Tuesday, February 1, 2011

TED Talks I Like

I like TED talks. They’re a marvelous way of getting access to many fascinating ideas in a very short time. (They’re also a fascinating series of examples of what does and does not make for compelling public speaking, but that’s a whole other blog entry.) At the suggestion of my good friend at SFBehaviorLab, David Sals, I’ve put together a list of some of the talks I like.

First, here are some talks by authors I’ve already raved about in my recent reading list post. These people therefore need no introduction. 

And here are are a few that I’ve recently encountered, all of which I think deserve a viewing. 

This has to be a great place to start. Clearer evidence of the profound neurological effect of improvisation would be hard to find. 

This is a great one to watch after the Dan Ariely talk listed above. Laurie Santos clearly demonstrates that the kind of decision-making ‘mistakes’ we make aren’t specific to the human race. This suggests that these patterns of reasoning are old. To my mind, this has important implications.
The patterns of decision-making that behavioral economics has revealed don’t just tell us things about how people react. They’re very likely to be providing us with important insights about how effective reasoning works. These ‘mistakes’ have been selected for over the course of millions of years of evolution. If they cause us to make some choices ineffectively, there must be other advantages that we gain. Though it may not be clear yet exactly what those gains are, experiments in Machine Learning are likely to help us find out. 

What I like about this talk is the distinction that Prof. Kahneman makes between the way we experience things and the way we remember them. He points out that the connection between the two is far shakier than we’d like to imagine. For me, this says interesting things both about the nature of declarative memory, and how we can use it to make our interactions with each other better. For instance, it seems clear that following negative feedback to a person with something a little nicer is likely to cause that person to walk away with a far rosier impression of the experience than if only negative input is received. This suggests that fixing some toxic workplace interactions may be as simple as bolting positive rituals onto the end of them--a fascinating implication, if it’s right. 

This talk is on how we can use an understanding of social networks to gain insights about the spread of diseases, social trends, and even emotions. Most significantly, Prof. Christakis reveals a simple mechanism by which we can identify ‘hubs’ in social networks and use them to gain advance warning of changes sweeping through a population. However, he also shows that interacting with these hubs provides us with a way to intervene as well as to watch. For instance, it tells us how to best to deploy a vaccine into a population to save the maximum number of lives.
The implication for applied improv here is that the same tools enable us to find those members of a community most likely to A: reflect the values of a culture, and B: change them, if we can engage them and give them the right tools. 

Mr. Johnson’s research into the the kind of social environments that foster good ideas feel like a natural fit for applied improv. Lurking in here, I feel, are clues as to how to use the science of play and the study of behavioral games to create innovation incubators. This talk leads me to wonder what kinds of improv you can play sitting down with four molecular biologists in a Starbucks without having anyone raise their voice or leave their seat. My suspicion is that one can do quite a lot, and probably get some publication worthy material out of it at the same time. 

1 comment:

  1. Alex: Thanks so much for taking the time to share TED with your readers. We "talks" lovers are a small but growing number and it's always exciting to see more and more TED posts each week. My passion for TED lead me to create videotalks.org. The site features dozens of TED-like sites which I feel you and your readers will appreciate. I list excellent sites that I didn't even know existed a few months ago. Thanks again for the TED posting! Jim Melfi