TED Active – 5 Days on Mars

It’s been 8 weeks since TEDActive, the simulcast of TED’s main event in Long Beach, and my mind is only now beginning to process everything that happened during that week in Palm Springs. It was my first TED event, and I can honestly say that it felt like I was on another planet. If I went to Mars, and found 699 other people there that had made the voyage from all corners of Earth, I’d share an amazing connection with them. I’d spend the days exploring, meeting new people, trying to understand what Mars is about, and I’d spend the nights looking out at Earth from a new perspective.  Mars wouldn’t be too different from TEDActive. Here are my takeaways:

Book the ticket. At $2,500 a ticket not including travel and lodging (or $7,500 at TED), the decision to go to TEDActive take serious financial commitment. My opinion is, if its something you want to do, book the ticket and figure it out later. If you ever have an opportunity to immerse yourself with new people, cultures, and ideas, take it. It will work itself out. And thanks to @russperry for coining the term.

Seize the limitations. Phil Hassen, an artist who struggled through nerve damage to produce some amazing works of art, taught us that only when we are limited can we be limitless. He demonstrated this powerful statement by describing the creative rut he found himself with a career, more money than he ever had, and a total creative void to produce great art. Only by limiting himself again, through creating “temporary art” was he able to get his creativity back. Similarly, with limited resources, entrepreneurs will find a way to do remarkable things.

Progress takes passion. In the past few years, I’ve started and aborted several would-be million-dollar ideas. Ideas generate a lot of initial energy, but if you’re not passionate about the industry, or the problem, or the market you’re working in, that initial excitement will fade. At TED, every speaker was insanely passionate about what they’re doing. One man has devoted over 20 years to bringing a species in the pigeon family back from extinction. That’s not something you persevere through on a whim.

Business needs an occasional dose of art. If you’ve ever listened to NPR, you know that stimulating intellectual conversations are peppered with musical interludes. I never really took notice of this before, but when the same happened at TED, I made the connection. Our minds can only take so much information. Music and art are like smelling coffee between perfume samples, or eating bread between wine tastings. By cleansing our mental palette, we give what we’ve heard a chance to sink in, and prepare ourselves for what’s next. I’d like to make a more conscious effort to do this in day-to-day work.

Do things 99% differently. Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, SpaceX, PayPal, and who knows how many other humanity-changing businesses, gave a 15 minute interview about what he’s been up to. What stood out to me was how SpaceX set out to change space travel. They realized that rocket launches were extremely wasteful, because the thruster that propels the vessel into space is released once the rocket leaves the atmosphere, and billions of dollars casually float out into space. By designing a thruster that would carry the ship into space, and then return to land back at its starting point for re-use, SpaceX could save 99% of the cost of the effort. Innovations like this are incredible, and we should all think about what 1% we’d keep the same in our industry, and what 99% we’d do differently. [video]

Ask for help. Musician Amanda Palmer collected tips on the street before earning fame through music, and she realized early on that asking for help, be it in the form of a dollar, or a spare couch, or a donation for her free music, forms a powerful connection between her and the giver. People are grateful to help, and often get more satisfaction from helping than the asker does from receiving  help, yet we seldom ask for it. Think about who can help you get where you want to get, and I bet you’ll be surprised how willing they are to lend a hand.

Set up the follow up. It’s easy to go to a conference and collect business cards, connect on Facebook or Linkedin, and call it a success. But, unless you set up a meeting, a phone call, or start an email thread with a purpose, loose connections won’t last. The strongest connections that I made at TEDActive were the result of instant action, not instant friend requests or passing interaction. So next time you attend a conference, set up the next step. Don’t let great people slip through the cracks.

To the TED community, I’m grateful for your support and friendship, and I’ll see you on Mars (or Whistler) next year!

PS – Check out these videos, and others at TED.org as they are released!