Highlights from TED Global 2009

Guest Blogger: Anne Charbonneau, Managing Partner, Benelux and France

I was lucky enough to be in Oxford recently taking part in the TED Global 2009 Event, that showcases inspirational speakers from around the world. The Times call it ‘the intellectual equivalent of a foie gras production line’ and that’s very much how it feels. Where else can you converse around a pizza with a quantum physicist from Finland, a philosopher from France and an advertising guru from the UK? Here are headlines from my personal top 3 favourite sessions.
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Balancing productivity and personal fulfilment
Philosopher Alain de Botton opened TED Global with a fascinating talk on work and success, drawing on his new book called ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’. In it he expands on the meaning of work, visiting factories and reflecting on modern jobs.
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His description on the launch process of a new biscuit at McVities, was a gem. He used it to show how in the world of ‘modern work’ staff are so removed from the actual product, assigned to small bits of the overall process, that they can’t find ‘meaning’ in their work. Along with this specialisation came a raft of esoteric job titles such as ‘packaging technologist’ and ‘project evaluator/sweet biscuits department’.

The risk here is that the productivity gains from breaking down jobs into salami slices could actually outweighed by the loss of meaning and personal drive that is essential to a successful business.

Nature as stimulation for innovation
I also loved Janine Benyus passionate talk. Janine is biomimicrist. What the hell is that? I hear you ask.

It’s all about how nature can help and inspire design, architecture and innovation at large. We saw how a self cleaning-leaf inspired a new kind of paint, how buttelrlfy wings inspired digital display technology. Check out Asknature for more innovation stimulation.

Creating brand news for free
Finally, advertising guru Rory Sutherland's talked about one of the most hilarious marketing operation of recent years: the re-launch of Shreddies Cereals in Canada.

The brand re-launched its famous square cereals as “Diamond Shreddies: a radical innovation" (actually achieved by simply turning the Shreddies visual through 90 degrees!). This became the centre of consumer debate: which one tasted better, the old square Shreddies or the new diamond ones?! 

This fantastic piss-take on ‘fake’ innovation and branding based on spin vs substance even has focus group videos showing ‘playing the game’.

TED.com is a treasure trove of free videos of amazing speakers: click here to visit.