4 Great Ted Talks That Will Challenge Your Thinking


Getting a message from a friend on Facebook, she had mentioned Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”, and it reminded me of how much his Ted Talk really made an impact on my learning and thinking.  There are some really good Ted Talks (or TedX Talks), but to be honest, there are only a few that really changed my thinking.  Dan Pink led me to really rethink the notion of awards in school, and I wrote about it extensively.

Below, I am going to share some of the ones that have made the biggest impact on me, and why, starting with Dan Pink:

1. Dan Pink – The Puzzle of Motivation

What I loved about this talk, was not only the content, but the “lawyerly” approach to it. Pink’s final thoughts resonate:

There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. Here is what science knows. One: Those 20th century rewards, those motivators we think are a natural part of business, do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances. Two: Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity. Three: The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive– the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter.

And here’s the best part. We already know this. The science confirms what we know in our hearts. So, if we repair this mismatch between science and business, if we bring our motivation, notions of motivation into the 21st century, if we get past this lazy, dangerous, ideology of carrots and sticks, we can strengthen our businesses, we can solve a lot of those candle problems, and maybe, maybe — we can change the world.

Talk to any administrators in a school, and they will talk about the importance of collaboration.  Walk into their schools though, and the walls are often focus on external drivers to acknowledge the “best” (sports awards, honour rolls, etc.).  This is a great talk to push your thinking, but also to discuss with staff, if you are looking to challenge the traditional notion of awards, and the revamped model of “badges”.

2.  Rita F. Pierson – Every Kids Needs a Champion

Rita F. Pierson passed away shortly after this talk, yet her legacy will live on forever because of this talk that is captured, that is simply perfection. She is funny, heartwarming, while challenging thinking in less than 8 minutes. As a speaker, this is a talk that I aspire to.

Her words are a great reminder to every teacher on why they are teachers.

Can we stand to have more relationships? Absolutely. Will you like all your children? Of course not.

And you know your toughest kids are never absent.

Never. You won’t like them all, and the tough ones show up for a reason. It’s the connection. It’s the relationships. So teachers become great actors and great actresses, and we come to work when we don’t feel like it, and we’re listening to policy that doesn’t make sense, and we teach anyway. We teach anyway, because that’s what we do.

Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.

Can you remember starting off your career and someone giving you the advice of “don’t smile ’til Christmas”?  I will take Rita’s approach any day.

An absolutely perfect talk for education.

3. Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice

Ever go to those sessions at a tech conference with “100 Tools in 30 minutes”. This made me rethink their value and how they deeply hamper organizations moving forward. Too much choice can be debilitating:

All of this choice has two effects, two negative effects on people. One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis, rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very difficult to choose at all.

I’ll give you one very dramatic example of this: a study that was done of investments in voluntary retirement plans. A colleague of mine got access to investment records from one of the Robinhood alternatives called Vanguard, the gigantic mutual-fund company of about a million employees and about 2,000 different workplaces. And what she found is that for every 10 mutual funds the employer offered, rate of participation went down two percent. You offer 50 funds — 10 percent fewer employees participate than if you only offer five. Why? Because with 50 funds to choose from, it’s so damn hard to decide which fund to choose, that you’ll just put it off until tomorrow. And then tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and of course tomorrow never comes.

Understand that not only does this mean that people are going to have to eat dog food when they retire because they don’t have enough money put away, it also means that making the decision is so hard that they pass up significant matching money from the employer. By not participating, they are passing up as much as 5,000 dollars a year from the employer, who would happily match their contribution.

So paralysis is a consequence of having too many choices.

Simply put…do less, better.

A mantra many schools need to embrace.

4. Kate Simonds – I’m 17

Simply put, this is probably my favourite Ted Talk in education, and the only one listed that is a “TedX”. I truly believe it is a must watch for every educator, and what is most powerful, is that these are the words from a student in school at the time.

In it, Kate really challenges what we are saying we want in education, and what we actually do:

Look at our education system; as students, we have no say on what we learn or how we learn it, yet we’re expected to absorb it all, take it all in, and be able to run the world someday. We’re expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then three months later be ready to go to college or have a full time job, support ourselves, and live on our own. It’s not logical.

Compliance does not foster innovation. Kate challenges this idea in a thought provoking, and truly eloquent way.

When you think of your favourite talks, which ones have really challenged and pushed you? Which ones made you do something different?  Would love if you would share your favourites in the comments or a blog post of your own.


  1. Andrew Chlup said:

    The only one I’d add to the list is the Myth of Average by Todd Rose. It is always a good reminder that we have to make that anything we do needs to accommodate a range of students if it is going to work.


    August 1, 2016
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    August 2, 2016

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