My Top 10 Favorite TED Talks
TED is one of my favorite organizations. Since 1984, their mission has been to bring together inspired speakers to “change attitudes, lives, and ultimately the world.” Since 2006, it has shared its clearinghouse of knowledge, and today anyone can be personally tutored by some of the best minds of our generation. For the past year, I have watched a TED (or equivalent) talk per day. Here is the list of my absolute favorites.
My criteria were simply:
Does it help me see things differently? In the words of Mortimer J. Adler, I value a talk that “seeks not merely to give… more facts but also to throw a new… light on all the facts [a person] knows.”
(Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book : The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972, p. 9, emphasis mine)
Here they are in reverse order:
10. William Ury, “The Walk from No to Yes”
For me, this is not an exaggeration: this talk holds perhaps THE key element necessary to world peace.
Seriously—seeing things “from the third side” is one of the most fundamental, most universally-ignored principle of human relations. And it is as necessary for individuals as it is for nations. Live this principle and see your life be fundamentally transformed.
- Barry Schwartz, “Our Loss of Wisdom”
Main takeaways: Relying too heavily on rules or incentives demoralizes behavior—there is no rule that can substitute experience and empathy.
Favorite quote: “Scripts like these are insurance policies against disaster…. but what they assure in its place is mediocrity” (at time ~9:50)
- David Logan, “Tribal Leadership”
Main takeaway: There are five stages of “tribes” or “group mentalities”—Stage 1: “Despairing hostility.” Stage 2: “Apathetic victim.” Stage 3: “Lone Warrior.” Stage 4: “Tribal Pride.” Stage 5: “Innocent wonderment.”—how are you moving the world to stage 5?
- Jonathan Haidt, “The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives”
Have you ever been frustrated with political disagreements? When was the last time something violated your sense of justice and you were shocked that someone else didn’t think it was “bad” at all? In this brilliantly insightful talk, Haidt shows us how to “step outside our moral matrix” (no really—he says we are all living in “the matrix”!) and understand what is really behind a person’s sense of right and wrong. There are five areas that comprise a person’s realm of morality:
Thoroughly understanding this talk will not only enable you to understand others on an entirely new dimension of human relations, but also teach you how to speak a language that even people who disagree with you can still resonate with. Essential for everyone.
- Shawn Achor, “The Happy Secret to Better Work”
This talk is fast paced, has an incredibly engaging speaker, and is peppered with wit and humor. But don’t be fooled: under the cheerful façade is a deep message:
We spend so much of our lives thinking that “happiness is on the other side of ‘success’”—but all that does is push happiness further over the horizon. Instead, we can choose happiness in the present moment.
Most powerful quote: “In reality, if I know everything about your external world, I can only predict 10 percent of your long-term happiness. 90 percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.” (at time=7:50)
- Martin Seligman, “The New Era of Positive Psychology”
By now you can tell my affinity for anything having to do with increasing life satisfaction or happiness. Seligman elucidates his vision for a happier world—one in which we not only help those sick and struggling to feel better, but to help everyone come to a greater level of life satisfaction (spoiler: what we think makes us happy actually is the least important type of happiness). In the talk he recommends three simple “happiness interventions” which I have personally used and can confirm: they help you reach a deeper level of meaning in your life. Essential listening.
- Dan Gilbert, “The Surprising Science of Happiness”
This talk put into words something I had suspected for my entire life: the main source of happiness is within our mind. Our brains can ‘synthetically manufacture happiness!’ Never again do you have to believe the advertisements on TV: having more won’t make you happy. Real happiness lies in making meaning out of whatever situation we find ourselves in. A powerful idea worth spreading.
- Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability”
We live in a new age of research and human understanding. Brené Brown is the face of that new wave. When it comes to perhaps the most important thing in our lives, our relationships, we all want to connect with others and feel loved. But the very thing that connects us to others is something we all naturally avoid: being vulnerable. Be inspired by someone who “leans in” to the discomfort of being 100% authentic, mental breakdowns and all. A classic for the ages.
- Derek Sivers, “Weird? Or Just Different?”
A simple idea, but transcendent in its implications: “let’s never forget: whatever brilliant ideas you have or hear, that the opposite may also be true.”[i]
- Kathryn Schulz, “On Being Wrong”
To my mind, this simple idea would change the world in short order on multiple levels: “I am aware of my propensity to be wrong even when I think I’m right. Instead of trusting my internal feeling of ‘rightness,’ I will proceed on the assumption that I could be wrong—and be open to learning and changing accordingly.” In Schulz’ words, which I agree with 100%, “I want to convince you that it is possible to step outside of the feeling [of being right] and that if you can do so, it is the single greatest moral, intellectual and creative leap you can make.” Watch the talk to find out why.
Be a moral force in the world. Be aware of the problems, but be a part of the solutions. Share these talks, and apply them!
Committed to your success,
What are your favorite TED talks and why?
They probably belong in my public database.
[i] Note: I’m not advocating moral relativism here. I’m going more for what F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” In other words, I think there is world-changing power in, before we ‘react’ to differing opinions (dismissing, condemning, or even evaluating), we first try to understand and appreciate. Some things, absolutely, should be examined on their merits and changed. But so many things boil down to preference, and we lose more than we gain in trying to change people.