My Top 10 Favorite TED Talks

TED conference

TED conference

I’ve been systematically going through the TED video podcasts ever since I got my iPod Nano in late October, 2007. I’ve finally achieved my goal of being up-to-date with the podcast, sitting through some 180 episodes.

TED for those who are unfamiliar, is handful of annual events, the heart of which is a conference hosted in Monterey, California. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and the events brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).

The next TED conference is Feb 27 – March 1, 2008 and is completely sold out, except for a few tickets that show up on eBay for $33,000

Most of the presentation are amazing, but a couple really stand out for me. Here’s my personal top 10 list and my reasons why. They are listed in order of ones that have inspired me and I find myself recalling most often.

  1. Ken Robinson Humor aside (this is one of the funniest presentations), Ken Robinson makes a compelling case for creativity in education. He makes the point that current education has a strong bias towards the languages and math (which is good for training college professors) whereas in order to tackle the complexity of the problems facing us today and in the future, we’ll need to educate the next generation to be more creative than we’ve ever been.
  2. Evelyn Glennie is world-renowed, and incidentally, the first ever professional percussion soloist. She is also deaf. This provides her with a whole new perspective that most of us miss: Music as experience, and not just a series of notes to be played.
  3. Cameron Sinclair is one of the founders of Architecture for Humanity, which explores sustainable housing solutions for impoverished nations. It’s action-oriented mottos is “Design like you give a damn”. In his talk, he advocates an open-sourcing of design ideas where local solutions can be shared and refined globally, while being protected through a Creative Commons Developing Nations License.
  4. Malcolm Gladwell is just an amazing storyteller. He takes the example of the common pasta sauce to illustrate that often in marketing there is no platonic idea of perfection, but many points of perfection. “There is no perfect Pepsi; There are only perfect Pepsis.” Different people will be drawn to different ideas of perfection, though the may never admit it overtly. Hence the creation of the “Extra Chunky” pasta sauce. A perfect example of uncommon wisdom.
  5. Barry Schwartz is the author of “The Paradox of Choice” and explains that we often confuse freedom with limitless choices. More choice can often be paralyzing and leads to misery.
  6. Vilayanur Ramachandran‘s presentation show how parts of the brain are linked and function in a integrated manner, and how emotion plays an important part of how we process information.
  7. Hans Rosling analyzes global health data, but uses a tool to adds the dimension of time which illuminates trends and relationships that are harder to grasp as static charts. He takes what seems to be boring statistics and animates them not only through software but through his humorous commentary. He goes even a step further by swallowing a sword in his sequel presentation.
  8. Charles Leadbeater advocates an approach to design that takes it outside corpoarte walls and start harnassing and incorporating the power of passionate non-professionals and communities into the design process.
  9. Janine Benyus Biomimicry is something we all need to know more about. Period.
  10. Thomas Barnett outlines a post-Cold War solution for the foundering US military. Dead serious pill, dispensed with a healthy dose of humor.

There were also some close runners-up:

  • John Meada talks about, you guessed it, Simplicity
  • William Macdonough is working with cities in China to create sustainable urban planning solutions. He explains his philosophy of “cradle to cradle” design, which bridge the needs of ecology and economics.
  • Jimmy Wales is the founder and the philopher king of Wikipedia. He explains how Wikipedia is not an idealized democratic society where everyone contributes anything but one that has formed an aristocracy out of social necessity for maintaining quality of content.
  • Chris Bangle provides a rare inside look at how BMW designs its cars.
  • Stefan Sagmeister talks about what makes for happy design :-)
  • Jonathan Harris is the creator of the We Feel Fine project, the epitome of Web 2.0 atomization and regrouping of information.
  • Stephen Petranek talks about 10 way the world could end and what we can do about it. Amusing in a morbid kind of way.
  • Larry Lessig is the founder of Creative Commons and a board memeber of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He makes us think about digital rights in an age where lines are increasingly being blurred.
  • Vik Muniz How can you resist an artist that makes art from spaghetti on plate?

After all those podcasts, I’ve found that the teeny screen Nano isn’t really sufficient or satisfying, user experience-wise. The iPod Touch looks so much more appealing now.

  • dwitzel

    you left off John Doerr’s talk about climate change. Could be one of the more important talks ever!

    thanks for the list!

  • Ty

    Great list! Lots of those are my favorites to, although there are a couple i haven’t seen but will watch today…….

    if you haven’t watched this one,

    check it out……very powerful
    Merry X-mas!


  • jwaves

    Just saw the Thomas Barnett talk and he was great! His talk epitomized what I love about TED Talks–intelligence, vision, and humor.