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Infectious Generosity

The Ultimate Idea Worth Spreading

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On sale Jan 23, 2024 | 272 Pages | 9780593735138
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“If you want to help create a more equitable world but don’t know where to start, Infectious Generosity is for you.”—Bill Gates, GatesNotes (Summer Reading Pick)

The bestselling author, media pioneer, and curator of TED explores one of humankind’s defining but overlooked impulses, and how we can super-charge its potential to build a hopeful future


Let’s face it: Recent years have been tough on optimists. Hopes that the Internet might bring people together have been crushed by the ills of social media. Is there a way back?

As head of TED, Chris Anderson has had a ringside view of the world’s boldest thinkers sharing their most uplifting ideas. Inspired by them, he believes that it’s within our grasp to turn outrage back into optimism. It all comes down to reimagining one of the most fundamental human virtues: generosity. What if generosity could become infectious generosity? Consider 

• how a London barber began offering haircuts to people experiencing homelessness—and catalyzed a movement
• how two anonymous donors gave $10,000 each to two hundred strangers and discovered that most recipients wanted to “pay it forward” with their own generous acts
• how TED itself transformed from a niche annual summit into a global beacon of ideas by giving away talks online, allowing millions access to free learning

In telling these inspiring stories, Anderson has given us “the first page-turner ever written about human generosity” (Elizabeth Dunn). More important, he offers a playbook for how to embark on our own generous acts—whether gifts of money, time, talent, connection, or kindness—and to prime them, thanks to the Internet, to have self-replicating, even world-changing, impact.
1

Inside a Contagion


The surprising aftermath of a decision to give

Let me share with you the experience that opened my eyes to the Internet’s potential to turbocharge generosity.

I’m a media entrepreneur. For the first half of my career, I built a company in the UK and the US that published scores of hobbyist magazines, many of them about technology. In 1998 I was invited to attend a conference in California that, unusually, was devoted not to one industry but to three: technology, entertainment, and design. Yup, this was the TED conference.

Because of the conference’s breadth of content, speakers had to make their work accessible to outsiders, and it turns out that when you do that, there is a crossover effect. Software creators were inspired by physical architecture, screenwriters and artists had their minds blown by technologists, and everyone felt the potential and significance of their work to be elevated. I was mesmerized.

A couple of years later, I had the opportunity to take over the conference from its charismatic co-­founder. I leaped at the chance—­partly because there seemed to be good prospects of expanding its sphere. It wasn’t just technology, entertainment, and design that could cross-pollinate with one another; it was every subject. All human knowledge is part of a single elusive reality. We don’t fully understand anything until we understand how it connects to the other parts of knowledge.

I couldn’t afford to buy TED personally—­the dot-­com bust of 2000–­2001 had ravaged my media company, Future plc. So, instead, TED became part of a not-­for-­profit foundation I had created a few years earlier, when times were good. And I left Future to focus full-­time on this weird conference and to ponder how it might grow.

Since it was now a nonprofit, TED had to be run for the public good. And that meant trying to find a way to gain a wider audience for the inspirational talks that were given there. In the early aughts, this was harder than you may think.

We tried to persuade TV networks that TED Talks would make for excellent viewing. They laughed at us. Public lectures were about the most boring thing they could imagine. Then we had a more radical idea.

The Experiment

On the Internet, bandwidth was relentlessly increasing, and the fledgling technology of online video was starting to become viable. Back in 2006, it was often limited to a small low-­res window in the corner of a desktop screen, but we felt it was worth a try. In an experiment, we posted six of the talks in full on our website.

To our surprise, they went viral, rapidly notching up tens of thousands of views. Not much by today’s standards, but for a website that had been getting just a few hundred visitors a day, it was startling. And the feedback we received from viewers shocked us in its intensity. People didn’t just like what they had seen. They loved it. They’d been inspired. And suddenly we were faced with a dilemma. As a nonprofit, we felt we had an obligation to freely share all of our best content online.

Now, this was clearly a dangerous move. Our attendees paid a lot of money to come to TED. That was by far the main source of income we had. Why would they continue to do that if the content was freely available on the Internet?

We weren’t sure. But we went ahead anyway.

The Response

What happened next was astonishing.

First, the bulk of our conference-­going community quickly got behind the move. A small handful grumbled, but the vast majority were thrilled that they could now share a profound experience with others.

And the response from those viewing these talks for the first time online was even more surprising. We were deluged with messages from people expressing how deeply they’d been moved, and how they wanted to help support the speakers and further help spread their ideas.

Visits to our website exploded into the millions, and TED was transformed from a niche conference to a global brand—­all via word of mouth. Instead of demand for our conference being destroyed, it increased.

And something else happened: From all over the world we started receiving offers to translate the talks into local languages. Once we’d set up a system to facilitate this, literally thousands of volunteer translators got to work, collaborating in pairs so that they could verify each other’s work. Seventeen years later, TED Talks have been translated into more than one hundred languages by some fifty thousand generous souls.

What the Internet Taught Us

This was a lot to take in. We had made the decision to give away our talks mostly out of a sense of obligation—­our nonprofit’s mission was to share valuable knowledge freely with the world. But what we got back was transformative. The Internet had spread TED Talks far and wide, generating millions, and then billions, of online views, attracting significant sponsorship revenue. Over the next three years, TED’s income multiplied more than tenfold, allowing us to ponder exciting new possibilities.

To shape those possibilities, a guiding principle came into focus. Back then, we called it radical openness. But today I think of it simply as, yes, infectious generosity. The Internet had taught us that if you gave away the biggest thing you could think of, you would be amazed at what came back.

So we asked ourselves: Beyond our content, what else could we give away?

First we founded a fellows program to bring to TED a global group of extraordinary thinkers and doers who couldn’t otherwise afford to come. This program rapidly became worth its weight in gold when an early fellow, Logan Smalley, an educator, approached us with the idea of launching a series of short animated videos to share knowledge and spark curiosity in learners of all ages. His TED-­Ed program was itself powered by generosity. Teachers and animators gave their services for free or at reduced costs, and visionary donors covered the rest of the cost. Since 2011, Logan’s team has ended up creating more than fifteen hundred animations, many of which have won awards and are now used in tens of thousands of schools, and millions of homes, creating more than a billion sparks of curiosity every year.

The TEDx Surprise


But undoubtedly the biggest risk we took was to give away our brand. The TED name itself. Lots of people had been inquiring about the possibility of having a TED conference in their own city. We couldn’t imagine how to do this. So we decided to let them do it themselves. We issued free licenses to organizers around the world. They could call it a TED event and thereby make it far easier to recruit both speakers and audiences. We just added a little asterisk to the brand in the form of an x. TEDx was intended to mean TED self-­organized in location x, but the deeper meaning of the x turned out to be TED multiplied or even TED turned exponential.

Instead of TED being just a single annual event, there were suddenly hundreds, and then thousands, of events. Each event was put on by a local team who volunteered prodigious amounts of time and talent. They brought TED to movie theaters, universities, sports stadiums, opera houses, parliaments—­as well as places we could never have imagined: rainforests, prisons, refugee camps. We had given away our brand, but to us, the generosity of the response seemed far more astonishing.

To many business advisers at the time, all this seemed crazy. Harvard Business Review even published an article on it, provocatively titled “When TED Lost Control of Its Crowd.” But the “loss” was deliberate. Yes, there were occasions when events bombed or an inadequately prepared speaker created embarrassment. But these were surprisingly rare. And over time the whole system improved. Local organizers gained invaluable experience and shared what they were learning with us and with one another.

TEDx brought remarkable voices to the world that we would probably never have discovered ourselves. Some of the most popular TED speakers of all time—­including Brené Brown and Simon Sinek—­were discovered at TEDx events.

And as I write, some fifteen years later, the decision to give away our brand seems like the wisest thing we could ever have done. More than twenty-­five thousand TEDx events have been held. They’ve created an online archive of more than two hundred thousand talks. And those talks attract more than a billion views annually. A central team of just twelve people oversees the whole operation, offering guidance and training, and upholding adherence to our mission.

Using a traditional command-­and-­control structure, you could never build an events organization of anything like this scale with just twelve people. This is an operation made possible only because of the magic of infectious generosity. We gave away our brand and our advice. And what we got back was a worldwide knowledge-­spreading miracle.
“This book was a much-needed gift to my weary and news-battered heart. In a time when we are constantly being told that we are more divided and combative than ever, and that the future will bring only more calamity and despair, Chris Anderson presents an inspiring body of evidence to support the tremendous and transformative power of generosity—that most beautiful of human impulses. Infectious Generosity is a combination of inarguable data and incredibly moving stories. How wonderful to learn that seemingly small and humble acts of kindness can create exponential whirlwinds of benevolent impact, and that generosity is just as contagious as any virus! I flew through these pages with an increasing sense of joy, and was left inspired and hopeful.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love

“Profound and compelling . . . This book is a masterpiece, and an important one. I want everyone I know to read this—and everyone I don’t know, too.”—Andrew Solomon, author and speaker on culture and psychology
 
“Truly inspiring! . . . This book is the first page-turner ever written about human generosity. It will change the way you see the world around you.”—Elizabeth Dunn, social psychologist and expert on the science of happiness
 
“Concise and profound, this truly excellent book is going to have a big impact on the key issues of our times.”—Alain de Botton, author and philosopher
 
“A beautiful book—lucid, warm, intelligent, and persuasive.”—Steven Pinker, author and professor of psychology, Harvard University
 
“Warning: Reading this book may give you an irresistible urge to get up and take action. This is simply a wonderful book.”—Rutger Bregman, bestselling author of Humankind

“An inspiring, timely book about ways to bring out the best in people rather than focusing on the worst . . . a joyful road map away from a polarized, selfish society to the hopeful, humane place where we should be.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Chris Anderson has been the curator of TED since 2001. His TED mantra—“ideas worth spreading”—continues to blossom on an international scale, with some three billion TED Talks viewed annually. He lives in New York City and London. View titles by Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson on Infectious Generosity

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About

“If you want to help create a more equitable world but don’t know where to start, Infectious Generosity is for you.”—Bill Gates, GatesNotes (Summer Reading Pick)

The bestselling author, media pioneer, and curator of TED explores one of humankind’s defining but overlooked impulses, and how we can super-charge its potential to build a hopeful future


Let’s face it: Recent years have been tough on optimists. Hopes that the Internet might bring people together have been crushed by the ills of social media. Is there a way back?

As head of TED, Chris Anderson has had a ringside view of the world’s boldest thinkers sharing their most uplifting ideas. Inspired by them, he believes that it’s within our grasp to turn outrage back into optimism. It all comes down to reimagining one of the most fundamental human virtues: generosity. What if generosity could become infectious generosity? Consider 

• how a London barber began offering haircuts to people experiencing homelessness—and catalyzed a movement
• how two anonymous donors gave $10,000 each to two hundred strangers and discovered that most recipients wanted to “pay it forward” with their own generous acts
• how TED itself transformed from a niche annual summit into a global beacon of ideas by giving away talks online, allowing millions access to free learning

In telling these inspiring stories, Anderson has given us “the first page-turner ever written about human generosity” (Elizabeth Dunn). More important, he offers a playbook for how to embark on our own generous acts—whether gifts of money, time, talent, connection, or kindness—and to prime them, thanks to the Internet, to have self-replicating, even world-changing, impact.

Excerpt

1

Inside a Contagion


The surprising aftermath of a decision to give

Let me share with you the experience that opened my eyes to the Internet’s potential to turbocharge generosity.

I’m a media entrepreneur. For the first half of my career, I built a company in the UK and the US that published scores of hobbyist magazines, many of them about technology. In 1998 I was invited to attend a conference in California that, unusually, was devoted not to one industry but to three: technology, entertainment, and design. Yup, this was the TED conference.

Because of the conference’s breadth of content, speakers had to make their work accessible to outsiders, and it turns out that when you do that, there is a crossover effect. Software creators were inspired by physical architecture, screenwriters and artists had their minds blown by technologists, and everyone felt the potential and significance of their work to be elevated. I was mesmerized.

A couple of years later, I had the opportunity to take over the conference from its charismatic co-­founder. I leaped at the chance—­partly because there seemed to be good prospects of expanding its sphere. It wasn’t just technology, entertainment, and design that could cross-pollinate with one another; it was every subject. All human knowledge is part of a single elusive reality. We don’t fully understand anything until we understand how it connects to the other parts of knowledge.

I couldn’t afford to buy TED personally—­the dot-­com bust of 2000–­2001 had ravaged my media company, Future plc. So, instead, TED became part of a not-­for-­profit foundation I had created a few years earlier, when times were good. And I left Future to focus full-­time on this weird conference and to ponder how it might grow.

Since it was now a nonprofit, TED had to be run for the public good. And that meant trying to find a way to gain a wider audience for the inspirational talks that were given there. In the early aughts, this was harder than you may think.

We tried to persuade TV networks that TED Talks would make for excellent viewing. They laughed at us. Public lectures were about the most boring thing they could imagine. Then we had a more radical idea.

The Experiment

On the Internet, bandwidth was relentlessly increasing, and the fledgling technology of online video was starting to become viable. Back in 2006, it was often limited to a small low-­res window in the corner of a desktop screen, but we felt it was worth a try. In an experiment, we posted six of the talks in full on our website.

To our surprise, they went viral, rapidly notching up tens of thousands of views. Not much by today’s standards, but for a website that had been getting just a few hundred visitors a day, it was startling. And the feedback we received from viewers shocked us in its intensity. People didn’t just like what they had seen. They loved it. They’d been inspired. And suddenly we were faced with a dilemma. As a nonprofit, we felt we had an obligation to freely share all of our best content online.

Now, this was clearly a dangerous move. Our attendees paid a lot of money to come to TED. That was by far the main source of income we had. Why would they continue to do that if the content was freely available on the Internet?

We weren’t sure. But we went ahead anyway.

The Response

What happened next was astonishing.

First, the bulk of our conference-­going community quickly got behind the move. A small handful grumbled, but the vast majority were thrilled that they could now share a profound experience with others.

And the response from those viewing these talks for the first time online was even more surprising. We were deluged with messages from people expressing how deeply they’d been moved, and how they wanted to help support the speakers and further help spread their ideas.

Visits to our website exploded into the millions, and TED was transformed from a niche conference to a global brand—­all via word of mouth. Instead of demand for our conference being destroyed, it increased.

And something else happened: From all over the world we started receiving offers to translate the talks into local languages. Once we’d set up a system to facilitate this, literally thousands of volunteer translators got to work, collaborating in pairs so that they could verify each other’s work. Seventeen years later, TED Talks have been translated into more than one hundred languages by some fifty thousand generous souls.

What the Internet Taught Us

This was a lot to take in. We had made the decision to give away our talks mostly out of a sense of obligation—­our nonprofit’s mission was to share valuable knowledge freely with the world. But what we got back was transformative. The Internet had spread TED Talks far and wide, generating millions, and then billions, of online views, attracting significant sponsorship revenue. Over the next three years, TED’s income multiplied more than tenfold, allowing us to ponder exciting new possibilities.

To shape those possibilities, a guiding principle came into focus. Back then, we called it radical openness. But today I think of it simply as, yes, infectious generosity. The Internet had taught us that if you gave away the biggest thing you could think of, you would be amazed at what came back.

So we asked ourselves: Beyond our content, what else could we give away?

First we founded a fellows program to bring to TED a global group of extraordinary thinkers and doers who couldn’t otherwise afford to come. This program rapidly became worth its weight in gold when an early fellow, Logan Smalley, an educator, approached us with the idea of launching a series of short animated videos to share knowledge and spark curiosity in learners of all ages. His TED-­Ed program was itself powered by generosity. Teachers and animators gave their services for free or at reduced costs, and visionary donors covered the rest of the cost. Since 2011, Logan’s team has ended up creating more than fifteen hundred animations, many of which have won awards and are now used in tens of thousands of schools, and millions of homes, creating more than a billion sparks of curiosity every year.

The TEDx Surprise


But undoubtedly the biggest risk we took was to give away our brand. The TED name itself. Lots of people had been inquiring about the possibility of having a TED conference in their own city. We couldn’t imagine how to do this. So we decided to let them do it themselves. We issued free licenses to organizers around the world. They could call it a TED event and thereby make it far easier to recruit both speakers and audiences. We just added a little asterisk to the brand in the form of an x. TEDx was intended to mean TED self-­organized in location x, but the deeper meaning of the x turned out to be TED multiplied or even TED turned exponential.

Instead of TED being just a single annual event, there were suddenly hundreds, and then thousands, of events. Each event was put on by a local team who volunteered prodigious amounts of time and talent. They brought TED to movie theaters, universities, sports stadiums, opera houses, parliaments—­as well as places we could never have imagined: rainforests, prisons, refugee camps. We had given away our brand, but to us, the generosity of the response seemed far more astonishing.

To many business advisers at the time, all this seemed crazy. Harvard Business Review even published an article on it, provocatively titled “When TED Lost Control of Its Crowd.” But the “loss” was deliberate. Yes, there were occasions when events bombed or an inadequately prepared speaker created embarrassment. But these were surprisingly rare. And over time the whole system improved. Local organizers gained invaluable experience and shared what they were learning with us and with one another.

TEDx brought remarkable voices to the world that we would probably never have discovered ourselves. Some of the most popular TED speakers of all time—­including Brené Brown and Simon Sinek—­were discovered at TEDx events.

And as I write, some fifteen years later, the decision to give away our brand seems like the wisest thing we could ever have done. More than twenty-­five thousand TEDx events have been held. They’ve created an online archive of more than two hundred thousand talks. And those talks attract more than a billion views annually. A central team of just twelve people oversees the whole operation, offering guidance and training, and upholding adherence to our mission.

Using a traditional command-­and-­control structure, you could never build an events organization of anything like this scale with just twelve people. This is an operation made possible only because of the magic of infectious generosity. We gave away our brand and our advice. And what we got back was a worldwide knowledge-­spreading miracle.

Praise

“This book was a much-needed gift to my weary and news-battered heart. In a time when we are constantly being told that we are more divided and combative than ever, and that the future will bring only more calamity and despair, Chris Anderson presents an inspiring body of evidence to support the tremendous and transformative power of generosity—that most beautiful of human impulses. Infectious Generosity is a combination of inarguable data and incredibly moving stories. How wonderful to learn that seemingly small and humble acts of kindness can create exponential whirlwinds of benevolent impact, and that generosity is just as contagious as any virus! I flew through these pages with an increasing sense of joy, and was left inspired and hopeful.”—Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love

“Profound and compelling . . . This book is a masterpiece, and an important one. I want everyone I know to read this—and everyone I don’t know, too.”—Andrew Solomon, author and speaker on culture and psychology
 
“Truly inspiring! . . . This book is the first page-turner ever written about human generosity. It will change the way you see the world around you.”—Elizabeth Dunn, social psychologist and expert on the science of happiness
 
“Concise and profound, this truly excellent book is going to have a big impact on the key issues of our times.”—Alain de Botton, author and philosopher
 
“A beautiful book—lucid, warm, intelligent, and persuasive.”—Steven Pinker, author and professor of psychology, Harvard University
 
“Warning: Reading this book may give you an irresistible urge to get up and take action. This is simply a wonderful book.”—Rutger Bregman, bestselling author of Humankind

“An inspiring, timely book about ways to bring out the best in people rather than focusing on the worst . . . a joyful road map away from a polarized, selfish society to the hopeful, humane place where we should be.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Author

Chris Anderson has been the curator of TED since 2001. His TED mantra—“ideas worth spreading”—continues to blossom on an international scale, with some three billion TED Talks viewed annually. He lives in New York City and London. View titles by Chris Anderson

Media

Chris Anderson on Infectious Generosity

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•     US Virgin Is.

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•     Cape Verde
•     Centr.Afr.Rep.
•     Chad
•     Chile
•     China
•     Colombia
•     Comoro Is.
•     Congo
•     Cook Islands
•     Costa Rica
•     Croatia
•     Cuba
•     Curacao
•     Czech Republic
•     Dem. Rep. Congo
•     Denmark
•     Djibouti
•     Dominican Rep.
•     Ecuador
•     Egypt
•     El Salvador
•     Equatorial Gui.
•     Eritrea
•     Estonia
•     Ethiopia
•     Faroe Islands
•     Finland
•     France
•     Fren.Polynesia
•     French Guinea
•     Gabon
•     Georgia
•     Germany
•     Greece
•     Greenland
•     Guadeloupe
•     Guatemala
•     Guinea Republic
•     Guinea-Bissau
•     Haiti
•     Heard/McDon.Isl
•     Honduras
•     Hong Kong
•     Hungary
•     Iceland
•     Indonesia
•     Iran
•     Israel
•     Italy
•     Ivory Coast
•     Japan
•     Kazakhstan
•     Kuwait
•     Kyrgyzstan
•     Laos
•     Latvia
•     Lebanon
•     Liberia
•     Libya
•     Liechtenstein
•     Lithuania
•     Luxembourg
•     Macau
•     Macedonia
•     Madagascar
•     Maldives
•     Mali
•     Marshall island
•     Martinique
•     Mauritania
•     Mayotte
•     Mexico
•     Micronesia
•     Moldavia
•     Monaco
•     Mongolia
•     Montenegro
•     Morocco
•     Myanmar
•     Nepal
•     Netherlands
•     New Caledonia
•     Nicaragua
•     Niger
•     Niue
•     Norfolk Island
•     North Korea
•     Norway
•     Oman
•     Palau
•     Palestinian Ter
•     Panama
•     Paraguay
•     Peru
•     Poland
•     Portugal
•     Qatar
•     Reunion Island
•     Romania
•     Russian Fed.
•     Rwanda
•     Saint Martin
•     San Marino
•     SaoTome Princip
•     Saudi Arabia
•     Senegal
•     Serbia
•     Sint Maarten
•     Slovakia
•     Slovenia
•     South Korea
•     South Sudan
•     Spain
•     St Barthelemy
•     St.Pier,Miquel.
•     Sth Terr. Franc
•     Suriname
•     Svalbard
•     Sweden
•     Switzerland
•     Syria
•     Tadschikistan
•     Taiwan
•     Thailand
•     Timor-Leste
•     Togo
•     Tokelau Islands
•     Tunisia
•     Turkey
•     Turkmenistan
•     Ukraine
•     Unit.Arab Emir.
•     Uruguay
•     Uzbekistan
•     Vatican City
•     Venezuela
•     Vietnam
•     Wallis,Futuna
•     West Saharan
•     Western Samoa
•     Yemen

Not available for sale:
•     Antigua/Barbuda
•     Australia
•     Bahamas
•     Bangladesh
•     Barbados
•     Belize
•     Bermuda
•     Botswana
•     Brit.Ind.Oc.Ter
•     Brit.Virgin Is.
•     Brunei
•     Cameroon
•     Canada
•     Cayman Islands
•     Christmas Islnd
•     Cocos Islands
•     Cyprus
•     Dominica
•     Falkland Islnds
•     Fiji
•     Gambia
•     Ghana
•     Gibraltar
•     Grenada
•     Guernsey
•     Guyana
•     India
•     Iraq
•     Ireland
•     Isle of Man
•     Jamaica
•     Jersey
•     Jordan
•     Kenya
•     Kiribati
•     Lesotho
•     Malawi
•     Malaysia
•     Malta
•     Mauritius
•     Montserrat
•     Mozambique
•     Namibia
•     Nauru
•     New Zealand
•     Nigeria
•     Pakistan
•     PapuaNewGuinea
•     Pitcairn Islnds
•     S. Sandwich Ins
•     Seychelles
•     Sierra Leone
•     Singapore
•     Solomon Islands
•     Somalia
•     South Africa
•     Sri Lanka
•     St. Helena
•     St. Lucia
•     St. Vincent
•     St.Chr.,Nevis
•     Sudan
•     Swaziland
•     Tanzania
•     Tonga
•     Trinidad,Tobago
•     Turks&Caicos Is
•     Tuvalu
•     USA
•     Uganda
•     United Kingdom
•     Vanuatu
•     Zambia
•     Zimbabwe