Ideas. Worth. Doing.

June 24, 2014

Ideas. Worth. Spreading. Doing.

Launched to explore the convergence of technology, entertainment, design, TED celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. What originated as a one-off gathering has grown exponentially over the past three decades into a global phenomenon. TED’s online stories have been watched over a billion times, with the TED brand having multiplied from annual gatherings in Monterey and Vancouver to now encompass a broad platform that includes TEDGlobal, TEDx, TEDFellows and TEDPrize, among several other offshoots.

Audience at TEDxJNJ Entrepreneurs Salon Series

Audience at TEDxJNJ Entrepreneurs Salon Series

In 2011, Johnson & Johnson Innovation launched TEDxJNJ, the first pairing of TED with a company in order to continuously inspire a company culture of innovation. The TEDxJNJ Entrepreneurs Salon Series kicked off earlier this year with talks from entrepreneurs who are shaping the future of healthcare, including Katrine Bosley, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at MIT’s The Broad Institute and Chairman, Genocea Biosciences, Inc.; and Rushika Fernandopulle, MD, MPP, CEO, Iora Health. What is it about TED that has captured and sustained our imagination and our attention, and fueled this cultural behemoth? We thought it would be interesting – and telling – to dissect the TED slogan: Ideas Worth Spreading – or nicely stated in a recent TEDxCambridge talk by Tom Asacker, “ideas worth doing.” In a series of posts, starting with today’s, we’ll explore what makes these three elements independently potent, and how they interrelate with one another to drive innovation. First up – Ideas. Consider the opening words of TED’s mission statement: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world …” What causes ideas? Who has them? What makes some ideas more powerful than others?

Facebook's data center electrical system

Facebook’s data center electrical system

In general, we think of ideas as a mental representation or construct of some object or path to a solution. Yet even the best ideas are fleeting; we can hold them for only a moment before they seemingly evaporate – thus, our need to put our ideas down “on paper” – the proverbial seed-of-change captured on a napkin. Something has to happen to make them durable. All of us have ideas every day. They tend to sprout at moments when we experience a specific constraint, an impediment to fulfill a desire. At other times, they arrive as pure surprises, lurching out of our sub-consciousness perhaps from a previous frustration. The common denominator: a setback, obstacle or challenge that serves as a catalyst for the mind to search its stored patterns for a new solution, the birth of an idea. Some folks are referred to as “idea people.” In fact, in the last post, we discussed “innovation hot spots” where these so-called “idea people” are thought to cluster. But if we all have ideas, is the term “idea people” really accurate? What could make this true? At work are a set of distinct variables that fuel ideation, and define and drive “idea people” and all of us. Triggering a new idea requires the presence of two competing components: desire and constraint; both are required. The more we want something and are held back, the greater the likelihood of mental ignition. The second key variable is the depth of the potential solutions stored in the mind of the individual encountering the setback. The more stored experiences and methods a person can draw upon, the higher the probability she or he will be able to derive a new solution. So, where can we find these ingredients – desire, constraint, experience and knowledge – often in settings rich in art, creativity, discovery and learning.

Image by Salvatore Vuono via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image by Salvatore Vuono via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Creative people have an inherent need to express, to create and to do. These actions and coupled passions unfailingly are subject to setback, disappointment and failure. And, yet, creativity urges a renewed and renewing cycle of expression, creation and doing. Those who work in the world of research have a similar and familiar experience. They operate in trial-and-error, hypothesis-testing settings where success is far more the exception than the rule. Yet, their failures feed their iterative ideation process. In the academic setting, the history of progress is stored, taught and practiced. In the minds of both educators and students, there is a base set of patterns – old and new – from which fresh ideas might emerge. In the next post, we will consider the second element of the TED slogan: Worth. Which ideas are “worth” capturing – and warrant the sacrifice of a perfectly good napkin? What makes us select those ideas, share them, and on occasion decide to act on them? How does our desire and the definition of ourselves shape this calculus? This takes us back to TED and some of the world’s favorite stories. All of us love stories, tales of passion, setback and new solutions. Simply said, new ideas in the making. Who amongst us will take the bait and elect to change the world?