Posts Categorized: History

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

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by Joe Vennare, Storyteller


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.


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?”


Our Future Takes Center Stage

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by Joe Vennare, Storyteller

New Hazlett Theater

The story of starting again is one that we Pittsburghers are familiar with. A narrative that we know all too well. One that, dare I say, we’ve come to embrace.

The steel boom that built our city could just as easily brought us down when it went bust. But, instead of breaking we came together, like carbon and iron. We formed an alloy capable of withstanding the elements. One that would come to define the revival by the rivers.

The results of this restart, of this revival can be seen all across this city. There’s a touch of resilience at every turn. A palpable history and sense of brilliance that are redefining our direction.

The Same Story, a New Narrative

At TEDxGrandviewAve we’ve made it our mission to showcase the people and ideas that are playing a pivotal role in this restart. So, on April 26, 2014 that’s exactly what we plan to do. When the speakers take the stage at the New Hazlett Theater their ideas will be added those thoughts capable of setting a new course. Preserving the past while preparing for the future.

Which is to be expected, given the restart story of Pittsburgh that we know. But, so fitting given the resilience of the New Hazlett that might be overlooked.

The History of the New Hazlett


In recent years Pittsburgh has become home to a number startup spaces and business accelerators. During that same time, the New Hazlett has served as an incubator for the arts. It’s history mirrors that of the city it resides in.

History – Thanks to Andrew Carnegie, the New Hazlett was built in 1889. Originally it was the Carnegie Free Public Library and Music Hall – the first of it’s kind. Later, in 1980 the Public Library and Music Hall was renamed in honor of Theodore L. Hazlett Jr, a civic leader who supported the arts and worked to rid the city of smog.

Resilience – When the hall was threatened by demolition in 1967, the community stepped up (as we’ve been known to do) to secure the necessary funding for a renovation.

Defining the future – Flashforward to the present day and this nonprofit theater continues to thrive and as an active component of PIttsburgh’s arts community.

And on April 26, 2014 the New Hazlett will play host to a performance that encompasses the arts, but doesn’t stop there. We’ll explore technology and education, creativity and innovation as we engineer the businesses, relationships and communities as we continue to redefine Pittsburgh.

We are what’s next

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history blog post

Pittsburgh is a tale of two cities – the old and the new.

Steel and skyscrapers built its foundation. Now, innovation and entrepreneurship are shaping her future.

But, it’s not as if we’ve severed ties with our historic past.

Here, the former and future are indelibly linked. These two worlds have come together to create a community and a culture where hard work really does pay off, and it pays to be a good neighbor.  We ride an incline, a coal cart, to work in a thriving metropolis. The buildings and landmarks we pass each day bare the names of our cities pioneers and powerhouses – Carnegie, Mellon, Warhol, Frick.

Like the titans of industry and art who preceded us, we’re empowered to leave our fingerprints on the city in which we live. Our impact marks a shift towards co-working and community, business and biotech, medicine, education, sustainability and startups.

Although the signs still read under construction, there’s no doubt that we’re in the midst of reclaiming our destiny as a region whose influence spans the globe.

As we work, we wear the coal on our hands as a badge of honor, paying homage to our city’s heritage. It’s a heritage that has earned us a place among the ranks of the Rust Belt. But for us, the rust is not a sign of decay.  Rather, it’s a reminder that we’re capable of building something bigger than ourselves, something that will outlast us.

It’s the story of two cities – the old and the new; a tale of rust and resilience.

Words do this story a disservice; its better if you see it for yourself.

Standing on Grandview Avenue, high atop the hills of Mt. Washington, the lines of this comeback story become crystal clear. Visions of what was and what is converge there.

The story of what’s next, of what could be, is being written here; at TEDxGrandviewAve.

It’s no coincidence that our name mirrors that of the iconic overlook. Melding the old with the new – building on our past while looking to the future – we’re mixing imagination with inspiration; creating the platform for Pittsburgh and its people to tell stories of ideas worth spreading.

Because we are what’s next.

You are what’s next.

What will you create? What legacy will you leave?