If you want to know how to think outside the box, the first thing you need to do is score a ticket to one of the most exclusive boxes in the world – the TED conference.

20090204TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and this week the 25th anniversary will be in Long Beach, California with an invited only delegation of 1000 sitting down to listen to the likes of Bill Gates, Herbie Hancock and the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee.

TED was started in 1984 by architect Richard Saul Wurman with the idea of inviting people to a dream dinner party. Diverse and brilliant minds with passionate and fresh ideas getting together for shared inspiration and insight. Speakers are given 18 minutes to present and are encouraged to “be profound.”

Montreal entrepreneur and journalist, Mitch Joel, made it to TED last year, no small feat on its own. In addition to the $6 000 membership fee, attendees need to be accepted to attend the conference.

“When registration comes up (a year in advance) you fill out an application and it includes references, what your interests are and what you do in your community,” Mitch explains.

It’s quite an exclusive list, that had Mitch sitting between the creator of The Blue Man Group and the inventor of Yahoo!’s Delicious bookmarking software while the “Google Guys”, Larry and Sergey sat a few rows over and Cameron Diaz and Forrest Whittaker were attentively taking notes.

I ask Mitch if TED can be described as a “thinking man’s Oscars,” to which he quickly responded; “I’d say it’s more like the thinking man’s Burning Man, actually.”

“Imagine going to a conference and every single person is introducing themselves and friendly and at the same time is somebody of real significant importance to the point where you feel really inconsequential,” he exclaims.

The pace and energy and enthusiasm during the 4 days of TED is contagious. The TED conference slogan is “ideas worth spreading,” and the ideas are spread beyond the exclusive ears of the attendees.

There are more than 350 TEDTalks from past conferences available online for free, with another one added every business day, and Alex Wolf wants to watch them all as part of her Mission 101, a list of 101 things she’d like to accomplish in 1001 days.

“Watching the TED videos is providing me with a regular feed of inspiration, humour and food for thought,” she says. “All very positive gains!”

The rest of her list has to do with donating of her time, learning about the world and spreading positive energy – exactly the sorts of things TED stands for with the TED Prize. Each year, 3 people are awarded $100 000 to grant a wish to change the world, which they reveal at TED.

You can grab a little of that inspiration for free by checking out some TED talks at Ted.com

This article originally appeared in 24hrs Vancouver on February 4, 2009.

MY FAVOURITE TED TALKS

The man responsible for Lost, Mission Impossible 3 and the upcoming Star Trek movie is JJ Abrams. In 2007 Abrams presented a TED talk that revolved around a plain box of magic tricks he bought as a child and never opened. “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination,” he says.

Malcolm Gladwell has written The Tipping Point, Blink and, most recently, The Outliers. All brilliant books that give you insight into how and why we do things and cause you to take pause to try things differently. In 2004 he presented a talk about spaghetti sauce and why we don’t know what we want.

Last year Jennifer 8. Lee presented a talk called “Who was General Tso? And other mysteries of Chinese American Food.” In it she shows that fortune cookies are actually a Japanese invention and Chop Suey is just a fancy way of saying “leftovers.” It’s not profound, but it is a fun romp.

Benjamin Zander loves his classical music. If you’ve been filling your iPod earbuds with more Lil Wayne than Lil Wolfgang (Amadeus Mozart), his 2008 presentation, a favorite of Mitch Joel, will have you marvelling at the skill of one buttock piano playing.

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