We’d moved the meetings, we’d loaded the credit card,
we’d bought the obligatory pair of Havaianas.
It was happening. I was off to Rio for the TED Global 2014 conference.
But there was just one small problem. Actually getting in.
To my surprise, the socially powered democratic content phenomenon that is TED, was actually not just a conference that you just go to. You had to be, accepted.
It was around about the time that our interns on the FoxP2 balcony said:
“Dude, you know you can just watch that shit online don’t you?” - when I started thinking there must be a reason all these really smart people trek halfway across the world to go and watch something they can see online anyway.
And there is.
As it turns out, it isn’t all about the speakers.
It’s also very much about the delegates.
So, after an intimate online application where I tried as hard as I could to explain how advertising can actually make peoples’ lives better, I somehow got in.
I was quite surprised, and strangely nervous, but nonetheless I was off to Copacabana Beach to spend a week with a thousand curious and extremely well-educated souls.
Would they smell that I didn’t belong to any charities?
Would those really effective results that I put on that last case study video feel a bit thin?
Would my Grip-jokes amuse them?
Would I be found out for being a guy who makes, advertising?
Apparently this nervousness is not unique with applicants.
So to alleviate this, the clever people at TED make sure that all delegates wear a big badge round their neck all week.
It says: “TALK TO ME ABOUT… (insert 3 suitably obscure fields of interest here) “
It works bloody well.
That evening I found myself having Caipirinha’s with a Finn who flies drones over naughty cargo ships to check up on their carbon emissions. The next day I was at lunch with an impossibly young rocket scientist and a French artist who documents the music behind obscure religions around the world.
There were tech billionaires from Palo Alto, car designers, casino bosses, Neuroscientists, performance artists, economists, developers and political activists, all queuing for the urinals.
A meaningful conversation could spring up anywhere - on a beach lounger, at the buffet, or over a cocktail.
A bit like club 18-30, but for your brain.
Not surprisingly, TED attendees were really into…talking.
And so, contrary to my initial fears, nobody was judging anyone at all.
It was quite the opposite actually. People were warm, extremely curious and just wanted to learn.
Basking in the glow of “anything’s possible”, I began realising that an environment completely free of judgment is actually a big luxury today.
Being with some of the most interesting people in the world, who make a habit of looking for what’s possible, rather than what isn’t, feels incredibly liberating for a creative person.
And then of course, there are The Talks.
Those “Ideas Worth Spreading” packaged into 18 minute nuggets that power the TED viral phenomenon.
Its just like the intern said, “You can watch that shit online dude”.
But I really, really urge you to do so. There are some mind-bendingly inspiring sessions from TED global this year.
There’s a breathtaking photographic documentation of vanishing tribes by Jimmy Nelson, who captures incredibly intimate images by living with these remote people for months at a time.
There was the beautiful, steely activist, Pia Mancini who discussed her open source mobile platform that lets citizens run their own candidates in the Argentinian election.
And the powerhouse journalist who first published the Snowden Files, Glenn Greenwald, giving a searing talk on why you need to care about privacy, even if you’re not doing anything you need to hide.
There was a guy who prints land with gigantic sediment flow controls.
A woman who creates floating peep shows, and a duo who transform the walls of the Favela’s by moving in and starting a barbecue.
But then there were those talks. The ones with the moments.
Those rare seconds where you feel like you’re literally watching the future unfold right there in the room.
One was during a talk by Dr Jorge Soto who demonstrated an early cancer detection app on stage for the first time ever.
Another was when the neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis showed a video of two rats in his lab sending a “mental SMS” to one another through incredible brain melding technology.
And there was one more of those moments.
Probably just a little more special than the rest.
I actually tried to capture it by photographing the hairs on my arm during a standing ovation that nearly took the roof off the main hall. (see crappy image below).
It was for a man who spoke about how he used floating purple lights to get rebel troops to leave the jungle and come home at Christmas time.
A man with purpose and an open-hearted demeanor.
A man by the name of Jose Miguel Sokoloff
A man who works, in advertising.
And so, standing there, cheering my lungs out with some of the world’s most interesting people, I was filled with a quiet sense of pride.
He’s one of us I thought. He’s getting it right I thought.
Sometimes we will get it right like LoweSSP3 and the floating Christmas lights.
But mostly we’ll get it wrong, like the majority of what’s on our screens today.
I think what will help, is to find purpose behind your work, and to take responsibility for what you aim to put out into the world.
So, like many of the attendees at TED, we’re also in the business of ideas.
And we have quite a lot of them in advertising. Most will go unseen, forever trapped in a notepad, or an email, or a relationship. Others will survive and mutate in boardrooms, often into something quite indistinguishable from the original. So when we’re lucky enough to have an idea that does make it out into society pure and unscathed, lets try and make sure it’s an “Idea Worth Spreading”.
Links to some of the mentioned talks below. Please visit TED.com for more of talks from TED Global as they become available over the weeks to come.
The future of early cancer detection?
How to upgrade democracy for the Internet era
Why privacy matters