18 minutes – that’s all the time speakers have to present their ideas and thoughts at TED. The range of speakers includes scientists, artists, kids, people like ‘you and me’ and even the occasional former president of the United States. To be invited to speak you must have done, experienced, developed or discovered something that’s interesting and important for other people, and that they would never have heard about if it wasn’t for TED. Obviously, there's a preselection process but in principle no subject is out of bounds. And the talk should be engaging and innovative, motivating and entertaining. Ever since a friend of mine told me about TED some years ago, I never want to be without this fountain of positive thinking.

You’ve never heard of TED? The name is an acronym for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’. It began back in the 80s with an annual innovation conference in California. In 2002, Chris Anderson, former editor-in-chief of WIRED magazine, took over the helm and under his curatorship TED has continually developed. For many years now the best talks have been published on the ‘TED Talks’ website where they can reach millions of people all over the world – naturally completely free of charge. 

I’m always turning to this site to watch and listen to talks on a staggering number of topics – the sheer diversity of what’s on offer is fascinating.  Stefan Sagmeister, the man who designed the OUBEY MINDKISS book has already appeared at several TED Conferences where one of the topics he talked about was whether design is productive of happiness. And it’s about happiness in connection with TED that I’d like to talk today. 

Bad News is Good News

Because TED is thoroughly positive. Even though some of the stories told there might be disturbing or dramatic, they never end in hopelessness, but always point to a way or an idea through which a problem can be solved or a question answered. 

This I find invigorating and really refreshing. Day in, day out, we’re confronted with so much bad news and so many problems in this world that you could be forgiven for thinking that everything’s just getting worse and worse. One of the main reasons for this is that old media maxim which says that only bad news is good news. Turn on the TV or radio to watch or listen to the news and you can easily get the impression that the whole world’s going to hell in a handcart.  

Is that the truth though? Is it reality? Far from it. Even though that’s what many people believe. Focus on what’s positive, what’s encouraging and they’ll say that you’re denying reality. Because many people hold fast to the view that darkness in this world is growing. 

Naturally far too many horrid things happen and we’re beset with problems on all sides. And yet at least an equal number of good things happen every day, and everyday problems are solved or at least are tackled in a bid to find a solution. This too is reality, even though it doesn’t get much – if any – media attention.  

Development needs Positive Impulses

Development needs positive impulses. Positive impulses inspire us, encourage us, they spur us on. They release energy. And this is exactly what the TED Talks also do by showing us how much ingenuity, intelligence and courage goes into solving some difficult or seemingly impossible situation. We get to know perfectly ordinary – and at the same time truly extraordinary – people who can set examples for us to follow. Perhaps it’s an ex-president of the USA who inspires us. Or an artist talking about happiness. I myself was particularly impressed by a little African boy who wanted to protect the village herd of cows from frequent nightly attacks by lions but without killing the beasts. He hit on the idea of building a light installation which switched on at night when the lions approached and scared them away. He put this idea into action and it worked. And he showed the grown-ups in the village that you didn’t necessarily have to shoot and kill in order to protect yourself. This is why his story made such a deep impression on me. Because the effect of what he did was just as important as protecting the herd – as it led to a new way of thinking in the village. You don’t need to be powerful or rich in order to bring about positive change. You only have to have the idea and the ability and the courage to put it into practice – even with the simplest of means.  

“Ideas Worth Spreading” is the subline of the TED Talks. In my view there can never be enough of such ideas. And you don’t necessarily need an internet platform to spread them. Yet TED itself is a marvellous example of a good innovative idea that helps to make the world a little bit better by showcasing the positive and giving it a voice. Perhaps you’re curious enough to drop by and give it a glance like I did all those years ago when I first heard about it. I’d be so pleased if you did!