For a while now I have developed the ritual of TEDTuesday – taking time each Tuesday to watch and learn something on

If you are new to – it is a platform for some of the most amazing explorers of knowledge and witnesses of humanity to share their knowledge, insights and experiences. Based on themed conferences and an annual general conference, TEDTalks are videos of public talks. I love TED for its purpose and for its diversity. If you have never watched a TEDTalk, I beg you – please – do so now!

So today I decided – over breakfast – to watch as many TEDTalks as I could during my breakfast time (about 30 minutes). I got out my Galaxy Note and launched the TED app and off I went. Without much thought about what I wanted to watch I just picked topics that vaguely interested me and something from Malcolm Gladwell – an author I really like learning from. So here goes…

#1 -Onora O’Neill: What we don’t understand about trust

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This talk seemed a little laboured, however Onora brought a lot of focus to the issue of trust and the misguided populism of some of the soundbytes that are regularly banded about by buzzwordists and politicians, for example ‘Gain trust’, ‘Rebuild trust’.
Trust is a big deal for me in my life and being worthy of the trust of people I am interested in having mutually positive relationships with is something I spend a lot of time and thought exploring. How do I communicate my trustworthiness to my wife, my kids , friends and my clients? Truth is, they each have their own set of operating rules to determine whether I have earned it.

I think Onora falls into the same trap of offering simple templates and more – though different – sound bytes. For example, she proposes that establishing trustworthiness is based on 3 things – ‘Competence, honesty and reliability’. It may do for certain people in certain contexts but not as a general rule. They are reasonable examples but not absolutes. My son who is nearly 5 years old might consider me trustworthy because I demonstrate sacrifice – that I forego other things to make time for him.

I enjoyed the talk but it was perfectly timed at 7 minutes – any more and I think she may have totally lost me. It left me with a lingering learning that asking people how you might earn their trust i.e. how you might be worthy of their trust – is the first activity one might do and then go from there.

My key learning: Trustworthiness is a more effective goal than trust. It is subjective and trying to understand what constitutes it in every relationship is a great place to start from.

#2 -Elizabeth Loftus: The fiction of memory

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This impassioned and fascinating talk really opened my eyes and mind to the power of suggestibility – especially in when it is sustained and deliberate. The lessons Elizabeth shares and glimpses of what is possible throws up huge questions in my mind about the quality of our legal systems.

My imagination is pretty vivid and I often find myself questioning a memory that flashes in my head – did I dream it, imagine it or did it really happen? This is a conscious act. So far I have deliberately developed mental tools to cross validate my memories with other things to rule out whether that event was real or imagined. For example, I often ‘remember’ that I replied to someone’s email when in fact I haven’t. Typically I retrospect on this and find that I mentally composed the reply and did so visually – as though I typed it out. At some level, my brain registers this as a memory. Then I seek evidence (like checking my ‘Sent’ box to see whether it was right.

As a student of NLP and very keen on the way the mind works, I know how easy it is to affect someone’s behaviour through some pretty easy ‘tricks’ and although it is not something I  do for ethical reasons, I know of practitioners that use these techniques in personal coaching work. The insight that the use of some of these techniques, like hypnosis and subliminal messaging, could tamper with people’s memories and unleash a chain of events that have lifelong consequences was very interesting.

It raises other questions in my mind – about film and fantasy work and advertising. Do they really understand the long term effects of such realism in film. I know there is research now into the effects of pornography on the brain and behaviour – how much of this effect is on memory? Perhaps certain content needs regulation – like dosage!

My key learning: Memory is far too open to suggestion to be reliable on its own. Even collectively it is dangerously unreliable (due to anchoring and suggestion). So finding evidence based thinking tools to cross validate it is both essential and offers a whole new world of potential innovation.

#3 –Malcolm Gladwell: The unheard story of David and Goliath

[ted id=1831]

I like Malcolm – he is a fantastic story teller and I value his ability to get to the essence of something. Usually it is an essence no one else sees! Many ah-ha moments with his books.
Anyway, Malcolm retells the story of David vs Goliath really beautifully, taking us through the geography of the times and the geopolitical forces at play.

Then he shares his opinions – some backed up by various bits of research – about how David was really not an underdog and simply fought Goliath on his own terms. In the end all of it was circumstantial and personally I thought it was reasonable. For example, Goliath could have been suffering from acromegaly – which many people suffering from gigantism also tend to suffer. This could have caused him to be visually impaired and may have contributed to David’s victory.

My key learning: Aside from all the biblical blah blah, I took from the subtexts some really powerful messages about adversity and some of the challenges of competition and some lessons that I can directly apply to my startup journey. For example – focus on my strengths. Also to play by my rules – not the rules of my opponent or competition. Also, weirdly, in place of competition, collaborate. Work with the weakness of my partner for my gain. This is also something that resonates really strongly from my Aikido practice.


What have you learnt from these TED talks? I really would love to know and share. Go ahead, drop me a comment or tweet me your thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Breakfast with TED: Trust, Memory and Gladwell on David vs Goliath”
  1. Hey Mike, I too am an avid TED talk fan and have been for several years. It’s a fantastic source of inspiration and often sparks creative thoughts. It’s great to see someone else’s experience of the Talks they’ve watched and the underlying messages they’ve taken away. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hey Sandra, thanks for reading my rants. TED is awesome and, as you say, a fantastic source of inspiration. I’ll keep sharing as long as I keep learning 😉

  2. I am a fan of TED Talk as well. Intact I sometimes download some for offline replay.
    Good stuff Mike

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