TED thinking and the problem with the ideas industry

Does the rise of TED oversimplify problems and solutions? At HBR, Umair Haque ponders the the reductionism of TED talks.

What was your favorite TED talk this year? I found both Amanda Palmer's and Nilofer's spectacular. Yet, this year, TED made me wonder about Great Ideas, and our relationship with them. And I began to ask myself: even if we enjoy a great TED talk, should the rise of "TED thinking" concern us just a tiny bit?

Let me be very clear: I use that phrase not to refer to the extravaganza that is TED, and though I use TED as an example, this post isn't really just about TED — but let the phrase "TED thinking" serve as a shorthand for the way we've come to think about ideas and how we share them, whether it's through an 18-minute talk, an 800-word blog post, or the latest business "best-seller." Hence, this post isn't really about TED (so please don't leave me raging comments saying "But my favorite TED talk!!!"). "TED thinking" is just a symptom: and the underlying syndrome is our broken relationship with Great Ideas. Herewith, my tiny argument:

TED thinking assumes complex social problems are essentially engineering challenges, and that short nuggets of Technology, Edutainment, and Design can fix everything, fast and cheap. TED thinking's got a hard determinism to it; a kind of technological hyperrationalism. It ignores institutions and society almost completely. We've come to look at these quick, easy "solutions" as the very point of "ideas worth spreading."

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