If you’ve yet to accumulate enough frequent-flier miles to dash off to this innovation conference, you can get inspired at home by watching the following top TED Talks of the year.
Bill and Melinda Gates: Why giving away our wealth has been the most rewarding thing we’ve done
In 1993, Bill and Melinda Gates took a trip to Africa that changed the way they viewed what was truly valuable. The extreme poverty they witnessed then instigated a lifelong commitment to give back 95 percent of their wealth.
In this TED Talk, the mega-philanthropists talk to Chris Anderson about marrying Bill’s affinity for big data with Melinda’s global-minded intuition to help save millions of children from hunger and disease around the world. The always-ambitious Gates are now trying to persuade other business leaders and wealthy entrepreneurs to give back. Warren Buffett recently donated 80 percent of his fortune to the Gates Foundation.
“These are people who have created their own businesses, put their own ingenuity behind incredible ideas. If they put their ideas and their brain behind philanthropy, they can change the world,” Melinda Gates said.
Sarah Lewis: Embrace the Near Win
Using the plight of painters, archers, and Arctic explorers as an extended metaphor, art historian Sarah Lewis makes a case for celebrating the near win: missing the mark but never losing sight of the target.
“Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving. It’s in constantly wanting to close that gap between where you are and where you want to be,” Lewis said.
Lewis’s “near win” theory has been the driving force behind some of our culture’s greatest minds, from Michelangelo to Franz Kafka. Almost succeeding gives leaders and competitors the focus and tenacity required to try again. According to Lewis, it is by harnessing these near wins that we can master a more fulfilling path.
Edward Snowden: Here’s How We Take Back the Internet
Famed whistleblower Edward Snowden made a rare public appearance via a “telepresence robot” at this year’s TED Conference. Snowden spoke freely about citizens having a right to data privacy and how Internet companies were coerced into collecting this data on behalf of the National Security Agency.
“…Even though some of these companies did resist, even though some of them–I believe Yahoo was one of them–challenged them in court, they all lost, because it was never tried by an open court,” Snowden said. “They were only tried by a secret court. These aren’t the people that we want deciding what the role of corporate America in a free and open Internet should be.”
Snowden gave a detailed walkthrough of some of the NSA’s tactics and programs, including the ones that were hidden from Congress. He also countered the surveillance argument that “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about” by advocating for not giving up certain rights.
“We have a right to privacy … because we recognize that trusting anybody, any government authority, with the entirety of human communications in secret and without oversight is simply too great a temptation to be ignored,” he said.
TED organizers gave the NSA a chance to respond to Snowden’s talk by inviting deputy director Richard Ledgett.
David Brooks: Should You Live for Your Résumé?
Touching on the rudimentary conflict between external accomplishments and internal fulfillment, New York Times columnist and author David Brooks makes the case that we should strive toward having the better eulogy over the better résumé.
“The external logic is an economic logic: input leads to output, risk leads to reward. The internal side of our nature is a moral logic and often an inverse logic. You have to give to receive,” Brooks said in his TED Talk.
Society rewards the résumé, and according to Brooks, you can’t calculate one’s life value by looking at the bottom line. There’s a reason why we don’t read out résumés during funerals.
Larry Page: Where Google’s Going Next
For those who ever dreamed of sitting in the front row and trying to see what Google has up its sleeve, this TED Talk is a can’t-miss. Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page sat down with Charlie Rose to discuss what’s next for the search giant, including smartphones powered by artificial intelligence, Wi-Fi-enabled balloons, and automated vehicles, and more grounded topics like security and privacy.
“I don’t think we can have a democracy if we’re having to protect you and our users from the government for stuff that we’ve never had a conversation about,” the Google CEO said, referring to Edward Snowden, a fellow TED Talker.
Page also defended the lack of privacy on the Internet by pointing out the good that could come from sharing information with “the right people in the right ways,” such as making medical records available anonymously to research doctors. “If we did that, we’d save 100,000 lives this year,” he said.
Margaret Gould Stewart: How Giant Websites Design for You (and a Billion Others Too)
Facebook’s Like button is seen around the world 22 billion times a day, making it one of the most viewed visual icons ever designed. Facebook’s director of product design, Margaret Gould Stewart, talked about designing digital elements for a sixth of the world’s population.
“We use a lot of data to inform our decisions, but we also rely very heavily on iteration, research, testing, intuition, human empathy. It’s both art and science,” said the self-proclaimed inventor of “Designing for Humanity 101.” “Data analytics will never be a substitute for design intuition. Data can help you make a good design great, but it will never made a bad design good.”
She also explained how the company has handled “change aversion” when even the tiniest of changes create an avalanche of outrage.
“Even though we tried to do all the right things, we still received our customary flood of video protests and angry emails and even a package that had to be scanned by security,” she said, “but we have to remember people care intensely about this stuff, and it’s because these products, this work, really, really matters to them.”
Simon Sinek: Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe
Leadership expert Simon Sinek has written two books, Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, both about managing a successful team. For his TED Talk, he touched on the innate human necessity to feel safe.
According to Sinek, the business world is filled with danger–be it an unstable economy, the fluctuating stock market, or hungry competitors–and the leader needs to set the tone for survival.
“When a leader makes the choice to put the safety and lives of the people inside the organization first, to sacrifice their comforts and sacrifice the tangible results, so that the people remain and feel safe and feel like they belong, remarkable things happen,” Sinek said.
Elizabeth Gilbert: Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating
Eat, Pray, Love is the modern-day definition of a literary success: a staple on several bestseller lists when it first came out, the novel became a film adaptation starring Julia Roberts. But soon after, author Elizabeth Gilbert felt stuck, so burdened by her own hype that she considered never writing another book.
“I had to find a way to make sure that my creativity survived its own success,” she said. “And I did, in the end, find that inspiration, but I found it in the most unlikely and unexpected place. I found it in lessons that I had learned earlier in life about how creativity can survive its own failure.”
Gilbert began relating back to her early days struggling to first get published, the six years of rejection letters that didn’t stop her from pursuing her passion.
“I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself. And that’s how I pushed through it,” the author said.
Tim Berners-Lee: A Magna Carta for the Web
Twenty-five years after inventing the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee went to the TED Conference to talk about its future. Like fellow TED Talkers Larry Page and Edward Snowden, Berners-Lee talked about issues concerning censorship, privacy, and security.
He also encouraged Internet users to fight for the version of the Web they want to see prosper in the future and shared his vision:
“I want [a Web] which is not fragmented into lots of pieces … in reaction to recent surveillance. I want a Web which … is a really good basis for democracy. I want a Web where I can use health care with privacy … I want a Web which is such a powerful basis for innovation that when something nasty happens, some disaster strikes, that we can respond by building stuff to respond to it very quickly.”
Keren Elazari: Hackers: The Internet’s Immune System
From cyberpunks to political activists, the role of the hacker in society has gone through a monumental shift in recent years. Cybersecurity expert Keren Elazari has traced this shift, and it has led her to refer to hacking as the immune system of the digital world, exposing weaknesses in the system to make it stronger.
“Sometimes you have to demo a threat to spark a solution,” Elazari said in her TED Talk proclaiming hackers as the crusaders of civil rights, government accountability, and Internet freedom.