TED conferences tend to be must-see events. TED picks interesting topics and trains the speakers on giving short presentations that don't rely on bullet-point slides. I always walk away amazed.
For the last few years, TED has held sponsored talks. Rather than pitch products, though, researchers and other deep thinkers who work for the sponsor share ideas and concepts on how to make their business and the world better for everyone. This week's TED@IBM in San Francisco covered a fascinating set of topics in just a couple of hours.
Several talks stood out to me. I'll say why below. There were also short films addressing big issues; for instance, Project Lucy highlighted how IBM Watson can improve education in the developing world.
TED Talk Model: Tell Stories, Ditch the PowerPoint
One advantage of going through the Ted process is learning how to be a storyteller, to pace your speech and to be brief. This helps the audience retain much of what you say – in sharp contrast to the typical data-rich, story-poor vendor talks that go on forever but no one can seem to recall. This skill could benefit any career path, particularly executives who pitch investors, employees and customers on a regular basis. Frankly, it would help a lot of folks in verbal interviews as well. Online resources that can help you learn this amazing skill – and if you think you have something amazing to say, you can audition for TED.
[ How-to: Create Magical Vendor Presentations ]
Solar Power to the Masses
Back to TED@IBM. If global warming concerns you, you likely hope solar power can replace oil and gas refineries eventually. On top of having a PH.D. in physics and nanotechnology, Airlight Energy's Gianluca Ambrosetti is pushing Sunflower, a low-cost, high-powered solar technology with IBM and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. It uses a set of mirrors and solar photovoltaic cells, coupled with concreate and aluminum building materials, to create high-yield sun-tracking solar plants that could be used in individual homes or remote areas in need of power. The result looks like a big oversized sunflower (thus the name). IBM's contribution was cheap warm-water cooling technology to keep the solar cells from melting – kind of an important feature.
Shared Ideas to Reimagine Our Future
Bryan Kramer, president of PureMatter, got his talk to trend on Twitter: He got us to Tweet our own idea to change the world. Given how many followers the assembled group has, we dented the Internet. Kramer then talked about the impact of shared ideas. He also says we should stop talking about B2B and B2C and instead realize that every interaction is human-to-human. He's one of the few speakers I've seen who actually could change the world largely by motivating his audiences to step up.
[ Commentary: The New Killer App is a Real Human ]
Leadership in the Digital Era Means Giving Up Control
The incomparable Charlene Li is one of the most amazing people I know. She touched on a number of things, but what really stuck with me was that influence is no longer connected to titles but, rather, to how many people a person influences. Often in today's companies, it's often unrecognized rank-and-file employees who drive success and performance, not named executives. It fascinates me to see otherwise-smart executives lay these people off, knowing nothing about who they are, only to face them again when they work for more powerful competitors. Li also says sharing and transparency define winning companies in the digital age. This also resonated with me; an excessive focus on privacy doesn't work during this period when everyone's connected.
Questioning Tone in Analytics
I've said that analytics isn't working in many firms because data feeds are biased and critical information is left out. IBM researcher Kareem Yusuf points out that we aren't capturing the tone of communications well, either, and often misinterpret the data as a result. The same set of words can mean very different things in different tones, and we don't have a good mechanism to address this. That's why neural computers will become more important going forward; it's believed they'll be able to not only report what someone said or wrote, but when they actually meant, which could be very different.
[ Related: Forget Big Data, the Value's in 'Big Answers' ]
Tomorrow's Cinema Should Turn Back Time
This had little to do with IT but is touched my heart. Brad Bird – a movie industry legend, director, screenwriter, animator, producer and actor for the Pixar division of Disney – shared some fascinating Steve Jobs stories. He also discussed how going to the movies used to be an amazing event: The theaters focused on one film, waiting in line was like waiting to buy a new iPhone, and everything was orchestrated to make the experience special. This gave way to the Cineplex: Big boxes with little theaters that shuffle customers in and out as quickly as possible. Much of the magic of movies was lost – which is why, he argues, the film industry is ailing. You get a better experience watching movies at home. If we want to fix the movie industry, Bird says, we need to turn back the clock and make going to the theaters amazing again.
[ News: Blade Servers Make the Movies ]
Cognitive Cooking: Recipes for the Food in Your Kitchen
IBM researcher Florian Pinel spoke about what would happen if everyone could have Watson design a dinner menu. Use Watson to analyze your dietary needs, as well as the food you have on hand, and it could suggest the healthiest meals at the lowest cost (as you'd waste almost nothing). Getting Watson to understand what your body needs, as well as data-entering all the food you just bought at the store, could be painful – unless you tied Watson to an online shopping service and/or had a connected pantry and refrigerator that automatically inventoried the food on hand. Or imagine you had a 3-D food printer, or a stove that would cook the meal for you. This is in our future, but it'll take a while to get there.
[ More: IBM Watson Cooks Up Some New Dishes ]
Imagine the Future and Make it Happen
A good deal of the TED mission is about creating a better future. A lot of the ideas and concepts are fascinating – but perhaps the most powerful is TED itself, which gives people who otherwise might not have much voice access to a large number of influential people who do. Thank you, IBM, for inviting me – Watson isn't a client of mine, but I follow it closely.
If you get a chance to attend a TED event, you'll find it to be a mind-expanding honor. If you can get some of your executives to give TED talks, you'll likely find they become far better executives. If you give a TED talk, it very well may make your career.