I have great admiration for the bloggers such as Bruno Giussani and Ethan Zuckerman who provided detailed session-by-session coverage of TED in real time. This year I took notes via Twitter and now, with the luxury of time, I'll reflect on a few things that were particularly memorable.
One of the recent innovations at TED is TED University, a series of twelve minute talks on a wide range of topics, a two hour version of the Independent Activities Period (IAP) every January at MIT.
One of my favorite talks was by Jimmy Guterman on Why Screwing Up is the Smartest Thing You Can Do. Guterman described how while everyone plans for success, a lot of good discoveries come by accident, such as:
- The villain Killer Bob in Twin Peaks was created during the filming of the pilot when a mirror in the final scene accidently caught the reflection of Set Decorator Frank Silva. Rather than re-shoot the scene, Director David Lynch wrote Bob into the script.
- Twitter was a side project at Obvious Corp.
- Penicillin was discovered when a contaminant kept a bacterial culture from growing.
- John Harvey Kellogg discovered corn flakes while trying to process some stale wheat.
- Posti-it Notes came about as the result of a glue that was less sticky than originally desired.
- The feedback on I Feel Fine was a recording mistake that the Beatles decided to leave in, a trend that was widely copied by Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and many others.
- Viagra was intended as a treatment for angina.
The point is that in the desire to prevent failure, one must be careful not to engineer out the serendipitous success. Sort of a corollary to "Iterate in the market, not the conference room."