Newsletter #525 – Losing Control of Your Great Ideas

Several weeks ago (Newsletter/blog 517) we discussed TED talks and Jeremey Donovan’s excellent book on How to Deliver a TED talk. Here’s a follow-up about TED from the April issue of Harvard Business Review:

“In 2009, TED, an organization of highly respected conferences on ‘ideas worth spreading,’ threw its doors open, allowing anyone, anywhere, to manage and stage local, independent events under its banner.” Before long an army of volunteers produced roughly 5,000 TEDx events in more than 130 countries. The brand extension gave TED fresh exposure and impact but it “came with some risk: TED no longer completely controlled its brand, and an extended community of people who didn’t work for TED were now capable of damaging it. And when TEDx licensees began putting dubious pseudoscientific presentations on their programs, the risk became a real threat. The blogosphere trashed TED for producing dumb content and questioned its overall credibility.”

fast trainHave you ever had this experience? You produce something, share it and lose control. It is hard to stop the momentum of a run-away train, especially one with ideas that are popular and profitable for others. The TED management needed to take action or its reputation and business would crash. Their example could help any organization and maybe applies to individuals.

Speaking privately to the local TEDx organizers was not productive so management took a different approach:

  1. “Listen Loudly.” This meant engaging with the critics through a variety of public forums, asking questions and getting feedback. As a result everyone knew that the management was hearing the complaints and was both open and determined to correct the problems.
  2. Share Purpose. A crowd was turning against TED. To turn them around the goal was to realign everybody around the shared purpose of quality presentations with “ideas worth spreading.” This was shepherding, not dictating or giving directions.
  3. Refine Boundaries. TED management was clear about what parts of the business were open for innovation and what needed to be controlled to prevent misuse of the system.

Being open does not mean giving everything away. But when others are engaged to make something better, together, then everyone in the community can learn, adapt, and grow. Please comment with your reactions.


    1. I am not sure I know the answer, Pam. But I think the TEDx refers to those talks that are recorded at extension sites. BTW I inserted a brief TED talk into one of my presentations last week and it seemed to go over well.


  1. Hi Gary, on your prior recommendation I read ‘How to Deliver a TED Talk’, nice little book. I found your observations concerning boundaries helpful in my own situation. Being open to innovation yet not wanting to damage the brand. I’m also reflecting here on issues of brand ownership within a collaborative venture and setting the limits of collaboration without building defences. I think your idea of shepherding and not dicating has mileage here. Wondering what shepherding looks like and how me managage contrary projections…. hmm, food for thought – thankyou!


    1. Brian, you raise some big issues. I wrote about the TED situation because they had some people run away with their brand and had the difficult task of reigning this in. Here a couple of random comments:
      * It can be a little difficult for some of us to admit that we have a brand. “The Brand Called You” was one of the most read articles in FAST COMPANY magazine over ten years ago. I balked when somebody suggested that there is a Gary Collins brand but now I see the value in using that selectively.
      * In academic circles, as you know, there is a focus on “intellectual property.” I usually ask about this before I teach someplace. Most often the school agrees that the professor’s material does not belong to the school although the school might have freedom to promote it. That is setting limits before hand.
      * Regarding disagreements, I do not like conflict and prefer to avoid it, but it is best to discuss it openly and if emotions do not lead to flare-ups, compromise can be reached. You have a UK email address but in the US our politicians have brought the government to a standstill because of their seemingly immature digging in to their positions and assigning blame instead of trying to work out compromise. And a lot comes down to fear of losing the next election. Sad.


      1. Hi Gary, thanks for the heads up on the Fast Company article, just read through it, very informative…

  2. Thanks for this Article Gary! This concept is unpacked more in The Starfish & the Spider. However, i love your 3 additions on how to help retain your brand while freeing your vision. Thanks!


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