One of the greatest conferences in the world, TEDMED, has recently gained new leadership. TEDMED was co-founded by Richard Saul Wurman and Marc Hodosh and now has a new co-owner, Jay Walker. The deal caused a bit of a scandal when Richard Saul Wurman has sent out a letter, where he expresses his disappointment with this change. Here’s the letter:
“Friends of TEDMED, sponsors (profit and particularly non-profit), conferees, personal friends, presenters and service providers,
On the advice of counsel and because I feel it is my moral and ethical responsibility to all of you who have given me and TEDMED the benefits of your enthusiasm, energy, brilliance and financial support, without which I would never have been able to produce this or any conference, I am writing to inform you that Mr. Hodosh, to whom I entrusted TEDMED, has sold the conference to Mr. Walker for $16 million with future additional payments of as much as $9 million, and options to Mr. Walker’s new company, TEDMED LLC. I will have no further involvement of any kind with TEDMED. This was finalized without my concurrence while I was away on spring holiday with my wife and grandchildren.
You are all smart people and I don’t think I need to breast-beat or vent what has led me to this very difficult and painful decision (though I am sorely tempted). Let it suffice to say that the way in which this deal was made and their plans for the future of the conference have made it impossible for me to continue to participate.
I have been informed by Mr. Walker and Mr. Hodosh in separate conversations that this year’s TEDMED will be the last one in San Diego at the beautiful Hotel Del Coronado. Next May it will move to the Washington, D.C. area and morph into a mega-event, rather like a medical Davos. I point you to a New York Times article written by Andrew Ross Sorkin which gives the flavor of that event:
This is completely alien to the spirit and passion with which TEDMED has thrived, and not in any way a form that has interest to me. In fact, it is the antithesis of what I believe made TED, when I created it, TEDMED, and the eg conference, unique and magical. The Washington event will even have formal dress balls in the evening.
So, if life is full of curve balls, I now have my catcher’s mitt on and I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest thanks to all of you for all you have given to me and the conference, and to let you know that I will be back in touch with you soon regarding, what I do think, will be the new direction for gatherings (as an alternative, not a replacement to the old form), a mold-breaking, new kind of communication that I have been contemplating for the last year and is now very close to being ready to announce.
It is called WWW.WWW and it will occur in September 2012 as a live and quite affordable iPAD enterprise app. It will combine a small live audience with pairings of various combinations of the 100 greatest minds of the twenty-first century in improvised conversations addressing the key W words such as the World, Weather, Water, War, Well-being, Wealth, the Web, Wit; I think you get it. Intellectual jazz.
I do hope to see all of you again on this and other future adventures.
I have to say I’ve got a very good feeling about this change. Frankly speaking, I was quite disappointed to hear some of the speakers expressing ideas promoting death, like for example, the poetry written by Richard Saul Wurman’s wife. The main idea of that poem was “we are all going to die and there’s nothing we can do about it, and therefore shouldn’t even bother trying.” That was so strange to hear at the conference that is devoted to new technologies aimed at improving our health and extending our lives. Let me simply remind you that the conference started with the beautiful singing of Charity Tillemann-Dick, who got back to opera singing after having a double lung transplant. She and her doctors dared to fight death and won. That’s a great example of life-saving and life-improving technologies that TEDMED was created to promote. I hope the future TEDMED conferences will have more stories about how technology can help us improve and prolong people’s lives. We all need that, because life is the most precious thing that we have.