2010 was my third year of being a TEDster, although I've been watching TED Talks since they first went online in 2007 and first heard of the amazing conference from my friend Austin Hill in 2006 (was following his inspirational posts). And my first two years (one year in simulcast at TED Aspen and in 2009 in Long Beach 'main' TED) were pretty epic and mindblowing, so unlike my new TED friend, David Ng, I didn't have an ounce of skepticism approaching it this year. But unlike my first two years, this year I was heading to TED on a tight budget (I've scaled back to writing and speaking only - not as lucrative as consulting, but WAY more rewarding and flexible), so I *did* consider that this may be my last year of trekking to TED (thought about doing the simulcast in my living room for friends). But after being at TEDActive in Palm Springs, I knew that watching from home just wouldn't be the same, so I *will* return. Exactly what is so epic about being at TED? Much controversy is leveled at this conference that, first of all, makes you apply for attendance and, second of all, IF you are accepted, pay dearly for the honor of attending ($3,750 for TED Active and $6,000 for TED). Those bits are definitely not the parts of TED I love, but lemme say that *because* of those bits, TED is what it is. As I've told many people, the selection process raises the bar on participation. This is not because it only allows fancy people in (hardly...I'm there, right?), but because the application is rigorous and, when and if you get in, you commit to it. I've been to hundreds of conferences (well, maybe 120-130) over the years and, for the most part, people who choose to actually sit and watch all of the sessions are often on their email or Facebook. There are very few of these at TED and those who are, well, I'm sorry to say that they may feel a little too entitled to be there. In my experience, you apply, you get chosen, you commit to being a TEDster 100% and year-round (helping with TED Prizes, spreading talks, executing on ideas coming from TED, etc.).
The cost just reaffirms that. Egad, I wish it wasn't so expensive. The cost makes it out of reach for most people I know. It makes it out of reach for me! But I roomed with three students at TED Active who said they were foregoing parties and concerts to be there it was that important to them (they were also TEDx organizers). But the money isn't just for the conference. It goes into the TEDPrize, the sponsorships of the TEDFellows and the ability to tape the TED talks in HD beautifully edited versions to post online for free for the entire world to share. And I think it goes towards a reminder that those of us who can scrape together the $3750-$6000 can also scrape together the time and passion to really really make a difference in the world. This is not a conference on how to increase your ROI or create high impact marketing plans. This is a conference on how to solve the real problems of the world. Energy crisis, poverty, obesity, fraud, racism, sexism, diminishing forests, vanishing species, epidemics, education...you name it, there are people speaking at TED who are *really* doing something about it or have a solution that they need affluent, influent people to get behind. The TED talks are just a piece of it, too. Being there sparks conversations that turn into partnerships that turn into action in many cases. I'm proud to be part of this ecosystem.
But as amazing as TED is, I found TEDActive to be that much more amazing. TED created a simulcast version of the conference in 2008 in Aspen, Colorado. I was there and had a life-transforming experience. The next year, I felt incredibly fortunate to be invited to TED (main) in Long Beach. It was amazing and huge and spectacular. For 2010, I got the invite to go back to Long Beach, but decided to return to TED Active (simulcast version) which had moved to Palm Springs for a couple of reasons: #1. money (of course!) #2. I missed the special energy of TED Active. And I'm glad I did. Although TED (main) is fabulous, I had the time of my life at TED Active and plan to return there as long as it exists. Why?
10. Day 1 Excitement
Seriously, watch this:
The excitement was so incredibly high and positive in that room before the first session that it filled me up with joy. I would never have seen people running up on the stage to pose at Long Beach. This was brilliant. P.S. Notice the bean bags. I'm done with stuffy chairs from now on. ;)
9. The Riviera
Aaaaaah....relax. What an amazing place. Gorgeous room and fabulous poolside. Lots of history there, too!
8. The Desert
Colder than I thought, but much more awesome than I imagined, too! Gorgeous landscape and fabulous setting for our activities:
This is Dewey and his human, Robert:
They weren't the only dog/human pair. There were at least 4 more and the Riviera and the conference was friendly to them. Next year, I'm definitely bringing Ridley!
6. Nexus One
Okay, everyone at TED got a free Nexus One from Google, but I could tell the excitement in the room at TEDActive was overwhelming...and there were plenty of people there that may not have been able to access it (from around the world) or afford it (many students and activists). I was talking to oodles of people who told me it would be their first smart phone!
I'll be doing a post on mine soon. I've fallen head over heels in love with it.
5. Self-Organized Crazy Games
I can't pronounce it, but it was quite a popular game at TED Active: KCYMAERXTHAERE. I love that people did this and was going to get involved, but got pulled off into too many awesome conversations on my way there. :)
4. Flash Mobs
My very first! Thanks to Kenneth Hughes for organizing this!
3. The TEDActive Band with Jill Sobule
I think Jill Sobule is way cooler than Thomas Dolby and Ethel anyday:
2. The Google Group
I don't recall having a TED google group set up, but we have a TEDActive group set up and there is lots of chatter, coordinating, plotting and generally awesome sharing on that group. Google group = friends for life!
1. The People
I hung out in the hot tub one night with a couple of really nice people I would find out two days later are behind one of my favorite pranks of all time (New York Times Special Edition) as well as many other amazing public actions - and they didn't tell me! And then I hung out with this other guy who made me laugh a good deal and who had super style only to find out from someone ELSE that he co-founded Just For Laughs (only one of the coolest things to come out of Canada ever!). Oh and there was the ever smiley and fun Krupali Tejura who, I figured out AFTER TED that she is an oncologist and cancer doctor! And she is the most positive person EVER. And what about Marieme Jamme, who approached me with such enthusiasm and insisted I sign my book for her...um...Marieme and her work is MUCH more lofty than mine. She's creating all sorts of important business inroads into Africa and especially helping African women. She also speaks, like 7 languages fluently.
None of these people or the dozens of others I met had the least bit of an air of importance about them. They were there to learn, to share, to meet and to enjoy TED Active. At TED Long Beach, I felt like I was intruding on most conversations - and to be fair, many TEDsters at Long Beach have been going for years and have long established relationships...I was a n00b - but at TED Active, people were welcoming and friendly and really eager to meet anyone and everyone. Because of that, I was able to relax and absorb. The whole question of 'What do you do' rarely came up. It was more, like, 'What are you most excited about?' I loved that.
TED is special. It isn't a conference as much as a gathering of a larger movement. Hats off to Richard Saul Wurman years ago for envisioning and starting it, Chris Anderson years later for taking it over and taking it to the next level and to June Cohen, Kelly Stoezel, Amy Novogratz and everyone else who is part of the TED crew who shapes this awesome event/movement/force of nature/catalyst. It's a great community to be part of.