Post TED thoughts

Paul at TED

So, as previous TEDsters had warned me, TED 2009 did blow my mind. That many amazing talks one after the other interspersed with constant caffeinated/slightly drunken conversation with some of the best minds in the world on tech and design was just brilliant.

Everything at TED is done to such high standards. The talks are just so much better than your usual conference fare. The TED Commandments sent to the speakers beforehand give you a flavour of what is expected. And then to have some of the best music and film on top of that….

The talks have already started trickling out including Liz Gilbert’s brilliant one on genius. My favourites to look out for on over the coming months: Willie Smits on how he learned how to regrow rainforest, Aimee Mullins on what disability means in the 21st century, Patty Maes unveiling MIT’s sixth sense and Liz Coleman on Liberal Arts Education.

The parties were glitzy to say the least and you could argue that the lavishness of the whole thing was in opposition to current economic gloom but I think that misses the point. What struck me was that amongst the group of people there, almost universally, everyone I met was a practical optimist. Sure there was lots of conversation about the problems, especially about the environmental challenges of both climate change and the disappearing oceans (“It’s too late for pessimism” was one quote I’ll remember on climate change), but even these massive problems were treated as challenges.

And I walked away pretty confident about our future. These are also people who have done massive things before. People who have built revolutionary businesses and social movements, done amazing things in their respective fields. If anybody is going to have the kind of experience we need to turn our ship away from the rocks in this storm, it’s them. Mainly because they’re not people who have relied on top-down power. They’ve built things and changed things from the bottom up.

Anyway, there was no doubt about my absolute highlight, which was our video link to the ceremony in Venezuela to give Jose Antonio Abreu his TED Prize (if you don’t know about El Sistema I urge you to find out more). No video of that performance, but here’s one of the orchestra in the Proms in London.