Connecting the Dots
Tracing tangible results of TED-inspired ideas.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
The questions being asked at this week’s TED conference sound like the sort only to be debated late at night, and after several bottles of wine. But they are being discussed here in broad daylight, sans alcohol (although one has to imagine that the discussion continues, post-conference, over drinks at Montrio), by people with interesting, brilliant minds who really can change the world.
Or if not change the world, at least prove oddly entertaining, like speaker Joshua Klein, who built a machine that trains cows to pick up change and deposit the money in a slot in return for peanuts.
Big names, big ideas and big talk. Is it actually life-changing? Or just a really exclusive love fest?
Event organizers won’t make the connection between TED ideas and real life for common folk more concerned about paying the bills than discussing what is our place in the world.
I asked them to address this in an e-mail. They ignored my question.
The obvious connection is the TED Prize, intended to take ideas generated at TED and use them (along with a prize of $100,000) to change the world. Each prize winner is granted a wish, and TED sponsors, community members and online visitors can grant a wish in the form of business services, hardware and software, publicity, infrastructure, advice and connections. According to TED.com, major support for the TED Prize has come from AMD, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, Idealab, IDEO, Kleiner Perkins, Sun Microsystems, Time Warner and Voxiva. But when asked how much money, to date, TED members and sponsors have raised to support prize winners, Amy Novogratz, TED Prize director, is elusive.
“The idea behind the TED Prize is that it catalyzes the time and expertise of individuals and companies and in a collaborative way,” Novogratz writes in an e-mail. “For example, Cameron Sinclair’s 2006 TED Prize wish – to create a community that embraces open-source design to generate sustainable living standards for the world – resulted in the OAN (Open Architecture Network), which came to be because of the contribution of Sun Microsystems in building the technology, and companies like Hot Studio in creating the design and AMD populating the site by creating the Open Architecture Challenge. The prize is really about contributing mindshare and action, not just money.”
It seems that a monetary value could be placed on all of the above. But that is too concrete for TED’s liking.
To be sure, great things have sprung from TED wishes. 2005 TED Prize winner Bono, of rock group U2, wished “to help build a social movement of more than 1 million American activists for Africa.” TEDsters pitched in to help make Bono’s dream a reality. The Jane Addams Hull House secured rights to www.ONE.org. Sun Microsystems built a technology that allowed instant sign-up at U2 concerts and a multi-company team of Sun, Macromedia, Microsoft and Tribe redesigned the ONE.org website. Additionally, an anonymous TEDster committed $10 million over five years to Bono’s team. As a result, Bono achieved 1.4 million sign-ups ahead of the G8 summit later that year where the eight wealthiest nations agreed to forgive some of Africa’s debt.
In 2006, prize winner Jehane Noujaim wished “to bring the world together for one day a year through the power of film.” The result: Pangea Day (pangeaday.org). People around the world create short films about universal topics – food, home, water, laughter, sorrow, hope, landscape, despair and joy. On May 10, Pagea Day 2008, films selected by Noujaim and a jury of filmmakers will be featured.
Former president Bill Clinton was one of the three 2007 winners. His wish: “to help create a better future for Rwanda by assisting my foundation, in partnership with the Rwandan Government, to build a sustainable, high-quality rural health system for the whole country.”
TED’s website makes conference talks available for free, which an estimated 15 million people have watched 30 million times. TED organizers tout this as proof the conference’s speakers and ideas are accessible and useful in the real world.
Ideas change the world. So can teachers. And TED ideas can translate into real-world opportunity and progress, although celebrity, connections and other mediums through which to advance one’s world-changing wish don’t hurt either.