The Magic That Is TED

Anya Kamenetz of Fast Company writes about the TED phenomenon: “By combining the principles of ‘radical openness’ and of ‘leveraging the power of ideas to change the world,’ TED is in the process of creating something brand new. I would go so far as to argue that it’s creating a new Harvard — the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years.” One college professor and TED-lecturer, Barry Schwartz, thinks TED is better than his university environment. “Well, people who come to TED are open to being changed by their interactions and conversations,” says Schwartz. “They’re in an environment where they’re going to learn something new every five minutes. You could create something like that on a college campus, but generally that doesn’t happen.” [%comments]

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

IF we could leverage educational programming for a recognizable degree. IF I watched 1000 hours of Oscar winning and nominated films, I would have a better understanding to critic or even make my own homemade cinema. If you watched an excellent teaching chef earnestly for a 100 hours, it would make you a better cook. Same with auto repair, plumbing and gardening. You could watch a 1000 hours of TED, the Learning Channel or the History Channel, get tested and earn credit.

There is a lot of junk on TV. But maybe 1% is really innovative and educational that combines multimedia, music and even sound effects for a memorable and teachable experience. Imagine how a really great film penetrates your psyche and leaves a searing memory and values like Forrest Gump or the power of Saving Private Ryan. I gotta go tune into Fox News now.


The best thing about TED though? White people like it.

Eric M. Jones

If any readers of this blog want to sample try:
Jill Bolte Taylor's stroke of insight...they tale of a brain scientist having a stroke. Amazing!

I love the educational nature of Wheeler Dealer, where one too-tall mechanic and one car salesman buy cars, show you how to fix them up and sell them. Oddly addictive fare.

Ian Kemmish

Yes, but to what or whom does it "connect the idea-hungry elite"? And why do I get a mental image of the Syracusan elite working Archimedes like a slave to generate ideas that will enable them to fight off the Romans and stay elite?

As for new education brands - I'll wager that although the Open University was less prestigious, it did a lot more good.


TED is horrifyingly elitist and shallow; it isn't interested remotely in answers to real questions, but rather to esoterica that does not apply to material-world problems. It is masturbatory elitism at its very worst...


I agree with Doodles..There is something really boring about TED - reminds me of Mensa - when people mention TED, I feel like it is a sign they are half-educated but over-ego-ed, so to speak..

chris hauser

i don't even know what 'TED' is.


Comparing TED to a university is a bit of a stretch. It's more similar to a cocktail party.

But while there is definitely a pie-in-the-sky aspect to TED, they get some great people to talk about a lot of well-thought research. Sometimes I think they recruit for star quality a bit more than intellectual punch, but it's definitely a thoughtful conference.

Eleanor Taylor

We had an opportunity to participate in a local TEDx event. It was unlike any event I have ever attended. The short presentations were thought-provoking and really inspired some great conversations.

For example, scientists from Argonne presented talks on climate change and the scientific process as well as how the increasing convergence of powerful mobile devices, social networks, and location-based services are impacting privacy, which are available on-line:

I can see how the TED paradigm could impact education. I know learned a lot in just one afternoon.


Ted doesn't really focus on proven or scientifically accepted ideas. Nor the humanities for that matter. It's bread and butter are ideas that are intriguing intellectually. Thus I don't think it is a good substitute for University which should first focus on teaching subject matter expertise and thinking skills in a safe environment.

Ted makes no warranty that what it speakers say has any relationship with the truth, is logically sound, etc.

M Srinivasan

Barry Schwartz talks about the experience of actually attending TED over a few days, and tries to compare it to university experience over a few years.

This seems like somewhat strange for two reasons:

1) Does anyone at freakonomics know how expensive it is (registration, stay, etc) for regular people (that is, non-invitees)? I imagine it is very expensive -- my uninformed guess would be a few thousand dollars at least. So in a sense, only an order of magnitude smaller price than university education, and that too only for a few days.

2) Just because one can hear about new ideas every five minutes does not mean that one can retain them all.

On the other hand, I agree that having university students attend something like TED every few months might serve the purpose of providing inspiration. And I readily admit that I have learned much from watching TED videos, including Barry Schwartz's.



Your link to TED doesn't say what TED stands for. Neither does the Fast Company article.

If I have to ask, does that mean I'm not in the idea-hungry elite?

Peter Melzer

A university is more than a series of lectures. I enjoy watching them, though.


TED is pompous and silly and unweighty and inconsequential, but its biggest crime is that it doesn't know it! Folks at TED like Tom Rielly and Chris Anderson are so self-consciously punch-drunk on themselves as "idea-ists" that they've lost sight of what really might matter--solutions that might actually do something/anything to help!

Chris in Baltimore

TED isn't at all like a good university. In a good college class a professor and students engage in a discussion that will examine an idea in depth, critique it, review antecedents, imagine alternatives, and so forth. In TED, you get a "star" giving a quick, sexy presentation to a rapt audience, which is then forwarded in video form around the web where it is received unquestioningly as a profound and/or scientifically supported insight. The fact that Barry Schwartz thinks a university is supposed to function like TED lowers my opinion of Swarthmore.


Also, not every good idea is new. Need a bask of knowledge upon which to build. Although, it is also important not to be constrained by the knowledge. So a good university creates a good base, but also allows the student to go further.


base, not bask


What Matt (#8) said.


What if I prefer FRANK to TED?


TED is short for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It's a non-profit group that started in the 1980s that holds conferences in California and Oxford. Their website is (To the Freakonomics team - it's pretty lame that you didn't introduce that upfront.)