Michael Li / Assistant Photography Editor

February 6, 2018

TED Talks Founder Critiques Traditional Definitions of Innovation at Cornell

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Technology, Entertainment and Design Talks founder and creator Richard Saul Wurman shared his thoughts on design while jumping from topic to topic, using anecdotes and metaphors to address innovation.

“All my speeches are a conversation,” Wurman said.

Breaking away from the traditional format of a talk, Wurman began with a question and answer period as soon as the doors opened, familiarizing himself with the audience. He repeatedly requested audience members to sit in the front rows.

The talk was not Wurman’s first time at Cornell — decades ago, he taught in the architecture school as a visiting professor.

Although the talk was sponsored by Cornell Hillel, Wurman did not talk about Judaism aside from a few jokes.

“I am very proud of being a Jew, but I can’t speak about Judaism,” Wurman said.

Instead, he began by sharing some of his wisdom around a theme of TED: subtraction. Wurman said the TED conference began by “subtracting virtually everything I hated” about other conferences at the time. These changes included taking away the lectern, eliminating panels and long speeches and having multiple subjects be the focus of the conference.

“A lot of [TED] was by subtraction,” he said. “Taking away a lot of things that were unnecessary.”

Wurman furthered his discussion by challenging what is commonly thought of as innovation. He referenced the Tesla as an example, calling it “an electric car they made nicer, better.”

“It is the false notion that this is innovation,” Wurman said. “We have to pull apart all the notions of what we worship and what we think about as innovation… I think the Tesla car is nice, [but] it is not a fundamental look at what things are.”

Wurman also addressed how the health care system is viewed today to further encourage his audience to examine all components of innovation. He noted the difference between “preventative medicine” such as healthy eating and and “curative medicine” like hospitals.

“There is a whole look at medicine that has to do with preventative medicine,” he said. “Nobody talks about that.”

Education is another sector where innovation can strike, according to Wurman.

“There is a whole system as a great education system and a great learning system,” he said. “Two completely different systems. Learning is remembering what you are interested in. Interest is what drives us.”

Currently, Wurman said, “nothing is fundamentally about learning [and] nothing is fundamentally about health and wellbeing. It’s about the cost.”

Wurman, a trained architect, is interested in design and understanding patterns.

“The big design problem is designing your life,” Wurman said, “I spend everyday all day just trying to see patterns, just trying to find some pathway, some way of visualizing my world around me. Sometimes I come to a conclusion in a book, and sometimes not.”

Sara Hwong ’18, was inspired by the talk by Wurman.

“His disregard for convention was inspiring,” Hwong said. “It was definitely thought-provoking.”