Photo Credit: Ryan Lash/TED; Pico Iyer, shown speaking above

TED, Delta inspired by Iyer's'Stillness'

If an airline had to reduce its essence to one word, "movement" might be a frontrunner. How then did Delta Airlines decide to use "stillness" as the central theme of what it called a "brand activation" at TED, attended by 1,500 of the world's most influential people?

Delta has, for four years, been a sponsor of TED, the conference that asks the world's greatest minds to share their ideas and insights in 18-minute presentations.

(TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design, now includes a broad range of topics, including science, business, politics, philosophy and the arts. Its stated mission is to provide a platform for "ideas worth spreading.")

While the organization liberally licenses its name to those who might want to host "TEDx" conferences, guests who are invited to speak and attend the annual TED in Vancouver and TEDGlobal, which changes its venue every year, are highly vetted and include the best-known names in the world.

Through its partnership with TED, Delta was given an opportunity to create a physical "brand experience" onsite at TED in Vancouver in March. The airline chose, as its inspiration, this phrase: "In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still."

At “Truth and Dare,” TED’s conference held in March at the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Delta “Stillness in Motion Experience,” was inspired by “The Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer.
At “Truth and Dare,” TED’s conference held in March at the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Delta “Stillness in Motion Experience,” was inspired by “The Art of Stillness” by Pico Iyer. Photo Credit: Ryan Lash/TED

The quote was from Pico Iyer's book, "The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere." Mauricio Parise, director of worldwide marketing communications for Delta, said the airline was looking for a way to create something that was both organic to Delta and also compatible with TED's primary directive, which is to make the world a better place.

TED representatives brought Iyer's book to Delta's attention, and Parise said airline personnel involved in the TED partnership were intrigued by Iyer's ideas.

"We live in a life that is dynamic, and everyone is running all the time," Parise said. "Creating a parallel between the need for productivity and the need to reset and relax from time to time -- we thought that was interesting."

Delta asked its branding agency, MKG, to help the airline develop an experience that would bring both Iyer's ideas and Delta's brand to life.

It took 25 people at MKG three months to conceive and construct the resulting installation, in which visitors are seated in a design-forward chamber of mirrored walls and reactive light panels and exposed to sounds and images that research has shown to trigger relaxation responses. During the two-minute experience, participants watch as their heartbeat, visually displayed on a pulsing orb, slows.

"It's weird," Parise said. "I was in there."

Participants are permitted to keep the glowing orb and, via social media, share a photo of themselves in the chamber at the moment of their greatest relaxation.

The Delta “Stillness in Motion Experience”at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
The Delta “Stillness in Motion Experience”at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Photo Credit: Ryan Lash/TED

Iyer said he had no role in the planning of the installation, but was thrilled with the result.

His book, he said, "is somewhere between travel and self-help, and there seems to be a hunger for this type of information. TED was the perfect place, because no one is more distracted by movement than its attendees. [Google co-founder] Larry Page and [Yahoo CEO] Marissa Mayer, they're the ones most interested in sitting still, because they're the ones who travel so much."

Staying grounded in midair
Ryan Lash/TED
Staying grounded in midair

In his debut contribution to Travel Weekly, Pico Iyer writes about his experience trying Delta's "Stillness in Motion" chamber at the TED Conference and the personal philosophy that inspired it. Read More

Iyer also gave a reading from his book at the adjacent Delta "Productivity Lounge," so-called to underscore the message that pausing to relax increases productivity. The lounge highlighted the airline's WiFi, in-seat power outlets and other features of what it characterizes as its work-enabling suite of products.

About 700 of the 1,500 TED attendees experienced the Delta "Stillness in Motion Experience," and of those, some 650 shared the Delta-supplied photo on social media, resulting in 9.3 million Twitter impressions. It was chosen as the No. 1 brand experience by attendees, Parise said, "and there are a lot of big brands that play in that space."

Those who didn't get the chance to attend TED and experience the chamber could still get an opportunity; it will likely end up in a museum, Iyer said.

And Parise said that Delta passengers can easily learn about the concepts behind the installation.

"We're the only airline that carries TED talks onboard, on individual [passenger] screens," Parise said. "And Pico's talk is going to be among them."

Iyer was not surprised that an airline, which by its nature is deeply involved in the business of movement, would also embrace the concept of stillness.

"They must be keenly aware that passengers are ever more stressed," he said. "Although we have to move, we don't want to lose our sense of direction."

This article has been updated to reflect that the conference that Delta's "Stillness in Motion Experience" was located at was TED and not TEDGlobal, as a previous version of this article stated.