I go to several conferences each year, often as a paid keynoter or speaker, but always as an enthusiastic learner.
Quite often, I’m disappointed to see that what is ‘on stage’ more a reflection of the sponsorships, rather than insightfully selected great content, well-presented to really s-t-r-e-t-ch the audience’s brains and shape our collective perspective. It is quite sad to see the offered level of content quality at most conferences, when what we really need is content and ideas that will lift our games up to the next level.
And then, once a year, I shell out a ton of money to go to a conference, and not as a speaker where I can be acclaimed, but as a participant where very few people know me.
Yes, I write this from Long Beach, California, a few hours before the TED 2011 conference is about to begin. After being picked to attend (each year, you have to reapply), I spend $6000 for a ticket to attend. (Next year: $7500 – gulp!) Add in the special child care needs, airfare, and hotel … TED adds up to an easy (actually, not so easy!) $10,000 out of pocket. And when I get home, the best presentations will be viewable online for free. Kinda insane, right?
But it’s worth every penny to go to TED. Here’s what I get:
Curation. And a New Vantage. There is a mess of information we are all exposed to, and there’s only so much brain power we have to filter, process and create meaning out of that information. Many of us are unintentional about who we rely on to help us process our world. Many channels are politically biased. Many media can be “bought”. We have a world that is much bigger than we can grasp — and if we don’t have a way of spotting issues that matter and engaging those issues, it’s like we’re looking at the world through the lens of a laser point instead of the expansive view of say, the Grand Canyon. TED offers a Grand Canyon-like vistage onto issues that matter, providing multiple perspectives and ideas from a diversity of regions, domains, disciplines, perspectives. Without that vantage, I risk being myopic. Small world views never lead to greatness.
Curiosity. Many of us have confirmation that the education we received growing up, is serving us less and less well. We learned rules and memorized facts, which taught us how to live within some box…but now we need to know how to identify patterns or shift patterns to shape the world. But achieving this requires us to be open to seeing things anew – to finding some meta-perspective. At TED, I befriend curiosity and ask questions. I wonder at what I don’t know and welcome the not-knowing-ness long enough to create space for new ideas to seep in. The speakers of TED stay the whole time and interact with the other attendees; they do not just pop in, present and leave. They are not separate. They are part of US. Together, we seek.
Change. I believe the beauty of all human beings is that we all see the world through our own unique experiences. This is not a commonly held view; where many try to “fit in” and “be normal”. But at TED, because of the cross-disciplinary nature and because everyone has been chosen to belong, there’s a context that we’re all equal. The person sitting next to me might be a rock star, the CEO of an ecommerce company, or a financial genius, or whatever…here, it is not about our titles or whatever. Everyone is accomplished, in our own ways. But we all bring something unique to a conversation about any topic. That leads to deep and yet varied conversations. Conversations and dialogue are the venue for all global growth and change. I don’t know how I’ll be changed, or how I will change another…and that’s also part of the discovery.
And, really, what I get is this: A Tribe. TED was the first place in my life where– when I arrived, I felt like I didn’t have to play small any more. Really smart people with really good values who didn’t judge me for being really smart, accomplished, or passionate. People start conversations in an open tone. I don’t have to prove myself with credentials. The fact that I am brown or a woman, raised on Salvation Army clothes, put myself through school, or whatever has no bearing on whether I have merit. I am with people who “get” me. Being seen is a powerful way in which we help each other to be our biggest, best self. Together, we cultivate ideas, and befriend curiosity. and are changed. And, yes, I gladly pay for that.
There could be a lot of people this week trashing TED in the press (it happened last year) … perhaps ought of jealousy, or perhaps out of misunderstanding. And this post certainly isn’t meant to address that, but to share why I think it’s important, for me.
As I’ve said before, we are always 2: who we’ve been and who’re becoming. In the moment before us, we have a set of choices about what informs that – how do we get new insights, how do we form new intelligence and perspectives and how do we understand our world. If it is not TED for you, perhaps it’s a TEDx, or PopTech, or Aspen Ideas, or something else entirely different…Whatever it is, we all need to find a way to curate new ideas, be curious, to change and be changed. Because that is how we have the chance to be most kick-ass.