#PCMA12 Day 3: General session with TED creator Richard Saul Wurman

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I had been looking forward to this one because, while I'm not sure Richard Saul Wurman's done the world a favor by unleashing a million TED knockoffs (then again, I shouldn't blame him for others piggybacking on an idea that may not be a great fit for their meeting) and I'm not convinced his www.www conference format is all that (then again, as he said, he doesn't care, since he didn't invite me anyway).

From the abrupt introduction—here he isto the abrupt end—I might as well stop now since I got a laughhe was not everyone's cup of tea, but I was delighted through and through. What a cranky, unique, fearless individual he is. He created TED because "I wanted to design a meeting I'd want to be at. I did TED because I wanted to do it."

He described the designing process for TED as one of subtraction: He took out panels, dress codes (he cut off the tie of anyone who dared to wear one), took out the podium (which he described as just something to protect your groin and to give you a place to put papers to read off of—and "who wants to be read to?"). Meetings, he said, are made up of small things that make people feel comfortable so they can learn.

He talked a bit about his new www.www conference, which he's again designing through subtraction (no tickets, no presentations, no set schedule). One thing that sounds interesting is how he plans to disseminate the conference later, which is going to be in black-and-white film available online that will offer customizable ways to find out more about each of the discussion participants. Basically, again looking to create a conference he'd like to be a part of, he's looking for a modality that allows people to create their own experience based on what they're interested in.

He went on for a while about a fable he created in his books What If, Could Be and 33. I won't go into it, but it involved turning everything into its opposite (example: copyright becomes right to copy. Note to self: Buy these books. They sound really interesting.).

More favorite quotes:

"I don't show visuals because I don't want to be a caption."

"The more famous you are, the shorter the introduction."

"Learning is remembering what you're interested in."

"I've tended to fail sideways throughout my life."

"Humor is not trivial: It's the opposite of expectation." (He said this just before reeling off some of my favorite Stephen Wright one-liners, like, "Everything is within walking distance if you have enough time.")

"We live in the age of also." (As in, you can do it this way, and also that way.)

And in case this wasn't eclectic enough, he ended up with a quick biomimicry example of learning a better way to peel a banana by watching an ape do it. I actually learned this one a few years ago and have been peeling my bananas from the bottom up ever since. I later on in the afternoon got into a really interesting conversation about what else we can learn about meetings from mimicking what nature perfected a long time ago. Stay tuned for more on that one...

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