TED Talks; People Listen

I finally got around to listening to the posted talks from the 2006 TED Conference. They made their way to the internet in no small thanks to June Cohen, an old friend who is now involved with organizing the TED conference (is that a dream job or what?) and is trying to get the TED message out to the broader world. (TED has been somewhat famously cloistered, and I give June many many props for trying to open up that discussion.)

Now, I listened to the talks (instead of watching them). They struck me as perfect iPod fodder. My guess is that listening has lead me to have a different reaction than those who watched them, judging by my quick browse through Technorati’s pointers to other blog posts.

For one thing, among the most lauded talks in the blogosphere is Sir Ken Robinson’s discussion of education and creativity. Frankly, I found the talk insufferable (as in: I didn’t finish it). Ken seems very enamored of his wit, which he displays at length, taking the longest time to get to any point. And the point he does have, that standard educational practices stifle creativity and innovation, is not particularly novel, and he doesn’t really offer much by way of insight as to how to address it.

The speaker that most surprised me was Tony Robbins. I am familiar with him only from his infomercials. That chin. Those teeth. That hair. I’ve always thought the he looked like a genetic experiment gone awry–an assemblage of the perfect elements of a human face which, when brought together, look grotesque.

So, I figured he peddled soft-serve self-help for a Woe Is Me generation. His talk, though, was remarkably good. What wasn’t surprising was his delivery — he compels you to listen, and has a lot of charm and confidence. What was surprising was the content — Tony Robbins is, essentially, an existentialist. He makes it clear that what he believes is important in life is simply this: making decisions. “Decision is the ultimately power.” He also even dabbles into Zen – encouraging folks to let go of the past and focus on the now. And before he finishes he lays out some pretty clear concepts on a set of discrete needs that people have (though people have different weights behind those needs).

Oh, and he uses profanity. A few bullshits and a fuck. Which I found oddly refreshing, given the stuffy context of TED.

Anyway, his is well worth a listen.

Al Gore’s talk is pretty good. It’s very much about showing us ‘human Al’ — he tells post-2000 stories of humility that we can all chuckle at. He also provides some “duh” advice as to how we can help address our climate crisis.

David Pogue’s talk, while quite funny (it’s filled with Broadway-esque musicals about technology and the woes of “tech support”), struck me as remarkably rudimentary for the TED crowd. I wouldn’t be comfortable having him give such a talk at Adaptive Path’s UX Week event — I would fear it would be an insult to our attendees! So, listen for the humor, but don’t expect to learn much beyond, “our products need to be simpler.”

I don’t have much to say about Majora Carter’s talk other than I didn’t get much out of it. She’s clearly speaking from personal passion and experience, and Sustainable South Bronx is doubtless a worthwhile cause, but, again, I didn’t take away anything meaningful.

Hans Rosling’s one talk I didn’t listen to, because they haven’t released it on MP3. So I watched the video, which demonstrated very quickly why they haven’t offered the audio – it’s meaningless without the (stunning) visuals of demographic data moving across charts over time. Hans is passionate about merging design with data in order to help people better understand what is going on in their world.

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