My Experience at TED and Why Age Does Not Matter
Isabel Gonzales 2700075WFV firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  social-collaboration maira-kalman ted randall-munroe generations collaboration ted2014 socbiz isabel-allende millennial age ideas will-marshall boomer genx ted-vancouver social-business
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Isabel Gonzalez Guerrand, Voice of the Client & Customer Success Advocate, Program Director, Social Business, IBM
This year I had the good fortune of attending TED Vancouver on my birthday. Needless to say, I was thrilled. It reminded me of what Charlie and the other children might have felt as they took the factory tour with Willy Wonka. They were delighted at all of the new possibilities and shapes for sugar. At TED, I was delighted by all of the possibilities for a better environment, technology and society, presented in one place in just a few hours.
The display of new contexts of thought and futuristic advancements was AMAZING. But being that I had a birth anniversary during that day, I was especially sensitive to noticing age among the participants.
It was remarkable to see the span of generations that were present. There were millennials, x-gens, boomers and even a few from the silent generation; a full spectrum of ages and experiences. The fusion of past, present and future was woven sometimes delicately, other times startlingly into the conference agenda. I walked away having further proof that what happened 80 years ago has shaped our reality today. It has shaped societal situations, and at times, has led controversy, but it is also the stuff that makes for breakthroughs. Here are a couple of noteworthy examples:
Maira Kalman, the acclaimed illustrator, shared a story of her family's journey in 1932 to what was then Palestine, and her attainment, some decades later, of some very special pants. (http://blog.ted.com/2014/03/20/in-search-for-lost-pants-maira-kalman-at-ted2014/)
Then there was this impressive young man, Will Marshall, who has led the creation of these tiny satellites which he has named "Dove." They are 10 by 10 by 30 centimeters and weigh 10 kilograms, easily fitting in someone's hand. These small satellites will take pictures of the earth every day, giving humanity an accurate view of where they live and the changes that are happening to our planet. Will l noted that his invention took certain principles from much larger traditional satellites. (http://blog.ted.com/2014/03/20/taking-pictures-of-the-entire-planet-every-day-will-marshall-at-ted2014/)
Randall Munroe, the popular webcomic, spoke about a question he received: “If all digital data were stored on punch cards, how big would Google’s data warehouse be?” He went on a mathematical quest to find out. This question can’t be looked up very easily on Google. He evaluated Google's possible spend on data centers, its electricity usage, an estimate of the employees needed to run them and came to his best guesstimate. Google responded by sending him some punch cards to decipher. (http://blog.ted.com/2014/03/20/using-serious-math-to-answer-weird-questions-randall-munroe-at-ted2014/)
Age and subject matter expertise were the most diverse elements of this event and we, the observers, were left to make connections for our own mission. Working across generations may well bring the "next new things," but only if we invest in making the sort of connections the TED community encourages. These connections become even more powerful when they can be made at scale. And for that, you probably need social business platforms to facilitate the spontaneous exchange of ideas, expertise and experience, even across large distances. After all, the exchange of ideas is required for innovation.
Two presentations stayed with me. One was from Isabel Allende (http://www.ted.com/speakers/isabel_allende). The first thing she said in her rich Chilean accent was, "Hello, I'm Isabel Allende and I'm 71 years old." She then described why her age is both a challenge and a huge asset for her. She was ever so poignant and enchanting in her message that age need not be a deterrent for creativity. Seth Godin, recognized marketing expert, dared the audience to "Play a note that people actually want to hear. Care enough to connect to what you are doing."
TED was a strong validation that at no age are we ever off the hook for producing new approaches or viewpoints. We speak so much about millennials these days; about what they want, where they hang out, how they speak, what tools they choose to communicate with, etc. But our greatest asset is our collective knowledge. The exchange of experiences, intelligence, and context will bring progress. We live in an interconnected world, one in which generations of people must work and collaborate.
No generation has all the answers.