100 incredible things I learned watching 70 hours of TED talks last week

Estimated Reading Time: 12 minutes, 6s. It’s skimmable, though.


The other week I watched 70 hours of TED talks; short, 18-minute talks given by inspirational leaders in the fields of Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED). I watched 296 talks in total, and I recently went through the list of what I watched, weeded out the crappy and boring talks, and created a list of the 100 best things I learned !

This article isn’t entirely about productivity, but I guarantee you’ll learn a thing or two. Here are 100 incredible things I learned watching 70 hours of TED talks last week!



1. Studies have shown that what motivates a person the most (in non-factory-type work) is how much autonomy, mastery, and purpose they have, not how much money they make.

2. Playing video games can actually make you more productive because video games give you more physical, mental, emotional, and social resilience.

3. A lot of people aspire to be productive so they can become happier, but happiness has been shown to lead to productivity, not the other way around.

4. You don’t have as much attention to give to the world around you as you think. You can’t recall memories while processing new data, you can only process so much information at once, and your attention is easily manipulated (like by magicians).

5. Innovative thinking is often a slow and gradual process, not a moment of instant, lightbulb-like inspiration.

6. If you want people to remember you, sweat the small stuff. Most companies (and people) do the big stuff right, so sweating the small stuff (like getting the user interfaces on your products right) can really set you apart.

7. You have three brain systems for love: lust, romantic love, and attachment. To develop more intimate relationships with your significant other, it’s important to invest in all three.


8. When you create an environment for your employees that makes them truly happy (instead of just rich), more profits may follow.

9. Your office is actually a pretty crappy environment to get work done. In fact, when Jason Fried asked folks where their favorite place to get work done was, almost no one said “in the office”.

10. Taking time off can make you a lot more productive, because time away from your work lets you explore, reflect, and come up with better ideas.

11. The greatest leaders and companies constantly reflect on why they do what they do, instead of simply doing it.

12. Success isn’t a destination, it’s a continuous journey that’s made up of eight parts: passion, hard work, focus, pushing yourself and others, having great ideas, making constant improvements, serving others, and persistence.

13. The key to becoming more productive and successful may be to fail faster and smarter, especially if you do creative work.

14. We don’t feel fear because of a potential loss of income or status, we feel fear because we’re afraid of being judged and ridiculed. Any vision of success has to admit what the definition doesn’t include, and what you may be missing out on.

15. IQ isn’t the only thing that dictates whether someone will be successful or unsuccessful; grit does too.

16. If you want to make better long-term decisions, imagine how your decisions will affect your future-self.

17. All you have to do to learn practically anything is jump in and ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

18. People tend to avoid conflict (it’s in our nature), even though a moderate level of conflict may be the key to better relationships, research, and businesses.

19. Mass media is pretty much dead, so the key to making big changes is through tribes. As time goes on, more and more people are investing their time and attention in their tribes (like TED!)

20. The best way to help someone is often to shut up and listen to them.

21. A great way to kill two birds with one stone: have walking meetings, where you walk and talk to someone at the same time. It’s great exercise, and it speeds up the meeting.

22. Stress by itself doesn’t affect your health. How you think about stress does.


Becoming a better human

23, 24, 25. Limits are bullshit. Some people choose to not be set back by limits, and at the end of the day, they’re the ones who end up giving TED talks. Like Neil Harbisson, who was born without the ability to see color, so he hacked together a device to hear color. Or Caroline Casey, who didn’t learn until she was 17 that she was legally blind. Or David Blaine, who pushed his body and mind to hold his breath for 17 straight minutes underwater.

littlehappyboy26. Don’t worry – texting isn’t ruining your understanding of the English language.

27. You’re not as rational as you think you are. One example: do you supersize your meal at McDonald’s even when you’re not hungry?

28. Three keys to success from Elon Musk: Work very hard, pay attention to negative feedback (especially when it comes from friends), and study physics to learn how to reason from first principles (instead of by analogy).

29. If you’re arguing with someone to win the argument, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. You should be arguing to learn.

30. Like it or not, your body language affects how other people think of you.

31. Great, committed sex combines two things: your need for security, and your need for surprise.

32. Being introverted isn’t a bad thing; it’s quite the opposite! Even though society often seems to value extraverts more, introverts should be celebrated just as much.

33. To save more money, commit to saving more money, tomorrow.

34. Living an awesome life means having a great attitude (seeing the good in things), seeing the wonder in the world around you, and being authentic.

35, 36, 37, 38, 39. 40, 41. There isn’t one secret to happiness, but there are a lot of small secrets that will move you in the right direction. Stay in the moment, and be mindful. Spend money on other people, rather than on yourself. Slow down. Take time to appreciate and see the good in what you have. Live a life that’s full of meaning in the short-and long-term. And change how you look at the past, present, and future.

42. Your memory is a lot faultier than you think. You frequently remember things that didn’t happen, and remember things differently than they actually happened. Plus, your memories can be manipulated.

Interlude: My 10 favorite productivity experiments from my year of productivity

10 of my favorite experiments from my year of productivity, in no particular order. Just click on any picture to visit the experiment’s article.


43. When it comes to classical music, no one is tone-deaf, and almost anyone can be calmed or inspired by classical music.

44. The people who design book covers actually put a ton of thought (and art) into their designs.

45. The biggest killer in America isn’t cancer, it’s obesity. 66% of the U.S. is obese, including a lot of children and teens, and 1 in 4 people in America dies of a preventable, food-related disease.

46. Schools kill creativity, and the education model we teach kids by is significantly outdated. School should nurture, not undermine creativity, which Ken Robinson argues that it does.

47. Students learn best when you make them stop and think, and bring classroom problems down to earth.

48. There is a large difference between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance, and just because you are loved doesn’t mean you are accepted.

49. People are powerful. They stand up to soldiers, show compassion when it seems impossible, and expose their vulnerability when it’s the most difficult.


50. Monkeys make the same stupid mistakes with money that people do, so our irrationality may just be rooted in our evolutionary history.

51. Depression (and other diseases) can strike anyone, anytime. Including a comic who has basically everything going for him.

52. North Korea is one of the most terrible and gruesome places to grow up. Citizens of the country frequently starve to death, are victim to military violence, and are shot if they try to escape.

53. Violence against women isn’t a “women’s issue”, it’s a man’s issue that’s rooted in the way men view women.

54. One of the most effective ways to cure poverty in developing countries isn’t food, cattle, or anything else – it’s giving away cellphones.


55. Every day, homeless people are completely ignored, abused, and made to feel invisible. Take it from someone who used to be homeless.

56. According to data, women “systematically underestimate their own abilities”, particularly at work. According to Sheryl Sandberg, women need to sit at the table, make their partner a real partner, and not “leave before they leave” (step back from opportunities because of their family life).

57. Some of the best designs not only look great, but also accommodate your other four senses. They should also feel great, sound great, smell great, and even taste great.

58. We live in the one of the most peaceful times of humanity’s existence, even though it might not seem that way. This talk has the fascinating stats to back that up.

59, 60. Good design has the potential to make people incredibly happy. And some of the best designs are the ones that tell stories.

61. A little danger is good for both kids and grown-ups, and it makes you into a more versatile, well-rounded person.

62. If you want to help people in developing countries, you better have a deep understanding of the values of who you’re helping. Take it from a condom saleswoman in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

63. There may be another way to run a successful, modern economy: the Chinese way. Even if you disagree, this talk is fascinating (it’s given from a Chinese perspective).

64. The language you speak affects your ability to save money. Studies have shown that languages that are more future-oriented motivate people to save more money.

65. Hard work is sometimes degraded in society, but unjustifiably so. According to Mike Rowe (the host of Dirty Jobs), hard work is worth it.

66. The way we think about charity is dead-wrong. We reward charities for how little money they spend, instead of for the difference they actually make.

67.Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change”, and it’s one of the most powerful qualities you have.

68. 4 a.m. is the most mysterious hour of the day.

69. 30 is not the new 20. Some people see their 20’s as a throwaway decade, even though it’s one of the most formative decades of a person’s life.

70, 71. Additional choice can make people either happier or less happy. Choice can make someone happy when the choices legitimately suit their needs better, and it can make someone less happy when it makes them more paralyzed (which happens a lot more than you think).



72. It turns out you can use two slices of pizza as a slide clicker, make music with ketchup, and make a piano keyboard with a banana!

73. If your medical data could anonymously be used by any researcher seeking a hypothesis, there would be a “wave of healthcare innovation”.

74. Since more and more websites are trying to tailor their content to you, you may get caught up in a digital “filter bubble” and not get “exposed to information that could challenge or broaden [your] worldview”.

3981617434_8db5b0023075. There is a camera that shoots video at a trillion frames a second, and the results are incredible.

76. Google is working on a car that drives itself, and it actually works very well.

77. A trend to watch: 3D printing. The ability for you to be able to print 3D items at home isn’t that far away.

78. Incredible things happen when you create an open encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Here’s the story behind Wikipedia.

79. There are a lot of videos about cats and twerking, but web video is also an incredible tool for learning and global innovation.

80. Everywhere you go online, you’re tracked; a lot more than you might suspect. Web tracking isn’t 100% evil, but websites certainly track you a ton, so it’s worth informing yourself what they use that information for.

81. Every electronic device you own is incredibly complex, with parts sourced from all around the world, so rebuilding anything you own from scratch is nearly impossible, as one guy found out.

82. You might put in orders on Amazon without much thought, but after you place an order, an incredibly intricate, hidden world of box-packing churns away to deliver your order.

83. Computers keep getting smarter; so fast that they often seem to be approaching (and exceeding) how smart humans are. But although they may be getting faster, they’re not as clever or creative as humans are.

84. Electrical sockets used to be shaped like lightbulb holders, because that used to be the only thing we plugged in.

85, 86. You can make plastic out of mushrooms, and the process is very good for the environment. This is great, because plastic has huge, surprising consequences for the environment.

87. It’s possible to stream wireless data from a light bulb (though it requires a line-of-sight between your device and the light).


Earth (and beyond)

88. Fish are delicious, but the way we’re farming them is unsustainable, not to mention bad for Nemo. Luckily, there’s a revolutionary (and fascinating) fish farming system in Spain that solves this.

89. Some fish and other ocean critters are positively enchanting. Want to see what I mean? Here is 5.5 minutes of footage of fascinating underwater creatures, including fish that change colors, creatures that camouflage to fit their environment, and fish that light up in the black of the ocean.

flower90. 80-90% of undersea creatures light up.

91. In my opinion (after watching this TED talk), one of the most interesting underwater creatures is the octopus.

92. Bees have been around for 50 million years, but they recently started dying en masse because of “parasitic mites, viral and bacterial diseases, and exposure to pesticides and herbicides”.

93. Flowers play beautiful tricks to attract insects to spread their pollen.

94. How a fly flies is fascinating, and according to Michael Dickinson, “perhaps one of the greatest feats of evolution“.

95. An asteroid 6 miles wide could end civilization on Earth in an instant.

96. The scientific odds are not against, but incredibly in favor of alien life.

97. One of Saturn’s moons has a giant volcano that shoots out ice instead of lava. And that’s just one cool part about the planet.

98. You can run a program on your computer that helps the University of California, Berkeley analyze radio telescope data for aliens.

99. Curiosity-driven science pays for itself, and drives incredible innovation for years to come.

100. Embrace the mystery that exists in the world. J.J. Abrams has a mystery box that he hasn’t opened in 35 years, because the potential of what’s inside the box is unlimited. which is worth way more than what’s actually in the box.

Image credits! Scrabble “Productivity” letters; kites on the beach; happy little Indian boy; weird ears picture.

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