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Notes From TED: Can Simplicity and Innovation Overcome Complexity and Cynicism?

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Every TED conference opens with "The Elephant March" from Verdi's Aida and it never fails to have the same effect on me: an overwhelming feeling of new possibilities.

In his opening remarks, TED curator Chris Anderson met the zeitgeist head on, talking about his rage at the fact that every idea about how to deal with our big problems is crushed on a wall of cynicism and complexity.

After lunch, I caught up with Chris in the organizers' war room in the basement of the convention center in Long Beach. I asked him what, in the amazingly diverse TED program, would be the sessions that most directly counter the predicament he laid out.

"Session 11," he said. "It's the one on simplicity. We are choking ourselves in a web of complexity. Our financial system is so complex it can't be regulated. The health care plan is so complex no one understands it. Our politics is so complex it's become a complete mess."

"George Whitesides, the chemist, will set out the science of simplicity," he continued. "How do we recognize it? How do we tap into it?"

I asked him who else would help address the challenge.

"Philip Howard," he said. "His talk is an important call to rethink the role of law. The application of our laws has become so perverse, it chokes off innovation."

As always, the great thing about TED is that it forces you to take a few days to go beyond this week's political dramas -- and pseudo-dramas (e.g. Sarah Palin's crib notes). "Politicians come and go," Chris told me, "ideas last forever -- and are the real drivers of history."

So once again innovation is the undercurrent at TED -- from the new medical innovations that will be profiled here, and that, according to Chris, "promise to slash costs by 90 percent" (hey, even 20 percent would be great!) to the innovation platform put forward at The Economist's lunch by global correspondent Vijay Vaitheeswaran: "Need, speed, and greed for good as opposed to 'greed is good.'"

TED is the perfect antidote to cynicism. The one thing you're never going to hear here is: "I love your idea, but it will never fly... you'll never get it past middle America... you'll never get it past Olympia Snowe!"

As a result, for at least four days, there is no room for the victim's stance. And you really do embrace all over again the potential of technology, open sources, and transparency to transform our broken systems.

So when you hear David Cameron promise to deliver all those things if he's elected Prime Minister, as he did this morning, you find yourself believing him and forgetting for a moment that Barack Obama promised to deliver all those things if elected president.

But still, if openness and transparency can't beat the lobbyists and the shadow elites, nothing will. So once more into the breach... to the tune of Aida's "Elephant March."

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