TED 2010: Day 4 and Wrapup

First, some notes on earlier talks here.

Yesterday I wrote about Bill Gates’ presentation. The video hasn’t been posted yet (Update: Gates’ presentation), but you can read an insightful slide-by-slide rundown by Nancy Duarte (who we’ve featured previously in MIT Sloan Management Review). And a few days back, I mentioned another Microsoft-related talk: Blaise Aguera y Arcas’ demo of a new mapping technology employing augmented reality. It really works and you can see it here:

And now, notes on the final day of TED 2010. By the last two sessions of the conference, after three days of one 18-minute marvel after another and three late nights of talking over those marvels with fellow attendees, you need something energetic to keep you sitting up straight and tall in your seat. And Saturday’s sessions offered some of that. Highlights included:

Sir Ken Robinson. His previous talk, from 2006, about rethinking education, was one of the first TED videos liberated for public viewing and remains the most-seen. This year’s talk went deeper in the same territory. If anything, it was even more iconoclastic, starting with the notion that reform of a broken model (what he considers the current public school situation in the U.S.) is insufficient and discussing how difficult it is to “disenthrall” ourselves from the “tyranny of common sense.” His talk will be up shortly and it’s worth seeing in its entirety; his notion of moving from the current approach to public education, which he terms industrial and linear, to a more “agricultural” and holistic (without the new age trappings) one is provocative and, after a while, inarguable.

Another superstar of the day was James Cameron, best known for films about 10-foot-tall blue people, big ships that sink, and what Arnold Schwarzenegger is really like. His autobiographical talk wasn’t short on self-regard, but it also wasn’t short on inspiration. Those looking for tips on how their movie might make a billion dollars got a few of them (he wanted a global audience, regardless of language, so he made the story of Avatar play primarily visually and emotionally), but he also celebrated what anyone can do: curiosity, imagination, respecting your team and being respected in turn. Cameron stuck close to his favorite subject — himself — and it would have been good if he had found some examples for his points that were not about him, but they were points worth hearing nonetheless.

Many of the talks in the first session were about simplicity — simplicity in design, thought, and how we live our lives — and they were all lively and engaging, but TED is really the wrong place to talk about simplicity. If anything, TED is a celebration of complexity, an exploration of what can be connected to something else in a new, delightful, and useful way. The stage was full of people who said they craved simplicity, but I’m pretty sure this audience could tolerate that only in small doses. In just the last session alone, emotion bounced from Cameron talking about Cameron to a young woman talking about the brain tumor that will kill her shortly to a satirist lampooning the past four days to a preternaturally mature child imploring the grownups to stop screwing up everything.

Again, these are highlights, only a taste of an experience hard to convey in the narrow confines of a blog. You don’t want to read about Thomas Dolby and the astonishing string quartet Ethel make a Sheryl Crow song sound more lively than Crow did herself two nights earlier; you want to hear it in person. You don’t want to read or hear about how someone’s life changed, for good or ill; you want to be in the room and share the moment. May you all get that opportunity.

The intricate stage is down, the final parties are over (well, it’s Sunday shortly after 6 a.m.; I think the final parties are over). It’s time to go home, once again, and see how I can apply what I’ve learned here to what I do every day. I’m glad I had the chance to share some of what I’ve picked up here, and I’ll let you know when talks I’ve cited are available for viewing.