My Experience at the 2018 TED Vancouver Conference

I had the privilege of experiencing the TED conference in April 2018 for the first time in Vancouver, British Columbia. I would like to share with Studio Designer subscribers a few of my experiences. 

The experience was absolutely flawless and I learned that the experience is as much about the speakers as it is the audience. Much like a typical design conference, I enjoyed listening to all the talks, well most of the talks. But the real magic happens when you are standing in line for coffee or eating lunch or dinner with your fellow TED attendees. One evening I attended one of their Jeffersonian dinners. It was a small group of 14 of us and we picked a topic to discuss throughout dinner. To my left was Zach Wood, Zach was one of the speakers this year on the main stage. What is remarkable about Zach is that he is a junior at Williams College. He is the most articulate 20-year-old I have ever met. His talk was about his vision to understand different points of views even if they are so controversial that they go against everything he believes in. He invites these speakers to his college and engages in their point of view from a place of understanding and not criticism. He has testified in front of Congress and is simply an amazing young man. You can watch his talk by clicking here.

The highlight of my experience was the Wednesday night dinner hosted by Liz Diller and Robert Hammond (the co-founder of the Friends of the High Line). At dinner, I was honored to sit next to Simon Sinek, truly my TED hero. Some TED fans may be familiar with Simon’s work and his “Start with Why” talk seen here. He is brilliant. At dinner, he asked me about my companies, my devotion to elevating the design profession, and specifically the Leaders of Design Council. He asked, “Why have you devoted almost 14 years to this organization? What does it mean to you and why did you create this community?” I gave him a series of answers and he kept saying “Keith, you are being too generic. Give me specific examples.” He then said “Let’s try this, what is your earliest childhood memory?” I told him that when I was about five years old, I was walking from my bedroom to the bathroom and when I passed my parents room I saw my shadow on my parents’ armoire and screamed. My father, who was often away on business, was home and got up and grabbed my hand and took me to the kitchen. He opened up the freezer and placed an Eskimo Pie on a plate and watched me eat it and calm down and then took me back to bed.

Simon then said, “Okay now give me an example of a meaningful experience at your conference.” I told him about this year in Kyoto when we were sitting in the Seiryuden Temple and how we brought in a 170-pound tuna that was caught that morning and that we also brought in a Michelin star chef to carve sushi for the group. He asked me why that was meaningful and I said because I realized that the Leaders of Design Council gives people once-in-a lifetime experiences.

He then said, “Good, now give me an example of something meaningful in your books.” I told Simon that I surprisingly get more feedback on one small piece of advice in my book that people always refer to and that is: “If a client doesn’t offer you a glass of water then they are not a good client. They only care about themselves and you will never be treated well.” He looked at me and simply said “Keith, these examples, they are all Eskimo Pies. They represent your need for people to connect as one human to another. For your client’s client to care about their designer, for your clients to care about you, and your caring of them.“

Simon went on to congratulate me on building a community that did not exist before and then he said, “If any member did not believe in your vision that we are all human beings who should take care of one another and support one another and should support the community that brought them together then they should not be members.” We discussed the fact that communities need to be nurtured and supported to survive but that they also need to evolve and the way they evolve is engagement in the community. Lastly, Simon said (you knew that was coming), “The fact that hundreds of people have followed you around the world for 14 years says a lot. These are people who are committed, engaged and they get it.” 

So in the end, it was the impromptu dinner with Simon, the conversation with Zach, lunch with Tim Brown, another hero and co-founder of IDEO, that made the experience so valuable. There were lots of ideas worth sharing but breaking bread with my heroes is what made the experience extraordinary. Such remarkable experiences truly inform my work and mission as Studio Designer CEO with my firm belief that idea sharing and embracing new technologies are instrumental in improving and modernizing the interior design business world. 

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