Crunching our Braintrust's minds

Although I’m from Amsterdam and should be used to bumping into artists, opinion leaders and others “as seen on TV”, I can’t shed that tingling feeling when I really get to talk to them. Observing them at work is a rare occasion I just couldn’t pass. The line-up of impressive people advising TEDxAmsterdam is dubbed our “Braintrust” and yesterday they crunched their collective creativeness to conjure up this year’s theme.

“We’ll mind pick your brains today as trusted members of what we call our “Braintrust”: all of you have some kind of relationship with TEDxAmsterdam”, Jim Stolze opens this gathering. The goal is to discuss three matters open to discussion. First, how do we stand out from the thousands of TEDxEvents in the world? Secondly, what theme could we choose that both helps the organization, speakers and visitors focus and yet is broad enough to capture all that’s interesting? Last, but crucial, is asking suggestions for speakers.

TEDxAmsterdam Braintrust meeting

TEDxAmsterdam Braintrust meeting

Louise Fresco took the attendants by the hand and had everyone introduce themselves shortly – not all advisors had met before. What lessons were learned from the first two editions? To some, Claron McFadden was a highlight “as she touched me deeply and opened my mind, heart and spirit to new impulses.” In a spirit of constructive criticism, points of improvement mainly concern guiding speakers earlier on, both in content and in presentation form. “I love science, but I want to crack it down to practical realism at times. What can I do with it after the talk?”, one advisor said. Also, the team will probably develop slide design guidelines to help put the speaker central, not their slides in the background.

An entirely other set of improvements discussed is the atmosphere and how spatial design can facilitate visitors’ interaction amongst each other. What some of the experienced TED(x) visitors value the most is feeling stimulated both intellectually and emotionally, not just by the remarkable stage speakers but especially meeting new and interesting fellow visitors during the breaks. All advisors agreed and a few specific ideas were shared. “What if we gave everyone this very big name tag? Or if you can not choose your own name and have to find your badge around somebody else’s neck?”. Let’s say we’re not sure yet, but helping visitors connect is an important point of attention.

“So why do we need a theme?”, Louise asked the group daringly. And if so, how does a theme make TEDxAmsterdam stand out from other TEDxEvents? Are we going for international speakers or is it best to focus on local strength, building on Amsterdam’s melting pot community? Now that’s quite a juxtaposition to choose between in itself, so wrap yourself for the next contrast: society seems to value ratio, analytical measurement and algorithms, but everyone agreed we need to do more with our emotions, passions and humanity. “We’re onto something, this tension between keeping control and giving room for irrationality, intuition and serendipity should lead to a theme soon”, curator Monique van Dusseldorp said.

Without pinpointing this year’s theme I left inspired, with a mind full of interesting discussion points and frankly, a bit confused. Maybe that’s the typical TED experience, right?

Further reading:

About the TEDxAmsterdam Braintrust