I gave a talk at TEDGlobal 2012 in Edinburgh recently, alongside a young guitarist from Pakistan named Usman Riaz. It was an instrumental guitar performance, but still a TEDTalk with a great (and true) story behind it.
The video of our performance has already had over 380,000 views at the TED website and is showing no signs of slowing down.
But being at TEDGlobal 2012 was a much bigger experience for me than giving that performance.
It was an amazing week of listening to brilliant, creative, innovating, question-posing, paradigm-changing people from every imaginable field share their stories, ideas, discoveries, creativity, goals, values and predictions.
The theme of this particular conference was “Radical Openness”.
I have something to say about that.
I have always believed in the open exchange of ideas.
The discoveries, insights and new thinking that result from free creative dialogue between differing points of view (including moral, political, national, cultural, technological, ecological and religious) often end up benefitting everyone in the world.
But how did I fit into the theme of radical openness at TED?
In order to do something new, you must first be open.
You must be willing to challenge your own assumptions. You must be willing to ignore how something is currently defined, perceived and valued. You must be willing to take the risk of being misunderstood. And you must believe in yourself and what you are doing.
In order to invent a new approach to guitar playing in the late 1980’s, I had to ask a new question (how can I incorporate an integrated drum groove into a solo guitar composition?) and be open to a new answer (forget it’s a guitar and begin instead with a drum groove, and then somehow negotiate guitar playing into that groove).
I had to be able to accept how different this new approach looked, as well as how strange it felt to do at first.
But once I opened up to this new idea, I began to create a new kind of guitar music.
Where did I think this was going to go?
Who did I think it was going to reach?
What did I think I was going to get out of it?
I didn’t know. What I did know was that composing and playing it made me happy and nourished my body and soul, and audiences seemed to enjoy it as much as I did.
In 1993, after six years of performing and recording in my new guitar style and teaching it to guitar students in both private lessons and at workshops, I reached a level where I wanted to share my insights and discoveries with a wider audience of guitarists.
I made a video called The Guitar of Preston Reed: Expanding the Realm of Acoustic Playing.
The video shows me performing several of my tunes and teaching the basic concepts and techniques of my style.
At the end of the video I invite guitarists to incorporate my techniques and concepts into their playing for the purpose of creating and evolving their own music.
Over the next eighteen years, new generations of guitarists around the globe have adopted the approach I taught in that video and made it their own.
With how uniquely recogniseable my playing style is, I have been asked many times why I never took steps early on to protect it as an “invention”.
I have always answered that 1) I didn’t have the resources or expertise to patent a guitar approach (let alone police the violators), and 2) that I believed that, in the end, openly sharing my knowledge, creativity and ideas would come back to me in a good way.
I believe we all have something to offer each other, and that we all become more when we do.
I also believe that sharing knowledge, creativity and ideas is not just a good and nice thing to do, but that it is essential to our survival as a species.
Now like never before, the whole world needs to become open to this thinking.
Yes, openness can be dangerous.
It can invite theft. Mischief. Exploitation.
It can be used for purposes other than those for which it was intended.
It can lead to unexpected consequences.
But more importantly, openness makes possible communication, idea-sharing, cooperation, creative collaboration, positive evolution, the revelation that we are all the same…and ultimately, a better world,
How do you feel about openness?
Do you see it as a danger?
Or as an opportunity?
I think it’s worth the risk.