TED Global: Radical Openness

I just got back from TED Global. This was the best of the 3 TED conference that I attended so far – 2 of them at Long Beach. I have a chance to attend 2 more TED Conferences next year as the privilege of being a 2012 TED Senior Fellow. I like TED Global more than TED Long Beach because Global is smaller and more intimate, and has more international participation. The theme of the conference was Radical Openness.

TED is  bringing open to the world stage – quite bravely and radically – a critical moment in human history as open trickles into human consciousness. The rules of the economic game are changing with open source design, collaborative production, social production, transparency, and distributive enterprise. These are the key ingredients of free enterprise – opposite of monopoly capitalism. “Openness is about distributing power.”

The simple trends remain: collaborative production is an emerging market force. It has social benefit. It is growing – as openness, transparency, lowered barriers of entry, social responsibility, and therefore ecological responsibility – are all natural byproducts – and no sane economic agent can resist these values.

The TED Fellows are a favorite part of  the conference for many attendees. The highlights for me were several future collaborations in the making. Juliette LaMontagne, TED Senior Fellow, and I had a breakthrough discussion on integrating Breaker with Distributive Social Enterprise training. Both of us share a desire to develop teaching materials on open enterprise development. Part of the OSE platform is radically-interdisciplinary training for distributive entrepreneurs. Juliette is now aware of distributive enterprise as a possibility, and she now agrees that a viable enterprise model for Breaker could be training those who could replicate other Breaker projects as independent franchises licensed under open principles.

Juliette helped me reframe the distributive enterprise concept: ‘open source’ is great, but it is not enough to scale an open platform. If blueprints or source code are open, that does not guarantee replication of products. Therefore, the next need is open documentation of strategic plans/business models/implementation plans which allow a certain enterprise to be replicated. That’s what we aim to provide as a key part of our open source platform: documentation and training materials for any of our work (such as CEB Press fabrication right now) which helps others to replicate the enterprise. Our goal is to put ourselves out of business and continue innovating on further products (such as CNC plasma cutter table to produce CEB Presses more rapidly) or derivative enterprises (such as a construction enterprise for microhouses).

This is a hard point to explain to traditional investors. Rather than searching for traditional investors, we are looking for lifestyle investors (individuals interested in using the products or starting enterprise related to the products) to contribute in the development phase of the GVCS. We are also looking for nonprofit funding to help us move the collaborative production revolution forward.

Emeka Okafor, TED Fellows Consultant, curator of Maker Faire Africa, and person who initially invited me to apply to be a TED Fellow – helped me to make a distinction regarding traditional enterprise scaling (top-down investment, economic centralization, protecting IP) and enterprise scaling for an open source enterprise (users + lifestyle investors, economic distribution throughout a user/developer community, open IP). The main distinction is that the traditional discussion of scaling – ‘how does the GVCS scale’ or ‘how are you going to get rich’ – is irrelevant. Open source inherently distributes productivity and value to users, and this cannot be monetized like a traditional business. This is because the goal is distributing wealth to participant stakeholders who are co-creating that wealth – a foundation for post-scarcity economics. Scaling of an open source enterprise means developing a user community that sustains the effort (such as users who buy products and services, or technical contributions; or my 600+ True Fans that support the essence of this project). Scaling happens essentially by adoption and replication by others. The growth of the next trillion dollar economy occurs not by OSE running a huge corporation, but by millions of people engaging in value creation – as facilitated in our case by open source blueprints for civilization’s products and enterprises.

When we talk about OSE’s enterprise scaling, we are referring to setting up an organizational infrastructure – like Wikimedia Foundation – but for supporting the development of a scalable, open source product development pipeline.

Another highlight was meeting several open source and collaborative production contacts. Catarina Mota, TED Fellow, founder of Open Materials, gave an excellent overview of open hardware. She is involved in the open hardware definition and is organizing the Open Hardware Summit. She is one of those people who live up to the true open source ethic: she is easy to work with and does not care about who gets the credit as long as the movement makes progress.

Cesar Harada of Open Sailing, another TED Senior Fellow, Catarina, and I discussed that we should work together on defining the specification for an open source physical production toolchain: essentially the CAD/CAM specification. OSE’s contribution would be recruiting a CAD Director whose core role is defining the open source CAD solution specification. For diverse parties to collaborate on the general open source physical production toolchain, it is important to specify only the general framework specification, not specific software tools – as choosing one tool over another would alienate potential contributors. Thus, it is useful to define the general specification only, and let the best open tools emerge in the open marketplace or bazaar.

Collaborative production is typically open source. This is the case of Buzzcar – a car sharing initiative in France, after the ZipCar success in the USA. I talked to CEO Robin Chase regarding potential assistance in OSE development – as she has mastered the development of a large online community and understands the challenges of scaling particiapation in collaborative production. That is a competency that we need to master as OSE moves forward – towards a scalable, open source product development pipeline.

I talked to Matt Mills, another conference speaker, founder of Aurasma, regarding assistance in producing augmented reality instructionals for the Global Village Construction Set (GVCS). Their platform is free but not open source. He intends to keep it free and uncompromised to the community, while charging only advertisers for augmented reality overlays.


Matt appeared excited about helping us produce GVCS augmented reality instructionals. In practice – it would look like this. Point a smart phone – for example – at the square steel frame tubing while building LifeTrac. Then your smart phone would overlay an instructional when you view the materials. This could happen for every component of the tractor. Image recognition would assist in producing a complete walk-through of fabrication. For fabrication tools – pointing at a piece of equipment could provide a step-by-step usage instructional. What are the limits to this when done right? One could build complex devices – just like putting together IKEA furniture.

I talked to Alastair from WikiHouse regarding collaboration.

He also has a genuine open culture of willingness to collaborate and expand. The common thread in discussion was how to monetize an open source project. His approach includes production of houses as a revenue stream – but through collaborative production (localized, non-industrial technique). We discussed the relevance of the CNC router table and bioplastic extruder to cut and make the house material. One of the keys to WikiHouse is localizing production of the actual building material – either recycled plastic, bioplastic, or open sourcing of materials such as AgraFibre.

I met Joel Jackson, TED Fellow, from Mobius Motors, who is working on a rugged car in Kenya for the African market. His enterprise model is centralized production and is not open source. So I piqued his interest in dialogue about how small-scale flexible fabrication facilities could produce the car, including providing the parts supply chain. Theoretically, this would add more value via vertical integration of supply and production, and would work well in the context of collaborative production. That’s just an idea for Joel, while Team Wikispeed and OSE will continue developing the open source car and its supply chains.

I met an industrialist and entrepreneur from India, Aditya Pathy, who has contacts with varius design and fabrication talent. He is offering assistance in finding design and production talent for CNC Mills, Harvesters, Inverters, Hydraulic Motors, and other technologies.

It is useful to find engineers in India and China. Take the microfactories in China. Many of the GVCS product designs are being produced in China,though these would have to be modified to follow OSE Specificaitons. There are whole cities of suppliers of all types of parts. From what I heard, development of products is rapid. Imagine finding some people there to produce designs that we would open source according to the official open source hardware definiton. Since recruiting talent is a major challenge for us – it seems that the route of China and India is excellent. We would add lifetime design to make the technologies relevant to post-scarcity.

Clive Lee is a similar contact from Hong Kong.

He runs a social enterprise network for youths. He has contacts in manufacturing. So at the next best good chance I need to visit China to understand the micro-factory scene first hand. The goal is to secure designs primarily for the power electronics, generators, hydraulic motors, CNC machines, induction furnace, and metal processing components of the GVCS. We will make these modular and lifetime design to deliver human-centric technology.

Nilofer Merchant was one of my favorite speakers. She discussed that openness is about distributing power. The future is co-created, not created – and that ‘if you hold on to it tight enough, it won’t turn into a diamond.’ Nilofer is a journalist for the Harvard Business Review, and she also mentioned to me that open source economics are not new to business, as Henry Chesborough, professor at UC Berkeley, already has produced a mainstream treatment of open source. Nilofer is also an entrepreneur – so she is a prime candidate to help on a Strategic Plan. She agreed to help, which could be the birth of a fruitful relationship. Curt Beckmann is her partner, whom I already know as one of the leaders of Appropedia.

Moving on in business mentorship, I also asked Eddie Obeng, one of the mainstage speakers, to help. We will carry on the discussion. I also asked Richard Mulholland and Samantha Dean for strategic plan assistance, as they loved my TED Talk – which by the way has a million hits by now.

I talked to Renee Friedman from SupporTED – coaching that we receive from TED. I was selected to participate in the SupporTED Collaboratorium – a week retreat where a small group of TED Fellows are swarmed with advisors and mentors to solve enterprise development issues. To prepare for it, I will be working on the strategic plan with advisors such as Sunny Bates, a business mentor from the TED community and TED Fellows program supporter.

I met Jane McGonigal, who talks about gaming as a positive influence. Her touching story led her to develop SuperBetter, a game that Jane created to get her through personal trauma from a concussion. So came an idea to get people through their ‘traumas of life’ – without having to go through traumas such as concussions. She provided solid data that gaming can actually help people. Now I think that gaming could even help people to evolve to superpowers associated with personal growth, peak performance training, or spiritual development. This was the last thing that I thought that games could do prior to being exposed to Jane’s work. Since I am grounded in the world of creating physical objects, not virtual apps, I always thought that gaming was just escapism. The last time that I played video games was in elementary school – I have honenstly never played a single one for decades.

Jane and I were involved in a teleconference with other concurrent TEDx events, and we touched on gamifying the GVCS.

Imagine that the GVCS lowers the barriers to physical production. Then imagine a game where you build infrastructure – and that the infrastructure is built in real life from funds generated in the game. This could be a way to fund GVCS development.

All in all, the TED Fellows are a total love fest of ideas and personal connections where each Fellow tends to be equally inspired by other Fellows. These people are doing relevant work – smashing boundaries of disciplines and of transparency and innovating towards solving one pressing world issue after another. Add open source, and that pace of development goes 10-100 times faster. It is encouraging to get a glimpse of the future at TED. It is certainly a high, and many report the low that follows after returning to reality.

On Sunday – I’m resting to process and to stay in a place where I feel the troubles, issues, fears, potentials, opportunities, gratitudes, and pains of a journey to change the world. All types of subtle messages come when I listen to my heart and process all the new input. I am going through a lot right now – for perspective – I must say that this is the hardest time of my life as I am responsible for building a team that will take the Global Village Construction Set to reality.

At the same time, I look forward to a time where humanity can evolve in general via universal access to open resources – everything from education to material production. Then there could be a modern renaissance. That is the intent of the open source blueprints for civilization. When that happens, places like the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo or Israel, or Fourth World America or any other blighted place – would begin talking about metrics such as Gross National Happiness rather than wallowing in violence of a zero sum game.

You can see other videos from TED Global on my TED Global playlist.


  1. Andres Delgado

    Open source is going to break the economy… I hope

  2. Gonzo

    MakerBot-scale funding route is not incompatible with the OSE route, in fact it can only accelerate the OSE route.
    MakerBot also facilitates virally adoption and scalabilty via replication because MakerBot is also completely open source, so their model is not incompatible with OSE.
    Therefore you can opt for classic funding, like MakerBot did – simply because it will take a lot of time for others to replicate OSE model.
    So your investors can surely get their money back and a healthy profit for a long while.
    Even when you will have competition you can keep having profit by making sales.
    Sure, lifestyle investors are a good ideea, but there is no reason to refuse classic investments.

    I am sorry for saying this again, I will not insist on this point, but I felt like I had do say it because I’m not sure you got the point until now, please excuse me for that.

    Best wishes!

  3. Vitaly Geyman

    What an excellent vision of Openness that the ” Net generation” can create for us. In this world of doom and gloom and corporate greed there is a spark of hope that human being can raise their consciousness to such a level where it is a win-win for all.