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."