by Tony Tjan
I have been privileged to have made the TED conference for 18 consecutive years now. While it’s easy to get a little jaded and focus on the many things that can improve the experience of the gathering (e.g. ensure there are no overt product pitches and I think there can be a little more balance on the stage and in the audience between liberal and conservative views), I left Vancouver with a heightened sense for self-reflection and with some messages that left me more optimistic and inspired.
Part of the optimism came from people who spoke for the need of changing our perspectives on the way we build cultures and organizations. Harvard Business School Professor, Frances Frei, recently left UBER after just nine short months. She was brought in to help shift and change the challenged culture at Uber. She spoke candidly about the lessons that she took from Uber in an effort to understand and apply what it really means and takes to create greater inclusion and trust in a company. It was a simple message, but one so poignantly and beautifully delivered: we must allow people to be their authentic selves inside of organizations. Here’s a short blog post on her talk and I encourage everyone to watch the video when it comes out, but here’s a blog post on the talk in the interim: https://blog.ted.com/how-to-rebuild-trust-frances-frei-speaks-at-ted2018/. It made me proud that my alma mater is exploring what our Partner Mats has called, “the hard truth about soft matters.”
Another extraordinary young talent and human being was Dylon Marron who spoke immediately before Frances. Dylon is up for a Webby this year and has a provocatively inspiring podcast – Conversations with People who Hate Me. Dylon has the rare gift of humility, humor and humanness. I loved his talk and how he helped to remind us of this watershed moment we are in towards creating a more inclusionary world.
A must-see talk was one that was jointly delivered by husband and wife, Mark Pollock and Simone George – their courage is nothing short of remarkable. Simone first met Mark as a blind man wanting to learn to dance and they later fell in love and got married. But tragedy struck Mark again when he suffered a fall that left him nearly on death’s bed. While he survived the fall, he became paralyzed from the waist down. What is truly remarkable is the couple’s shared ability to both bravely confront this horrific accident, and use the experience as a channel to message pragmatism and idealism to a broader community. They have found researchers to collaborate and believe that there exists a possibility to cure spinal injuries within their lifetimes. Watching videos of Mark in exoskeletons and being given electrical stimulation to his spine to create feeling in his legs and achieve dignity in an upright position was for me the most moving moment at TED.
From the variety of entrepreneurs and business leaders giving talks, my hat goes off to Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. I have long been a Netflix fan and getting an inside look at some of the critical decision points that allowed the company to strategically maneuver changes in a dynamic media and content industry was extremely insightful. Equally, I enjoyed understanding both the culture and people systems that Hastings has put in place to allow those things to happen. He spoke about how he evolved over the years to lean towards open cultures with decentralized decision-making versus top-down controls. He had one of my favorite lines at TED paraphrased as “if you dummy proof a system, eventually you get dummies working for you.” It’s hard to believe that Netflix is 20 years-old as it still feels like a start-up. Here is the WIRED article on Reed’s talk: https://www.wired.com/story/reed-hastings-at-ted/.
One of my favorite parts of TED are the events that go on in and around the conference. For years we have been lucky to host each year one of the private dinners and for the last ten years or so we have done that with Jason Pontin, former Editor-in-Chief of MIT Tech Review and now a Senior Partner at Flagship Capital. We were also really privileged to explore another small group dinner with Estee Lauder the world of beauty and design innovation with two dozen amazingly diverse and creative guests.
Before I end, I really want to give a big shout out to our Partner, Mats Lederhausen. I have long enjoyed sharing the TED experience with Mats as he has a great thirst for learning and is an optimist who believes that things in this world can just be much better. Mats has been an active member of the TED community and a member of the TEDx board. His experience from McDonald’s, Chipotle, Pret, Roti and other muti-unit concepts has undoubtedly helped the TED organization think about how it scales its TEDx “franchise.” At one of the breaks, Mats gave a toast to the TEDx community, but it was equally a moment for the TED organization to recognize him. We are indeed very proud of Mats and here is a link to his highlights from TED 2018.