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What Are Icons, Mavericks and Geniuses?

The theme for the TED 2008 conference was recently announced — it is "The Big Questions."  A worthy theme for TED, indeed, but not one I am yet prepared to ponder.  Rather, as TED 2007 is literally around the corner, I find myself much more engaged in contemplating next week’s theme — "Icons. Geniuses. Mavericks."  An equally worth theme, but what does it mean? 

One might attempt to intuit the answer from next week’s program.  Presumably these amazing speakers are the icons, geniuses and mavericks of which we speak.  But who is what?  Is Paul Simon a genius or an icon?  Is Nathan Myhrvold a maverick or a genius?  Is Richard Branson an icon or a maverick?  And what in the world is Tom Reilly?  Clearly it was going to take more than mere deduction to appreciate the meaning of next week’s theme.

Finding insufficient inspiration from TED’s own website, I chose to take the very advice I give my kids when they ask me a question for which I have no answer — "I don’t know, look it up on Wikipedia."  So off to Wikipedia I went, while contemplating whether TEDster Jimmy Wales would be described as an icon, maverick or genius?  Thankfully, Jimmy spoke at TEDglobal2005 for which no categorization was required; instead, Jimmy needed only to share "Ideas Big Enough to Change the World."  Given his druthers, Jimmy may have opted for categorization over the lofty requirement of world-changing ideas.  Nonetheless, a theme’s a theme and Jimmy was not an "icon, genius or maverick," but rather a speaker of "ideas big enough to change the world."  I remained hopeful that Jimmy’s big idea — Wikipedia — would be able to help me solve my conundrum.

Unfortunately, delving into the pages of Wikipedia did not give me instant clarity as to the essence of these terms.  But, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and therefore I will share with you what Wikipedia did have to say about Icons, Geniuses and Mavericks. 

Iconicimage

Geniuseinstein

Jamesgarner

Not a bad lineup if TED could pull it off — Jesus, Einstein and James Garner.  I’ve often thought what a great conference TED could create if there was time travel.  Alas, next week’s icons, geniuses and mavericks are going to have to come from the living to participate.  Luckily, judging by the schedule, there were plenty to chose among.  Since I can get no more clarity from Wikipedia on this year’s TED theme, I guess I’ll have to report back after the conference with my thoughts on what makes an icon, genius or maverick.  Until then, I think I’ll go watch some reruns of Maverick on the American Life Network.