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TED: Day three was off the chain

Posted by: Helen Walters on March 01, 2008

I think I just fell prey to TED, so excuse me if this post sounds a little less than objective. I was talking to a few TED veterans earlier today, who assured me that profound depression is quite common in first-timers, who generally fail to pace themselves right. And I’ll confess that earlier today I was feeling less than entirely chirpy.

Perhaps it’s something to do with there being so many trailblazers in the same room at the same time. Steve Case, Bing Gordon, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Beth Comstock, er, Paul Simon, Cameron Diaz, Meg Ryan… all the big names in business are here. It’s easy to feel a little daunted. (Ok, so one secret highlight: Vinod Khosla sat next to me and merrily stuck his beige-socked feet up on the seat in front of him. I know this is NOT NEWS, and it was mid-session so entirely not the time to talk about socks or anything else, but it was definitely a moment.)

Or maybe it’s to do with the curation of the event as a whole. It’s clearly very thoughtfully organized so that humor or music are carefully interspersed among the serious science but yesterday in particular saw some crushing blows of reality (yesterday, Irwin Redlener , for instance, was handing out advice on how to survive a nuclear attack — and he clearly wasn’t fooling around.) Anyway, for whatever reason it took me a while to get it together today…

And then. It must be the combination of the previously mentioned John Knoll, Brian Cox and Tod Machover, along with the origami/math wizard Robert Lang, whose theories of two ancient arts are already being implemented in practical ways in industries such as space travel and healthcare in the most phenomenal ways. But then National Geographic photo director David Griffin gave a spin through some of that publication’s extraordinary work, and Nigerian activist and author Chris Abani made everyone cry (ok, ok, from now on I refuse to make a point of it) with his tales of being a political prisoner on death row. But I honestly began to feel like something profound was going on. And then the last official hurrah of the day was Ben Zander, conductor of the Boston Philarmonic, who’s a huge ham of a presenter, but who got every single person on their feet — in Monterey and Aspen — singing along to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. In German.

It was a really extraordinary moment, but Zander himself, for all his kookiness, put it best: “The conductor of an orchestra does not make a sound, but awakens possibility in other people… Who am I being if my players’ eyes are not shining? What kind of parent am I if my children’s eyes are not shining? Success is not fame, wealth or power. It’s shining eyes.” Then he asked: “Who are we being as we go back into the world?” I know, I know. I drank the Kool Aid. But it’s potent stuff.

[[Later — two pics of Zander in action:]]


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What comes next? The BusinessWeek Innovation and Design team of Michael Arndt and Helen Walters chronicle new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.

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