Do you remember the first TED Talk you ever watched? Do you still marinate the ideas that were proposed? Do you follow the speaker’s work? Is any of this necessary?
It all started with one TED (short for technology, entertainment, design) Conference in 1984 that included demonstrations for the compact disc and e-books, as well as digital modelling of coastlines. Thirty two years on and odds on a licensed TEDx (independently organised) conference has taken place in a city near you. These talks are a mechanism to bring together people to share knowledge, ideas and experiences about a range of topics. It wasn’t as seamless a transition as this sweeping summary suggests, but you can read about the history here.
For me the obsession with TEDx-certified “ideas worth spreading” commenced in high school. I sat down next to my mother who was watching Sir Ken Robinson’s controversial talk ‘Do School’s Kill Creativity? (2011). From there the obsession grew and I found myself searching through topics to start expanding my thinking on issues I rarely engaged with. There seems to be a TEDx Talk for anything and everything. However, the TED model is not without it’s critics, who are concerned not only by the de-intellectualisation of information, but the over simplification of complex issues. The latter is often referred to by critics as ‘infotainment’. I will expand on this later; consider it a provocation. Why do you TED?
Here is a list of 5 TED Talks that get me thinking. You will probably pick up the common threads that link them, reflecting topics of interest and ongoing research inquiries. May they help you springboard into new ideas, challenge your thinking or confirm a pondering.
#5: Simon Sinek ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’ (2009)
How do we communicate to inspire action?
The answer lies not in what you do or how you do it, but why.
If you have been through leadership training, odds on you have been recommended to watch this talk. I attended three training sessions for entrepreneurship from different organisations in 2016 and it was prescribed at all three. At the first session, I remember thinking that it reminded me of a similar idea I had heard before, only to dig through my notes to find it was the same one. Yep, so at least 5 of those views are me.
#4: Teddy Cruz ‘How Architectural innovations migrate across borders’
How do architects innovate in a time of ‘sprawl versus density?’
Two years ago I had to give a 20 minute presentation on Teddy Cruz’s architectural practice, sparking a debate about if architects are artists. Let us leave that for another day because I was more interested in picking up on our use of language. There is a tendency in academic literature to refer to ‘informal processes’ for adaptive urbanism in areas facing poverty as “slums” or “shanty towns.” In the context of the Tijuana-San Diego Border, Teddy Cruz talks to the issues of the urban code that politicises public spaces and the social practices paired with creative intelligence of communities for adaptive practices.
#3: Benjamin Bratton ‘New Perspectives: What’s wrong with TED Talks’ (2013)
No TED list would be complete without an ironic anti-TED talk. what I enjoy about this one is the moment he says ‘let me tell you a story,’ prescribing to the TED formula.
Why do we choose to watch these talks? For me, it has never been about sourcing peer-reviewed, academically rigorous information. I have never paid to attend a TED event. It is more so about observing presentation styles, analysing content included and excluded and ultimately, as mentioned earlier, starting to expand my thinking on issues I rarely engaged with. TED is a mechanism to make idea and everyday stories for impact more accessible. When I got asked to give a TedxYouth talk in 2013, my aim was to welcome others in to the world of ideas marinating in my mind; to practice articulating them to other people.
Listen for Bratton’s three key arguments and see what you think.
#2: Taiye Selasi ‘Don’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I am a local’ (2014)
How do you describe where you are from? Is it by geography? Are these borders politicised in how they are administrated? Are you restricted in some way, be it economical, social or political?
According to Taiye Selasi we are local to where we carry out our rituals of the everyday; our experiences with people and places shapes where we are local. In a world of mass migration, cultures of diaspora and a globalised work force (with all their complexities) Taiye Selasi takes issue with place-based identify frameworks and the unconscious assumptions when asking if one will “go back” to the country from which they migrated.
#1: Ernesto Sirolli ‘Want to Help Someone? Shut up an listen! (2012)
Stop thinking consultation and start talking collaboration.
As we deal with an exponential growth in urban growth/density over the next two decades, it is important that human-centred design is at the core of development. Cities are for people, so involving them in the planning stages, whilst simultaneously considering those who will be new to community is important. This at times humorous talk by Sirolli reminds us that even the most well-intentioned problem solvers can get it wrong because they forgot to listen to locals.
The beauty of TED talks is that they spark conversation and debate around issues that shape contemporary society. Our contexts may seem removed from that which the presenter speaks, but underlying themes of identify, spatial politics, leadership, education, etc translate across boundaries. We can discover opportunities for innovation if we stop, listen and consider the ideas of others and understand the context that shapes their views and experiences.