Attending TED has been on my bucket list for years. So when I received an invitation to go this year, I jumped at the chance. The theme was: The Future You.
My business is all about showing people the strength and simplicity of honoring relationships. How does the future, I wonder, honor relationships?
I had heard all the mythic stories about the intensity of making connections at TED. I had heard about the no-phone rule, and how people connect with new people throughout the week. Would the real thing live up to all the hype?
Here is a snapshot of a typical day at TED 2017.
7:30 a.m. THE GIFT CAVE
I have been awake since 3:00 a.m. (I flew in from Spain, not something I would recommend). I get up, grab a coffee, and head over to the famous TED gift cave. There are at least 100 other people who have the same idea, so I join the line. Even though it is practically the crack of dawn, even on TED-time, the man in front of me immediately introduces himself, and we strike up a conversation. I look around to see if this kind of early morning chatter is happening everywhere, and to my surprise it is, and there is not a phone in sight. These TEDsters are ready to connect.
8:15 – 10:00 a.m. TED TALKS
Each TED talk is no more than 18 minutes, but they are done in a series of six, one after the other. If you want to watch them from the main stage a few things have to happen. First, you have to stand in another line (aka, ready yourself for another chance encounter). Second, you have to be willing to keep your phone off unless you sit in the last two rows. Third, they strongly discourage leaving until the last ones ends. So with a little trepidation, I decide to give it a shot. It’s only two hours!
The lights went off and we had two hours of forced disconnection to think, listen, and connect the dots.
It was amazing. When was the last time I sat with hundreds of people without the sea of bright screens lit in the distance? Even at concerts these days, that is all you see.
In the beginning of the week, I’ll admit it—I was antsy. But by the end, I got the hang of it. And just in time to hear one of my favorite talks by Manoush Zomorodi, Note to Self Podcaster and author of the book, Bored and Brilliant. As she says, when we let our minds wander, our creative juices flow.
And who couldn’t use a little flow?
10:00 – 11:00 a.m. BREAK
Time to get a snack, walk around, and check out the sponsors. Even though it is only 10 a.m., I treat myself to a coffee ice cream cone, justifying it by the fact that I am really on Spain time and so it’s really 7:00 p.m. The ice cream was delicious, and I struck up a conversation with Lori Joyce, Founder and CEO of Betterwith Ice Cream. Lori grew up on a farm and feels very strongly about what (and what does not) goes into her food. Her motto is, “Happy cows make better ice cream.” But that’s not all. She’s also a smart businesswoman.
The dairy we use in our Betterwith Ice Cream is completely traceable, meaning we know exactly the one local farm where the cream comes from, and we know that the cows who produce it are happy, healthy, and well taken care of. Accountability is really important to us, because when we are all held accountable, we can create the absolute best product.
Lori and I had a great chat about her ice cream and my work on creating a human workplace, particularly about how the companies who “play the long game” like she does are going to be around in 20 years.
And trust me, we want this ice cream to last.
11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. TED TALKS
In order to change it up, I decide to watch these talks from one of the many cool spaces curated by TED and Steelcase, the furniture gurus. As I walk around to find a spot, I discover that I can watch with twenty people, or in a smaller area with five people, or even sit in a hammock by myself. I could also sit on a couch, a chair, at a desk, a beanbag, or even a bed (I am not kidding). Each space provides a different experience. As I tell my clients—space matters. I could see first hand how these spaces facilitated different kinds of connection.
1:00 p.m. LUNCH
The great thing about being in two time zones is having double the meal times. So it’s time for lunch, even though I’ve been eating all day. And once again, TED makes connection easy. You can grab a picnic basket and find five others with whom to share lunch. Or you can visit a food truck and eat in a tent with long tables to facilitate maximum mixing of people. Or get yourself invited to one of the many deep-dive lunches.
One day I received an invitation from Delta Airlines to join their executives, as well as other TED participants for an intimate lunch and conversation. It was nice to eat with a handful of people while having a deeper conversation about the speakers, new ideas, and travel. We were also asked to share our experiences on video. I asked the Delta marketing brand manager why they asked us to join them, and she said they had never done anything like it, but that they wanted to make a real connection with the flying public at TED.
3:15 p.m. SPEAKER MEET-UPS
TED thinks of everything. If someone wants to have a follow-up discussion or connect with a speaker, the TED app tells us where he or she will be and how to find them. So I seek out Grace Kim, an architect who had spoken about co-housing and how living in intentional neighborhoods could address the major health crisis facing our country—isolation. During her talk, she showed photos of the co-housing development she designed and in which she lives. Each family has their own apartment, and there is a shared courtyard for group events and organized monthly or weekly dinners. I couldn’t help thinking about the parallels between co-housing and what is happening in the workplace. People who live in co-housing live longer, just as employees who have friends at work are more engaged. Grace and I shared ideas and have plans to continue the discussion soon.
5:00 – 7:00 p.m. MORE TED TALKS
This time I stood in the Marriott Lounge (#thisplacechangedme), which happened to have the best cappuccino bar, and listened to a talk on AI. I had connected with some of my Aspen friends through one of the highly-developed TED apps before arriving. It was great to see them. And it reminded me all the more of the sweet spot between tech and connect. As much as we stay in touch through text and email, there is no substitute for connecting with the real people in our lives—in person.
I was particularly moved by International Rescue Committee President, David Miliband, who, in reference to the global refugee crisis, said, “We’ve seen advances in every aspect of our lives...except our humanity”
Very true. But there’s hope.
8:00 p.m. DINNER
Dinners are a mix of large events, curated “Jeffersonian Dinners” (where small groups come together to debate an idea), and one night “off” to eat alone (if you dare) or go to sleep. One night, I hosted a Spaghetti Project dinner for a handful of spectacular women who are part of a networking group that connects us digitally but rarely in person. It was a blast putting names with the faces I “see” online every week. We discussed our favorite talks so far, the ones we disagreed with, and talked about how we could support each other on our individual endeavors, and we laughed a lot.
Good things really do happen when people connect!
11:00 p.m. BED
WAKE & REPEAT for five days.
TED is a truly amazing experience. The talks are inspirational. The people who work there have it down to a science. The technology is second-to-none. But for me and many of the folks I met, TED is about what happens between the talks. The connections made in the gift bag line, the conversations during the coffee break, and the friend made while test-driving the BMW of the future—that’s what it’s all about.
TED is a five day oasis where everything is geared toward developing and honoring relationships. It’s worth noting that even with its hefty price tag, TED is sold out every year within days of tickets going on sale. People come back year after year to see their “TED Friends” who they not only check in with every year in Vancouver, but whenever they can as they travel around the world.
In other words, the Future is a connected Us.