Not so long ago, in the mid-2000s, many conversations in offices, schools, and even parties centered around the exciting concept of radical openness made possible by then-new social media. But now, as the 2010s are in full swing and social media are established, dominant platforms, how can we—as designers, strategists, organizations, consumers, and individuals—best harness the widespread acceptance of radical openness? The recent TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, offered a fascinating and widely varied lineup of speakers who, collectively, helped to answer this question. Or at least will help propel the discussion forward, long after the conference ended on June 29.
Four main themes emerged across five days of talks both on the TED stage and impromptu conversations around Edinburgh, among speakers and attendees. From the lips and minds of neuroscientists to educators, artists to activists, musicians to political theorists, the key points to emerge were:
- The act of making is a powerful learning process—for individuals and organizations. Making—as practiced in the truly do-it-yourself sense—can encourage people to better understand how the world works and consequently articulate their needs. (…) Passion is essential, and that’s always been the fuel for the most exciting new objects and ideas.
- Play is a key ingredient to achieve success across nearly any discipline. (…) Educational researcher Beau Lotto said in his talk that the best psychological and other experiments “are games,” essentially. (…)
- The ability to successfully manage change is one of the most valuable new skills for human beings, nations, and businesses to master in coming years. In a world with rapidly changing rules and a dramatically bumpy economy, not merely acknowledging change but learning to practically deal with it will become ever more important. (…) Organizations and individuals reluctant to change from yesterday’s model of protecting intellectual property or keeping information private will struggle, unable to embrace the power of crowds and collective thinking, as Don Tapscott discussed in his talk.
- Openness is a starting point, not an end point. While the conference celebrated the promise of radical openness, many speakers discussed that it shouldn’t be merely a noble final goal, but the beginning of an era of constantly improving communication, governance, science, medicine, culture, and business. Openness, many speakers suggested, has always been a human pursuit throughout history, and it has to be carefully analyzed and executed to be fruitful.
“Openness alone can’t drive change,” as Margaret Heffernan, management expert, said. “Constructive conflict is necessary…we must be willing to change our minds.” (…) Opacity, he [design curator Deyan Sudjic] stated, offers a “sense of possibility, with some ambiguity.” Social media guru Clay Shirky weaved in and out of media history to discuss how radically open platforms, including Gutenberg’s printing press, give new voice to the masses—but it’s not always immediately a constructive phenomenon. (…) “More media means more argument,” Shirky also observed, acknowledging that instead of the “world peace” that the telegraph, the radio, and TV promised, the opposite (at least in terms of heated debate) followed nearly every new communications medium of the last century or so. And in a talk that’s likely to be argued in lively debates, filmmaker Kirby Ferguson likened copying to the act of invention itself, suggesting ideas are meant to be shared, and those that are borrowed often are dubbed the best. Bob Dylan and Steve Jobs, he pointed out, were masters of re-interpreting the ideas of others. “Our creativity comes from without, not from within,” he said—implying creation may just be a team sport.