Are you frustraTED?


I’ve already written two blog posts on TED (Technology Entertainment and Design), the global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, whereby the talks from those conferences, as well as franchise TEDx conferences are made available for free viewing online (“TED Talks. We listen.” and “My TEDxperience“), as well as having referred to it in a number of other blog posts. I like TED.

TED offers so many good ideas – indeed it’s tag line is ‘ideas worth spreading’.

Our mission: Spreading ideas.

We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.

So we spread those ideas, what next? Do those ideas turn into reality? Perhaps not always, and maybe that can lead to some frustration.

TED has an annual prize, where it gives cash to support an idea, or several ideas.  That cash has helped somewhat, in a few cases, but TED seems to be waiting for its first big influence, other than possibly a more enlightened, educated planet (in which case TED is potentially a success, in achieving change, but a slow one). In many cases the TED prize is a good, and welcome starting point, but typically significantly more investment is required to really make a difference.

Indeed, in his recent TED talk, Dave Meslin talks of apathy (“The antidote to apathy“), highlighting a number of barriers that prevent action and participation – development of TED ideas is ultimately much the same; indeed, Dave presents ideas as to how to overcome apathy, but likely those ideas won’t be immediately acted upon.

TED often helps further communicate existing efforts (The Khan Academy, Big History, etc.) but rarely seems to help launch new ideas, or create a step change as a result of a talk.

So in the end, TED can create a feeling of frustration.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all bad news. I still think TED is one of the best sites on the internet, giving hope and optimism that new, creative thinking can help humanity move forwards and address challenges and opportunities that exist in the world today. Increased awareness of ideas is already a big step towards making those ideas more likely to succeed.  Furthermore, TED talks go beyond just the ‘page views’ – from each viewing of a TED Talk, people talk with others about the ideas and concepts raised in the TED Talks, and develop their own thoughts. Only one would like to see more resulting action, not just talk.

So what needs to happen?

Money talks:

  • Many of the initiatives mentioned in TED Talks are however making fantastic, albeit possibly slow, growth, or at least below their potential growth, through the passion of the speaker, possibly supported by a small team, but often without any significant funding.
  • As I mentioned above, the TED prizes, which reach only a small number of talks, is usually not enough. TED recognized this – from 2010, in a changed selection process, a single winner is chosen to ensure that TED can maximize its efforts in achieving the winner’s wish (but obviously touching fewer ideas also).
  • Perhaps more private sector sponsorship of ideas would allow them to really make a difference. Perhaps public sector can reference their actions to messages communicated on TED.

Political agendas drive action:

  • Perhaps upcoming politicians who want to make a difference can use the initiatives on TED, and the public awareness that TED has (and vice versa, using their political standing to highlight the talks on TED) to capture public attention and enthusiasm. Win-win all round?

Tell your local politician(s):

  • If something is important to you, find a way to submit a message into your local political discussions. The political system aims to work on responding to the requirements of constituents, and the greater the demand for change, the more likely the message will be heard.

Greater awareness of TED:

  • According to Wikipedia, “ In July 2010, the [TED talk/video online] viewing figure stood at more than 290 million”. So it’s clear that TED is hugely popular, but most people that I know are still not aware of TED. That largely lies in the fact that much of the population are not yet surfing/using the internet in a way that allows for serendipity. Using the same news website, or Google to find a specific result, or Facebook to share photos, does not necessarily mean that you will come across new memes.
  • Therefore, firstly, if you do come across a specific talk that interests you on TED, share that with your colleagues (email, Facebook posting, Twitter, blog, or just tell your friends and colleagues in person). Secondly, if you like TED (what’s not to like?!) pass that message on also.
  • Perhaps even, those that criticize TED, or aren’t passionate about it, have this view based on a feeling that it is “just a lot of hot air”, “nice talks, but too little action” or even “intellectual masturbation” (!) – if that is indeed the feeling, then one needs to look no further than oneself for how to make TED more relevant and more interesting.

What do you think TED, its speakers or its followers might do differently to help turn “Ideas worth spreading” into “Ideas worth implementing”?

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One Response

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