I spent Christmas doing very little. I ate a lot, slept a lot (this was all part of the plan), and… watched a lot of TED talks. This is the part I did not expect.
Here is how it happened. I stumbled upon this book:
which all considered, delivers what it promises. It contains a lot of practical tips and suggestions to improve presentation skills, from the technical aspects to how to control the adrenaline. But even more interestingly, it provides many insights and behind-the-scene information directly from the mind of the organisers of TED. Which is the part I found more valuable.
I ended up reading all the book during the 3 days around Christmas. In the process, I also watched some 20+ TED talks, some directly referenced or recommended in the book, others just by accident. You know how it goes: you start from one very relevant lecture about how to find motivation in life… and 3 hours later you end up knowing everything about malaria carrying mosquitoes, balloons that provide internet, and a robot that can emulate the movements of a salamander to perfection.
Anyway. I decided to put all those hours to some good use, and here I am publishing a short list with some of the videos I watched, those I found most interesting or inspiring. I do it also for my own future use: instead of creating a boring google doc titled “interesting TED talks I need to remember”, I just as well write a blog post and put it online. Take this, internet. Way more practical than leaving sticky notes around.
So here goes the list.
A little word of warning for all the opinion-throwing trolls out there (not that troll care about – or read – warnings). This is by no means the list of the most interesting (or informative, or original, or whatever) talks out there. Some of them are well known, others probably less. It’s only my short TED playlist, Xmas 2016 edition. I hope you find some inspiration. Also, it’s a random list, not in a priority order.
1) Andrew Solomon – How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are
I must confess I didn’t know the author at all. I ended up loving him dearly. Gifted writer, philosopher, researcher, activist for the rights of homosexuals, honest ambassador of patients of depression everywhere. He has an elegant, sharp sense of humour (of the nerdy type, that reminds me of Sheldon Cooper from “The Big Bang Theory”) and describes his research and findings with authentic passion and a truly moving style. In this talk he covers the topic of how we shape our identity through the toughest events we face, building the personal narrative that gives meaning (or doesn’t) to our lives. But I can strongly recommend his other talks as well. This, which describes with heart breaking honesty and in full detail his life experience and work as activist for gay rights, and this other, a compassionate, insider look into the blight of depression, the life of the people affected by it and their families. Truly, a found treasure.
2) Tim Urban – Inside the mind of a master procrastinator
I already follow his blog, Wait but Why, which is well written, smart and informative and contains lots of infographics, facts and reflections to put things in perspective. It’s a blog about “practically everything”, and if my positive review is not enough for you, it’s one of Elon Musk’s favourites as well (it covers the progress of Space X in exclusive, which is just wow). Tim Urban was invited in 2016 to TED and delivered this speech which is maybe not one of the best ever, but is certainly entertaining. And at the end contains the most relevant insight of all: we should use our life well, because our days are indeed numbered.
3) Alex Kipman – A futuristic vision of the age of holograms
As if something with the word “holograms” in the title were not cool enough, he completely got me when he had a conversation on stage with his colleague who was not really there. Kipman is already credited for inventing the Kinect and changing console gaming for good. Now with HoloLens, he wants to push us all in a new era where travelling, exploration and social interactions will never be the same. The time of Jedi Council holographic meetings is approaching fast.
4) Suzanne Simard – How trees talk to each other
Professor of forest ecology at the university of British Columbia, Canada, Simard shares her true passion for nature and research, and describes her encounters with grizzly mama bears, radioactive gases, and trees. Lots of trees. She made the amazing discovery that in a forest, trees are really interconnected, they communicate, exchange resources and protect each other. Well, not all of them anyway. It’s something that seems out of Avatar (the movie) or The Lord of the Rings, and a finding that Tolkien would be proud of. Really something to remember, nature really is much, much more than meets the eye. I will never look at a tree the same way I did before.
5) Jennifer Kahn – Gene editing can now change an entire species, forever
Teacher, journalist and more, Kahn has the gift of making very complex topics, easy and accessible. Soon, a new technology will allow to modify specific aspects of a living species, for good. Mosquitoes can be modified not to carry malaria anymore: this could be possible in a few years. Non native predator species that are damaging ecosystems can be made harmless in just two generations. But what else, next? Are we ready to become gods? In this talk we jump into to the future, dive deeply into bioethics, and face the rising need to have public debates and conversations on how genetics will soon transform our lives.
6) Astro Teller – The unexpected benefit of celebrating failure
This guy tries to reach the moon, everyday. Not quite literally though. He is in charge of X (previously Google X), the “moonshot factory” spin off company that tries to achieve the most audacious and daring ideas ever. His job is to dream big, and then try to fail his own projects as hard as he can, until one doesn’t. The next big achievable thing could be to bring internet even to the most remote areas of the world, using the clean power of air balloons. Inspiring.
7) Monica Lewinsky – The price of shame
I was humbled and blown away by how brave and honest this speech is. While I am all too aware of what is going on with the Clinton family, I had absolutely no idea of what happened to Lewinsky after 1998. And why should I? In this amazingly open and courageous speech, she calmly admits the mistake she made when she was just 22, and makes the case for being the “Patient Zero” of public and online shaming and bullying, coming forward as a champion of the cause, exposing this “blood sport” that has to stop, and calling for more compassion not only on the internet, but everywhere in the world. She is, in a very painful and literal way, a survivor and describes the reality of her life, and her family’s, after the global scandal that destroyed her career and could have costed her much more. Her speech – which counts more than 10 million views to date – made me suddenly open my eyes, like a bucket of cold water right in my face (and one that I deserved, probably).
8) Barry Schwartz – The paradox of choice
Schwartz is a renowned psychologist, author and speaker, and has 3 online TED talks so far. This is probably his most well known, and that day he went on stage wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, because it was a very hot day and he “didn’t know the event would be filmed”. He moves on to explain very eloquently why more choice, market segments and supermarket shelves will not make us happier – and in fact, are makings us feel a bit more miserable already. I was already aware that shopping is hell, and choosing a shampoo or a pair of jeans can easily turn into a nightmare experience. But now thanks to this talk I have a solid theoretical basis to back up my arguments.
9) Steven Pinker – The surprising decline in violence
Psychologist and author, Pinker in this 2007 talk makes an amazingly clear case. No: contrary to popular belief (rooted and fueled by media and by political actors) life is not getting worse and worse every day. Violence is not on the rise: quite the contrary. Society is not more brutal than it used to be. The streets are not more dangerous than before. No, no and no. Even with all the horrors of XX century, violence is clearly in decline, in any field, everywhere. And the idea that we are moving further and further away from an ideal society, where violence was limited and people lived together in a peaceful state of harmony – is only a myth. We are indeed safer today than ever, by a 20 to 1 factor. Pinker also provides convincing reasons for it, and a lot of solid evidence to support his thesis, from historical sources to… the Bible.
10) Ernesto Sirolli – Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!
To be honest, I was attracted to this talk just because Sirolli is an Italian. But if Chris Anderson himself references him in his book, he must be good. And he is. I was totally captivated first by his eloquence and style, and then by his experience and insight. A pioneer in sustainable development and global education, he is been involved for 40 years in community projects around the world based on one simple approach: if the locals don’t want to be helped, please don’t. Shut up, listen to them, and see what can be done together. I will remember his hilarious anecdote about Zambia, tomatoes and hippos for long, and I will use it for sure in my work. Again and again.
And you? Do you have other inspiring TED talks to recommend? I would love to see them here in the comment section. It can be pretty useful – to have all the links and the names collected in one place, so they can be easy to find.
Please feel free comment, and suggest your favourites!