The 5 Most Powerful TED Talks, According to Someone Who Has Heard Them All

Lauren Powell

Newsflash! We have arguably just found the ultimate TED Talks round-up to ever exist. We’ve previously compiled the Ted Talks that will change your life, the ones which will inspire your career, but today we bring you the most powerful talks, according to the curator of TED— the non-profit organisation that is devoted to sharing powerful ideas through its talks. Chris Anderson revealed to SmartCompany the five TED Talks that he learnt from the most—from the idea of happiness, the power of online, and current world events. Do yourself a favour, scroll on, and inspire your life with a curated selection of some of the greatest talks in TED’s history.   

“Institutions vs. collaboration” by Clay Shirky, Professor in New Media and Writer

In this prescient 2005 talk, Clay Shirky shows how closed groups and companies will give way to looser networks where small contributors have big roles and fluid cooperation replaces rigid planning.

“Shirky spoke about how the web was enabling new models that should encourage institutions to ‘let go’ and allow others to do some of their work for them. I think it helped convince us that we should be willing to risk giving away our best talks for free online,” Anderson says.

“Happiness and its surprises”—Nancy Etcoff, Cognitive Researcher

 Etcoff looks at happiness — the ways we try to achieve and increase it, the way it's untethered to our real circumstances, and its surprising effect on our bodies.

“I think it actually made me happier,” Anderson says.

“Chemical scum that dream of distant quasars” by David Deutsch, Scientist

Legendary scientist David Deutsch puts theoretical physics on the back burner to discuss a more urgent matter: The survival of our species. The first step toward solving global warming, he says, is to admit that we have a problem.

“Deutsch helped convince me that knowledge is far more than just a weird evolutionary trick invented by one of earth’s species,” says Anderson.

“We need to talk about an injustice”—Brian Stevenson, Human Rights lawyer

“In an engaging and personal talk—with cameo appearances from his grandmother and Rosa Parks—Stevenson shares some hard truths about America's justice system, starting with a massive imbalance along racial lines: a third of the country's black male population has been incarcerated at some point in their lives. These issues, which are wrapped up in America's unexamined history, are rarely talked about with this level of candor, insight and persuasiveness.”

“He won the longest standing ovation in TED’s history. And I haven’t been able to get him and his cause out of my mind ever since,” says Anderson.

“The long reach of reason”—Steven Pinker, Psychologist, and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Philosopher

In a time when irrationality seems to rule both politics and culture, has reasoned thinking finally lost its power? Watch Pinker, a psychologist, is gradually, brilliantly persuaded by Newberger Goldstein, aphilosopher, that reason is actually the key driver of human moral progress, even if its effect sometimes takes generations to unfold.

“It was given as a Socratic dialog. They reach the conclusion that pure reason has shaped history profoundly, though it sometimes takes hundreds of years. If the world bought into this view, we’d do a much better job of listening to each other,” says Anderson.

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