Three things I Know to be True (TED edition)

Mar 9, 2011, 11:12 AM, Posted by Deborah Bae

TED presentor Sarah Kay, an amazing 22 year old spoken word poet (check out her TED talk when it gets posted), asks her students to list what they believe to be true to help them tell their stories.  It’s great advice.  I was stuck all week trying to figure out what to write about, but it was fairly easy to come up with just three things I think are true about TED. 

1)      TED can be very intimidating.  Attendees include world renowned scientists and researchers, successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, celebrated designers and artists, and famous actors and actresses.  And, it seemed like they all knew each other really well. It was easy to feel small, unaccomplished and left out.  But over the course of the week, you meet lots of people and realize that there are many attendees who have similar feelings and that most people don’t know each other.

2)      Meaningful conversations do happen at TED.  Once you get over the intimidation factor and can strike up a meaningful conversation, you find out about some great projects.  I talked to an acclaimed industrial designer, Yves Behar, who designed the Jawbone headset and the $100 laptops for One Laptop per Child.  He’s also designed high-quality, free or low-cost, fun eye glasses for kids in Mexico with hopes to bring these glasses to students in the US. 

3)      Optimism pervades TED.  A major theme at TED is the use of cutting edge technology and its role in solving big problems.  For example, Dr. Anthony Antala gave a presentation on “printing” organs to solve the organ donation shortage.  But there were other speakers and attendees who spoke less about how they’re using technology, and more about their desire to make the world a better place.  I met Shantanu Sinha, who gave up his prestigious consulting job to join his best friend, Salman Khan, on a non-profit venture called Khan Academy.  Khan Academy is attempting to fix our broken education system by “providing a world-class education to anyone anywhere."  They’ve posted thousands of videos on math and science, and they’re just beginning to branch into other subjects.  These free videos are intended to help students learn at their own pace at home- they can watch the videos over and over again until they understand the concepts while getting more targeted interventions at school.  After Sal Khan gave his talk, there was a collective sense of optimism that prevailed for the rest of the conference. This optimism has re-inspired me to think positively, differently and creatively to solve some of our most challenging and pressing issues in health and health care.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.