Why TED talks don’t work

and what I learned from being in the audience

Benjamin Bratton, Professor of Visual Arts, gave a TED talk about what is wrong with TED talks. It’s a bit like rejecting the Nobel Prize. I admire such people who go to a format and then rant against it.

But recently I went to TEDx Nairobi.

First of all, it made me feel excited and inspired. I got a tag with my name and interests on it, a shiny programme, free breakfast, lunch and coffee and a stage full of people who were either very bright, very charismatic or very popular.

I was most curious about Tristram Stuart’s talk, because I read his book and he appears in my final thesis. But two other people made a big impression on me instead.

Patrick Njiru, rally car driver, was introduced with the notion that even if he just came and stood on the stage for seven minutes without doing anything, in the end everybody would clap. He didn’t just stand there. He talked, and although I don’t even like the idea of car rallies, what he said felt like watching a very exciting rally.

The other inspiring person was Priscilla Were, head teacher and education system reformer. With her strong voice she talked about the values she had motivated her girl students to come up with and to practice in her school. We wanted to applaud several times during the talk but she said: Wait, I’m not yet done. She talked politics and history and in the end she was the only one who got standing ovations.

Benjamin Bratton’s critique was proven right once again: most talks were about “my work or my new book – the usual spiel”. Storytelling has become trite. Three speakers actually sold their success. There was no motivation to join them in solving the problems they talked about.

But from my notes in the programme, I collected some quotes, messages and truths that I’d like to share:

Work hard. Make up for the skills you don’t have. You can reach what you set your mind to.

(Benjamin Ayimba, Kenyan Rugby Legend)

It’s easy to nap instead of creating something.

(Karim Chrobog, Documentary Filmmaker)

We tend to cure the symptoms, but we should rather try to imagine the ideas and infrastructure that makes sense to the people we are trying to help.

(Dr Kala Fleming, Research Scientist)

It’s not about being right or wrong, but about sparking a debate.

(Gado, Cartoonist and Animator)

Ideas are not new. What counts is the application of technology to solve problems.

(Kariuki Maina, Marketing Director)

Passion doesn’t pay bills. You need to understand where exactly the problem is. And on another note: Why can’t Kenya build her own railway?

(Feisal Malik, Filmmaker)

If they don’t pay for it, they don’t need it, or they can’t afford it.

(Samir Ibrahim, CEO& Founder)

We are not even innovators. We are creators.

(Herbert Thuo, Chief Marketing Manager)

And the most valid and tangible life lessons come from Patrick Njiru, Rally Car Driver:

  1. The buck stops with me. (Take responsibility!)

  2. Go as straight as you can!

  3. Ask people who know more than you!

  4. Make decisions quickly and change your mind slowly – not the other way round!

  5. Don’t believe your doubts nor doubt your beliefs!

I laugh every morning for seven seconds.

You are where you are today because of your best thinking.

The co-driver sings and I dance to the music.

Now, how did TEDx influence my life? I met a new friend. I went to another event the day after, which was announced in the talks. I am following one more facebook page to stay informed. I will put my name on a google document and try to connect with more people. I am publishing this blog post.

Not incredible outcomes that will solve the world’s problems. Because although TED pretends to offer that, they can’t. The talks are too simplified.

Therefore it is about me to put the lessons I learned into action.

What about you? What is your favourite TED talk? And: How are you implementing its lessons in your life? Let me know in the comments.

I made those quotes above pretty. See the facebook page, where I’ll be posting them one by one.

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