Recently, I had the great fortune to attend the TED 2014 Conference in Vancouver and I had an incredible experience from start to finish. TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design – Ideas worth spreading. It is a conference comprised of speeches – no more than 18 minutes long – from creative and intellectual minds from across the globe. In the spirit of spreading “ideas worth spreading,” here are my top TED takeaways.
1. Mind, be exercised!
Wow, TED pushes you to think! It exercises your brain. Sit with your thoughts, struggle with ideas, be inspired and then act. Think about and ready yourself for the future. Maybe that’s to build a better world. Be an active participant at the local or global scale. Work together and collaborate towards something greater than ourselves. And then just when you are completely overwhelmed, TED will bring something delightful into the mix. Maybe it’s incredible images of nature from an incredible photographer or maybe it’s a musical performance by Sting, or maybe it’s fabulous architectural design from Moshe Safdie. You never know what is going to come to next and what aspect of your senses will get stretched and expanded but you do know that whatever it is it will make you think differently. And this will all be delivered to you in a friendly, open, and inclusive way. That is the beauty of TED.
2. Culture and Community of TED
The TED experience manifested right away for me at registration. I met Janice, a volunteer at TED who I thought would just hand me my badge like at other conferences. Not the case at all. I think she was just as excited as I was to be there. We talked at length about the week ahead and what to expect and how to maximize the experience. She was warm and friendly and truly a great ambassador for Vancouver.
There were about 1200 attendees at TED this year in Vancouver and I have to say that even at that number, it felt intimate. Especially after the first day where some of the novelty and overwhelm wears off. People smile, they look you in the eye. They are curious like you and they are open to diversity. We’re all there for pretty much the same reason. To come into new awareness. To learn, to connect and to be better for it. I noticed that there were lots of repeat TED attendees. Some who have been coming since the very start back in 1984.
One very unique aspect of this for me was how the who’s who of the technology and entertainment world were walking openly and engaging in dialogue just like everyone else. No handlers, security, or conveyed arrogance that I could tell. The attendees were full of highly accomplished people: Bill Gates, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Reed Hastings, Al Gore, Martha Stewart, Cameron Diaz and the list goes on with many many more. Often I would leave a conversation and then google the name on the badge of who I spoke with to find out who they were and I was always surprised. TED also had a fantastic conference app for your phone that had everything you needed at your fingertips and they showed there everyone else who was attending with you and in many cases short bios. And the app let you connect with all of these people. Many unassuming accomplished people abound. Their badge colours were often a giveaway though. Most of us had badges that were red. There were a select group of purple badge people (the donors) and they were usually the ones the most fun to google J. A pretty interesting moment was when Reed Hastings (CEO of Netflix) approached a few of us while we were in line to get into one of the talks and he initiated a great conversation with us on Vancouver, technology, customer experience, brand and on TELUS and our history. A proud moment for me as a Vancouverite and a TELUS team member to be able to share our story. He acknowledged TELUS for the strength of our brand over our competitors.
3. Malala’s Dad
Malala’s father spoke at the opening session for TED and I have to say that this was one of my favourite parts of the entire experience even though you probably wouldn’t categorize his message as Technology Entertainment or Design. Malala’s father, Ziauddin Yousafza, spoke so passionately about his daughter, about equality and women’s rights, about the power of education and why we need the world to change. And he is changing the world, not just talking about it.
To have a woman talk and fight for women’s rights is one thing; to hear and feel a man take it on so selflessly is quite another. I think he is truly the reason why Malala has become who she is, a young global icon and hero for education equality. This is personal for me. I was born and raised here in Canada and while I love and respect India for my heritage, I am grateful to my great-grandfather for having the courage and curiosity to get on a boat for months and journey to Canada and settle here back in 1906. We have the luxury of freedom here in Canada and this is not the case for so many people in so many nations in this day and age.
Education for girls is what Malala and her father are fighting for. Hard to imagine for many of us in Canada but I don’t have to look far for a somewhat similar situation with my mother who grew up in India before coming to Canada. Her father, my grandfather, faced criticism and pressure from the community for doing all he did to ensure his daughter was able to pursue education at all levels. He knew the impact of education on equality and quality of life and future. I’m thankful for him as I’m thankful for people like Ziauddin Yousafza. Ziauddin is already garnering global support by sharing his story and plight enabled through this age of globalization.
4. Some of my other favourite TED talks from the event:
- Nicholas Negroponte – MIT Director and futurist
- Bill Gates/Melinda Gates – Passion and global inspiration for giving back
- Hugh Herr – Bionic technology for leg for a ballet dancer who was a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing
- Jimmy Wales – founder of Wikipedia on how Telecommunication companies in South Africa are providing free access to Wikipedia to help support education for all
- Edward Snowden and Rick Ledgett – Edward Snowden’s own perspective on why he did what he did and the NSA’s response by Security Director Rick Ledgett
- Sarah Jones – a fabulous entertainer and playwright
- Sergeant Kevin Briggs – Crisis management for suicide on the Golden Gate Bridge
5. TED Access
Regardless of what you may read about critics saying that TED is exclusive and not accessible I have to say that, in fact, it’s open to everyone. While it’s true that it’s not like being there live, the TED talks are all available online and if you’re a TELUS TV customer, you can see the full library on your TV at home. I have watched many of the talks over the years online and on my TELUS TV with family. Watching them with family and friends together on the TV has actually been one of my favourite ways to enjoy TED. Sparks great conversation after viewing live together versus alone on your laptop.
TED ensured there was live streaming over the net for the main TED talks that happened over the week. There were also free venues across Vancouver showing the TED talks. You could also see the talks on TELUS Optik TV with the TED app.
All the talks will be online at TED.com and on TELUS Optik TV in the coming weeks.
And there you have it. Vancouver itself was a perfect TED choice in host venue. In my opinion, the best place to live in the world. Our diversity of natural beauty of breathtaking vistas spanning mountains and ocean was matched only by the beauty of the diversity of people living here. I can’t wait for TED 2015!
Juggy Sihota is Vice President – Client Experience Strategy and Execution at TELUS Health.