TED founder Richard Wurman’s alternative outlook on life, work, and our modern society.


On Tuesday night, the University of Maryland was visited by Richard Wurman, founder of “TED Talks,” who spoke in the Stamp Grand Ballroom to an audience of students, professors, administrators, and many others excited to hear what the brilliant visionary had to say.

In an hour, Wurman spoke about many topics, varying from education to innovation to intelligence, all of which he had a novel and often abstract opinion for.

Beginning his speech casually lounged in a chair, the architect, designer, and entrepreneur continuously told the audience that he is “personally not interested in spreading ideas” and that he had no intention to convince the audience of any sort of view on life, seeming to be quite contradictory of what I see to be the purpose of the modern TED talk. He was incredibly relaxed, speaking completely off his mind without any pre-scripted speech and making the audience laugh with his criticism of the projector image behind him, asking for his picture to be taken off the screen in the middle of his speech.

(Aaron Megar/Pulsefeedz)
(Aaron Megar/Pulsefeedz)

If Wurman is one thing specifically, it is a free spirit. The man is nearly indescribable with words, but his loose nature could be found throughout everything he said on Tuesday night. He began his speech by, in a sense, defining himself, and talking about how he has been so successful in his seventy-nine years while having, according to Wurman, “no ambition.”

In explaining how he came to such success, Wurman cited the two traits that he claims to be his “yin and yang,” confidence and terror. Acknowledging that these are two very uncommon and conflicting central traits, Wurman claims that his confidence and his terror, along with his self-praised ignorance, are what have allowed him to expand his interests and careers into many different realms like his diverse array of conferences and his Access travel-guides series. His mindset on life and work is incredibly alternative, as Wurman asked the audience: “Why do something if it works?” and went on to tell the crowd….

“I have no mission except my curiosity.”

Apart from speaking about himself, Wurman had a lot to say about our modern society, regarding, as I stated before, education, innovation, and intelligence.

Wurman was extremely critical of the modern education system, denouncing the memorizing required for academic success and expressing the need for more “peer-learning” and the studying of what specifically each individual is interested in.

He spoke in appreciation of the notion of “teaching as learning,” and found today’s education system to be “so screwed up.” When speaking about modern innovation, Wurman was equally as critical, stating that “innovation has no meaning anymore” and that people call small and incremental changes an act of innovation. And lastly, when asked to define intelligence, Wurman defined an intelligent person to be “somebody who proactively surrounds his or herself with people more intelligent than they are,” a statement that is both true and humble.

As a speaker, Wurman was many things. He was modest and confident, crazy and brilliant, funny and insightful. He kept the crowd engaged both through his humor and his interesting remarks, and whether he meant to or not, helped to define an alternate outlook on life that one could likely adapt and maybe find success with.


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