The Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conferences aim to help foster a better future by mining the ideas of “the world’s smartest thinkers, greatest visionaries and most-inspiring teachers.” Past TED talks have been given by Gordon Brown, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other preeminent figures in their fields. Since 2007, hundreds of talks have been available online in their entirety on subjects ranging from matters of dire global importance to lighthearted comedy.
Described in The New York Times Magazine as a series of “head-rush disquisitions” from “violinists, political prisoners, brain scientists, novelists, and Bill Clinton,” the event isn’t at all limited in its scope, as long as the final product is interesting. The talks to follow are all in some way about men’s issues, though they range from perilous adventure to reflective poetry.
# 10: The Quirky World Of Manspaces (Sam Martin)
Designer/writer Sam Martin wrote his first book from an “office” that was actually just one-half of his 3-year-old son’s bedroom. Realizing the need for some degree of privacy and control — with a $3,000 budget and no real building experience — Martin constructed his own office manspace in his backyard, realizing that surely other men needing just a little more of a personal domain must have had the same idea. Reflecting on the history and variety of manspaces, the talk ranges from Hemingway to Superman, and includes a guy who built his own backyard bowling alley from scraps.
#9: Medical Miracle On Everest (Ken Kamler)
Ken Kamler, a surgeon and mountain climber, was on top of Everest when a ferocious “rogue storm” stranded dozens of climbers; the event became the subject of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Kamler’s talk addresses the case of one climber — a man who had already been declared dead — who survived the storm against impossible odds. The climber, Beck Weathers, had collapsed in the snow, lying catatonic for days in literally lethal weather, until his thoughts of his family compelled him to stand and find his way back to camp. Kamler describes his case and the nature of the motivation that made it possible.
#8: Dirty Jobs (Mike Rowe)
The host of Discovery’s Dirty Jobs starts off by relating an experience in which he and the show had traveled to Colorado to document the life and work of sheep ranchers, and turns an anecdote about lamb castration into a larger story about how the common perceptions of work and success have turned out, in his experience, rarely to be true. Rowe challenges how we pursue success, how we portray labor and the order of our career priorities.
#7: Are We In Control Of Our Decisions? (Dan Ariely)
In a talk on what he calls “predictable irrationality,” Ariely, a professor of behavior economics, examines the process that results in our decisions to cheat. Initially, he examines cheating from a purely economic perspective, then relates his experimental discovery that we don’t cheat according to economic logic; regardless of the probability of being caught, and regardless of the widely varying amounts we have to gain, most people are content to cheat just a little bit up to a certain threshold. This behavior turns out to be a lot more complicated, though; it’s dependent on how we perceive value and morality, and the social groups with which we interact.
#6: The Great Unwind (John Gerzema)
Marketing guru John Gerzema looks at the long-term history of American savings, noting that the country saved a great deal of money during WWII primarily because there was very little focus on consumption anywhere in our culture. Following that anomalous period, within the past 20 years, Americans went from a 10% savings rate to a negative savings rate. He argues that the solution to the current economic crisis is in the hands of the consumer, but that mindful consumption is key (durable living, for example, instead of luxurious binging).
#5: Why Ordinary People Do Evil… or Do Good (Philip Zimbardo)
Zimbardo, a social psychologist who was responsible for the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, investigates what happens to people who have access to unbounded power, bringing up comparisons to Lord of the Flies and the Abu Ghraib trails (at which he was an expert witness). Despite the apparent capacity of almost anyone to be thus effected, given the right circumstances, Zimbardo concludes with a reflection on how to change those tendencies toward inaction or callousness into heroic ones — acting when other people are passive, and doing so selflessly.
#4: How To Live To Be 100+ (Dan Buettner)
Life expectancy has risen more slowly for men than women in the modern world, and Dan Buettner argues that the species in general is programmed not for longevity, but for procreative success. He points out, however, that some notable populations, secluded and culturally distinct, vastly outlive others, and that we can learn about extreme longevity by examining the way they live. He illustrates these four geographically designed Blue Zones — they include, for example, Sardinia, home to 10 times as many 100-year-olds as America — and how they eat, work, live, and socialize.
#3: How Great Leaders Inspire Action (Simon Sinek)
On analyzing the various great leaders of the world, from Apple to Martin Luther King Jr., marketing consultant Simon Sinek concludes that they all communicate in the same way, a way distinct from their less remarkable counterparts. Great communicators lead not with what it is that they produce, but with their philosophies — in Apple’s example, the company sells its design and artfulness as much as its actual devices. Regardless of how much we’ve adapted to deal with information logically, human behavior is still driven by a different thought process entirely, both in how we communicate with others and how we motivate ourselves.
#2: A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success (Alain De Botton)
Philosopher Alain de Botton argues that career crises are a recurring product of the age in which we live, caused partially by the fact that we are so defined by our careers and social positions. De Botton argues that career optimism is, paradoxically, problematic, in that it causes us to believe we can (and should) perpetually be succeeding more than we actually are, even if that hope is flatly unrealistic. He comes to the conclusion that the way we view social success just isn’t viable because it’s based on an impossible ideal; we, therefore, need to entirely revise our concept of success.
#1: Ode To Vice And Consequences (Felix Dennis)
The British publisher of Maxim and The Week — once briefly imprisoned for his involvement with the allegedly obscene Oz magazine — began writing poetry in 2000. The poems he recites during the talk cover topics from politics to his former drug-infused lifestyle, but they always lend a certain flippant tone by their rhyming structure and by his personality (“I’ve got far too much money and I have far too much fun,” says Dennis). He’s serious as well, prefacing his last poem with a brief rumination on the darkness in human history, his crack cocaine addiction, and how he nearly didn’t escape it.