AIB Featured Business Leader – Chris Anderson

AIB Featured Business Leader – Chris Anderson


Chris Anderson was born in a remote village in Pakistan, and spent his early years in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where his father worked as a missionary eye surgeon. He graduated from Oxford University with a degree in philosophy, and then trained as a journalist. After several years at newspapers and radio stations, he became fascinated with the rise of computers, which had just started to take off. He became an editor at one of the UK’s early computer magazines, and a year later in 1985, formed a tiny start-up to launch his own magazine. Its unlikely success led to more launches, and his company Future Publishing grew rapidly under the moniker “media with passion.”

Anderson expanded to the United States in 1994, where he built Imagine Media, publisher of Business 2.0 magazine, and creator of the popular games website IGN. The combined companies eventually spawned more than 100 monthly magazines, employing 2,000 people.  They allowed Anderson to create a private nonprofit foundation, the Sapling Foundation, which hoped to find new ways of tackling tough global issues by leveraging media, technology, entrepreneurship, and most of all, ideas. Sapling acquired the TED Conference in 2001, and Anderson then left his businesses to focus on growing TED.

The TED conference had been taking place in California since the early 1980s. TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) was historically a place where well-to-do entrepreneurs could gather and be inspired by revolutionary thinkers, and by each other. After Anderson and his not-for-profit foundation took the reins, TED went through some remarkable changes. Over the course of a decade, it has become a stage upon which some of the world’s greatest and most innovative thinkers share their ideas and, in eighteen minutes, give the talk of their lives to a vast audience.

But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for TED’s curator-in-chief, Anderson. In the early 2000s, TED was unrecognisable to fans today. The organisation hosted just one invitation-only conference annually in Monterey, California. It would be years before talks were hosted outside the US or released for free online.

In 2006, TED sparked an intellectual revolution when Anderson and his team made the decision to give all of their content away on the internet for free. A conference which had often been described as a fascinating, elitist playground of ideas for the privileged (who could afford to purchase seats) became a radical force for the spread of innovation. In 2008, the conference spread further into the grassroots with the launch of TEDx, a brand and toolkit for community-organised conferences staged around the world with the endorsement of central command. There are now several hundred TEDx conferences taking place every year, run by volunteers and attended by thousands.

Anderson has always been interested in all the upsides of human intention: technology, mass media, education, entrepreneurship. The single biggest amplifier has always been the great idea, the idea whose time has come, because it spreads of its own accord, sweeping all before it, rewiring brains as it goes, persuading people to do its bidding. “There is unbelievable inspiration and wisdom to be gained from listening to people well outside your field. The breakthrough spark often comes from outside the little box in which you’re focused”, says Anderson.

TED has grown from a conference into a movement of ideas. Today, the nonprofit devoted to “ideas worth spreading” operates in 3,000 cities, and its 2,000-plus “talks,” or taped lectures, have been viewed more than 2.5 billion times.

Anderson has been successful in his stewardship of TED as a platform for identifying and disseminating ideas worth spreading. He has ensured that TED continues to draw a loyal following of influencers across many different disciplines, for a global audience.

What do you think?

Chris Anderson’s appreciation for ideas worth spreading has seen him embark on the ambitious project to change the world, one TED conference at a time.  What has inspired you to make a difference and drive change? I’m interested to learn about that “lightning bolt moment” that you have experienced. Comment your views below and join the conversation.

This article was written by Jelena Milutinovic on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Dumb Feather; Tech Insider; TED and Wikipedia

Image credit: The Guardian

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