Four Surprising Discoveries About TED


Did you hear? This year THE POPE GAVE A TED TALK. Along with the headline-grabbing interview with visionary Elon Musk, TED2017 was the conference heard ‘round the world. That’s what most people know about TED, marquee names and blockbuster talks. As a longtime donor partner of TED, I left this year’s star-studded extravaganza convinced that the biggest idea worth spreading is TED itself. There’s an entire TED universe, unknown and unexplored by most.

I love TED. I know there’s a We Hate TED cult, and I get it. It’s too slow to outgrow its privileged-white-tech-bro-private-club roots — and too easy to parody (Go to 3:06 of the video). TED is a constant contradiction, much like humanity itself, elitist and egalitarian, predictable and surprising.

It’s remarkable that after three decades of producing bleeding-edge conferences, TED still sets a world-class standard for thoughtfully curated programming with the best of intentions for the planet and all who live on it.  Here are four surprising discoveries about the TED organization.

In the TED universe, TED Talks are not the sun.

When I ask people if they’ve ever heard of TED, most say, “I love TED Talks! I watch them all the time!”  TED Talks are just the shiniest, brightest, best known of TED’s offerings

I’ve been a TED Patron for over a decade, and theHF was the first to contribute to the creation of the TED Fellows (still our favorite planet in the TED universe). But even a TED aficionado like me can’t remember every heavenly body in the TED planetary system. Please, open a separate tab and check out the vastness of TED universe. I’m partial to good-as-it-gets TED-Ed, the best teachers teaching their best lessons illustrated by the best animators chosen to make the lesson come alive. TED-Ed’s orbiting TED Clubs are where young students learn to write and deliver their own compelling TED Talks. I could deliver a fundraising pitch for every circle on that chart of TED programs and initiatives (click on that link to see the chart! Worth it!)

TED models iteration, unafraid of constant evolution (and the occasional #fail).

Did you know TED used to be a hush-hush event, before the talks were made available to anyone who hadn’t paid for a ticket to attend in person? TED was an internationally known and respected brand in its original form and format, an elite gathering of the few, with a “what happens on the TED stage is private” ethic. Social media brought a tide of change, washing over the organization, ever coming and going, as tides do.

Boldly opening the broad umbrella of “ideas,” TED pointedly evolved beyond its founding pillars of Technology, Entertainment and Design. After decades in Monterey, the conference moved, and kept moving. Locations, dates, and traditions are not set in stone. The TED team tries the new and kills what doesn’t work.

TED acts as if there’s hope for humanity.

How can humanity survive the divisions that pit us against each other? Every aspect of the TED universe is meant to create pathways for understanding and cooperation among people who do not see the world the same way. TED is deliberate in building a worldwide community of good intention. TED wants people to be willing to hear each other’s ideas respectfully. Whenever I’m at a TED event, I know I’m among people who are willing to put aside partisan or chauvinistic or tribal prejudices in order to figure out how everyone, everywhere, can live and work in a sustainable world. Yeah, it’s very pie-in-the-sky. (Who doesn’t want pie?)

TED deserves financial support even though it appears to be “rich.”

The price of a TED conference ticket puts it beyond the reach of most people. It’s insane. That is, unless one realizes that the bigticket price sustains so many of those little spheres in the TED universe. (I am begging you to click this link so you can see the universe, please and thank you.)

If you can afford one of those expensive tickets, and that’s how you choose to spend your money and your time, it’s a gift to the world as well as to yourself.

Your ticket is helping to produce jaw-dropping, life-transforming moments for people all over the world who get the benefit of TED for free. I’m still stunned by the generosity of sharing all of its world-changing ideas at no cost to anyone and everyone.

If I had to choose only one nonprofit to support, TED would be in the finals and an odds-on favorite to win. After all, one gift gives life to an entire universe and offers hope to the only planet we have right now.