TED: "The three-letter-conference in Long Beach in denial about the credit crisis"

The title of this post isn’t mine. It came via Infectious Greed editor Paul Kedrosky’s twitter feed yesterday (@pkedrosky). And, he’s right, the economic crisis has certainly been remote from the presentations we’ve seen on the stage at Long Beach in the past couple of days.

To be fair to TED, its acronym does stand for Technology, Entertainment and Design, so economics isn’t really an official part of its remit. And the conference has never set out to be the Davos of the west. But still, the criticism obviously hit a nerve, and this morning, Chris Anderson took the stage to answer his critics. “Firstly, I think this week has shown there might be some issues in the world more important than whether GDP rises a bit or falls a bit in the next few years,” he said, before going on to quote Craig Venter saying he wasn’t sure whether the optimists or pessimists had it right, “but the optimists will get something done.”

“That’s the stance here,” Anderson continued. “Once the nightmare passes, the ideas we have heard this week have a shot at shaping the future.”

There have definitely been a lot of ideas here, and some very serious issues have been addressed (global warming and the energy crisis among them.) The final day also took a step away from the high concepts of the past couple of days back towards reality, with George Mason University economist Alex Tabarrok giving a surprisingly optimistic presentation on the world’s future and giving a great talk on “practical wisdom and the remoralization of professional life.”

But the talks that have made the most impact with audience members blend optimism with pragmatism. Ray Anderson’s tale of his work at Interface appealed because of the clear examples he gave of the impact his decisions made on his business. And Willie Smits’ presentation on reforestation of the Indonesian forest (pictured), which was a highlight for many, essentially provided an incredible lesson in the power of complex systems design.

The challenge now, as the conference wraps up, is for attendees to go forth and do, not just talk. That's clearly Anderson's attitude too, and he made many pleas from the stage for community involvement to live beyond the conference itself. He also announced that entrepreneur and TED Long Beach attendee, Addison Fischer, has already donated $1 million towards the attainment of Sylvia Earle's ocean-saving wish. That's pretty amazing. But in the words of Barry Schwartz: “At TED, brilliance is rampant,” he said. “But without wisdom, brilliance isn’t enough.” Right now, the world clearly needs both.

Photo: TED/James Duncan Davidson

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