Curating a TEDx (or, from Arrogance to Humility)

Arrogance is an enormous turn-off in personal relations, but sometimes it's a pretty good motivator to do good work. It's what turned this music fan into a critic and producer: the (sometimes quite incorrect) belief that I could do something better. Arrogance is one of the two dueling ingredients of ambition, which is, after all, a combination of arrogance that you can do something better and humility in the face of so many people who inspire you.

One of the best places to witness that combination of arrogance and humility is TED. I've been lucky enough to attend the TED conference several times and I've been intrigued by how the organizers are trying to extend it via videos and independently organized events, collectively know as TEDx. (I've been thinking about both the elitism and openness of TED and will publish an essay on it early next year in HBR.)

TEDx_Boston-email-banner.gifThis year I served as one of the curators of TEDxBoston, along with four tremendous colleagues. It was a chance to step out of the audience for a change and see what it might be like from the other side. Like many who spent a lot of time in a particular audience, I had ideas on what I might do differently if given the chance. It's the same impulse that leads people to call in to radio shows to say how they would have handled that 4th and 1 situation better than Bill Belichick did.

It was a thrill to help develop and organize the programming, but what struck me most, after we picked the speakers, all of them enormously ambitious, was how humble the best of them were. They inspired people by telling stories about what inspired them. Some of my favorite talks from the day:

Bill Walczak, a Boston legend, showed how a new model for urban healthcare and education can change a culture of despair into a community of opportunity. Plenty of TED speakers talk about how they want to change the world; Bill showed us how he actually did it.

Vibha Pingle of Ubuntu at Work told how microfinance doesn't help women out of poverty; it merely helps them cope with poverty better. And she pointed toward a real way out.

We've covered previously Eric Mongeon's work to bring Edgar Allan Poe back to life. Here's his talk on how he did it, with a hat tip to Boing Boing.

There's plenty more. In particular, I was moved by Ann Christensen, whose talk, as well as some recent work by her father, Clay Christensen, I'll celebrate in a post later this week.

(If you like these and want to sample some more, you can see 'em all here.)