By Brittany Britto
To himself, Richard Wurman is just a man whose pursuits are fueled by ignorance and the constant teetering between confidence and terror. To his fans, Wurman is an architect and author and the trailblazing founder of TED.
Students and faculty filled Stamp Student Union’s Grand Ballroom on Oct. 21 to hear about Wurman’s successes and failures in his lecture, “The Next Great Solutions to our World’s Social Challenges.” The Leadership and Community Service Learning’s lecture series, Voices, brings storytellers to campus to share their leadership experiences.
“We told Wurman about the program, and it was a place where he wanted his message to be heard,” said LCSL Director Craig Slack, who usually formats Voices lectures as a discussion between the guest speaker and a host.
Wurman, however, had his own ideas for the Voices lecture, Slack said. The social engineer wanted to begin with his own unplanned speech.
“I don’t have a prepared talk, Wurman said an hour before his lecture. “I don’t know where I’ll begin. But I am interested in whether it becomes interesting to me, whether I learn something by speaking, or whether I say something I’ve never said before.”
Wurman, from a Yiddish-speaking family of kosher butchers, spoke openly about his Jewish culture prior to his lecture.
“There is a disproportionate number of people [in the news] that are Jewish relative to the total population,” Wurman said. “Jews are 2 percent of [the U.S.] population. It doesn’t amount to much, yet we’re in 20 percent of the news stories. If you ask me what I am, I am proud to be a Jew.”
Wurman joked that his Jewish pride had once reached an all time high, making him consider hosting a TED conference with all Jewish speakers, and calling it “TED-SHMED.”
But Wurman’s days with TED, a company he ran for 18 years before selling it in 2003, was an achievement that he put behind him.
“Everything I’ve done before, including yesterday, I’m not interested in,” Wurman said in the beginning of his lecture. “My life begins tonight.”
With many life experiences behind him, including 83 books and an ever-expanding global conference series, the 79-year-old spoke of his “working hard at ignorance” with pride, a quality that Wurman said keeps him curious.
“I am deeply and passionately committed to doing good work, and it is all I care about,” Wurman said. “I worship at the foot of my ignorance. I am so proud to be more ignorant than anyone in this room. I work hard at that ignorance.”
Wurman acknowledged confidence and terror as two emotions that give him a “ying-yang” balance.
“I only do projects that I have no understanding about whatsoever,” Wurman said. “Confidence allows me to do something. Terror gets me to do it.”
Sophomore communication major Missy Agbaniyaka, who described Wurman as “raw,” said she was particularly inspired by his impromptu lecture.
“It was not structured, but he brought up really good points that resonated with me,” said Agbaniyaka, who enjoyed the common theme of exploring the world as if everything is a new adventure. “Everyone has a different route to success. This is the way he took it. It’s different and not one I’ve yet to hear, but it makes sense.”
And with all of Wurman’s successes, still come failures.
“I was not successful, and I later became less successful, and I was certainly not taken seriously.” Wurman said. “It was a struggle. You have to accept that you’re going to fail, and I fail a lot, and I have failed and I’ll still fail.”