Lectures for a New Year: Third Week in Review

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For the month of January I’m bringing you a great lecture every weekday. This week I picked my favorite TED Talks -- and got some great suggestions for more! In case you missed one, here’s a review of the lectures posted this week.

How to Enjoy Classical Music

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, and a hell of a speaker. He’s funny, engaging, and adorably English — exactly the sort of speaker who commands and rewards attention. In this twenty-minute talk, he barrels headlong into a brief explanation of classical music, how it works, and how we — the great non-classical-music-listening masses — might actually enjoy it, even if we’re weeping in the process. This lecture made me laugh and cry in equal measures — bravo, sir.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Turning Squares into Diamonds

Today, a lecture that’s funny and a bit geeky around the edges. In this talk, adman Rory Sutherland tells a series of funny anecdotes about history, advertising, and the perception of value. That may not sound entertaining, but it really is — it’s a rollicking good time, and it’s really smart stuff, without going over anyone’s head. Alternating between historical examples and modern ones, Sutherland pokes fun at trends (for example, calling a shared plate of pub fries “Food 2.0?), but eventually gets to the heart of his point: advertising is largely concerned with creating intangible value, which actually is valuable, despite being highly notional. Further, intangible value (and thus enjoyment, or a sense of wealth) can be found in things you already have — you just have to look for it.

The most hilarious part of this talk comes around the 13-minute mark, when Sutherland shows focus group footage of people eating Shreddies, a square Chex-like cereal that was in the process of being rebranded by rotating it 45 degrees to make “diamonds.” Wonderful.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Temple Grandin on Autism

This is a TED classic: Temple Grandin explaining what it’s like to be autistic, shortly after the release of a movie based on her book Thinking in Pictures. In the book and in the talk, Grandin explains how her cognitive experience as an autistic person differs from that of an average person (let’s not say “normal”). Grandin’s brain is very visual, and that has helped in her animal husbandry work — she can think as an animal presumably thinks, and because of that, she’s uniquely situated to understand why animals behave as they do.

Read more and watch the lecture.

How Schools Fail Creative Kids

Sir Ken Robinson is an educator (a former professor) who believes that the fundamental principles we use to educate our children are wrong. In this talk, he lays out a series of anecdotes (most of which are hilarious) about education, kids, and how we’re doing it wrong. This is a terrific talk for parents, educators, and kids themselves — have you ever felt that school didn’t nurture your creative instinct? I sure have. If you’re like me, you’ll find this talk instructive.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of iconic books including Blink and The Tipping Point. He has a formula for most of his work: find a core assumption about the world that everyone assumes is correct, then prove that the opposite is actually correct. (For example, in Blink one assumption was that rigorous, detailed study of something like a work of art would lead to the best determination of whether it was a forgery; but it turns out that the best forgery detectors in the world actually operate on gut instinct that happens in a flash…or do they? You see how this works.) This Gladwell Inversion makes for really interesting reading (I thought Blink was terrific), and when he tells anecdotes, it’s riveting stuff — the man is a veritable Teachable Moment Machine, full of stories that lead to lessons. To wrap up our week of TED Talks, here’s my favorite Gladwell TED presentation.

Read more and watch the lecture.

Up Next

RSA Animate and possibly some regular old video of speakers at RSA Events. The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce) holds events that are a bit like a British TED. Their online lectures are engaging, brief, and smart. I'll pick my favorites (including several fan favorites already suggest), and you can enjoy some smart, fun, bite-sized talks.

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out! (And many thanks to the readers who have already sent in suggestions — many of this week's TED Talks were suggested by readers. Thank you!)

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January 21, 2012 - 1:04pm
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