For my TED talks today, I used the nifty tool on ted.com to pick 3 persuasive talks that made up 30 minutes in total. I love this part of ted because it creates my own playlist – no faffing. Each talk is not necessarily on the same theme and this is another thing that delights me – the diversity. The talks can challenge and stimulate different parts of my brain and emotions.

#1 Jonathan Foley: The other inconvenient truth

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This talk was loong! I discovered it could have been shorter because Jonathan gave his really compelling talk with strong supporting statistics and imagery and then halfway through, showed an ‘explainer’ video that basically said the same thing again. I thought this was a little overkill.

The talk was on the threat of our current pace and scale of global agricultural production to  the world’s climate and water sources. It had some really startling statistics – more than 40% of the best land on Earth is used for agriculture and most of the world’s fresh water – 70% – is used to grow stuff. Alot of the agriculture is grow food for livestock – a lot for beef production. This is not  farm land waiting to be cultivated, a lot of it is pristine rainforest that is deforested to create farm land. Basically the land mass used to plant stuff or keep animals is basically the size South America and Africa – combined!

Food is a huge part of this agriculture, but there is also a growing amount for bio-fuels. And population growth is creating a pressure for more food. Increasingly wealth is changing diets – veggies are out, meats are in.

With the problem well defined – Jonathan’s call to action is that there must now be collaboration between seemingly competing approaches – organic farming, industrial agriculture and  environment conservation – to come up with a way that we can feed the world without destroying it. Ideas around improving yields, do better with less, but sustainably (so not GMO!).

This talk also inspired me to look into another aspect of the problem – food waste. Whilst we seek efficiency in production, there is still a fundamental problem with how much food that is produced is wasted. My gut tells me that there are huge problems with waste due to ineffective distribution of the food and this is something I would like to explore more.

My key learning:  there is power in showing the big picture – for connecting ‘localised’ problems and showing the global picture. Also, ultimately our complex problems need collaboration between competing models to come up with something sustainable. There are no silver bullets and no single answer.

#2 Graham Hill: Less stuff, more happiness

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Graham’s talk was about having less stuff because it’s cheaper, takes up less space and generally less stressful. All great reasons in my opinion. As someone who has moved country I definitely value the ‘less stuff’ mantra. Also there is something very liberating from not having stuff. What do they really give us. Do they make us happier?

I really loved the focus on design – this is, I think, the plug that Graham was pushing. His website – Lifeedited.com – is all about seeking more from less. More money, space, time and ultimately, happiness from having less stuff. He showed off a render of his apartment (in Manhattan!) with elements from a design competition. Fold-into-the-wall beds, moving walls and a coffee table that grew into a dinner table that seats 10! All very impressive.

My key learning – less is more. Actually the previous talk really connects with this too. I think that seeking to make smaller things is a only part of the message. Many small things are almost as bad as a few big things. Design is awesome, but we must first break this addiction to shiny stuff.

#3 Jake Wood: A new mission for veterans — disaster relief

[ted id=1608]

This talk really gave me an ‘ah-ha’ moment. It is very America focused in its tone and perhaps in the severity of the problem – that young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan not being successfully reintegrated into society after they have left the military.

Jake, as a veteran himself, offers a persuasive account of the challenges that veterans face in dealing with a return to civilian life. Even as military loving as America is, once you’re back, you are pretty much left to fend for yourself, the support systems and camaraderie is often absent and veterans face emotional problems as a result.

The really interesting thing is what Jake and others in his organisation are doing. Deploying ex service personnel to help in disaster areas like Haiti, Chilé and Pakistan for example. This very common-sense pairing of problems presents brilliant solution to both. Veterans often have the skills and the attitudes to make a difference in disasters. Their need to be of service and to derive some self worth from being in service are also met.

This talk really connected two personal experiences for me. First, my brother Peter who has served in humanitarian relief in Haiti and other places. The challenges and devastation he has witnessed, yet still driven to help. The second is the son of a client – who was deployed as a Marine to Afghanistan and , at 22, is emotionally damaged by his experienced and struggled to reintegrate into civilian life.

My key learning: some problems are their own solution when combined. The sense of service and the need for self worth are powerful human factors and we disregard them at our peril.


What did you learn from these talks? What have any of the talks persuaded you to do or explore? I’d love to hear your opinions, comment below or tweet!

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