TED Crashing: Unpacking from TEDActive 2014

After a week of mind-expanding talks, workshops, spectacular dinners on top of a snowy mountain, post-mortem discussions in hot tubs, and a full spectrum of inspiration-driven bacchanals, recovering from the TEDActive conference can be quite a fall. It’s famously called the “TED Crash” for good reason. TED celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and the curation of this year’s program was especially star-studded. (Wait, is that internet-founder Tim Berners-Lee behind Bill Gates near Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin? Yes, to the left of Sting. Why yes, yes, and yes.) While the bigwigs hovered around Vancouver, some 700 TEDActive attendees from 60-plus countries of all ages, sizes, and interests watched the simulcast from the snowy perch of Whistler, BC.

Here are my takeaways from the week:

1. Age is a state of mind. In no other conference do septuagenarians pal around with college sophomores with such ease and levity. As the radiant 71-year old novelist Isabel Allende remarked in her talk, “age is attitude.” She also incidentally shared a taste of her erotic imagination, “My erotic Antonio Banderas fantasy: Place him naked in a tortilla, slather him with guacamole and eat him.”

2. To fumble is human. Perhaps in no other TED conference I’ve attended were there so many gaffes — from DJ Marc Ronson slyly checking his notes mid-talk, to technical glitches during the historic NSA director’s Max Headroom-esque appearance, and of course the physics expert who forgot pretty much half his talk, TED was not the polished show that we’ve come to expect—and that was great. After listening to hundreds of talks, the TED-talk style formula can run stale. Gaffes, goofs, glitches were, in part, what made this year’s conference unforgettable.

3. Weak Wi-Fi? Hi-Fi. With 700++ techies straining the venue’s wi-fi, the internet was woefully spotty this year. But in true TED fashion, it gave attendees a chance to peel their gaze from the screen and say hi to strangers nearby (or high five if you’re a guy named Doug). The magic of TEDActive happens during these chance encounters with random geniuses in the audience. Hey, I sat next to Imogen Heap once and benightedly asked her who she was.

4. Sometimes, you’ve gotta cut class and go up a mountain. During one of these wi-fi black holes, I sat next to a lady who told me about a peak-to-peak gondola ride—the world’s longest, in fact—between Whistler mountain and Blackcomb. So mid-week, I thought I might defer listening to my favorite Amy Cuddy and ride a red gondola crossing a snowy valley— possibly one of the most indelible experiences of the week. At TEDActive, design-your-own inspiration is definitely encouraged. When I was new to TED, to be compelled to partake of all the activities I was in full-on FOMO mode. These days, I appreciate the kismet conversation or encounter from the times I intentionally skipped a session.

5. Whistler is warm. Kindness is common at TEDActive. Weeks prior to the conference, my fellow attendees offered to bring coats, skis, and beer for strangers over the Facebook group page. Hugs, high fives, and smiles were the primary currency during the week. The connections forged here extend beyond the TED week and translate to partnerships and long-lasting relationships. At TEDActive, networking is for wimps, friendships last longer.

Featured image from TEDActive group jam with Amanda Palmer on top of Whistler Mountain. Credit: Marla Aufmuth