Chicago Ideas Week: The Nerdiest, Geekiest, Big Brain Conference in the Country

It's the third-annual gathering of global thought leaders, pop-culture trendsters and breakthrough scientists presenting labs plus master classes at week-long lectures across the city.

Photo via The Telegraph Best-selling author and lecturer Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers, David and Goliath) is a featured speaker at the Chicago Ideas Week presentation Lessons: The Choice is Yours, Monday, Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. 

Food. Music. Privacy. Tech. Politics. It's all here with more than 200 speakers, 100 different labs, a slew of panel discussions, and a lineup that covers the gamut from media darlings (director M. Night Shyamalan; novelist Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale; astronaut Buzz Aldrin; Meet the Press host David Gregory) sharing the spotlight with comics, business execs to Mayor Emanuel leading a Divvy bike ride and lunch.  

In its third year, Chicago Ideas Week attracts about 25,000 attendees to 135 events akin to an intellectual smorgasbord and open-source launch pad for The Next Big Thing. (There's a talk addressing just that, quite literally: Next: Tomorrow, TodayThursday, Oct. 17.) It's smart, forwarding-thinking and flags the Third Coast, already a formidable academic universe and crackling startup destination, as a contributor to dialogues that matter as much as feted New York or the TED Talk circuit. There are a few noteworthy Midwest tribal differences: Try eating around town at the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner gatherings.

Here, nerd is hip, not alien. Diverse, not a walled garden. If you want a brain tickle just sign up, no prerequisites necessary. (There is, however, the day-long, invitation-only Edison Talks to "inspire, connect and cultivate action [with] world-renowned visionaries," so strike that date.) But CIW makes up for it with the Arts and Culture tracks (music, storytelling, radio production) and the organizers have accessibility in mind, too: $15 gets you in the door for labs or master classes, compared to several hundred dollars that beat up your wallet at similar events. 

This year introduces the Tech Summit, a five-hour mini conference on Friday, Oct. 18. It's $40, but you get to wrap your head around the digital economy with CEO Chad Dickerson of Etsy; co-founder of PayPal Max Levchin; and Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of AllThingsD, among others. Go try on a new thought. 

Chicago Ideas Week, Oct. 14 - 20, various locations, check the full schedule of events

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