Shades of openness from TEDGlobal 2012

How do you define radical openness? Do you believe it exists, that it’s obtainable? Do we really need to be radically open? As the forces of technology, global travel and social media converge to make the world an increasingly interconnected place, the way we communicate, interact and share will change. Some of these changes will be for the better others perhaps not; but make no mistake our world is changing.

How do we remain open to this flood of change? How do we navigate the new rules these changes will bring? These questions were the catalyst for TEDGlobal 2012: Radical Openness, held in Edinburgh, Scotland June 25th through the 29th. I was lucky enough to attend a live simulcast of two sessions – Shades of Openness and Long Term – via TEDx OrangeCoast. During each of these sessions six people shared their ideas on radical openness in our changing world.

TED events are known for bringing together the ‘thinkers and doers’ of the world, those interested in sharing their ideas to drive change. TED mirrors the 140-character twitter structure, limiting each talk to 18 minutes or less. This approach keeps the discussions focused and the ideas flowing.

As I arrived at the event, I wondered how TED would fill four days with dialogue on openness? Doesn’t everyone want to be open or transparent (to use the current buzzword)? As I listened to the speakers I came to the realization that transparency holds different meanings to different people, four days is not nearly long enough and being radically open to new ideas can be game changing for the world.

Here’s a recap of what has kept me thinking and conversing long after leaving the event…

Part I: Shades of Openness

Ivan Krastev, a public intellectual from Bulgaria, contests the idea of transparency in our democratic institutions. His idea that ‘what went right is also what went wrong’ and that we ‘need to look at the other side of the things we like’ is truly an eye opener.

He challenges that transparency is actually the management of mistrust and a means of control not openness. He sited a situation in his own government where the transcripts from political sessions would be made public within 24 hours. When asked why they would agree to this level of transparency, a government official stated this was the best way to keep the mouths of his cabinet shut as none of them wanted to be explaining themselves publically. Hence transparency becomes a form of control.

Digital anthropologist, Gabriella Coleman, told us ‘everything you know about Anonymous is wrong’. Anonymous being the enigmatic groups of hacktivists or digital protectors, depending on your view, leading protest activity via the Internet. They truly function within shades of openness as they work to protect the freedoms of the Internet while remaining anonymous. Gabriella’s talk provided a better understanding on the value of online anonymity and the nebulous definition of openness.

Journalist Leslie Chang provides a voice for the subculture of female Chinese workers that make our iPads and Coach handbags. Mainstream journalism leads us to believe we are taking advantage of these workers, their living and employment conditions are beyond appalling and that they are forced to remain in these jobs. After spending two years living with and interviewing these workers Leslie shares a different story. Yes life in a Chinese factory is hard but not as hard as remaining on the family farm in rural China.

Yes the way they live and work is different than ours, but it is better than how they live and work on the family farm in rural China. These women have chosen to move to the city and find factory jobs. Their choice to work in a factory provides them with social mobility; offering them the opportunity to achieve a life they define as valuable. Leslie teaches us to not look at a situation solely from our own perspective but to be open to a different view of the world.

Coming from a business perspective, it’s the openness to different views that I find empowering. We are all trying to make sense of the changes in our world; openness to what’s new, different or outside of our comfort zone allows us to question our most fundamental beliefs and imagine what is possible.

Part 2: My lesson learned from TEDGlobal – stay open to what’s possible. Don’t let new and different be unsettling; let it be exciting and empowering.

Have you been to a TED event?

I’d love to hear your thoughts from the experience.

This post originally appeared on CROWDTalk

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