Category Archives: TEDActive 2014

An experience beyond words — By Joe Stephens

By Joe Stephens

It was last Tuesday when David Kwong—magician and crossword puzzle constructor—took the stage at TED. And he put on quite a display. Using a brilliant combination of colored markers, that day’s New York Times crossword, and a random member of the audience, Kwong proudly demonstrated his thesis: “Human beings are wired to solve.”

True as that idea may be, “solutions” to “problems” are not always as neat and tidy as filling in the final letters of a puzzle. And, I would argue, pursuing that level of certainty and closure is very often unsatisfying. This is not to challenge Kwong’s premise, it’s more to limit its application.

You see, there is an answer to 1-Across and 2-Down, but there is only one that is correct. They must fit cleanly together, and when they do, other answers begin to reveal themselves until there are no more questions and no more answers. What if, though, there was a much broader clue to a much bigger puzzle? Something like, “How do you talk about the TED experience?”

Friday afternoon, when the last speaker left the stage, answering that question was the challenge every TED attendee faced. In a span of days, Edward Snowden chatted to us from Russia about the future of global security, Bill and Melinda Gates discussed rural health and philanthropy, Zak Ebrahim made us consider what having a terrorist for a father might feel like, Andrew Solomon put us in the shoes of a gay man without an identity, Ben Saunders took us with him across Antarctica—the list continues, talk after talk.

When you take a selection of the world’s most powerful minds, spread them across a week, and give them a stage to showcase their genius, there might never be the right words to describe what it all adds to. What can you say that completely describes what happened? Most likely nothing. Or, to say it differently, anything you do say will almost certainly wind up incomplete.

The challenge, I think, is to let this be alright. The beauty of emotion, sometimes, is how irreducible it is to language. That’s why people place hands over hearts when they talk about love. It’s why they sometimes shake their head, gaze up, and use their hands when they search for the right way to describe something. Words and answers are not always enough, and when we want them to be—when we want them to have the manicured edges of a crossword puzzle—it is easy to find yourself disappointed.

This is all to say that my hope for us all is singular: let everything that happened last week atomize and rumble around inside energetically and chaotically. Don’t clamor for order where there is none, don’t demand certainty where there can’t be any, and don’t worry about not being sure.

Especially when we are faced with something of a paradox: in this case, where our primal instinct to solve is most likely coupled with our inability to neatly do so. We want to know what TED meant, but we might not know how to express it.

My question, then, is “What if not knowing the answer is perfectly alright?” What if we tell people it was incredible and amazing and awesome and you have to go and I’m so tired and, to some potentially confused looks, get this, I saw Sir Ken Robinson in the airport?

Independently, these are all inadequate. But as they combine—excitedly rushing towards the ears of whoever asked the inevitable, “So, how was it?”—they conjure something quite powerful: you had a week that was actually beyond words. And this is just as it should be.


After every talk this week, we would see these gorgeous speaker caricatures pop up on our Instagram feed. Intrigued by the hashtag #TEDdraw and the artwork, we reached out to Gabriel Campbell and his team to learn more about what they were doing.


Gabriel Campbell, Arian Behzadi and Kimberley Chambers are part of the Experience Design team (XD) at Adobe. They are a team of designers, developers, project managers and researchers who are passionate about creativity and love building tools to delight and inspire the next generation of creatives. Kimberley gave us a great run-down of what they were up to all week:

“During the entire week of TED 2014, Adobe hosted a Drawing Lab in Vancouver for attendees to encourage conversations about drawing and invite them to try their hands at our upcoming creative hardware: a cloud connected pen (Project Mighty) and a digital ruler (Project Napoleon) for the iPad. This creative hardware was conceived and designed by XD. We believe that drawing is a fundamental part of literacy and that everyone can draw. Throughout the week, countless drawings by attendees were broadcast live and shared across social media using #TEDdraw.

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In keeping with the theme of TED “Ideas worth spreading,” we wanted to share our passion for creativity and the team’s exploration around the future of drawing and creativity with fellow TEDActive attendees. So we packed the prototype hardware in our bags and headed for the mountain!

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Throughout the week, we enjoyed many fun conversations with fellow attendees about drawing and creativity. During the speaker sessions, Gabriel created caricatures of every TED speaker using Mighty, Napoleon and the companion app for iPad, Project Parallel.

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To learn more about our team and our work, check out our online portfolio on Behance here.”

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Speaker caricatures and gorgeous header image created by Gabriel Campbell. Gabriel is an artist and experience designer at Adobe, having recently been selected by IxDA for a design award for his work on Adobe Kuler for iPhone. Gabriel draws upon his eclectic and risible background in the fine arts, scenic design, engineering and illustration to create user-centered experiences in the creative arts. 

Ads Worth Spreading: A Brief from TED

“We’re all gathered here to celebrate Ads Worth Spreading,” announced co-hosts Cindy Gallup and Abigail Posner, dressed head to toe in Zara, or “recession-chic” as they called it. “We are going to see the creative approach about how we think TED can spread its own ideas.”

But the conversation quickly took on a bigger and broader question, as conversations at TED often do. What we were really here to talk about, Cindy revealed, is what the future ads worth spreading will be.


Earlier in the week, Google’s Creative Director Ben Jones had discussed the opportunity to create impactful and meaningful content within the context and the mediums that the world of digital media has to offer. What happens when we ask people the really fundamental questions, like the Doador Sport Campign, for example? How can we create structures that people can and want to participate in, with platforms like Kiva or calls to action like Amanda Palmer’s TEDTalk? How might we create brand ambassadors though the content we create, as Heineken has done with its #Dropped experiment? With so many new kinds of content and mediums with with to capture peoples’ attention, Ben says, “amazing is always on the other side of yes.”

So what should advertisers be saying yes to?

“We need to delve deeper into the nature of our relationship to the different digital spaces that we play in,” Abigail says. Instead of just putting content on a mobile screen, she explains, how can we leverage the insight that mobile is a way for us to build and share culture?

From Cindy’s perspective, we also need to be saying yes to advertising. She points to an almost universal, fundamental belief that advertising is a bad thing. This belief, she points out, exists here at TED, among consumers of advertisments, and among advertisers themselves. We can’t leverage the great things technology and creativity have to offer if we continue believing this to be true, she notes. “The future is about creative collaboration in a way that assumes positive intent on both sides, and that enables us to do our best work together,” says Cindy. “Despite what everybody else thinks, we absolutely have the ability to change the world, just as much as any other speaker you’ve seen on stage this week.”


Over the course of this week at TEDActive, advertising gurus, AWS nominators and judges, as well as the winning ads themselves, came together around TED’s Ads Worth Spreading initiative to think about creating some new ads worth spreading to solve some of TED’s biggest challenges. Ads Worth Spreading began in 2011, to “recognize and reward innovation, ingenuity and intelligence in advertising,” that is, ads that spread an idea through powerful and meaningful connections with their audience. This year, ten winners embodied powerful and transformative work with the power to change the world. You can watch the winning pieces here.

With facilitation led by IDEO, winners, nominators and leaders alike, split into three teams, each handed a brief and three days to design a compelling pitch, the winner of which would be awarded $25K in seed funding by TED to bring this idea to life. The outcome reflected the curious, innovative and proactive spirit that TEDActive is all about.


Think Globally, Act Locally
Create a campaign that tells people how to become a part of the volunteer community of TEDx.

How can TED better tell the stories of local change and engagement? How can we reach everyone who wants to get involved with TED and make a difference in their communities?

Tom Wong (TBWA) and Ben Jones (Google) presented for the group. Ben shared how during dinner the night before, he sat next to Ilwad Elman, a young woman who grew up in Ottowa, but returned to her home country of Somalia after the assassination of her father, to carry on his human rights work with her mother through their Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, and has used the TEDx platform to connect with her community and others around her ideas. “This isn’t just playing around with a brief,” says Ben. “This is incredibly, incredibly important.”

TEDx is a great gateway product to get involved with a much larger brand, explain Tom and Ben. “We want to help turn TEDx organizers from a power to a great big superpower. Local action, global impact.” This group had several concepts, including TEDxMe, which makes everyone a TEDx organizer at an atomic level and lowers the barrier so that anyone can immediately do so through personalized TEDx playlists. Another, called TEDxEveryday filters personally-tailored TEDx talks to the user based on the amount of time they have to watch. A third (and there were several beyond this) entitled BatSignal, was a way to connect TEDx communities to help each other with common challenges. This collection of offerings centered around a core belief that “local is not measured from where my feet are, it’s measured from where my heart is.”


Youth and Education
Design a strategy to help create awareness of the TED-Ed ecosystem and its potential. 

How might we reimagine the current TED-Ed videos to reach the common person, strike chords in people, and generate emotional investment?

John Mescall (McCann Australia) and Kate Smither (Ogilvy & Mather) shared a plan for unlocking the TED-Ed potential. “There are 2 billion youth in the world. They’re curious souls, but they’re at a time in their life where they’re put into a school system, told to be less curious, not ask why or why not.” From ages 0-9 and 18-18, we’re told to go out and try things, make things, do things. But from ages 10-17, we’re told to sit, be patient, absorb, and wait.  Where TED-Ed can play is in this middle section, where students are made to wait.

You’re not ready. Wait your turn. Pay your dues. You’re just a kid. This is the message we’re telling kids at a time when they’re most excited about the world. What we need to tell them, say Kate and John, is to be impatient. “If you have something inside of you, go learn about it, go do it. You do not need to wait your turn or be taught something by the system.” What their team created was an unlockable device, aimed at 14-year olds. To unlock it, you need to know something you might not traditionally know until age 17 or 18. You can wait to play the game until then, says John, or you can be impatient and use TED-Ed to learn what you need to know to unlock it. “Kids have never been more ready to blaze their own trail and make their own destiny.” And here’s how.


The Ripple Effect
Tell the story of the ripple effect of one idea, to inspire others. And build a clear incentive for people to push ideas forward. 

How might we amplify an idea that can change the world, bring it to the attention of people with the ability, drive and imagination to make a difference?

When an idea worth spreading spreads, what does it create? Georgia Challis (Wieden & Kennedy) and Jesse McMillin (Virgin America) presented for their group. “TED is about ideas worth spreading – big, inspiring, touching, brain-expanding ideas. They’re so big, they can feel daunting to the rest of us.” How do we help those of us who aren’t going to stand on the TED stage understand the key role they have in spreading an idea. How do we compel them to be more than just viewers?

Georgia takes us through their treatment, a action-inspiring piece that shows the impact that sharing can have on the proliferation of an idea. We see a speaker on the TED stage, ready to begin a talk, but seemingly struggling to begin. Then we see someone share his talk online and he begins to proceed. Then another, then another. The shares are powering his talk, making him come alive. “It takes many people to deliver a TEDTalk,” says Georgia. “One person stood on stage, a million people spoke. Share TED.”

After each pitch had been presented, the group talked about the potential for implementation of each idea. Not able to decide on a final one (they were all so great!), the folks at Ads Worth Spreading decided to take the ideas back into TED for further discussion. Stay tuned!