Bruno Giussanni: The World is Full of Solutions
“My work today resembles my earlier editorial work […], the difference being that it’s not me conducting an interview and writing up an article about it, but rather the interviewee him- or herself walks onto the stage to make their thoughts known to the world – live.”
Bruno Giussani is a world-renowned expert on technology and economics, a thinker, publicist and opinion leader. Since 2005 he has served as the European Director of the TED-network, and he organized the first TEDGlobal event as well. He played an important role in TED becoming the world’s greatest and most dynamically developing knowledge sharing platform in the last few years. The magazine Wired UK named him among the hundred most influential people in Europe in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. GOOD Magazine, an American publication that seeks creative answers to social problems, included him in its GOOD100 ranking. In January 2016, he received the SwissAward/Person of the Year in the Economics category. In addition to his role at TED, he is a senior advisor to the Atlantic Council, a think tank which performs research in economic and security policy. In addition, he is a member of the Board of Directors in the Swiss software company Tinext. Between 2005 and 2015 he served as the host and curator of the conference “Forum des 100”. Taking place on annually, it is Switzerland’s largest convention that tackles political and economic issues. Among other things, he assists the International Red Cross in an advisory role. He is a member of the Vatican Arts and Technology Council, which was formed in December 2015 with the aim of creating appropriate strategies and tools for the digitalization of the Vatican’s treasures and archival materials, and making them available to the greater public.
“Ideas worth spreading”
The name TED originates from the English words “Technology, Entertainment, Design”, but the conference themes now embrace a far greater spectrum than the fields originally included in the name.
Since its foundation in 1984, TED has grown from a single conference organized annually to a worldwide network. In addition to the international conferences, local TEDx events and TED Salons came into being, which attract smaller participant numbers and have a relaxed atmosphere. TED is not only about events. Its sphere of activities includes online video libraries, fellowship programs, book publishing, development of audiovisual pedagogical materials with an educational purpose, and a project incubation advisory.
As part of the TED network, more than 20,000 voluntary translators prepare subtitles for 2,000 TED videos in more than 100 languages of the world. The TED videos have been viewed more than 1 billion times, and the daily visitors of various online TED channels are up to several hundred thousand.
BRUNO GIUSSANI AT CORVINUS UNIVERSITY AND IN PAGEO CLUB
The world-famous thinker and opinion leader Bruno Giussani arrived in Budapest last spring at the invitation of PAGEO. No seats remained free at his lecture delivered at Corvinus University, where he gave a comprehensive overview of the social effects of knowledge, the interaction of thoughts and communities from the beginning of human history. Human thoughts and communities have shaped the world since the dawn of history. This story has come to a new chapter. Just as European coffee house culture influenced the sciences, the arts and entrepreneurial spirit at the beginning of the 20th century, today the “global coffee house” formed by thoughts, conversations and communities can influence our future, exercising an important and continuous effect on global competitiveness and geopolitical processes. Which narrative shall triumph? – we seek the answer to this question every day. How can we recreate the ideas we have formed about the relevance of thoughts and communities? How can we search more efficiently for new possibilities with their aid? Which new challenges will we face in the meantime?
Bruno Giussani visited Budapest for the second time. He had already visited the Hungarian capital as a presenter at TEDxDanubia 2011. In his lecture, then, he addressed the main steps of TED’s expansion and development, and he highlighted the relevance of independent, local communities and programs, such as the TEDx meetings organized in several countries of the world.
This May Bruno Giussani, the European director and curator of TED was the guest of PAGEO Club. In the course of his work, Giussani pays special attention to the mechanics of thought exchanges, and the opportunities to develop a more modern education. In the interview, we asked him about the creation of TED, its most important results, and its vision of the future.
How did you join TED? What was the heroic age of the organization like?
TED has been around since 1984, and I joined about 21 years ago. Back then, it was a small group of people organizing a single conference taking place once a year in California. The aim of the founders was to tie together three fields that were approaching one another at the time: technology, entertainment and design. The initials of these words created the abbreviation TED used today.
One of the founders, Chris Anderson thought that these three areas were becoming intertwined, and this was confirmed by a few concrete events: 1984 was the year when the first Macintosh appeared, and in the next year the first CDs came out. New methods were developed for disseminating entertainment content, and this is where the conference took off as well. However, with time the conference outgrew the initial three fields, and today it comprises science, philanthropy, business and a great number of other things.
Chris Anderson took over the leadership of the organization in the early 2000s, and transformed TED from a for-profit to a non-profit organization. When I joined, we were a small team of organizers, who believed that they could find important thinkers who can join the conversation with their ideas. At the beginning, we did not aim to get anywhere else with these thoughts, we merely wanted to speak to the participants of the event. Later we recognized that we could create that which we today call the platform to spread ideas”. We took into account that ideas gain their true meaning in the context of sharing. It is not very effective when I keep them all to myself, right? So, I joined TED. We organized another conference as well, then came TED Global, the TED-Prize, TEDx and the online platform. Our vision shifted ever more towards “ideasworthspreading”, so that we could share these thoughts as part of a conversation.
As you mentioned, countless things have changed in the last 21 years. One of the newest and most remarkable of these is the TED-Prize, with which the organization supported several ideas that were waiting to come to be, such as Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud, or Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. Which idea influenced you the most?
The TED-Prize is about a recognition that we bring together people several times a year, in the course of TEDx possibly several thousand times a year, so that they can think together about the ideas brought up. We are at the conference, and as we are listening to the presenters, we may consider what happens after the talk. There are those, who merely present their idea, and there are those, who want to realize it. But at least once a year we can ensure through the TED-Prize that one presenter has the chance to bring their idea into existence, and with this we created a framework for the community to throw its weight behind an outstanding idea. In addition to the two examples I mentioned before, the coexistence of religions, the protection of the oceans stand out, but there are prizewinners whose expertise lies in the arts, narration, written history and several other fields. The newest TED-Prize is about archeology. We announced the winner in February. One of the Prizes that I was personally affected by was the Prize that went to Neil Turok. Neil Turok is a South African physicist, who works in Canada today, and he said in his talk: “I would like the next Einstein to come from Africa”. Naturally this is only a small goal. The greater conception aims to create opportunities for countless talented African students so that they can become great scientists and inventors. The idea that he outlined was a network of schools that trained talented students in mathematics and the natural sciences, a school that allowed them to bring their knowledge up to a level where they could continue their studies at large Western universities. Today, five years after the talk, five schools operate in five countries, and the sixth is set to open soon. This could only come to be with the aid of those who sat in the audience, and those who watched the talk on video later. This is the concept of the TED-Prize. It makes a wish come true.
What makes an idea worth spreading?
What a good TED talk looks like in general is made up of several elements. There is no formula or algorithm for a good talk, each is realized in a different format for various reasons.
There are a few basic preconditions: good, strong, evidence-based research that has relevance. However, I believe that the passion which the presenter invests into the idea’s transmission is most important. That is what distinguishes a good talk from the rest.
I believe TED’s community, its presenters and its audience as well have influenced TED on several points. Where did you see the most important formative role of the audience in the organization’s history?
When a single conference slowly became an entire platform, several interesting questions came up. From the very beginning, the idea of the platform comprised two factors: ideas and communities. We mean ideas in the context of their sharing, in those communities with whom we wish to work. In the last ten years of TED’s history, the community has exercised an important influence on us several times. TEDx is one of the best examples. We started TEDx because videos shared in the Internet received countless reactions from those who had never heard of TED before.
They asked whether we could come to their cities. Naturally, we had no capacity for this. However, this would not have stopped a passionate asker, therefore we began working on the real answer. We cannot organize it – you can. TEDx provides a framework, the license is free of charge, you merely need to obey the rules. We permitted people to organize local programs on the basis of the TED model, in the same format and approach, under a similar logo. This was hundred percent community-initiated, and it is where we miscalculated the most: we planned for 30 TEDx conferences annually, but last year alone there were about 3,000 events worldwide. These are high figures, and we owe it entirely to the community.
And this, of course, changed the entire TED project: suddenly we were personally present in several thousand cities of the world, the community expanded, the conversation grew, different cultures and languages joined in. This makes possible that such ideas are included that were not discovered by us, it is merely that the community take on another role. This is where TED Education started, as well as TED Fellowships.
How do you keep in touch with the local branches of TEDx? Can local, inspiring TED presenters present on the global stage of TED as well?
Yes, to the full extent. How we organize the audience is largely about the framework in which TED is run, this determines what we can do and what we cannot do. Within this framework, however, there are numerous opportunities to run the event. There are some which bring together about eighty people in a room, and there are some that fill entire theaters, and which are put on with serious production. They may be put on anywhere: in the Sydney Opera House, in the Urania Theater in Budapest, on the ice of the Arctic, on a mountaintop, or in a tiny hotel in the Amazon. They are very different, but each carries the marks of belonging to the movement. We found that determining the framework in such a manner was most appropriate, for this flexibility provides space for each event to come to be in accordance with the local circumstances and opportunities, and to facilitate local conversations.
In relation to presenters coming from the periphery, TEDx forms an important element in the flow of thoughts: for instance, my friends organizing TEDxDanubia have a better overview of local ideas. What I can do is come into conversation with them, so that a presenter discovered by them can appear on a larger stage. This is not just the stage of the main events, but the online platform as well, as ted.com and several other platforms ensure publication of interesting, sharp-sighted ideas from all over the world that are relevant to a broad audience. These are the dynamics of the process. The other thing that TEDx provides is a framework for conversations whose relevance is local only, and they can be shared via the video sharing TEDx channel. If they are relevant to a community, they deserve to be expressed. Thus, we can balance global and universal with the local in this network.
TED is a movement which permeates different cultures, or as you mentioned earlier, TED has numerous educational aspects. What innovations did TED bring to this area?
Amongst the activities of TED there are several educational programs. In the framework of TED Education, we record such videos that can be used in schools, and this program is running very successfully. The other is TED-Ed. Its educational material is teaching effective public speaking to students. We call this presentation education. In the last years, several innovative and technological reforms have appeared in education, for instance online courses embracing countless themes, as well as mixed versions of these, online and live.
The other innovation which I personally find very important is mirrored education. In general, this means that in today’s education system students listen to the teacher’s lecture, meaning they participate in a passive activity. Then they go home and the active part of learning, doing homework, takes place outside of school. The future of education is the opposite: listening to the teacher takes place before the lesson via video. Afterwards, the students come into the classroom to participate actively in conversation, in debating ideas, researching under the teacher’s supervision.
|THE TED EFFECT
I can say that TED as a format truly had an effect on the world, but this effect was not due to what we created. We just concentrated on short, well-prepared talks that centered upon a single idea, not on cramming twenty different topics into a single conference. The format became popular. Today, both company and scientific events are organized using the framework of TED. I believe this is largely due to the timeframe: 15-20 minutes is perfect for the audience. However, we should not forget about the preparation of the story. After all, no matter how well you know your idea and how to present it, putting together a convincing and inspiring talk requires a great deal of work. This is what we are attempting to transmit via TED and our successes. We have made a lot of mistakes, but I believe that we have done more good than bad, and we have shown that it is possible to convince people in a brief amount of time if we are well-prepared.
Thus, the lessons supervised by the teachers, the active part of learning, and the passive learning done at home by listening to the talks can be used together. In my opinion this represents a significant innovation.
Innovation often takes its departure from everyday life, which is very far from scientific research. TED, however, can also be capable of connecting areas that fall very far from one another. What is your opinion, can TED become the future’s scientific mediation tool?
I don’t believe that we have an influence on specific debates, but I can imagine the further development of TED in more than one form. Innovative education is certainly one of those fields we would like to invest more into in the future, possibly by bringing in newer activities.
In addition to this, the next five, six, seven years will be about integrating content into smartphones and other mobile devices. It will be about how we can make sure that content can be accessed easily.
The third part is that several billion people still have no Internet access. We hope that this will change in the next few years. Whether they access the net with old computers, laptops, or smartphones, for us the question is how we can make sure that they can access content easily. We are working on several other issues, but this is particularly important to us.
In addition to science and technology TED’s achievement is that it might become a trendsetter in the interaction of international and intercultural exchanges. What do you think: in sum, do Internet and modern technology have a more positive or negative effect on the interaction of cultures and religions?
Neither, really, and this can be both good and bad. There are many truly positive factors in technology. Technology is really merely a key, a tool for several things, such as mobile phones, social media. There are countless positives: easy dissemination of and access to information and education, contacts between friends and others, the formation of interest groups, greater transparency. Today, several other valuable activities have come to light which were not easily detected before. Naturally, there are also negative factors in technology. For instance, the phenomenon of the “filter bubble”, the “echo chamber”, which means that on social platforms people who have like-minded friends will very often only get the information relevant to their own circles, meaning that they see reality filtered through the Internet. And since they do not receive different opinions, they can only see that which they already believe. However, countless other things, such as online harassment, the complete lack of respect for privacy, and online surveillance are also harmful.
Due to these positive and negative factors, much will depend on the decisions that we make together in the coming years. This is because while technology developed at a rapid pace, our adjustments, be they psychological or social, were much slower in comparison to the effects of the technology. There is no key element, but we are progressing towards a future where digital communication fills an important space, bringing both positive and negative things out of people. I hope that the balance will tip towards the good, but now everything is changing continuously, and we don’t know where exactly we are headed.
What advice can you give to ambitious Hungarian or Central-European presenters, with regard to, for instance, local social debates?
Truly there is only one answer: participate in the conversation. If you have an idea, but you don’t share it, the idea is not worth much. If you find that you could make a meaningful contribution to a conversation, this exchange will only be weaker without your idea. Participation means a great deal, the conversation and sharing the debate with the world is necessary.
You can think of the future as “this” is the future, and “that” is the road leading to it. There are many organizations that determine this, they issue announcements and they organize conferences about what the future will be like, and how we can get there. This is very prescriptive. We don’t intend to be prescriptive. At TED we think of the future as a place we can create together, and so we wish to make space for continuous thinking together. For this reason, all TED and TEDx events, every video, everything that we do is a piece of this thinking together.
Neither of them can say the last word on any topic. After all, a physicist can talk about any extraordinary discovery, but another researcher may question his opinion, as science continuously progresses. However, it is indispensable that the conversation be carried on, that the space keeps growing, and that ever more people can make their own contribution. This is the answer to the question, and this is what we do at TED: if you have something, contribute it, for if you don’t, the conversation will lead to a less interesting future.
In this conversation about the future what standpoint do you and your colleagues represent? Where do you believe the world is headed?
Do you mean whether we are optimists or pessimists? I think the essence could be put into these words: when we read a paper, watch the news, or browse the Internet, we may easily come to feel that the world is filled with complex, unsolvable problems. However, the reality is much worse: for the world is filled with problems that we could solve. It is particularly exasperating that we can find solutions and ideas everywhere, in the political, social, economic and scientific arenas. They are there, and in all likelihood, they have been tested and applied, and still they did not make it to the conversation, no one shared them and no one supports them. The world of challenges and crises and the world of solutions and ideas do not communicate adequately. I believe that the circulation of ideas is part and parcel of creating the connection, and this is what we work for at TED. Therefore, our vision of the future is definitely positive and full of hope.
The newest member of the TED family is the TEDSummit. What is its most important aim, and how can we picture this event, which is to take place for the first time this year?
The summit is a new kind of conference, which will be held on the last weekend of June in Canada. We expect 580 presenters to attend the five-day event, mostly those people who had previously attended TED: TEDx organizers, presenters, fellows, and authors. We will address several current problems in the course of the program organized around the TED talks, ranging from climate change to energy, from surveillance to privacy, from Bitcoin to electronic currencies to empathy. We will address many issues, thus, as always, the range of topics will be very broad. However, this time we will dedicate a lot of time to formats that we previously had not used, there will be interactive sections, workshops, and we can discuss more topics supervised by previous presenters, experts of various fields. The aim is that we collect the community’s most dedicated members from around the world, so that we can debate together which ideas merit further investigation.
This will be an attempt to realize that which we have discussed above: discussing our ideas together, and deciding together which ones we can realize.