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The who and the what of TED

The who and the what of TED
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First Published: Wed, Aug 12 2009. 10 37 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Aug 12 2009. 10 37 PM IST
The two questions that are most often asked of me are:
• Why is the TEDIndia application process so lengthy?
• What do you do with all the ideas that are discussed?
I will attempt to answer both these questions in this column.
When one attends a conference, especially one that is charging at least Rs1 lakh, one would be expected to delegate the registration form to an assistant, pay the fee and get on with it. But the TED culture is different. One has to first apply to be considered part of the audience, and take about an hour to answer questions about goals, accomplishments, even wishes.
After submitting the form, applicants get a response letting them know whether they are approved or not. Once they receive the approval, applicants answer a few more questions and pay the fee to be confirmed attendees.
That seems like a lot of work just to attend a conference. And here is an insight into why this application process has become a feature of TED, as opposed to being a deterrent.
I once heard Pico Iyer say that the journey that we take inside ourselves is as important as the travels that we make around the world. We know this—but we do get busy with work, life, responding to external stimuli. We forget to take that journey within ourselves. The busier we get, the more we travel around the world, the less we travel inwards.
We attend most conferences out of professional courtesy, to network, to see and be seen—or, as Americans call it, a boondoggle.
But we each have one or two conferences that we love to attend. For most people, TED is one such conference. It’s a place where the audience is as important as the speakers. And this explains the lengthy nature of the registration. We want this to be an equally rewarding experience for the audience, and that experience begins with an internal journey that is so needed for each one of us.
When one has to answer questions such as “What are you passionate about?” or “Can you share a memorable anecdote from your life that will give us a further sense of what makes you tick?”, it forces a certain introspection. There’s no one-word answer, no delegating to an admin assistant. That’s when we take the time to make this inward journey into ourselves and make a commitment as an audience that is committed to take on all the ideas worth spreading.
And to have a fully committed audience is the key to answering the next question, which is, what do you do with all the ideas that are generated here?
We take so much time choosing the right mix of audience that we have all the talents needed to make ideas a reality. One major outcome of the conference is the launch of TEDTalks, a collection of the best talks from TEDs through the years. They’re enjoyed by millions around the world—notching more than 120 million page views and more than 1,000 years’ worth of video downloaded in three years. Our audiences are our investors, who with their registration fee allow us to hire the best talent to create and maintain the content on TED.com.
The second outcome of the conference is fulfilling the wishes of the TED Prize winners. Each year, TED awards three individuals the TED Prize, which gives each of them $100,000 (Rs48.4 lakh) and “One Wish to Change the World”. The TED Prize team facilitates participation by the entire TED community to fulfil the wishes made by the prize winners. Attendees donate their talent to make the wishes come true.
Finally, the best way in which ideas become reality is done in the most organic way—by the attendees connecting with one another and making plans.
When I was designing the first ever e-commerce demos in 1995, no one could visualize the concept of online grocery shopping, and it was at TED that I found graphic designers and technology experts that “got” what I was looking for. I worked with a brilliant group of collaborators I met at TED to design the first five e-commerce demos for Intel Corp. At TED2008 in Monterey, product designer Yves Behar and Forrest North happened to be sitting next to each other and through casual chatter discovered that they had a mutual fascination for motorcycles. A year later, the duo launched their first electric motorbike—at TED2009.
At TED, we apply the same principles used by Harvard or IIT. We take in the best, provide a great experience, so that what comes out has the highest likelihood of being the best. At TED, the audience is the conference. They are the investors who fund the ideas, evangelists who spread the ideas and implementers who turn them into reality to shape a world worth sharing.
TED is a small non-profit devoted to ideas worth spreading. TEDIndia 2009 will be the first-ever conference of TED in Asia. In these chronicles, Lakshmi Pratury, co-host of TEDIndia, talks about her personal experiences with TED and provide a curtain-raiser for TEDIndia.
Respond to this column at tedchronicles@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Aug 12 2009. 10 37 PM IST