TED Talks Worth Talking About | Chris Anderson: How web video powers global innovation

Posted on September 23, 2010



There are 9 billion people coming our way.

Dancers have created a whole global laboratory online. Kids in Japan are taking moves from a YouTube video created in Detroit, building on it within days and releasing a new video, while teenagers in California are taking the Japanese video and remixing it to create a whole new dance style.”

This story of the evolution of dance seems strangely familiar. After TED started, speakers were spending more and more time in preparation. In both of these examples, you have these cycles of improvement apparently driven by people watching web video. What’s going on here? I think this latest iteration is something we can call Crowd Accelerated Innovation.

There are three things you need. Three dials on a giant wheel.

  1. Crowd | The bigger the crowd, the greater potential for innovation. And the people include these roles: innovators, commenters, trend-spotters, cheerleaders, skeptics, mavericks, superspreaders. They’re creating the ecosystem in which innovation emerges.
  2. Light | Clear open visibility of what that crowd is capable of.
  3. Desire | Innovation is hard work

On the web, all of these dials ratchet up.

This possibility of a new global recognition is driving a whole new kind of effort.

The system is also self-fueling: the crowd fuels desire, and the light draws the crowd, etc. The hardest part is the light because that means you have to open up, you have to show your self to the world, giving away what you think is your deepest secret that maybe millions of people in the world are powered to improve it.

The darkside of the web is allergic to the web.

So, at TED, we’re obsessed with openness, calling it “radical openness.”

Okay, so this isn’t new. Innovation emerging out of groups is something we’ve always known about.

If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants – Isaac Newton

We’re a social species; we spark off each other.

It’s also not news that the internet has accelerated innovation. (Writers, gamers, photographers, programmer,s musicians, bloggers, mathematicians, chess-players, cross-stitchers, etc.) Now, part of the reason why these groups are able to connect, is because their work output is of the type that can be easily shared digitally: picture, music file, software.

And that’s why what I’m excited about, or what I think is underreported is the significance of the rise of online video. This is the technology that will allow the rest of the world’s talents to be shared digitally, thereby launching a whole new cycle of Crowd Accelerated Innovation.

Cisco predicts that in 4 years, 90% of the web’s content will be video. If it’s all puppies, porn, and piracy, we’re doomed. I don’t think it will be. Video is high-bandwidth for a reason. It packs a huge amount of data, and our brains are uniquely wired to decode it.

Some examples: community organizing, Rube Goldberg machines, tap-dancing, yoga, juggling, performance art, video poetry, skate-boarding, kite-surfing, make-up artistry, Korean cookery, etc.

I find this strangely beautiful. There’s a lot of passion here on the screen.


There’s a lot more being transferred than just words. And it’s in that nonverbal portion where there’s some serious magic. Somewhere hidden in the physical gestures, the vocal cadence, the facial expression, the eye-contact, the passion, the kind of awkward British body language, the sense of how the audience is reacting…There are hundreds of sub-conscious clues that go to how well you understand and whether you’re inspired; light, if you like, and desire. And incredibly, all of this can be communicated on just a few square inches on a screen.

Reading a writing are actually relatively recent innovations. Face to face communication has been fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution. That’s what’s made it into this mysterious powerful thing it is. Someone speaks, there’s resonance in all these receiving brains, and the whole group acts together. This is the connective tissue of the human super-organism in action. It’s probably driven our culture for millenia.

500 years ago, it ran into a competitor with a lethal advantage. It’s right here: print. Innovators could now get their ideas to spread far and wide. Now, in the blink of an eye the game has changed again. It’s not too much to say that what Gutenberg did for writing, online video can now do for face-to-face communication. So, that primal medium which your brain is exquisitely wired for, that just went global.

Now, this is big.

We may have to reinvent the ancient art form. Today, one person speaking can be seen by millions, creating intense desire to learn, to respond, to laugh. For the first time in human history, talented students don’t have to have their potential and their dreams written out of history by lousy teachers. They can sit in front of the world’s finest. The world’s universities are opening up their curricula. Thousands of people are learning how to learn and how to respond; completing the cycle.

It’s become clear to us what the next stage of TED talks can be. We can no longer be one to many. Our future is many to many.

Why not a self-fueling system that can self-perpetuate? What if the growing 9 billion learn to be net contributors rather than net plunderers? That changes everything, right? The web is turning on the light, no longer on just groups, but on individuals.

You’re a part of the crowd that is about to launch the biggest learning cycle in history, a cycle capable of carrying all of us to a smarter, wiser, and more beautiful place.

You know what. I bet Chris has always been an inspiring guy. What’s new — and it’s huge — is that for the first time, we get to see him, and he gets to see us.

— VIA —

I try to stay emotionally neutral on this blog, but it’s going to be difficult to do this on this talk. I admit, I got goosebumps when watching the Kibera, Kenya clip. Simply amazing, and I appreciate greatly Anderson’s perspective and his comments, words and ideas that I’ll be ruminating on for some time.

So, to start with, the critique…

1. Just because technology can innovate us to a “many to many” model, is that humanly possible? Part of me discerns that there is a saturation point — some unknown limitation — within humanity of which we simply cannot absorb, process, respond, and innovate. I have a difficult time, personally, keeping up with the “one-to-many” presentations currently available. What “re-wiring” is necessary for me to process an exponential growth of that content?

2. This talk reminds me greatly of Radical Evolution, and the concepts and ideas in both I think deserve great attention. Garreau posits basically 3 possible scenarios (heaven, hell, prevail), but Anderson seems to dismiss any option but “heaven.” Perhaps I’m reading his 18 min. inaccurately, but that was the “feel” that I got from his talk.

Overall, however, his insights into the human organism, human communication, and the integration of this medium with all of those ideas is fantastic. These, I believe, are lessons to not just learn, but be grounded upon and begs the question, Are there some things about humanity that simply will never change?

Posted in: Culture, Life, TED