UPDATED:  May, 2014

You know I’m mad for TED Conferences, and the whole global juggernaut of TEDx and TED conversations- especially for how it taps into a worldwide need for meaning, impact, connection- and awakens our infinite curiosity.  After attending 10 big TEDs and organizing 9 TEDx events, and attending several of the other conferences and events on the list, I have come to believe that shunning mass hypnotism and engaging with real ideas, idea generators and activators is one of the most important things you can do in your lifetime- to be woken up, to share yourself, to act and interact in a new way- and to get into content that hasn’t been overcooked, sanitized and reheated so as not to offend (eg mass media outlets, textbooks).  Then act from that information, as well as from your own deep knowledge and direct experience.  If you can attend in person, these are among the best networks in the world to be engaged in.  If not, have a video over your morning coffee- play idea roulette, and get inspired.

Here’s my list of broad thinking conferences and organizations that inspire innovation and dialogue across disciplines (and, in some cases, partying and playing with the global elite). Note: my bias is to live curation, and face to face engagement free of distractions when possible, to online media alone- it provides context and connection, but online media is creating incredible reach- so if you can’t go, at least watch- more than talking heads.

World Economic Forum, aka Davos- Davos-Klosters, Switzerland 21-24 January, 2015. Annual meeting is the last week in January, Switzerland.  “an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”  “The Annual Meeting provides a rethinking of our systems and exploration of strategies and solutions that have positive transformational implications….the Annual Meeting has provided leaders from industry, government, academia, civil society and the media with an unrivalled platform to shape the global agenda and catalyse solutions at the start of each year.”  They issue great reports, have compelling working groups, and regional meetings throughout the year.  Highlight and session videos are available from 2014 , and some keynotes in real time. See a post on Cost – in 2011, it started at  $72,000 for basic WEF membership and a single ticket to the Annual meeting. Snarky coverage on the value of Davos by the New Yorker can be found here, for contrast.

Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting, New York, NY • September 21–24, 2014.   “The CGI Annual Meeting is an invitation-only event held each September in New York City for heads of state, chief executives of companies, directors of major nonprofits, and other global leaders. For four days, members make new connections and share insights and ideas. They learn about creative approaches taken by organizations around the world.”  This event has been simulcast in the past.  Access is determined by ability to influence and implement change: unique ideas, money, position, platform.  A local element to creating positive change, rather grassroots, can be found at MyCommitment. $20,000 membership fee which is good for one year.

Renaissance Weekends (4 holiday weekends per year, various cities)- “For more than 30 years, Renaissance Weekends® — inter-generational, invitation-only retreats for preeminent authorities, emerging leaders, and their families — have celebrated both ideas and relationships.  Participants are noted innovators in business and finance, education, religion, law and medicine, government, the media, science and technology, sports, non-profits and the arts.  Their ground-breaking, off-the-record exchanges — through lectures, seminars and discussions — build bridges across traditional divides of professions and politics, geography and generations, religions and philosophies.  Civility prevails; partisanship is frowned upon; commercialism, banned.”  These are truly lovely programs, a real community.  Very participatory.  Not aware of a LiveStream or Archive.

Aspen Institute and the Aspen Ideas Festival. Aspen, CO, June 24- July 3, 2014.  The Aspen Institute has been generating profound civil dialogue for 60 years, and in a populist move created the Ideas Festival- in their words: “the Aspen Institute now seeks to engage a broader audience in a discussion of some of the significant ideas and issues that touch all parts of our society as found in the arts, science, culture, religion, philosophy, economics, and politics. Alongside our partner, The Atlantic, we intend to offer a stimulating and invigorating celebration of some of the liveliest minds on the stage today.”  The event is simulcast for a fee (streaming in 2011 was available for $199).  The archive from 2011 is available here for free.

EG Monterey, CA, May 14-16, 2015.   Among the old time TEDsters, EG is becoming known as the best conference around.   From their site:  “Those who come know that EG is the touchstone for innovators in just about every imaginable field, and each year, the conference is simply unforgettable. The people who attend EG are makers and doers of extraordinary things. They are breakers of boundaries and explorers of frontiers and busters of myths. They are inventors and educators, artists and designers, writers and thinkers, scientists and engineers, musicians, magicians, the young and old, the famous and the undiscovered, full of wonder, curiosity, and surprises”.  They offer free video archives of past conference speakers.

Google Zeitgeist (Zeitgeist Minds) .  This is the Google Ideas think tank.  You can see past conferences on YouTube.   This had big potential in the beginning, a very interesting new sort of voice.  Google hired State Department vet Jared Cohen in 2010 to produce a sort of thinktank, and his first conference at the end of June, 2011, was produced with the Council on Foreign Relations,  on deradicalizing global extremists.   “We invite you to hear perspectives on global issues from the leading thinkers of our time – from business leaders to statespeople, renowned writers and bloggers, professors and publishers, inventors and humanitarians, activists and musicians.  Explore the ideas and phenomena that affect our social, economic, political and cultural surroundings. Learn from leading innovators and discuss topics that influence the global economy, creativity, digital technology, leadership and human rights.”   Rather than big gatherings, these are intimate and without much sensory flare.

PopTech is held annually in Camden, Maine (October 23-25, 2014) It’s more hands on than TED, with more direct collaborative experiements as part of the core experience.  They describe themselves as “a unique innovation network – a global community of cutting-edge leaders, thinkers, and doers from many different disciplines, who come together to explore the social impact of new technologies, the forces of change shaping our future, and new approaches to solving the world’s most significant challenges. We are known for our thriving community of thought-leaders, breakthrough innovation programs, visionary annual conferences and deep media and storytelling capabilities. …Participating in PopTech offers a firsthand glimpse of the future, and a chance to influence innovation.”  Video (Popcasts!) available.  Basic cost is $3,000.

Wisdom 2.0  February 26 to March 1, 2015.  “Where the technology and contemplative communities … hash out the best ways to incorporate these tools into our lives — and keep them from taking over.”- Wired Magazine  For people in the Bay Area, this is a must do.  Everyone is there, and the ideas are useful.  Heart and mind and the things that matter in personal lives and living.

Summit (ON HOLD).  3 day conferences that everyone who goes raves about. It’s definitely got more of a network and party flavor than the others.  “Summit Series hosts invitation-only events that connect and inspire a new generation of leaders to succeed in business and in life.”  “Innovation. Entrepreneurship.  Revelry. Altruism.  Art. Personal Growth.”  No video.

If you’re on the lookout for other ways to interact, with benefits like idea sharing, networking, collaboration and populism, there are many emerging dynamic, exciting formats for that- many free or under $100 – check these out:

Pecha Kucha Worldwide movement that started in Japan.  Check it out, if you are lucky enought ot have one near you, go.

Ignite– “Enlighten Us, but Make it Quick.” 100s of local events with 5 minute talks.  Archived talks and footage.

(Unconferences are more of a design principle, embodying the idea that the audience in sum knows more than the presenters, and can self direct meaningful dialogue to their own interests and needs.)

And then, there are the more accessible conferences and festivals.  Costs are not high, and you have to work it really hard to do meaningful networking unless you’re an industry insider, presenter, glitterati/technorati, etc.   Which all of you are, yes?  I include the film and design and entertainment festivals, as they have infinite ideas and content contained in them, and some of the platform conferences as they have impact across all sectors.

Dwell on Design. Sustainability, Design, Greening, Community, and Object Culture.  Worth going to the exhibition and the talks.  June in LA.

SXSW. Ahh, come on.  A conference, really?  Every year in March in Austin, TX, a very cool city.  This is just one big party:  interactive, film, music, talks, huge street teams, endless alcohol.  We love going.  Plan your sessions ahead of time, open your eyes and ears, give into playing, get over any social anxiety and paint the town.

New Yorker Festival – October 10 to 12th, 2014.  “Our acclaimed weekend celebration, bringing together writers, thinkers, artists, and other luminaries”.  This is pure celebration.  Go not to network, but to absorb and celebrate. Cover charges for each talk range from $25 and up.  Get tickets the minute they go on sale for events like visiting Chuck Close in his studio, or hearing Malcolm Gladwell speak.  Video archives in blog format here.

Sundance Film Festival in January in Park City, UT.

Cannes Film Festival in May in Cannes, France.

TV of Tomorrow Show– This is a trade conference theoretically, but the blurring lines in consumption of content make it interesting for any tech aware generalist.  “Our annual conference in San Francisco is the global gathering for executives, technologists and creatives working in the Interactive and Multiplatform Television industry/community.

ADDED:

Being Human (1st convened in San Francisco in 2012)

Conscious Capitalism