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Why You Need to Know TED

A first-person account of the world-renowned conference--and how it will change your business and perspective forever

When I was running a group of design magazines for a large publishing company, we heard that design genius Richard Saul Wurman--who embodied every personality trait you would expect from a genius--was looking to sell his magical TED conference business.

TED stands for technology-entertainment-design, and since its inception has stood as the seminal event for the makers of the new and digital economies. As the executive in charge of the acquisition, I mapped out a convincing strategy to turn TED into an aggressive money-making machine.

I attended my one and only TED conference as Wurman's guest to kick the tires. I returned moved, changed, so morally and intellectually uplifted that I knew, in my hands, TED would be a victim of business homicide. So, I killed the deal.

The business would eventually sell, fortunately, to Chris Anderson, who has retained TED while developing it. Its simple motto: Ideas worth sharing. Those ideas, in the form of speeches by experts, are available free online.

The accumulation of so many brilliant ideas and people of character, commitment, drive, dedication, invention, exploration, scientific rigor, involuntary passion and, most convincingly, accomplishment presents an inspiring picture of hero activism. The ideas presented and the actions recounted are all imbued with cynicism-shattering practicality. The world of ideas already has the answers to our problems--those massive and local--and TED articulates them with a force and dignity that attract or create the investment currency to make them real and allow them to prevail.

To help you get a sense of the power of TED's content, we filtered hundreds of TED speakers through entrepreneurial eyes and curated a TED conference lineup as if solely for us. There are literally scores and scores of TED presenters you may find equally deserving of inclusion, and we invite you to add their links below. For now, here's a virtual TED conference for entrepreneurs that will change your business and, most likely, change your life.

The Magnitude of the Entrepreneurial Mission
Ray Anderson and the Business Logic of Sustainability
Thirty-six years ago, Ray Anderson bootstrapped a carpet company called Interface. He maneuvered it though the challenging years, and by the 1990s he was a major player, which also meant he was a preeminent contributor to the take/make/waste production system of the carpet industry. "We were digging up the earth and converting it to pollution," he says. 

Anderson devoted his company to "Mission Zero," a vow that within five years it would "only take from the earth that which can be replenished by the earth, take not one fresh drop of oil in an oil-intensive industry, and do no harm." The results: Greenhouse emissions declined 82 percent, fossil fuel use dropped 60 percent, water use declined 77 percent, while sales increased 66 percent and profits doubled. Interface realized $400 million in "avoided costs" in pursuit of zero emissions, which paid for the entire transformation.

Anderson's green business model is classic: Costs come down as innovation--inspired with missionary zeal--goes up, products become better, talent is attracted to your company for its moral and emotional enterprise, and the marketplace perceives the good that you do as reflective of the goods that you make. Most important, Anderson's real-life model presents an irrefutable challenge. As he says, "If something exists, it must be possible."

Burt Rutan on the Privatization of Space Flight
Burt Rutan is renowned and respected, both as an essential industrial designer in aircraft and spacecraft (he has personally designed hundreds of aircraft), and as a leading renegade against the government-owned-and-operated aerospace industry. He is important enough as an entrepreneur and visionary life-changer that he is forgiven his Elvis-mocking mutton-chop sideburns.

In collaboration with Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic, Rutan in March of this year completed a successful test flight of SpaceShipTwo, the first private rocket ship for suborbital spaceflight. With it he has ushered in the era of the "capitalist space race." Space tourists, he says, will "fly higher and faster than the highest-performance military aircraft," in spacecraft capable of being whipped around the elliptical orbit of the moon (and, presumably, stop off at a space station designed by Philippe Starck).

Rutan predicts more than 100,000 people will fly privately in space by 2020. Before you doubt him, Rutan also points out that worldwide investment reserves for private space flight already are more than five times the resources of NASA. He makes you wonder why our government, which has never owned an airline, has tried to control and restrict the only "spaceline." Has any entrepreneur ever thought so boundlessly, and made the boundless so real?

Shai Agassi Rolls out the Viable Electric Car
Shai Agassi had started a software company with his father, and sold it to SAP for $400 million before he hit 40. That's an amazing accomplishment by itself. But it's only the beginning of the story. While the heir apparent to become CEO, Agassi quit SAP to dedicate himself to Better Place, a company he formed to discover, as he puts it, "how to run a whole country without oil." He focused his search on the electric car.

Agassi decided he must create something that would scale to mass, with the potential to be used by 99 percent of the world. It had to be as good as anything available now, only more convenient and more affordable. He would work only within available science, refusing to build a plan based on hopes for discoveries. He would consider only the business economics of the day. Everything had to be real and ready.

The "aha" moment came when he separated ownership of the battery from ownership of the car. You drive the car, they collect and restore the batteries at mechanized service stations. The whole process is easier than pumping your own gas. The delivery of mobility is cheaper and as sufficient as a petrol-based car. If you swap your battery more than you currently fill up on gas, they'll pay you for the inconvenience.

He has several deals of note. Israel's Shimon Peres told Agassi that if he could raise $200 million, and if he could find a car company willing to mass-produce the cars, Israel would "give you a country to invest the money into," Agassi recounts. He convinced Nissan-Renault to commit $1.5 billion to developing and manufacturing 100,000 electric cars, and he's building a huge solar farm in southern Israel to provide the energy for the cars. Agassi also signed on Denmark, where energy for the cars will come from windmills. And he's projecting 100-fold growth by 2020.

Social Currencies and Financial Invention
Geoff Mulgan on why the Bailout Should Have Gone to Entrepreneurs
Geoff Mulgan was British Prime Minister Tony Blair's director of policy and now runs the Young Foundation, a center for social innovation. His message is simple and sweet for entrepreneurs: Officials should have given the bailout money to people like you, rather than failed industries that may not be important in the years to come.

"The bailout fixed the banks and car companies," he says, "but the investments did not prepare our future. Concrete and consumption is not going to solve our problems: Accelerate the shift to a greener economy, prepare for the aging. Surely, we should be giving the money to entrepreneurs, the civil society, the people able to create the new."

The money would have been better spent, he argues, setting entrepreneurs loose on social goals, like creating a billion extra years of life for our global citizens. The entrepreneurial effect on capitalism would be to make it more social through networks, and to finally make capitalism better at what it isn't good at now: compassion, empathy, relationships and care. He advocates the urgent need to "embed the DNA of restless innovation into society, trying things and growing those that work." And he weaves a convincing, if emotional, case that "the central position of finance capital is going to end and move to the margins of our society." The unit of investment? The social impact bond: the investment to find solutions, the payout based on the success of the cure. As Mulgan notes, historically in times of crisis ideas on the margins come to the mainstream. President Obama has started an Office of Social Innovation in the White House.

Iqbal Quadir Creates a Culture of Entrepreneurship in Bangladesh
Why does poverty exist? That's no small question for an individual to ask, but in Iqbal Quadir's homeland, Bangladesh, there may be no other question that matters more.

His answer is twofold: First, European prosperity resulted from the devolution of authorities and the empowerment of citizens, while Western aid to developing countries simply empowered authorities to marginalize the citizenry. Even looking at oil-rich countries, the autocratic regimes grew spectacularly wealthy, while poverty remained entrenched. "Economic development," Quadir concludes, "is of, by and for the people." Second, his life experience had demonstrated that connectivity is a powerful weapon against poverty. The ability to communicate eliminates massive and avoidable waste in productivity, which in turn  creates greater commerce and economies.

In Bangladesh 12 years ago, only one in 500 people had access to a telephone. "In whole areas where 100 million people lived, there were no telephones," he says. "Vast amounts of wasted time results. The only way people can depend on each other is to connect to each other, which leads to productivity." He decided to bring cell phones to them all--although not to each of them individually.

The New York-banker-turned-Bangladeshi-entrepreneur faced the hurdles you would imagine, the most prominent being that poor people could not afford cell phones. But in fine entrepreneurial fashion, Quadir contended, "If a cell phone creates productivity, why would you worry about [people's ability to pay]?" With backing from microbank GrameenBank, Quadir started GrameenPhone, a locally based shared cell phone service. He approached a single woman entrepreneur in each village and provided her with a cell phone. The local woman would lease its access on a per-call basis, making cell phone communication available to more than 52,000 Bangladeshi villages and 80 million people. As for the women entrepreneurs, there are now 115,000 of them within GrameenPhone, each making a profit of $700 a year, far more than the average per capita income of the country.

Jacqueline Novogratz on Patient Capital
Jacqueline Novogratz has reinvented the philanthropic model, and by doing so has upended the vicious cycle of top-down aid to poor countries that does not produce bottom-up growth and inclusion. She started the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit investment vehicle for people making less than $4 a day.

"Dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth," she says. "Traditional charity and aid will not solve the problems of poverty. Markets will not solve the problems of poverty."

Acumen Fund does not have donors; it has investors who provide what she calls "patient capital" that will wait longer for a return on investment and which measures success as much by the "social return" as by the financial. It is closer to a venture capital fund than it is to a charity because the money invested also comes with infrastructure and management expertise without exception. Also, investments are directly solely at local entrepreneurs in poor countries primarily in south Asia and Africa. Whether the enterprises are for-profit or not, they must be entrepreneurial, bottom-up solutions for essential goods and services for the poor such as clean water, food, housing, energy and health care.

The results have been stunning. Acumen has $20 million invested in 20 enterprises globally that have created 20,000 jobs and "delivered tens of millions of services to people who otherwise couldn't afford them." The projects have included drip-irrigation systems for small farmers in Pakistan and bed nets to prevent malaria in Tanzania--all proof that social impact can soften the hard nose of capital investment.

The Inversion of Business Models
Yochai Benkler and the Open-source Economy
Yochai Benkler is the Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard. He is a big thinker, and we're best served--as is the entire industrial era--to get out of his way and listen.

"Ownership of capital is being radically redistributed," Benkler says. "The basis (such as computational capacity) and other major factors (such as creative participation and expertise) are in the hands of people, not in the control of banks."

Collaboration, he contends, is the "next stage of human organization," and its results have continually trumped top-down business structures. Microsoft invested heavily in producing an online encyclopedia in a classic publisher's mind-set, while Wikipedia used only volunteers and ceded bottom-up control and responsibility. The record industry tried to suppress popular reinvention of its business model, only to lose to the sweep and universal embrace of P2P. The list goes on and, by now, is only too familiar.

Benkler looks at "social sharing and exchange as a modality of economic production." It provides decentralized authority in which people have the capacity to contribute to effective action. Permission is neither sought nor granted, and instead of owning property, people receive a possibility to create. This is new capital--just ask the newspaper industry. Structure changes, too, because beginning a social-sharing project provides an information flow (who finds this a worthy project, and who is available to work on it), motivation (interest in the subject and purpose, social in the network and contribution), and organization (fearless open-sourcing and social collaboration to the attainment of the good).

"Social production," Benkler proclaims, "is at war with traditional incumbent industrial systems." It's time to choose on which side of the barricades you'll stand.

Daniel Pink on the New Business Operating System
Princeton University psychologist Sam Glucksberg ran an experiment. Two groups were given a problem that required cognitive thinking or imagination to solve. One group received cash incentives and prizes for finding the solution fastest. The other group received nothing. In every case, incentives produced poorer results. A study for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that "in tasks involving mechanical skill, bonuses worked as expected. Those requiring even rudimentary cognitive skill, the larger the reward, the poorer the performance."

Daniel Pink, who was once Al Gore's speech writer and is now a best-selling business book author, says there is a disconnect between the science we know and how business believes it must be structured. That is enough evidence for us to rethink how we run our businesses. White-collar structure gives bonuses and incentives and converts our most skilled and, presumably, brightest people into being effective only against a simple set of rules and a clear and singular solution or goal. We're paying the most, he says, for that which is most easily outsourced.

"Management did not emanate from nature," Pink says. "Traditional management is great if you want compliance. If you want engagement, self-direction works better. Get the issue of money off the table and allow autonomous innovation."

Command and control require a bigger carrot and a sharper stick, but not innovation, invention and solution. For those, you need the incentives of autonomy to direct one's own life, mastery and the ability to get better at doing something that matters, and purpose in "doing something in the service of something larger than ourselves."

Marketing and the Post-crash Consumer
Joseph Pine on What Consumers Want
The history of commerce and economic development has largely been circular, forever returning to the base of commoditization. We extracted commodities, which were made into goods, which themselves became commodities as consumers focused on the benefits of cost. We added service, which improved the totality of the goods but became standards of quality and, too, were reduced to commodities by consumer expectations. The chain is broken, according to writer and business coach Joseph Pine, through the consumer experience. And in this post-crash world, the experience that works, the one that resonates in consumer decision-making, is authenticity.

"Authenticity," Pine says, "is the main criterion used when buying. Authenticity is the basis of economy."

There are two aspects to achieving authenticity, Pine says. Being true to yourself, or rather knowing what you, your product or your business really is. And being true to others, or truly delivering what you say you really are. If you are real at both, you are what Pine calls real-real. If you are dishonest with yourself and deliver something equally dishonest to consumers, you are fake-fake. You can also be in the middle: What you are is real but the experience you deliver is fake, like Universal Citywalk in Los Angeles. Or you can be something fake, but deliver something real, like Disneyland in which there are no actual Magic Kingdoms but you can be made to authentically feel as if there were.

It is a simple test that is very hard to pass. But more than a test, Pine's chart is an answer book worth studying.

John Gerzema on Consumer Power, not Panic
In the aftermath of the global economic meltdown, John Gerzema, chief insights officer for advertising agency giant Y&R, notes that consumer spending represents 72 percent of GDP in America and that, like banks, consumers have begun to de-leverage. That's the good news, not the bad.

"Consumers have moved from a state of anxiety to one of action," he says. "Consumers are not in retreat, they are empowered." De-leveraging their debt has changed their moral compass and their consumer behavior has changed the rules of the game "from mindless consumption to mindful consumption." Restrictive demand is allowing consumers to align their spending with their values.

Gerzema notes four dominant value shifts being unleashed by consumers as identifications of cultural values that are reflected in consumer strategies: First, they want liquidity in life, which results in frowning upon the frivolous purchase; second, they desire ethics and fair play, which demand empathy and respect from companies and products as they measure the conduct of business in the marketplace; third, they possess an indestructible spirit, which demands durable living through durable products; and fourth, they want a return to the fold that results in cooperative consumerism.

"Value-driven spending," Gerzema says, "will force capitalism to be better, drive innovation, make longer-lasting products, provide more intuitive customer service and give us the opportunity to connect with companies that have the values we share."

Perhaps this is a good time to scroll back up and take Joseph Pine's real-real test again?

Education and the Entrepreneurial Stigmata
Cameron Herold on Educating Entrepreneurs
Our final speaker is Cameron Herold, a serial entrepreneur and, through his company BackPocket COO, a coach and mentor to entrepreneurs on five continents. His message is direct: Everything in education teaches children to strive for jobs, and it ridicules--or worse, medicates--any deviation from that path.

"We teach our children everything they shouldn't do," he says. "Schools tell us to go for a good job like a lawyer or doctor. Media tell us to be a fashion model, an athlete, a writer or an artist. MBA programs do not teach kids to be entrepreneurs, but rather to go work in corporations. But who is starting these corporations?"

He, like many entrepreneurs, was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and medicated for the problem. The same can be said for people with a bipolar disorder, which includes so many entrepreneurs like Ted Turner and Steve Jobs that it is widely called "the CEO disease." "We're giving kids Ritalin and saying, ‘Don't be an entrepreneur type. Fit into this other system and try to be a student.' But entrepreneurs aren't students. We fast-track and figure out the game."

Herold laments the unknown and untold number of potential entrepreneurs who may have held the answers and the drive to solve major problems through their dreams and visions, but who never discovered their gift because they were put in an antithetical context within education.

One significant thing to note about Herold's speech was that it did not occur at the formal TED conference, but rather at a Ted-x conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. TED lends its imprimatur, strucure and principals free to local organizers to develop and stage their own TED-like conferences for the sharing of ideas. To date, more than 170 have been staged in the U.S. alone, with more than double that outside America. It is a resource you are wise to pursue outright or participate with others directly. For the modest rules and regulations, just check here.

Now drop down to the comments below and share your ideas with all of us.

Craig Reiss is the former editor-in-chief of

Adweek

,

Brandweek

and

Mediaweek

. He also was chief creative officer for Primedia, where he oversaw positioning for 150 media brands. Reiss is now principal of CIA: Customers Into Advocates, a Connecticut-based customer research firm.

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