Ideas are never weird, just different

  • Business
  • Saturday, 30 Jun 2012

SO what will entrepreneur Derek Sivers speak on when he takes to the stage at TEDxKL next month? It is almost impossible to tell just by examining the videos of his past TEDTalks.

There are three such videos, each under three minutes long. These are entertaining and often witty lessons on disparate topics.

For example, at a TED event in Mysore, India, in November 2009, Sivers got the audience to think about how there is a flipside to everything.

It is all about perspective and keeping an open mind. What is weird practice to a person may be nothing more than a different way of looking at something.

“Let's never forget that whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, that the opposite may also be true,” he urged.

In Long Beach, California, a few months later, Sivers cleverly used a video of young people dancing with abandon at an outdoor festival, to illustrate his points on how to start a movement.

His advice: “If you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in.”

The third video was taken at Oxford, England, in July 2010. In it, Sivers argued that a person had a better chance of achieving his goals if he kept them to himself instead of revealing them to others.

Clearly, Sivers is not sticking to an agenda. And he rejects any notion that he will be at TEDxKL as an entrepreneur with a key message to deliver.

“Oh, I've got no message at all. When I'm speaking at a TED event, I'm not an entrepreneur. I'm just a fellow student, sharing something I've learned about life,” he told StarBizWeek via email.

Not that he is not qualified to offer insights into entrepreneurship. In 1998, he founded CD Baby, which became the largest seller of independent music online. A decade later, he sold the company for US$22mil and gave the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education.

He has since set up Now Now Now, a “holding company for open and honest services that help musicians”. Among the services he plans to roll out are MuckWork (it will have a network of people doing non-creative, mundane work for musicians) and SongTest (a free, open song contest).

“This isn't work, it's play,” he wrote on his website.

Even the TEDxKL theme of Interdependence is no indicator of what Sivers will present at the conference. He says: “No offence to the organisers, but I never pay much attention to the themes. To me, it's all about the attendees. That's the real reason to go to TED. Otherwise you could just watch the talks at home at your leisure.”

However, he is willing to let on this much about his talk in Kuala Lumpur expect to be surprised with something new.

“People come to TED to learn. If I don't surprise you, then everything I've said is aligned with what you already believe. My main goal is to present something that challenges your existing beliefs, that makes you look at the world in a new way,” he explains.

It helps that Sivers is an experienced performer. He was the ringleader/MC of a circus for 10 years, and is also a full-time musician. He has done over 1,000 shows as the main performer.

“The biggest lesson learned is that it's not about you, the performer. It's 100% all about the audience. For TED, it's about presenting a new and surprising idea for the audience. It doesn't matter who I am, what I've done, or anything else. All that matters is the idea.

“So it's my job to present it in the most memorable way I can so people can remember it long enough to talk about with their friends tomorrow,” he says.

An American born in California, Sivers now lives in Singapore with his wife. “There's so much going on in Asia, so exciting, so much to learn. I really wanted a home base in the middle of it all. And so we found Singapore,” he wrote on his website.

His fascination with Malaysia is a big reason for agreeing to be a TEDxKL presenter. He explains to StarBizWeek: “I want to understand it (Malaysia) more. I'd like to spend much more time here, but for now, TEDxKL can be a little sample of the best and the brightest a taste of the culture.”

Of course, being part of the TED experience is a factor as well. “You're surrounded by smart and successful people. It's inspiring to try to live up to that. It makes you look at your work or life from their perspective,” he says.

Now in its fourth year, TEDxKL is an independently organised event under the TED banner. TED describes itself as a non-profit organisation “devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading”. It started in 1984 as a conference on technology, entertainment and design (TED), but the scope has been expanded to also include science, business, the arts and global issues.

TEDxKL ( will be held on July 14 at the Temple of Fine Arts in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. The Star is an official media partner of the event.

Among the other presenters at TEDxKL are entrepreneur Myshkin Ingawale, nanotechnology expert Dr Ille Gebershuber, writer-actor-director Jo Kukathas, photographer Zann Huang, sun bear conservationist Wong Siew Te, Sinar Project co-founder Khairil Yusof and comedian Kavin Jayaram.

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