakers are a mixture of well known individuals (politicians, business leaders, media celebrities, etc.) and other less well known individuals (eg, academics, or simply individuals who have researched a particular topic and have an interesting view with regards to the future).
TED stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment and Design‘. Today however it seems to be broader than that. TED’s catchphrase is “Ideas worth spreading” (its mission: “Spreading ideas”). As such, it encourages creativity, innovation and thought, as well as communication and debate. One can learn more about TED on the TED.com ‘About TED page‘ or on Wikipedia’s TED page.
In February 2002, Chris Anderson, founder, curator and custodian of TED, described the core values of TED as including “truth, curiosity, diversity, […], and the pursuit of interest”. He also called it:
the mental equivalent of the full body massage
The TED Talk videos are in my view an excellent source of informative, lively, passionate, and enjoyable discussion. They epitomize hope, optimism, and determination. I encourage anyone who is not familiar to give TED a try. I’ve listed some of my favorite TED talks at the end of this post, but each person has different interests, so you might find it better just to start at www.ted.com.
In many ways the talks are, in my view, better than anything that newspapers/magazines, television or most blogs can deliver:
- The TED talks are extremely high quality material (people with views worth listening to) by speakers that we would often find very difficult to otherwise listen to – television rarely dedicates time to such material, and somebody else has taken the time to select and bring together the best speakers.
- Many TED talks seems to have a consistent characteristic in that the speakers look at things differently to the way everything else approaches a topic – they give you the feeling of a mindset shift, or epiphany.
- While the TED talks tend to focus on mid-to-long term concepts (eg, Bill Gates recent discussion on reaching global zero carbon energy production) they are grounded in reality/research such that they do not come across as ‘sci-fi’ or dreams, and have the added benefit that many of the speeches do not age, or become out-of-date. In the last few decades society has trended towards short-term optimization/competition/problem-solving, instilling a mentality of fear and concern that our actions will not have long-term solutions – TED approaches things differently to this.
- The TED talks are available on-demand, whenever suits you (downloadable too for off-line watching), and one can select which talks to watch.
- By being recorded/streamed in video the talks have the benefit of reflecting the personality of the speaker and their passion for their topic – this makes the talks more ‘real’.
- The recent growth in the power of, and the number of users of social media seems to have empowered TED by enabling further sharing (for example via Twitter – search for #TED) and also encouraging interesting debate over speakers’ content.
The TED Prize
TED also holds a competition to identify a wish, based around an idea/concept which aims to improve the world (“One wish to change the world”). Previous winners have included Bono (of U2 fame), Bill Clinton, and Karen Armstrong (the author of numerous works on religion).
The most recent winner of this prize was Jamie Oliver, who wants to teach people about food, with the aim of encouraging healthier lifestyles and limiting the growth in obesity (the timing of the award being given to Jamie Oliver, coinciding with his recent US TV show, about tackling such issues in USA, and the support he has received from, and the parallel campaigning of Michelle Obama on this topic).
Jamie Oliver’s speach on this topic is shown at the beginning of this post.
Themes of the different talks, and some of my favorite TED talks
Each person will have their own favorites, reflecting different themes that are covered by the TED talks. Currently listed themes (although in some cases immensely broad) are:
- Global issues
My favourites tend to focus on internet technology and social networking, artificial intelligence and understanding the human brain, and the environment, but there are always a few unique topics that capture my intention (like Jamie Oliver’s recent prizewinning talk). Some of my favorites are:
- “Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food” (February 2010) [health/society]
- “Bill Gates on energy: Innovating to zero!” (February 2010) [energy/environment]
- “David Cameron: The next age of government” (February 2010) [government/technology]
- “Rory Bremner’s one-man world summit” (December 2009) [comedy]
- “Seth Godin on the tribes we lead” (May 2009) [leadership]
- “Kevin Kelly on the next 5,000 days of the web” (July 2008) [internet/technology]
- “Jeff Hawkins on how brain science will change computing” (May 2007) [brain research]
- “Malcom Gladwell on spaghetti sauce” (September 2006) [social dynamics]
- “Chris Anderson shares his vision for TED” (February 2002) [TED]
I’m sure there are more (ones I’ve seen, as well as others that are online that I’ve not yet found).