How to Launch Your Big Idea – 5 Lessons from the Founder of TED

by Joe Vennare, Storyteller

ted-main-stage

TED talks have become a global phenomenon. Stories of success and struggle. Inspiration and ideas. New technologies and innovating thoughts. People and far off places. There a seemingly endless collection of talks that stretch the limits of our imagination and abilities.

While taking in a live event or video online, few people stop to think – how did this happen? Where did these talks begin? Heck, what does TED even stand for? (FYI – Technology, Entertainment and Design)

In a recent interview with American Express Open Forum, TED founder Richard Saul Wurman dives into the details of the first ever TED event. In doing so he revealed more than who was there (i.e. Steve Jobs, the President of Sony showing off the first CD player, etc) and where it was (the Monterey Conference Center in California). Contained within Wurman’s interview, the story of how TED came to be, is a framework for how you can transform your idea into a global success story.

Be on the lookout for opportunities

In the early 1980s, Wurman say something others didn’t. He said, there was a convergence taking place between technology businesses, the entertainment industry and design professions. Not many people saw it. I did.

Lesson 1. If you want to build something big, I mean really BIG, you have to see opportunity where others see opposition. Or, in the places no one else is looking.

Think about failure differently

When recounting the first event, Wurman remembered, about 300 attendees came to the Monterey Conference Center, which held 500 people… I lost money on the first TED conference.

Lesson 2. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. Yes, the first event was a risk. You might even call it a loss. Maybe a failure. Sometimes you can’t avoid it. Especially when trying to launch a big idea. We can’t avoid failure. But, we can think about it differently.

Go against the grain.

Wurman wanted TED to be innovative. Here’s how he did it – One path to true innovation is through subtraction. I looked at all the elements of conferences that were taking place at the time, and I removed some of the items to create TED.

Lesson 3. Innovation doesn’t occur when you do what everyone else is doing, the way it’s always been done. Different is good, especially when different creates a disruption in the status quo. In this case, less really was more.

Never stop learning

At the first TED conference Wurman asked attendees – to take a journey with me from not knowing to knowing. He told them – “Learning is remembering what you are interested in.” I hate education, but I love learning.

Lesson 4. If you want to be truly great. If you really want to do something spectacular, you have to be a lifelong learner. As Wurman points out, it has nothing to do with education. Just a insatiable desire to learn.

Know your strengths

Planning the lineup of speakers, Wurman chose speakers who were smarter and more talented than I was, and they brought the discussions to life.

Lesson 5. If you want to build something bigger than yourself, you’ll need people other than yourself. Be honest. What are you good at? Do that. Enlist other people to fill in the gaps. You can’t do everything all of the time. That’s a surefire way to burnout. Which is frowned upon when trying to launch a big idea.

Takeaway

Back to the original question – How did it happen?

How did Wurman create such a legendary brand, conference and business? He started with a BIG idea. He saw opportunity where others weren’t looking. Went after it and persisted despite some setbacks (read – failures). He didn’t compromise his vision, he was innovative. He wanted to help others learn, because he loved to learn. And, along the way, he looked to others who were smarter than him to make his idea a success. Wurman ran TED for 18 years before it was acquired by Chris Anderson.

It’s the framework you can use to launch your idea. To make it a success. Who knows, you might be sitting on the next TED. When you think about it like that, the real question is “what are you waiting for?”

 

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