#2: Chris Anderson
“People have a false idea of ideas. That they’re this magical thing that springs from the head of geniuses.”
Good men fail.
And Chris Anderson knows failure. In 2000, he owned Future, a magazine publishing company that he’d built over the previous 15 years. It had just gone public, and was valued at $2 billion. He considered himself a “business hero.” In 2001, when the dotcom bubble burst, he entered what he describes as “18 months of business hell.” He watched his businesses hemorrhage money and employees. It was “gut wrenching,” he says.
He managed to save Future, but he was shaken, and he wanted to move on. Freed from the demands of running businesses, he began to read; he escaped into the world of ideas. In 2001, he bought TED, an organization that was holding annual conferences in California, bringing together leading thinkers in the fields of technology, entertainment, and design (hence the name).
Anderson converted it to a non-profit and expanded its scope. TED’s mission was simple: bring people from diverse fields together to share—in the form of 18-minute presentations known as TED Talks—“ideas worth spreading.”
Under Anderson’s leadership, TED evolved from a Silicon Valley cocktail party into a global phenomenon. In 2006, TED began making videos of presentations available online. In 2009 and 2010, TED Talks went viral, collecting upward of 320 million views. They are translated into 80 languages and licensed under creative commons so that they can be shared freely around the world.
It’s hard to underestimate the significance of this accomplishment. Sure, videos go viral every week. Some are more significant than others. Consider the mindlessness and trivia that dominate our media and our culture. For at least a decade, conventional wisdom has held that our rapidly shrinking attention spans can consume information only in ever-smaller pre-masticated sound bites. Watch 10 minutes of, say, CNN, and you’ll be presented with an info puree so formless it could be sucked through a straw.
And yet TED talks—on subjects as inscrutable as optogenetics and as esoteric as hurdy gurdy instruction—have held tens of millions of us in rapt attention for 20 minutes at a time, and eager to return.
TEDx is a new program that brings the TED talk format to communities and organizations around the world. Already, upward of 1,000 TEDx events have been organized in more than 70 countries. On any given day, chances are there’s a TEDx event happening somewhere around the globe.
This phenomenon—the sharing of ideas across the global community—isn’t just cool. It isn’t just entertaining. It’s objectively, undeniably good.
Changing the world isn’t easy, and admittedly, TED talks alone aren’t going to do it. It will take innovation (like this, or this), but it will also take overcoming our cynicism, and—as Swedish researcher Hans Rosling says—it will require believing that “the seemingly impossible is possible.”
That’s something money can’t buy.
This year, Anderson gave his own TED talk about—what else—“how web video powers global innovation.”
The Top 10 Good Men of 2010
10) Josh Hamilton
7) Mick Foley
5) Barack Obama
3) Dan Savage