Last week was a profound experience for me; I attended my third official TED event – the TEDxSummit for TEDx organisers, held in Doha, Qatar.
Bringing over 650 TEDx organisers from in excess of 90 countries together in one place (and maybe one of the few places in the world where this was possible), the TEDxSummit gave us talks from TED speakers including Hans Rosling, Maz Jobrani and Juan Enriquez as well as the opportunity to collaborate and work with each other in powerful ways; we had the opportunity to spend two very immersive days speaking with and learning from each other.
The organisers did me the honor of asking me to conduct two separate workshops; one for new TEDx organisers and another for intermediate-advanced organisers. The feedback I received directly from other participants was extremely positive. I’m keen to hear and read the official feedback when it comes in.
Travelling nearly a day each way to spend a week in a country where everything is unlike your home is a strange experience (not because you’re in the Middle East, which is incredibly interesting, but because Qatar is a nation in flux where a society is still passing through Tuckman’s stages of group development and will emerge at some point in the near future into what I imagine will be a profoundly interesting norming and performing phase).
It’s not hard to spend time with people you like a lot and share head space with. Though it does mess with you emotionally (in good, bad and sometimes confusing ways).
What is hard is the very real emotional amplification that goes on at an intensive, immersive event like TEDActive or TEDxSummit. I think it’s possibly a form of Stockholm Syndrome; though one with a bigger up side (does such a phenomenon have it’s own name?).
There needs to be some post-event introspection to come down off the high and to ensure that the whole “drinking the Kool-Aid” problem doesn’t pervade our post-event thoughts. I’ve done these events three times now and it doesn’t change, but conscious awareness to the affect these events have on you is critical.
Some concerted, objective self-analysis helps you make a better set of post-event decisions on the actions you need to take. I still have really good friends from my trips to TEDActive. I imagine I’ve made another set of friends (and reinforced old friendships) this time.
Thank you to all the fantastic people I met in Doha.
I’ve just returned from a week sharing experiences and learning from fellow TEDx organisers from around the world. It was quite the experience, with workshops among organisers (I gave two), a day in the Qatari desert, talks by TED speakers and an unforgettable week in a place like no other.
Some of my photos are below.
I’m yet to try to write about TEDxSummit, which I attended in Doha, Qatar last week to spend time collaborating and sharing experiences with 650 other TEDx organisers from around the world. Suffice it to say, it was a profoundly affecting experience and I was privileged to spend time with these amazing, motivated and motivating people.
Equally, I was honored to be selected to give two workshops on my experiences organising TEDxCanberra – a short session on ticketing, registration and crowd management and a longer, hour-long workshop on building and sustaining a volunteer team.
The gallery below shows the sketchnotes I prepared for my workshops, and those I made for my own use while at TEDxSummit.
This essay, Against TED, by Nathan Jurgenson at The New Inquiry raises some important perceptions (and misperceptions) and isn’t the first criticism of TED we’ll see. Nor will it be the last. It’s really not that hard to find such criticisms; they’ve been around for some time and they all point to many of the same things we’re all aware of – perception of exclusivity, neatly defined problems tied up in bows, the “religion of TED”, etc.
Like any organisation, TED, and those of us that attend or organise TEDx events (I am the licensee for TEDxCanberra), as its community, need to be aware of the need for positive change and reinvention. I’m well aware that TED itself is going through a period of introspection about its relevance and the shape it takes into the future; it’s a subject of discussion that TEDx organisers around the world have been asked to contribute to.
As someone whose day job it is to help to define the way an organisation gets out its message and designs and delivers the things it does, I’m more than abundantly aware that no matter what insiders believe (and I do believe that TED really does have the best interests of the globe at heart and really is interested in “ideas worth spreading”) that it doesn’t matter. What matters is perception. Because for most people, even otherwise smart, critical thinkers, perception is reality. And there’s no use arguing against it.
For example, the matter of the cost of TED is often contentious. Sure, its production values are insanely high and it must cost a terrifying amount to put on, but what almost everyone I’ve spoken to outside the TED community don’t know is that TED runs non-profit. When I point this out to many people they’re often far more circumspect in their criticism of TED after that realisation.
Overall, I think the biggest problem TED faces, to quote my Marx, is that it has become something of an opiate of the masses. It’s all too easy as a reasonably wealthy, middle class person, to attend TED, or a TEDx or to watch videos and to feel aware of problems in the world and become smug and self-satisfied that in your awareness, you’ve helped.
Not by a long stretch.
What really needs to follow is action. To take ideas worth spreading and convert them into actions worth doing.
Every. Single. Time.
Truth be told, the TED community already does this. It’s another thing too few are aware of. For the past number of years, TED has become really not just a single event, but a continuum of things – events, the TED Prize which funds US$100,000 of work by an outstanding individual (it’s worth looking to see who the winners have been), the TED Fellows, and other good works that are funded out of the Sapling Foundation. So, the actions worth doing that I put forward already happen. It’s just that most people don’t bother to look that deeply. They just see an expensive, exclusive event.
That said, I do think that there is an element of the audience, both physical and online, that feel they satisfy some “involvement in the world” quota just by showing up. I think it’s incumbent on us to make sure that percentage is small by encouraging action, no matter how small. If the end result is that someone walks away with their views changed, that may be enough, or a starting point.
I’d like to urge the international community of TEDx organisers to be a part of that; to be a community that doesn’t just showcase great ideas, but that inspires, drives and gets involved in action. To be defined by betterness, in the sense Umair Haque outlines in his book of the same name.
We’ve done it a little at TEDxCanberra, but are focussing on it more strongly this year. We’re going to ask presenters, where possible, to challenge the audience to get involved, or to leave them with a question, or a call to meaningful action.
No more neat bows.
If the doing of important things was what the rest of the world saw from TED rather than the (somewhat incorrect perception of the) wealthy and famous attending an expensive, hard to get in to event where they satisfy their perception of being involved by listening for four days, I think there might be fewer of the negative analyses out there.
As I said, perception is reality. What people see in TED, regardless of what we believe on the inside of that community, is what it is.
I’m someone who works with social tools for a living. My job is defined by the level of expertise I bring to using them and the way I can use them to connect with people in communities of expertise, mostly in a business context. In a grand failure (or, is it?) of work-life balance, my social and personal life involves a good deal of social network use too.
And, as part of my participation in TEDActive next week, I’m involved in a project called TEDActiveSOC. It’s all about finding deeper meaning in the way we use and create social networks and our ever-increasing hyperconnectedness. My ongoing research and thinking has me convinced that the heart of the project needs to be about enabling the production of social, or public goods.
We all know we can use our social networks for everything from the mundane and trivial to the world-changing.
It can’t be that hard.
There’s real social capital to be derived for users at the personal level with these outcomes in mind and even greater good at the level of organisations and society as a whole.
I’m keen for a perspective on social, organisational, governmental and personal change as an outcome that use of these tools can amplify. There are no Twitter and Facebook revolutions. Rather there are revolutions of people, somewhat amplified through social networks.
At this point, I’m actually thinking a touch wider. What I want to see is the creation of new social networks (whatever and whenever they are) with a “do no harm” perspective built in from the ground up in the DNA of the companies (and people) who make them.
So too, I want to see the users thinking the same way. Here are the sorts of questions I’m asking myself:
- How do we use our social tools to ensure that no harm comes to others now and into the future as a consequence of our actions?
- How do we create thick social value through the invention and use of social tools and networks?
- How do we ensure our social tools are always about people over things?
- How do we create and use social tools based on principle versus strategy – aiming purpose over profit?
I think we need to look to Africa and parts of Asia.
In these places, societies are becoming more connected, but in simpler ways that benefit the people directly through outcomes such as ensuring best prices for goods at market (Kenya, I think), knowing which port will buy your catch (Sri Lanka), ensuring police are paid their full wage rather than corrupt officials skimming a cut (Afghanistan), etc. All these projects are enabled by Internet-connected tools, but not accessed by anything more complex than an old-school grey screen Nokia and text messages.
This is the stuff that’s bugging me.
I appreciate the gesture. And attend I will. And write I will.
But like Stil, I attend very many of these sorts of events, and am of the mind that liveblogging them, or live tweeting them, unless one has an especially cogent observation to make, actually detracts from the value of attending the event.
So, I’ve made a decision. I will attend the event. I will occasionally tweet if I or a speaker or another attendee has something especially noteworthy to say.
But I’m not going to live blog. Rather, I’m going to make notes, compile them, and post a summary tomorrow evening or Saturday.
Once I’ve had the opportunity to digest the material from the event.
Here’s why. After attending a great number of these “big thinking” events – TED, TEDx, Interesting South and others (that don’t annoy me nearly as much as they do Stil) – I find that trying to digest the content and report on it in real time dramatically reduces my experience of the event. I don’t focus on the speakers and other attendees. Rather, I focus on rapidly getting out what I think at the time is the message those watching might want. I don’t absorb.
In a breathless, media right now, attempt to broadcast my own and the presenter’s message, I actually dilute the experience for myself and others. It’s a mile wide and way less than an inch deep.
And that’s not what I want.
I want a rich, deep, relevant, cognitively expansive experience where my own interaction with the event is rewarding. I want to be, as Jay Rosen notes, “the people formerly known as the audience”. And I want my fellow attendees to do the same.
To do that, I need to focus on being at and in an event. Not scattershot partial attention.