Watch one TED talk, and you have a factoid to share with a friend at a bar.
Watch over 50 TED talks across several years — as I have, obsessively — and you begin to think a little differently about the world.
Not every talk is awe-inspiring or illuminating, but the best ones have changed how I think about education, business, psychology, and human behavior.
Here are some of the insights that have stuck with me the most.
Hard, dirty work isn’t just necessary — it’s misunderstood
Mike Rowe, former host of Discovery’s “Dirty Jobs,” is no stranger to the grimier side of American labor. In his 2008 talk “Learning from dirty jobs,” he encourages people to think differently about those dirty jobs.
Many of them aren’t the miserable, back-breaking jobs that come from poor choices and lead to dissatisfaction, Rowe says. They’re gratifying, and performed by people who take pride in the great work they do.
His talk reminded me, as the jobs reminded him, never to judge the path someone’s taken, no matter the smells involved.
Some choice is better than none, but more choice isn’t necessarily better than some.
In Barry Schwartz’s 2005 talk, “The Paradox of Choice,” he reviews the research that says people are misled in thinking they should want as much choice as possible, whether that’s the expansive number of salad dressings at the supermarket or array of clothing styles at the mall.
His talk made me realize that decision-making takes a lot of effort. It can be mentally draining to weigh all those options, and we may be better off limiting our menu of choices to just a few. Usually, “good enough” is good enough.
If you want something, you have to ask for it.
Amanda Palmer, former lead singer of The Dresden Dolls, says soliciting help isn’t a burden on people. It’s actually a precious skill. In her 2013 talk, “The Art of Asking,” she recounts asking people on Twitter for instruments, food, and couches to sleep on, all so her shows could go on.
In a similar talk, music journalist Nardwuar explains in his 2011 talk “Do It Yourself!” that if you want something, you shouldn’t expect people to read your minds. You have to be tenacious and persistent.
Together, their talks helped me see asking less as a selfish act and more as a natural part of people working together.