Bursting the Idea Bubble

Have conferences like TED, and the explosion of the "Idea Class" run out of ideas?

April 13, 2012

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Back in 1986, a guy named Richard Saul Wurman put together a meeting.  A conference if you will.  It was part show and tell, part 18th century salon.  Smart people sharing ideas and inspiring each other in an open forum via short talks.  The conference was called TED, which stood for technology, entertainment, and design. 

More than a quarter century later Wurman’s little meeting has grown into a phenomenon that we’re calling “The Idea Bubble.”  In addition to TED, there’s Aspen, and Summit Series, and PopTech, and FOO Camp, and Solve-for-X.  TED has even sput itself off into TEDx’s around the country and around the world.  TED’s famed 18-minute talks, posted on their website, have gone viral with millions of views.  But have we reached the saturation point?  Is the Idea Bubble about to burst?  Have these conferences moved from “we can change the world” to “Look at me! I’m in a room full of really smart people!” featuring all talk and no action? 

Jeff Leitner and Howell Malham Jr. from Insight Labs are on Friday's Afternoon Shift to stick a pin in the Idea Bubble.

Here's what I plan to ask them about:

  • Have idea conferences actually become part of the problem instead of the solution?
  • Have they moved from being true idea conferences to merely trade shows---you wander by a booth and look at the display, and then move on to the next one?
  • Is what happened to Seattle's music scene in the early 1990s happening here? A small cool thing explodes into the pubic consciousness, then is co-opted by giant corporations, becomes watered down and a sad parody of itself.
  • So what’s the solution?  Blow it up? Or is the real question how to move these things from talk to action?