TED Conferences: For Genuine, Original Thought

This post-holiday time, this bleak mid-winter, has always put me into a thoughtful, planful (if there is such word) sort of mood.  I don’t think I’m alone either.  Seems to me that the chaps who plan the World Economic Forum feel the same way which would possibly account for this event being held at the end of January each year.

The Davos event is very attractive to many people. There’s an appeal to rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the world – Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Bono  – dining sumptuously amid elegant surroundings, and discussing important topics (sorry “Important Topics”) in one of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland. Could just be that the skiing around Davos is good, too.

With all the events around the current worldwide economic trouble, interest in this year’s Davos event should be particularly high.  This event, though, has never really interested me.  Somehow it falls short.  There seem to be two groups of people at this event: the A-listers who headline the events, and the people who want to ‘network’ with them.  The whole thing has a feeling of a high school, model UN conference.  Like the cool kids in high school and the kids that wanted to hang out with the cool kids in high school.  Like Tyler Brule.

The forum’s website says the 2009 meetings will be ‘focused on managing the current crisis’ and will be attended by 1,400 chief executives, 250 public figures, and 41 heads of state. In other words, a lot of the people who got us into the current crisis.

I much prefer TED.com, an organization more geared toward original and innovative thinking.  In addition to well-known figures such as Al Gore and Rupert Murdoch – who will be found on the Davos circuit, too – TED events (which stands for technology, education, design) typically feature such interesting thinkers as Joshua Klein who invented a vending machine for crows as a means for researching and demonstrating their surprising intelligence and Evelyn Glennie, the Scottish percussionist whose deafness didn’t prevent her from being accepted to the Royal Academy of Music and whose talk on ‘feeling music’ provides a fascinating alternate understanding of sound and performance.

As with Davos, participation in the TED Conference is pretty limited but the TED talks, as they’re called, are readily accessible on TED.com and, unlike Davos, are worth watching whether right away or months or years later.  When I listen to Ken Robinson describe how schools could easily be performing much better or Malcolm Gladwell characteristic use of the engaging anecdote to help us understand the impact of personal choice, I am left thinking that the solutions to the world’s problems are much more likely to come, however serendipitously, from this group of thinkers than from Davos.

If your attention span is on the short side, listening to Richard St John’s ‘8 Secrets of Success’ will be three of the best-spent minutes of your life.  And you could do it from Davos, if you really need to be there.

More:

Evelyn Glennie, ‘How to Listen With Your Whole Body

Richard St John, ‘8 Secrets of Success

 

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