TED’s catchphrase, “Ideas worth spreading,” is really spot on. I can literally sit in bed and watch TED talks until the cows come home and then spread them (via Facebook or email) for even longer. While most TED Talks I’ve watched have provided me with a new perspective in some way, shape or form, here are the five TED Talks I believe everyone should see.
1. How to Make Hard Choices – Ruth Chang
In this talk, philosopher Chang suggests that hard choices are only hard because neither alternative is better than the other. They may be different in character, but ultimately, they possess the same value. She offers up the example of two career options: to become a graphic designer or a banker. Unlike measuring the properties of two alternatives where one is greater than the other, when faced with hard choices, neither is better than the other, they are just different. This is why the choice is so hard. But, Chang attests, it is in this space of hard choices that we get to decide who we are and what we stand for. Chang reveals in her early life, that in the face of a hard choice where she had to decide whether to pursue law or philosophy, she more or less “drifted” into law in the absence of making a choice. Later Chang realized that she was not at all suited to law, and so she made the decision to pursue philosophy—a choice that ultimately defined who she is today.
2. Why We Do What We Do – Tony Robbins
It’s not just Robbin’s high-five with Al Gore that makes this TED Talk so cool. It’s life-coach and author Robbins’ energy, love for people and life, and ultimately his thesis that the purpose of life is to contribute to society beyond ourselves that is so memorable. He affirms that beyond obtaining our goals and dreams, the “art of fulfillment” is about “appreciation” and “contribution”. To really experience fulfillment, Robbins suggests, is to grow. Which in turn enables us to give.
3. Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders – Sheryl Sandberg
This TED Talk pre-dates the publication of Sandberg’s best selling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (co-authored by Nell Scovell). It was the first time the Facebook COO and mother of two ever publicly spoke out about gender inequality, and why it is that women are disadvantaged in the corporate world. In fact, it was the deep and global impact of this very talk that gave Sandberg the impetus to continue with her activism for female leadership and go onto becoming the prolific author she is now heralded as. Explaining that the statistics of leadership inequality have not moved since 2002, “and are going in the wrong direction”, Sandberg highlights three fundamental messages to help women achieve in the workforce:
1. “Sit at the table.”
Literally, sit at the boardroom table, not to the side or in the corner of the room.
2. “Make your partner a real partner.”
Share in the childcare and household responsibilities, so that each of you can equally pursue your careers.
3. Don’t leave before you leave.
Don’t exit your career before you need to! Sandberg’s notion of the “lean in” girl became such a cultural phenomena, that recently, it even made its way into an episode of HBO’s Girls.
4. The Mystery Box – J.J Abrams
Legend filmmaker and creator of the TV series Lost and Alias, Abrams takes us back to the grass roots of creativity and talks about the creative potential of “the mystery box”. Presenting a deconstructed tissue box from his hotel room, the two-time Primetime Emmy Award winner explains his fasciation with the mechanics and construction of “things”. And that the fundamental principles of that box are just like those of all creation. Abrams’ box metaphor is repeated when he reveals a “magic box” that he bought for $15 when he was a kid (the price tag still remains on the box), and that, to this day, he has never opened. Why? Because that box alone represents “infinite possibilities, hope, and potential”. Mystery, he asserts, is the catalyst for imagination, and for writers, a blank page is but a magic box. Stressing that “no community is best served when only the elite are in control”, Abrams celebrates the way that technology has made film making, and creativity at large, both ubiquitous and democratic. Thus, leaving us with the lingering sentiment that “you don’t need the greatest technology to do things in movies.”
5. The Power of Vulnerability – Brene Brown
In this most enlightening talk, author, scholar (qualitative researcher), and public speaker Brown gets to the heart of the human condition—shame. And while Brown states that the principle of research is to “control and predict”, she shares her greatest discovery: the key to happiness is embracing vulnerability. The exact antithesis to such a principle! Over the course of a six-year research period, Brown had concluded that there were two types of people: the “whole-hearted” and everyone else. What the whole hearted had in common, Brown learned from her research, was “a strong sense of love and belonging” and “the belief that they were worthy of such love and belonging.” And moreover, these people fully embraced vulnerability. In fact, Brown explains, they saw it as a necessary part of being happy. This discovery highlighted for Brown the excruciating fear of vulnerability, resting on shame, that exists in everyone else. And that as a consequence, to “numb” ourselves from such vulnerability, “We are the most in debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort ever.” Asserting that “we live in a vulnerable world,” Brown suggests that instead of grasping for perfection, we should be instead be saying to our children, “you are imperfect and you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”