Behind today's TED-Ed launch

Today marks a big new chapter in the TED story, as we unveil the first part of our TED-Ed initiative.  Announcement.  YouTube channel.

Viewed one way, it's just the release on YouTube of a dozen short videos created for high school students and life-long learners. But we're committed to growing this archive to hundreds of videos within a year, and I thought it would be helpful to jot down a few personal notes on why we're doing this... ...because there's a right and a wrong way to interpret today's launch.

The wrong way is to imagine that we believe this to be some kind of grand solution.  "TED claims its new TED-Ed videos will transform education"!  Er, no. We don't. 

The right way is to see this as our reaching out to teachers and saying: Can we help?

Teachers are heroes. That's pretty much the founding principle of TED-Ed.  TED's core mission is to spread great ideas and teachers are right there at the deep end. They've dedicated their lives to helping shape the minds of the next generation. There is no more noble or important work -- and it is scandalous that it is not better recognized or remunerated. 

One of the most thrilling developments at TED in the past few years has been seeing some of the world's best educators (in the broadest sense) reaching the size of audience that they deserve. The talk of education reformer Sir Ken Robinson has been seen on all platforms more than 11 million times... and is still being viewed by more than 10,000 people every day.  Indeed every talk we post now on the home page gets viewed by tens of thousands of people in its first few hours online.  But most of these talks are aimed at adults. And even though many of them are being used in classrooms, at a typical 18 minutes length, they simply displace too much class time.   

And so the question we've been asking with increasing urgency the past couple years is: could we do something similar to TED Talks that would work better in schools? Something that would give teachers a useful new tool. And more than that, could we create a platform that would allow teachers to share their best lesson to a much wider audience?

15 months ago we hired Logan Smalley, a TED Fellow with a proven passion for teaching and technology,  and together we've spent a lot of time this past year listening to educators, and members of the TED community, and figuring out what TED could best offer.  Here is some of what we heard.

- Video does indeed have a powerful role to play in education.  
- It allows great lessons to be shared online with vastly bigger audiences.
- It allows teachers to show things that would be hard to show live in every class.
- It also can allow kids to learn at their own pace (hello, replay button).
- The best length for a video to be used in class is under 10 minutes.
- The best videos often use animation or other visualization techniques to deliver better explanations and more compelling narratives.

HOWEVER, none of this, for a moment, displaces the teacher. On the contrary, it amplifies teacher skills. It may also facilitate the ability for teachers to play to their strongest card:
- Teachers who are great instructors can create lessons that may be seen by thousands or millions, and, like a text-book, be reused year after year.
- Teachers who are great coaches can invite to their classrooms, via the web, and without cost, the perfect instructor to ignite interest in a topic or to meet a specific child's needs.

We also heard that the deepest desire of many teachers is not to prepare their students for an annual standardized test, but to inspire them to become life-long learners.

And so, our vision gained clarity. TED should invite great teachers to help us create a new video collection, made up of short, memorable lessons. We should not try to recreate what Salman Khan of the Khan Academy and others are doing so brilliantly, namely to meticulously build up entire curricula on video. No. TED is known for its ability to evoke curiosity, wonder, and mind-shifting insight.  That should be our prime goal here. Short lessons that spark curiosity. That deliver memorable "aha" moments. That make learning thrilling. If we contribute just one iota to doing that, it would be a worthwhile project. 

We pictured grouping videos into series with intriguing titles that would allow them to be relevant to multiple subject areas. "Inventions that Shaped History." "Questions No One Knows the Answer to."  "Playing with Words." 

But how to populate them? Our strategy at TED on all projects we take on has become one of "radical openness". Any internal skills we have are vastly outweighed by people externally, and so we should simply seek to empower them. (See TED Open TranslationTEDx, etc.)

So that's what today's TED-Ed launch is. An invitation to teachers across the world to help us dial up the effectiveness of video lessons. As an initial offering, we have posted a dozen lessons that we think show promise. And now we're ready to assist teachers in creating hundreds more.

Most of the examples in our launch collection rely on animation to amplify the educator's words. We think this works. One way to think of the potential of animation is to ask: what could a teacher do if you gave her or him a magic blackboard -- one which could display literally anything that would assist in an explanation (and in holding the attention of the class)?  Would that help ignite understanding and excitement? We think the answer is Yes. Check out, for example, Mark Honigsbaum's talk on pandemics. 

And even in cases where a talk is recorded live on stage, it's possible to use animation to add a whole new layer of wonder. Take a peak at this TED-Ed talk by David Gallo, for example.

Greg Gage's cockroach beatbox and Jason Munshi-South's talk on animal evolution in New York City are further terrific examples of this technique.

At TED-Ed we have hired a lean, mean team of talented animators and producers who are now standing by to turn teachers' best lessons into memorable films. We are also reaching out to animators worldwide who wish to offer their services in this regard. The pairing of great teachers and animators offers amazing potential for spreading knowledge in the YouTube era.

As well as our in-house team, we have signed a contract with Cognitive Media, the groundbreaking animation team (led by Andrew Park) who are behind the wonderful RSA Animate talks. I wanted to experiment with them on how to do short videos specifically designed to catalyze curiosity.  So (tapping into my boyhood obsession with Physics) I tried writing a couple of scripts, and Cognitive developed a wonderful new style of animation to turn them into a short series called. "Questions No One Knows the Answer To."  Here's the brief intro.

As you can see, Cognitive's work is truly brilliant and they are now ready to animate lessons (or more questions-no-one-knows-the-answer-to) from real teachers! (Nominate one here.)

A further massive impetus to our launch came in our partnership with YouTube. They offered us significant financial help to accelerate our production plans, so that we are now looking to build this new archive into more than 300 videos within the first year.  YouTube have also done  a really smart thing to get round the fact that many schools block their content.  They've created a special YouTube For Schools program (which we are part of) that schools are now white-listing. They've also been great in working out with us limited commercial intrusion, including, importantly no pre-roll ads, and no advertisers inappropriate for children. In fact a teacher should be able to show these films in school without showing any ads at all. By launching initially on YouTube, we are giving these new videos their best possible chance to shine and attract an audience. 

This is the first part of a two-part launch. The second part comes next month when we open up a new section of devoted to TED-Ed and offer some powerful new tools to teachers.  But for now, I would love you to watch some of the initial sample of videos, ponder the opportunity TED may have to contribute to education, and give your feedback and insight in the comment section below. And, most important of all: if you know a great teacher or animator,  please send them to TED-Ed.  We would love to hear from them, or from you!

TED Goes to Jail

Seems like I learn something great or hear something great from a TEDx organizer every single day. This morning I was forwarded an email from  Antonella Broglia, organizer of TEDxMadrid.   Here it is...

On Dec 3, 2011, at 9:19 AM, Antonella Broglia wrote:

Dear friends, 
This morning I have been talking about TED to a group of inmates at Soto del Real Prison, near Madrid. A huge institution.
They have no access to the internet, so I brought a selection of historical and new talks with me in a CD.
They were amazed by the ideas, and we then engaged in a great debate about the power of ideas to free ourselves, and the power of video to educate people no matter if they are rich or poor.
While I will be sending  new talks to them,  I will be back in march to explain what I will have learned at TEDActive 2012.
And I will also teach them to prepare their TED Talk - style  speech about the story of their lives.
After the meeting, they called their families and talked to them about TED.
And that was the most incredible part.
It was such a great morning.

Antonella Broglia

Email Charter Feedback

Please use this space to add your comments on the Email Charter, launched today.  It's linked to the main Charter site so your comments will be seen by many people. Do you share a sense of rising email stress? Does the Charter make sense to you?  If you have suggestions for edits or changes, please make them -- we may be able to use them in a future update.

One thing's clear. The Charter has struck a chord. 50,000 people read the draft and hundreds offered comments, or tweets.  We incorporated as much feedback as we could in the final version.  Thank you to the many contributors. The main changes were:
- to shorten it to just 10 rules
- to keep it focused on the core idea of protecting the time of email recipients

One area of controversy was around acronyms. Some people hate them. In general we agree, but we did decide, based on other responses, that two acronyms were worth wide adoption because of their ability to save recipient time (see rule 8).

Finally, just to be clear: I don't hate email. I love it. Numerous relationships and ideas have been nurtured because of it.  It has brought laughter, excitement, productivity and insight. What I hate is being owned by email. Even if each individual message is a delight, their accumulation at some point becomes too much. Yet none of us wants to let people down. That's why this can't be solved by any of us acting alone. It needs a general recognition of the problem, and a gentle shift in our expectations of each other. Here's hoping the Charter can help do that.

If you agree, please spread the word!

Help Create an Email Charter!

Houston, we have a problem.

We all love the power of email connecting people across continents. But... we're drowning in it.

Every year it gets a little worse. To the point where we can get trapped spending most of our working week simply handling the contents of our in-boxes. 

And in doing so, we're making the problem worse.  Every reply, every cc, creates new work for our friends and colleagues.  

We need to figure out a better way. 

But how?

Here is the key cause of this problem:

The total time taken to respond to an email is often MORE than the time it took to create it.    

Because even though it's quicker to read than to write, five other factors outweigh this:
- Emails often contain challenging, open-ended questions that can't rapidly be responded to
 - It's really easy to copy and paste extra text into emails. (Email creation time is almost the same. Reading time soars.)
- It's really easy to add links to other pages, or video (each capable of consuming copious gobbets of time)
- It's really easy to cc multiple people
- The act of processing an email consists of more than just reading.  There is a) scanning an in-box, b) deciding which ones to open, c) opening them, d) reading them e) deciding how to respond  f) responding  g) getting back into the flow of your other work.  
So the arrival of even a two-sentence email that is simply opened, read and deleted can take a minimum of 30-60 seconds out of your available cognitive time.  
This means that every hour someone spends writing and sending email, may well be extracting more than an hour of the world's available attention -- and generating a further hour or more of new email. That is not good.

It is in fact a potent 'tragedy of the commons'.  The commons in question here is the world's pool of attention.  Email makes it just a little too easy to grab a piece of that attention. The unintended consequence of all those little acts of grabbing is a giant rats nest of voracious demands on our time, energy and sanity.

To fix a 'commons' problem, a community needs to come together and agree new rules.  That's why it's time for an Email Charter. One that can reverse the escalating spiral of obligation and stress.

I have reserved the url for the finished product.  [Update, June 29. The Charter is live!]  But first let's figure out what the charter should be. Let's do this as a crowd.  It's a shared problem. Let's come up with a shared solution. It will only work if lots of people agree to it.

The Charter must focus on reversing the underlying cause. We need a world where it is much quicker to process email than to create it. Bearing that in mind. Here are some candidate rules for an Email Charter.  (And btw, much of this applies equally to other online messaging, such as Facebook.)

1. Respect Recipients' Time
This is the fundamental rule. As the message sender, the onus is on YOU to minimize the time your email gobbles at the other end -- even if it means taking more time at your end before sending. 

2. Be Easy to Process
This means:  crisp sentences, unambiguous questions, keep it short. If the email absolutely has to be longer than 100 words, make sure the first sentence is clear about the basic reason for writing. 

3. Choose Clear Subject Lines. 
Here are some that don't work:
Subject: Re: re: re: re    
Subject: Hello from me!
Subject: next week....
Subject: MY AMAZING NEW SHOW starts next week at the Vctory Theater at 113-86 Broad Lane, every night 8 PM 6/7--7/12
    Here are some that do:
Subject: TED Partnership Proposal
Subject: Rescheduling today's dinner with Sarah G.
Subject: Noon meeting cancelled (eom). 
EOM means 'end of message.'  It's a fine gift to your recipient. They don't have to spend the time actually opening the message. 

4. Short Does Not Mean Rude!
Let's mutually agree that it's OK for emails -- and replies -- to be really short. They don't have to include the usual social niceties,  though the occasional emoticon is no bad thing ;-) . No one wants to come over as brusque, so don't take it that way.  We just want our lives back!

5. Slow Does Not Mean Uncaring!
Let's also agree that it's OK if someone doesn't respond quickly, or ever. I's not that they don't love you. They may just not want to be owned by their in-box. Avoid sending chasing emails, unless you're desperate. It's only exacerbating the problem. 

6. Abhor Open-Ended Questions
It's really mean to send someone an email with four long paragraphs of turgid text followed by "Thoughts?".  It's generous to figure out how you can offer people simple yes/no questions - or multiple choice! "When you have a moment could you let me know if you're A) firmly in favor, B) mildly in favor C) against or D) no opinion. Thanks!" 

7. Cut Gratuitous Responses
You don't need to reply to every email.  If I say "Thanks for your note. I'm in."  You don't have to reply "Great."  That just cost me another 30 seconds.  If you must confirm, put it in the subject line with an 'eom'.

8. Think Before you cc:
Cc:'s are like mating bunnies. Like Tribbles from Star Trek. Like spilling a tub of olive oil-coated spaghetti on a well-waxed floor. Like too many metaphors. Most of them are unneccessary, and they are hard to get rid of. The rule should be: for every additional cc, you must increase the time you spend making sure your outgoing email is crisp and that it's clear who needs to respond, if anyone.  And if you reply to an email, take care to ask whether you really need to include everyone cc'ed on the original email.

9. Speak Softly
DO NOT USE ALL CAPS IN THE BODY OF YOUR EMAIL. It's rather like screaming at someone. And they're hard to read - as are most unusual fonts and colors. Simple sans serif fonts like Arial, Helvetica, Verdana work best. If you want to add some zing to your emails, design a personalized signature tag.

10. Attack Attachments.
Don't use them unless they're critical. Some people have all kinds of graphics files as logos or signatures that appear as attachments at the receiver. Not cool. Time is wasted trying to see if there's something to open. Even worse is sending text as an attachment when it could just as easily have been included in the body of the email and saved that extra click-and-wait. 
If you send an invite to an event, it's fine to include an attachment that announces it  visually. But: 
- If there is a URL, include it in text form so it shows up as a clickable link. Or make the whole image itself a clickable link. Not fair to expect someone to retype a url !
- Please include the location, date and time in text format so that the information can be quickly copied and pasted. That way it can quickly be added to a calendar.  (And error free. You don't want "The Knickerbocker Club, 7:30 PM, black-tie required" to morph into
"The Kickboxer Club, 7:30 AM, black-belt required".)

11. Make it easy to unsubscribe
If you send out email newsletters, please make it easy to stop the flow. Letters that prompt rage are not helping your brand!

12. Think about the thread
Some e-mails depend for their meaning on context. Which means it's usually right to include the thread which they're responding to.  But it's rare that a thread should extend to more than 3 emails. Before sending, cut the crap! 

13. Don't reply when angry
Just walk away from the computer. Stamp your feet. Scream out the window. Do not send an email until your emotions have calmed. One rude, jerky email can tar you for life... and spark an even worse response.

14. Use NNTR
"No need to respond."  Use it in a subject line, right before EOM.  Or use it at the end of an email.  What a gift to your recipient!

15. Pay a voluntary email tax
The reason email is escalating is because it's free. No one wants to change that... but what if at the end of each month, you quickly totted up how many emails you had sent, multiply by the average number of cc's, and pay that number of cents into a personal book-buying account.  You'll end up with a lot of great books... and it might just pull you away from the goddam computer for a bit!  Speaking of which...

16. Switch off the computer!
This could be the most important rule of all. If we all agreed to spend less time doing email, we'd all get less email!  Consider... calendaring half-days at work where you refuse to look at email. Consider... email-free weekends.  Consider... setting up the following auto-response. "Thank you for your note.  As a personal commitment to my and my family's mental health, I now do email only on Wednesdays. I'll reply to as many as I can next Wednesday. Thanks for writing. Don't forget to smell the roses."

Now it's over to you. Which of these do you like? Which do you hate? Which need amending? And what new and better rules can you come up with?  We'll be monitoring the response carefully and will use the best of it to create the final charter.  That will be something we hope people will link to in their email signatures.   And maybe one day we'll all get to live a little better, and write a little less !

A speech to Harvard's architects of the future

I was invited to address the 2011 graduating class of architects from the Harvard Graduate School of Design last week. Some of them wrote me over the weekend asking to put the talk up online.  So here it is....

First of all, I'm not sure if your organizers today were aware of this, but I actually don't give a lot of speeches. I'm usually the guy doing the inviting. Frankly, it's a lot more comfortable that way. But... I couldn't pass up the chance to spend some time with a group of people who have so much to offer the world. Truly, it's an honor to be here.

To begin with, a favor. If you are one of the graduating class, I would like you please to stand up. I want to see you properly. Thank you. Congratulations. You made it. And if you would, I would like you to hold your heads very still for just the next 10 seconds or so. Because I  have an app on my ipad here that's pretty cool. I'm not taking your picture. What I'm doing, if you don't mind, is just grabbing a download of the contents of each of your brains. Thank you. You may sit.

Now unfortunately, this app is still in, let's say, pre-alpha mode. It doesn't work that reliably. But if it did, I wonder what a read out would reveal. Of course today there would be all manner of emotions around the years you've spent here and the prospects ahead. Excitement, nostalgia, hope...  regret, panic. We'd no doubt uncover a few unexpected jealousies, embarrassing memories, a complete record of everything that happened late at night over there in the trays.  (Don't worry, it's all 100% privacy protected, unless you forgot to check the box marked no public humiliation.) But along with all that, there would be something else in this data. We would be able to see an astonishing picture of...  the future. Better than any crystal ball, or forecasting tool, we could see what our world will look like in a couple decades' time.   

Now I mean this quite literally and seriously. By getting this far in this place, you, the Harvard Graduate School of Design class of 2011, have proved that you possess a certain, incredible talent. It's a talent that is unique to our species. And if you were to rank this talent among members of our species in general, I have no doubt you would all be in the top 1% of 1%. I'm not talking about intelligence, fine breeding, good looks, dress sense, or compelling social skills. (Though I have no doubt you excel there too.)  I am talking about the talent which some would call...   imagination or invention or innovation. It is the remarkable ability first of all to model some aspect of the external world inside our heads... and secondly to play with that mental model until suddenly... bingo... you find a a way to rearrange it so that it's actually better. This is the amazing engine that underpins both technology the T of TED, and Design the D of TED. It is this skill that has made possible the human progress of the last 50,000 years.

It's really astonishing that we can do this. For almost the entire period of life on earth, the appearance of design has been driven differently. By random trial and error. Like a drunkard lumbering through a dark maze of passages, life has lurched its way forward. For every evolutionary step forward there have been countless dead ends. In a single lifetime, change was not detectable. It happened slowly, painfully over millions of years. Somehow in our species the light came on. We actually found a way to model the future before lumbering into it. That... changed... everything.

Viewed from a different perspective, you could say our brains became the ecosystems for a new kind of life, a life that replicated and transformed itself at a rate hitherto unknown in our corner of the universe. The thrilling life of the world of ideas. TED is devoted to nurturing this life form. And in a sense, you're about to devote the rest of your life to that same mission. But whereas we at TED nurture ideas by putting free talks up on the Internet, you will be not just dreaming them but turning them into reality so that thousands or millions of other people will be impacted by them.

And that is why I'm so excited by this group brain scan I'm holding here in my hand. It's the future right here.

Wait I think I can make out something, albeit it's a little fuzzy. Espoused in a mind over here, I think I can just about make out... a gorgeous building, full of natural light whose bio-inspired curves evoke wonder and delight in everyone who sees it. Over there I can see a once barren industrial wasteland converted into a glorious city park where people gather, mill, walk, play and dream. And emanating from a mind on this side...  oh wow. Here is a spectacular city of the future. One in which cars are replaced by intelligent, next-generation  transport systems, and human-scale meeting places where people naturally mingle and connect.  A city which breathes and adjusts and interacts with its citizens like a living system.

When you sum up all the visions contained in this room right now I have to tell you, the future looks pretty enticing. And the most thrilling part? A significant proportion of those dreams will within the next decade or two become real. Why? because you will make it so. You are the 2011 graduate class of the GSD. Like few other people on earth, you have the skills and the  resources to truly change the world.

But here's the rub. What will determine which of the dreams here present today see the light of day, and which will languish unfunded, forgotten, ignored?

Well, usually a single person can't make a big idea come true (unless they have extremely rich parents). In almost every case an idea needs multiple backers. So it must first spread from one brain to many, spreading excitement as it goes. So what makes THAT happen? It certainly helps if the idea itself is powerful. By which I mean some combination of beautiful, ingenious, and... affordable. But there's something else.  It needs to be communicated with power. One of the most tragic things in the world is a powerful idea stuck inside the head of someone who can't actually explain it to anyone else. At TED over the years, we've had a lot of architects come and share their visions with us, and a good number of them have been absolutely... awful.  How can that be? They have the most compelling subject matter imaginable. Giant designs at a scale that impacts thousands or millions of people... Yet when it come to articulating them, they descend into gibberish - the abstract, over-intellectual language of architectural criticism that makes an audience's eyes glaze over and their brains numb. This is an utter tragedy!  Whatever else you do in the coming years of your life, I beg you, I truly beg you to find a way of sharing your dreams in a way that truly reveals the excitement and passion and possibility behind them.

The good news here is that you're entering the profession at a wonderful moment. I speak as an outsider, but it seems to me that three giant trends are combining to transform both the role of architecture -- and  how it can be talked about. First of all, in recent years a mode of thought that has dominated intellectual life for much of the past century is gradually being laid to rest. I'm referring to the toxic belief that human nature and aesthetic values are infinitely malleable, and determined purely by cultural norms. For a while this gave a generation of architects exhilarating freedom to abandon all traditional architectural rules, and impose their own vision on society. But, like similar experiments in music, art, drama, and literature, they didn't always win the world's love.

Today there's a growing consensus that we should think of humans differently. That far from living in separate cultural bubbles we actually share millions of years of evolutionary history. That there are far far more ways that we're the same than that we're different. The anthropologist Donald Brown has documented more than 200 human universals present in every culture on earth. They ranged from things like body adornment, feasting, dancing to common facial expressions and, yes, shared aesthetic values. This latter question has been the subject of countless experiments around the world in the past couple decades, and they've mostly revealed an amazing degree of resonance among vastly different people on what they find...  beautiful.

This shift is surely allowing us to change the language in which architecture is discussed. In a world of pure cultural relativism, there are no absolutes to appeal to. To succeed you had to learn the opaque language of a tight-knit clique of critics and opinion formers. It didn't matter if the rest of the world was left scratching its head. Today, slowly, gingerly, it's become possible once again to use language the rest of us can understand. I think it's even OK to use that B word again. Beauty. Not as a proxy for arrogant artistic self-expression, but as a quest to tap into something that can resonate deeply in millions of souls around the world.  I'm happy to report that in the last couple years at TED  we've been wowed by a new generation of architects  Joshua Prince-Ramus,  Bjarke Ingels, Liz Diller, Thomas Heatherwick and others, as they've shared with us - in plain English -  their passion, their dreams, and yes, the beauty of what they're created. When Thomas Heatherwick shared his vision for a stunning, new residential complex in Kuala Lumpur, curved out from narrow bases like a bed of tulips, I had just one thought.  I wish I had been born in the future.

I suppose an architect might have dreamt of such a development 30 years ago... but it could never have been built. And that brings us to the second trend. Technology is changing the rules of what's possible. The astounding power of computer-assisted design and new construction techniques are giving us the ability to actually build what before could only have been a whimsical doodle on a sketch-pad..  Suddenly the fractals and curves of Mother Nature, are a legitimate part of the architectural lexicon. And around the world, as people watch these new buildings arise, instead of muttering "monstrosity", their jaws are dropping, their eyes moistening.

And finally, perhaps most important of all, we're at a moment in history where the world is paying attention to you like never before. As leading designers of scale, you, more than anyone else, hold in your hands the answers to the most important question we all face. Namely this. Can the coming world of 10 billion people survive and flourish without consuming itself in the process. The answers if they are to be found, - and I think they will - will come from... design. Better ways to pattern our lives. There is nothing written into our nature that says that the only path to a wonderful, rich, meaningful life is to own two cars and a McMansion in the suburbs.

But it's becoming urgent for the world to start to see a compelling alternative vision. Probably it's going to come down to re-imagining what a city can be, and making it so wonderful, that few people would want to live anywhere else. If there are to be 10 billion of us, we will have to, for the most part, live close to each other -- if only to give the rest of nature a chance. Indeed more than half the world already lives in cities and the best of them offer so much to the world : richer culture, a greater sense of community, a far lower carbon footprint per person - and  the collision of ideas that nurtures innovation.  And the future cities you will help create need not feel claustrophobic or soulless. By sculpting beautiful new forms into the city's structures and landscapes; by incorporating light, plants, trees, water; by imagining new ways to connect with each other and work with each other, you will allow the coming crowd to live more richly, more meaningfully, than has ever been possible in history - and to do so without sacrificing your grandchildren.  

Now finally, I guess it's traditional at a time like this to offer some personal advice to you as you embark on your career. Everything from "one word: plastics".  to... "follow your dream, pursue your passion". Indeed the mantra of romantically pursuing passion is hammered into us by countless movies, novels and pulp TV. I'm not convinced it is very good advice. Apart from the fact that many people aren't sure what their passion is, even if they were, there are lots of wonderful things in life that absolutely should not be pursued directly. Take love. We all want it. But there's a word for people who pursue love a little too directly. Stalker. Or take happiness. Go after that wholeheartedly and most likely you'll end up a hedonist, a narcissist, an addict.  A great musician who wants to pursue the absolute in artistic creativity doesn't get there by being creative. She gets there by being disciplined. By learning, listening and by practicing for hours... until one day the creativity just flows of its own accord.

The architect Moshe Safdie ended his TED talk a few years with this poem.

    He who seeks truth shall find beauty. He who seeks beauty shall find vanity. 
    He who seeks order, shall find gratification. He who seeks gratification, shall be disappointed. 
    He who considers himself the servant of his fellow beings shall find the joy of self-expression. He who seeks self-expression, shall fall into the pit of arrogance. 
    Arrogance is incompatible with nature. Through nature, the nature of the universe and the nature of man, we shall seek truth.  
    If we seek truth, we shall find beauty.

So I guess my advice would be... Don't pursue your passion directly. At least not yet. Instead... pursue the things that will empower you. Pursue knowledge. Be relentlessly curious. Listen, learn. You're leaving Harvard this week, but your learning cannot ever, ever be allowed to stop.

Pursue discipline. It's an old-fashioned word, but it's never been more important.Today's world is full of an impossible number of distractions. The world-changers are those who find a way of ignoring most of them.

And above all: Pursue generosity. Not just because it will add meaning to your life -- though it will do that -- but because your future is going to be built on great ideas and in the future you are entering, great ideas HAVE to be given away. They do. The world is more interconnected than ever. The rules of what you give and what you hold on to have changed forever. If you hold on to your best ideas, maybe you can for a moment grab some short-term personal commercial gain. But if you let them roam free, they can spread like wildfire, earning you a global reputation. They can be reshaped and improved by others. They can achieve impact and influence in the world far greater than if you were to champion them alone. If we've discovered anything at TED these past few years, it's that radical openness pays. We gave away our talks on the web, and far from killing demand for the conference, it massively increased it, turning TED from something which reached 800 people once a year to something which reached half a million people every day. We gave away our brand in the form of TEDx, and far from diluting TED, it democratized it, and multiplied its footprint a thousand fold.

Knowledge, discipline, generosity. If you pursue those with all the determination you possess, one day before too long, without your even knowing it, the chance to realize your most spectacular dreams will come gently tap you on the shoulder and whisper... "Let's go!".  And you'll be ready.

And that is how you're going to help shape a better future for all of us.

No pressure or anything, but we're counting on you.

Ai Weiwei: watching, waiting, hoping....

Amidst continuing concern about the detention of Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei, I received this note today from Professor Jerry Cohen, an expert in international law who heads a Council of Foreign Relations initiative on human rights.  He gave me permission to blog it. 

* * *

A Background Note on Ai Weiwei's Situation

There seems to be silence about the case while the police undoubtedly go through the over 100 items seized in the search of his home/studio and interrogate the aide who reportedly was detained and retained with him after the other assistants and wife were released. Going through his computer data and following up on leads may take some time. Although the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) in most cases gives the police only three days to hold someone before deciding whether to release him or apply to the prosecutors for an arrest warrant, exceptions allow them up to seven days and in very limited circumstances up to thirty days. Invariably the police turn the exceptions into a thirty-day rule, so nothing may be heard from them or Weiwei for a month. The prosecutors have seven days to decide whether to approve the arrest request, and usually do approve arrest and continuing detention. Approval of arrest usually guarantees later indictment, conviction and punishment, usually prison time.

It's possible because of Weiwei's family and personal connections and outside pressures that he may be released soon. What is worrisome is that his detention was not a spontaneous response to Weiwei's well-known in-your-face lecturing of police for their abuses but a carefully thought out plan to at least keep him in the country and perhaps keep him in criminal detention, not mere house arrest. They may have chosen an intermediate course of taking him, initially, not to a regular detention house but to a "safe house", where he is just as effectively isolated but kept in better conditions than an ordinary cell.

The formal search and seizure of his home/studio suggests that the police may have in mind a conventional criminal prosecution rather than the informal detention and quick release after some hours or days of intimidation in their custody that they frequently practice in their early days of deterring dissidents. Yet no detention notice has been received by his family and none may be since, again, there is an exception in the CPL that releases police from giving required notice of detention if to do so might interfere with their investigation. Without a detention notice, we do not know what the suspected charge might be, where he is located and who is holding him. We believe, from the search and search warrant, that the National Security Division of the Beijing Public Security Bureau (the regular police) is the authority in charge rather than the Beijing State Security Bureau (the KGB of China, responsible for international-related matters).

Without a detention notice it is sometimes difficult for a defense lawyer to enter the case, which is a reason why police sometimes use the excuse of "interference with the investigation" to fail to send a detention notice. Weiwei reportedly has the well-known and dynamic lawyer PU Zhiqiang as his lawyer. What Pu has been able to accomplish so far is unclear. The recently-amended Lawyers Law gives the detainee's counsel the right to see him, albeit in monitored circumstances and for a limited time and with limited scope of discussion. BUT the CPL gives the investigators the right to deny access to the detainees in cases they claim involve "state secrets".  So there is an unresolved legislative clash and we are waiting for the next amendments to the CPL, due soon, to resolve the clash. Pu cannot do much else to combat the police actions at this time.

Jerome Cohen

* * *

Since the above was written, the state news agency came out with a brief statement saying Ai Weiwei was being investigated for economic crimes.  Meanwhile here is the courageous video he shared at TED last month. 


When Great Trees Fall

My friend Andy Hobsbawm sent me this gorgeous Maya Angelou poem today in memory of  Zoe. Worked for me... thought I'd share it.

 When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

My dazzling Zoe: Snapshots of a life cut short

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
 Jack Kerouac

Zoe Clare Anderson, 1986-2010

Two weeks ago today, riding a ski-lift on a glorious clear day  in Whistler, I got the impossible phone-call. Zoe, my beautiful, larger-than-life 24-year-old daughter had been found dead at our home in Bath, England.   At the time, it looked liked she'd slipped and fallen in the shower. It now emerges she collapsed from carbon monoxide poisoning, whose cause is still being investigated.

On Saturday we gathered in England with friends and family from all around the world to celebrate an extraordinary life.  Amidst the terrifying grief, some light began to shine through as we marveled at the ways her life had touched so many people, and dreamed of how we might best honor her memory.   At some point, I'll try to write something about that part. But for now, just the pictures.

1986... a tiny package of joy held close.


No opportunity to feed left unexploited.

Take my picture, if you dare.


That haircut. What were we thinking?!

I am SO much cooler than my baby sister.

Flute? Violin? No way. Give me something loud!

A penny for your thoughts, my dear....

Zoe and I learned to snowboard during an unforgettable week in Whistler in 2001


...and went scuba diving together most recently off Zanzibar, 2006

Er, I meant to mention, Dad,  I installed some new jewelry during my gap year. Do you like it? 

The world's coolest, funniest, most wonderful friends...

...esp her amazing boyfriend Ali

Her camera came with her EVERYWHERE

The child-whisperer. She had unbelievable connection with kids.


At my marriage to Jacqueline Novogratz in 2008, guess who 'gave me away'?

Celebrating an MSc in neuroscience with distinction from Kings College, London in 2009.

Portrait, 2010.

Possibly the world's sparkliest TED fan

A happy week last summer at the World Cup.

She loved family (here with her cousin and grandmother in October)

Croquet demon!

A lane near Castle Combe, England a few months ago.

Christmas 2010 was "the happiest ever".

We've set up a memorial page for Zoe. We want to protect a piece of coral reef in her name.  "Zoe" means life. She was a scuba dive-master and passionate oceans advocate. She would have absolutely loved to see a beautiful ecosystem sustained by the people who loved her. And it's been amazing to see the loving comments and support pouring in. 

There's a memorial on Facebook here with many more photos and beautiful tributes. 

Finally, heartfelt thanks to so many friends who surrounded us with their love this past couple weeks. It's meant the world.  Last month, Zoe was watching the TEDWomen conference over the web. Jacqueline gave an incredible talk, and Zoe tweeted one sentence from it. It was this:

Her life was indeed far too short. But the incandescent flame that is Zoe will be there forever, sparkling, beautiful, and inspiring many to live better and love better.

A teary antidote to holiday shopping...

So, I was just sitting there this morning, thinking of a couple of outstanding presents I had to buy, and stressing about my email backlog, when WPP's creative director John O'Keeffe sent me this link to an ad that won their internal Creme de la Creme award.  It was in response to our Ads Worth Spreading initiative.  I clicked, gaped, shed a tear, marveled at the ingenious twist, and now here I am sharing it. So I guess that makes it an ad worth spreading.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and here's to a beautiful 2011.

- Chris

P.S. I also loved the ad links everyone sent me yesterday on Twitter.  Lots of laughs.  eg. this one.  And gasps.

Please trash this TED talk !


Earlier this year I got seized by an idea that wouldn't let go. It turned into a TED talk, just posted.

The talk's been well-received... but nonetheless I want you to tear it to pieces.  That's because it's about crowd-accelerated innovation, meaning you-the-crowd are capable of taking an idea and making it way better. So let's test that theory.
Pick holes in my logic!
Give better examples than I could find!
Name the passages which are confusing or obvious!
Suggest how I could use this thinking to improve!

If, as I argue, web video has the potential to launch the biggest learning cycle in human history, we're going to need the smartest approach possible. So please, watch the talk, and if it sparks anything in your brain, share it by posting a comment below, so that it can spark the rest of us. 

I'll read every comment.  And I'll mail the best book I've read this year to those who submit the 3 most powerful contributions. 

The Prezi I used for the talk is here.  And there's a link to an interactive transcript of the talk at the top right of the TED talk-page.

UPDATE Oct 28, 2010. Here are the contributors who I've judged as 'winners'.  I ended up with six, all of whom I'll send Matt Ridley's book (if you're one of the six, please email me with your physical address).  I'm thrilled with the effort put into all the responses. Really helpful. Many others could have won if there had been fewer responses. Thanks to all!

Benita Parker - for the "pitch of your life" concept
Sbijlstra - for suggestions on identifying credible contributors
John Warren - for valuable free tips from a speaking coach!
Ramla Akhtar  - for responding in video.
Joerasmussen - for his thoughtful comments on zealots vs vandals
George Por  - mainly for his second 'practical idea'