There is a veritable cornucopia of conferences, summits, gatherings, and symposia on any given year, month, or day. You have probably attended and presented at several dozens of them, and even designed a few. But, aside from the copious networking opportunities, how useful and successful are these conferences culturally, economically, or politically? Do they breed new ideas and jumpstart new enterprises? Or do they merely provide a stage on which to recapitulate last year’s ideas and proverbially pat each other on the back?
Whatever the diagnosis, there is little denying that conferences have the potential to be uniquely productive forums—or occasional sinkholes of time and money. After all, they provide an opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved, and reassess the agenda going forward; they provide a fertile arena for the cross-pollination of ideas; and they bring together individuals otherwise dispersed across the globe. Or do they?
This salon took place on March 31, 2015.
Jane Thompson’s career as a multidisciplinary modernist was launched in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design. She introduced the pioneering journal for all design professionals, ID: Industrial Design, which explores multidisciplinary fields of “design in everyday life.” With Kaufman Foundation sponsorship, she undertook lifelong research on the Bauhaus origins of modernism in Germany. She partnered with TAC architect Ben Thompson to develop original lifestyle design shops, the colorful and sensuous Design Research, and also collaborated with Finland’s Marimekko, helping to transform design in America’s new home boom after 1970. She now celebrates two decades leading Thompson Design Group, Boston, offering innovative urban planning for cities such as Houston, Denver, and Long Branch on the Jersey Coast. Thompson has been honored with three lifetime achievement awards, most recently with the 2008 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Yana Peel is CEO of Intelligence Squared Group, the world’s leading forum for live debate. A cofounder of Outset Contemporary Art Foundation, she maintains board and advisory positions across the arts, including Tate, British Fashion Council, The Serpentine Gallery, V&A, V-A-C Foundation Moscow, Lincoln Center, Para/Site Art Space, and Asia Art Archive. As a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, she speaks regularly at the Davos Annual Meeting, especially in the areas of technology and art. Peel was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and attended McGill University and The London School of Economics before starting her career at Goldman Sachs.
Sarah Milstein cohosts The Lean Startup Conference. She is co-author of The Twitter Book, and writes about race, gender, and bias. She has hosted influential conferences like Web 2.0 Expo and has contributed articles to The New York Times, among other outlets. Early in her career, she founded Just Food’s CSA program and helped children’s musician Laurie Berkner launch her record label. She blogs at DogsandShoes.com and splits her time between New York and San Francisco. She holds an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley and a BA from Rutgers University. Bonus fact: she was the 21st user on Twitter.
Sunny Bates operates wherever executives, thinkers, artists, creators, innovators, and entrepreneurs connect and collide around the globe. Her medium is people, her expertise human network development. Author, serial entrepreneur, mentor, and advisor, her client roster has included some of the world’s most prominent organizations, from GE, TED, and Credit Suisse to MTV, the National Academy of Sciences, Techstars, and Kickstarter, of which she is a founding board member. Bates’s approach to unleashing potential is unique: it puts people, network building, and management at the center of growth and possibility. She finds the connecting threads that exist all around us and brings them together in new and imaginative ways.
Megan Hustad The Church of Ted The New York Times (03.14.14)
James R.Mellow The Stein Salon Was The First Museum of Modern Art The New York Times (12.01.68)
Nifoler Merchant When TED Lost Control of Its Crown Harvard Business Review (04.13)
George Meyer My Undoing: Obsessed with Conferences The New Yorker (05.28.07)
Evgeny Morozov The Naked and the TED New Republic (08.02.12)
Nick Paumgarten Magic Mountain The New Yorker (03.05.12)
Louis Rosenfeld How to Organize a Conference Medium (02.02.15)
Shaunnesy Adrian The Design Conference The Design Observer (01.05.15)