Personal Reflections at TED 2015

I don’t know whether this post will be interesting to anyone but me, really. But I try to write when the feeling takes me that direction, and I try to write like nobody else may ever read it. So I’ll write.

TED is always a mad rush of content & people. A jumble of emotions. Lots of challenging content, brilliant new (and old) thinkers and doers, transcendent performances. A mix of intense preparation and impromptu genius. For me, too, a feeling of being with so many people I love and admire, but also mixed with a feeling of intense exclusivity and privilege.

TED has been around for more than 30 years now, and one of the most intersting things about it is that while it can seem similar from year to year it keeps evolving, aggressively. Gets some new things amazingly right, makes some missteps. Learns & changes. Tries ambitious programs that work. Tries ambitious programs that fail.

We forget now, but putting TED Talks online starting in 2006 was a bit of a radical move, opening up exclusive content to the world, for free. But like a lot of moves of radical opening, all it did was make TED more global, more influential, and ultimately more important. TEDx had a similar effect.

TED experiments and changes, while still keeping the essential spirit. I love TED for that.

For me personally, 2015 has been wonderful at TED, after a few years of struggling with it.

Lots of that is personal. This time last year I spent most of the conference on the phone with Mitchell and others at Mozilla, working through the issues that would lead to me resigning from the board of directors. It was an extremely painful time for me professionally, and while I wasn’t a founder of Mozilla, I know in retrospect that that was the start for me of an emotional process a lot like the founder grief that comes from leaving the organization that you’ve built over years. Mozilla and angst dominated my time last year. A year out from that, I’m still processing it, honestly. That spring and the fallout from it still provokes intense and complex feelings for me. It dramatically affected my summer & fall last year, and then got mostly better.

The year before, in 2013, it was during TED that I found out my high school, Stanford and adult friend Dan Chu had died at 40 years old. I didn’t really know how to process it. Dan & I had been friends for 20 years, and while we weren’t day-to-day close, we intersected with each other at so many important times in our lives. Like the Mozilla stuff, with the perspective of hindsight, I can now see that this was the beginning for me of what I think you’d call a mid-life crisis — or at least a long period (2 years?) of thinking about my place in the world, my mortality, my family, and really just thinking.

And if I’m honest, between getting up the ramp of a new career as an investor and dealing with the sleep deprivation that comes from a new baby over those years, I was struggling a little bit just to stay above water.

So I’ve gotten into a weird headspace over the past few years where the week has been sort of challenging for me.

But 2015 has come, and for the first time in a long time, I feel happy & engaged & personally at peace here at TED.

And so I’ve enjoyed it more than I have in a long time. I suspect that the content this year has also been exceptional (it’s sometimes hard to tell until you can look back at it months later).

The technology has been amazing — my particular favorites have been Abe Davis talking about extracting audio from silent videos (amazing), Laura Schulz talking about how children learn, and David Eagleman talking about how to use neuroscience to rebuild and augment our senses.

The performances have been transcendant — but especially Moonhooch and Teitur and Sarah Jones and more.

But as always, it’s the stories that stay with me. The journeys over years and decades to get to an epiphany, or a discovery, or an outcome, or just to understand yourself and others better. On this axis, there are just too many to note. Astonishing people, talking about themselves and their work and the people they’ve touched over many, many years.

After all is said and done, here’s what I am grateful to Chris & June and everyone at TED for: they’ve created a space (many spaces) and a context to celebrate being good, and being smart, and trying to be better. By putting TED Talks online and creating TEDx, but also by the way they’ve built the conference both physically and culturally, they’ve created and nurtured a spirit of openness and collaboration that far transcends the tiny exclusive conference that started.

I’m grateful that we have instutitions that are so purely focused on being good, and getting better, over a long period of years — over lifetimes.

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