David Kelley: How to build your creative confidence


David Kelley is founder, chairman, and managing partner of the design firm IDEO and a professor at Stanford University. He has received several honors for his contributions to design and design education.


People divide themselves into ‘creative’ types and ‘not creative’ – often discouraged by being judged in their childhood. It’s not that they can’t be creative, just that they’re afraid to try.

David talks of phobias, and a treatment for fear of snakes implemented by Albert Bandura (described by David as the fourth greatest psychologist of history). People would be told there is a snake in the next room, then when they were comfortable they’d be taken to a window where they could see the snake, then be led to the doorway, then be in the room and eventually touching the snake. At each point they are held until they are comfortable moving to the next step. At the end they could even see the beauty in snakes, and would be less anxious about other parts of their life – they had gained a new confidence in their own self-efficacy.

He discusses an anecdote from ‘Doug’ – a technician who designs MRI machines. He is a technical type, but forced himself to be creative when he discovered children were terrified of an MRI. 80% needed to be sedated to run the scan, so he made it more exciting for them. The machine was painted in bright colours, with a pirate ship theme. The operators were trained also to make it more exciting – they told the children the story of having to be perfectly still or else the pirates would get them, and described the movement of the machine as if the boat was rocking. The children loved the new machine – with only 10% needing to be sedated and this saved the hospital a lot of time and money in having to call for the anesthesiologist all the time.

David has survived a cancer scare, and through that decided his calling was in inspiring people to regain the creative confidence they had lost. When people regain this confidence, they can a new perspective on what’s important to them. They will change the direction of their lives to achieve whatever their goal is. We should not divide the world into ‘creatives’ and ‘non creative’, people are all naturally creative. We should be able to achieve self-efficacy and touch the snake.

My Thoughts

David has a lot of emotional stories, but I’m disappointed he didn’t describe how to build creative confidence. He tells us to ‘do it’, which is easy to say, but still might be intimidating to some people. There is no list of steps similar to the snake to get people to be more creative.

Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster — from scratch


Thomas Thwaites is a designer “of a more speculative sort”. He has written a book on ‘The Toaster Project’, and more information is available here http://www.thetoasterproject.org/page2.htm


It takes a whole civilisation to build a toaster. Thomas wanted to build one from scratch – from the rocks and sludge of the earth, through to raw materials, through to the form of a toaster. He bought a toaster but was dismayed to find it contained 400 components and more than 100 materials. He broke it down to just 5: steel, copper, mica, plastic, and nickel.

For steel he took some lumps of iron oxide from a local abandoned mine. He tried studying metallurgy, but it didn’t suit his scale or level of equipment, so he instead smelted using an ancient method. It didn’t work, so he refined further using a method described by an online patent that used a microwave.

He took water from an old copper mine. As a mine is used, more minerals dissolve in the water, so this was concentrated enough to smelt the copper pins of the toaster.

To get mica he travelled to Scotland to chip away a fragment of mica. Mica is a very good insulator of electricity.

He wanted to make the body of the toaster out of plastic. Plastic usually comes from oil – he wanted to take a jug of crude oil from a rig, but he couldn’t get access to it. He tried using potato starch to make the plastic, but it was attacked by snails. He finally resolved to ‘mining’ a recycling plant. Once he got the plastic, he melted it, then shaped using a mold cut from an old tree trunk.

The resulting toaster looked crude. He plugged it in once for 5 seconds, but the wire was uninsulated and the element melted itself. Nonetheless, he considers it a partial success.


Ramsey Musallam: 3 rules to spark learning


Ramsey Musallam is a chemistry teacher whose mission is to meaningfully integrate multimedia into a hands-on, inquiry-based learning cycle.


Ramsey is a chemistry teacher who thinks a teacher’s role is to encourage a student’s curiosity. They should aim to confuse and perplex, so that the students want to ask questions and experiment. When he did this with a common demonstration (putting a card on a glass of water and turning it upside down so the card sticks to the glass), he loved it when students continued to extend the experiment when they got home.

When Ramsey was diagnosed with a life-threatening aneurism, he was impressed with his surgeon’s confidence and knowledge of the condition. The surgeon told him 3 things

  1. Curiosity drove him to ask hard questions about the procedure
  2. He embraced the messy process of trial and error
  3. Through reflection, he gathered the information to design the procedure.

From this, Ramsey developed his own 3 rules to encourage learning

  1. Curiosity comes first. Questions should be windows to new theory, not the other way around.
  2. Embrace the mess. Learning can be ugly- trial and error should be encouraged.
  3. Practice reflection

Young children (4 year olds) always ask “why?”. Teachers should embrace this curiosity and keep it going throughout their school lives.


Alain de Botton: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success


Alain de Botton is a Swiss-British writer, philosopher, and television presenter resident in the United Kingdom.


We live in an age where our lives are regularly punctuated by career crises – it is easier to make a living, but harder to avoid an anxiety about what we do. The reasons are

  • We are surrounded by snobbery – people who will imply everything about you based on your career. “What do you do?” is a common question to rank you when you first meet someone. This flows on to a need for material goods – to makes you feel more valued. This is true for a lot of conspicuous consumption – if you see someone with a Ferrari, assume they are vulnerable and in need of love & sympathy, rather than contempt or greed.
  • Expectations are high about what we can achieve – there is no class system, anyone can do anything with a spirit of equality. This clashes with envy – which is felt harder by people who are from similar backgrounds. We have a feeling that everyone comes from a similar background as everyone else, but the result is not equal. By telling people they can do anything, it is linked with low self-esteem.
  • Everyone encourages the idea of a meritocracy – it implies that the most skilled and driven will get to the top. However it also implies that anyone at the bottom deserves to be there – they are the worst. In the middle ages a poor person was called an ‘unfortunate’, whereas now they’d probably be called a ‘loser’.

These result in higher suicide rates in developed, individualistic countries than any other region. How can we change our mindsets to tackle these issues?

  • Meritocracy: We need to recognise it is impossible to create a perfect meritocracy – there are too many random factors in play.
  • Failure: when we fail, we don’t fear the loss of income or position so much as the ridicule. Newspapers are full of stories of people’s failures, and often presented salaciously without sympathy. At the other end of the spectrum is tragedy in art: Shakespeare makes us sympathetic to the flaws of his characters. Hamlet is not a loser, but he has lost.
  • We worship humanity: All our heroes are human, we are excited by human achievements and the concept of a spiritual has started to disappear. It could be why people are now so drawn to nature – one of the few non-human forces left.

We have a lot of ideas about success – that someone successful will be rich or renowned in their field. However, noone is successful in every aspect of their life – someone renowned in one field has sacrificed another. Most people’s ideas of success are not their own – taken from family, friends, marketing. Rather than giving up on success, we need to make sure that the ideas are our own. Because it feels bad to fail to achieve success, but much worse to achieve it and realise it wasn’t really what you wanted.


Henry Markram: A brain in a supercomputer


Henry Markram is a Professor at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and director of both the Blue Brain Project and the Human Brain Project.


Henry’s goal is to build a realistic computer model of the human brain. He has already succeeded at a proof of concept – building a rodent brain, and now wants to scale it up. The reasons we need this model are

  1. It is essential for us to understand our brain
  2. We cannot keep doing animal experimentation
  3. There are 2 billion people affected by mental disorder, and the drugs used to treat them are empirical. If better understood, we can develop better solutions.

So how does the brain work? One theory is that the brain builds its own version of the universe and projects this image around us. We decide the size and shape of most things around us – when we walk into a new room, 99% of the sizes, shapes, identities of objects are inferred by our brain. “I think therefore I am”. Henry’s talk will explore if a brain is capable of building such an elaborate model of the universe.

The brain took 11 billion years to form. The first big innovation was the frontal part to give instincts, but the big development for mammals was the neocortex. This dealt with parenthood and social interaction, and with humans it is much larger than mice and is still getting larger. The neocortex is covered in small modules of processing, and these are amazingly powerful. So much so that they kept increasing in number until they filled the whole skull, then started folding in on themselves.

Over the past 15 years, Henry’s team has been dissecting the neocortex – understanding the communications between neurons, cataloguing each piece, and building a 3D digital model of each neuron. By putting each of these models together and understanding the connections between them, you can rebuild the neocortical column. Each neuron intersects others in millions of places, creating a synapse that allows communication between them. This communication is in the form of an electrical charge, which interacts with a synapse to release chemicals to stimulate the next neuron.

The equations to simulate communication between neurons are simple, and already known – but you need a very powerful supercomputer to simulate the whole brain. They have done this, and although they haven’t fully trained the brain they can stimulate it with an image of a rose and see which neurons are triggered. They hope to analyse it deeper, and map these neurons to physical coordinates so we can actually see how the brain sees the universe around it. This would be an amazing step in the evolution of the universe – a time when the one brain can see the world projected by another, and in effect becomes self-aware.


Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar


Pamela Meyer is author of “Liespotting”, which pulls together research on deception from a number of sources.


Everyone is a liar, but the goal to spotting liars isn’t to trick them or play ‘gotcha’, but to understand the truth.

Truth #1 Lying is a cooperative act – it needs the hearer to believe.

Truth #2 We are against lying… and covertly for it

Lying can manifest as corporate fraud, which costs nearly a trillion dollars a year in the US, or it can betray national secrets. In many cases lying defines our social interations – to protect ourselves, to protect others, to portray ourselves differently to what we are, to lie to a partner, we lie to a stranger 3 times within 10 minutes of meeting them. The thought of this makes people recoil in horror. However, the more intelligent the species, the more they rely on deception. Children grow up with lies and by the time they are in the workforce they are living in a ‘post-truth society’.

Trained Lie spotters get to the truth 90% of the time, while untrained people get there 54% of the time. Pamela studies Bill Clinton’s denial of his affair with Monica Lewinsky “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” – later proven to be a lie. She looks at how his speech patterns and language betrays him.

  • He uses overly formal language
  • he distances himself from “that woman”
  • he uses qualifying language.

Clinton didn’t do this, but Pamela also stays on the lookout for too much or too little detail in the statements, and repeating the question to stall for time.

She also looks separately at body language symbols of liars:

  • They don’t always fidget, some completely freeze their upper bodies.
  • We think liars won’t look you in the eye, some look too much to compensate
  • They often smile to show sincerity, but it is a fake smile, and they are not smiling in the eyes
  • Body language cues can be giving the opposite of the words – eg shaking head while saying yes or shrugging shoulders while telling a confident, good story.

Giveaways in attitude, when conversing with a deceptive person:

  • An honest person will be enthusiastic and help brainstorm to discover the real suspect.
  • an honest person will be infuriated throughout the whole process if they suspect they are being accused – it won’t just be in flashes
  • an honest person will want a strict punishment for the person who committed the crimes.
  • In contrast a deceptive person will talk only in chronological order and get confused when asked to tell it differently (change the order)
  • A deceptive person will be withdrawn from the conversation
  • A deceptive person will add way too much irrelevant detail

A lot of small tells can also show deceptive behaviour – changing blink rate, or putting physical barriers between the asker and themselves, or changing their tone of voice. But these can happen naturally as well, it is only when they happen in clusters that you should be suspicious. When dealing with a suspected liar, be curious and friendly, treat them with dignity, and don’t be too aggressive.

The world is getting more interconnected, people are sharing a lot. By learning to spot lies, you are telling the world that you will not be part of the lie – that your world is a truthful one.

TedSummaries questions to you


I’ve been writing these summaries for 10 months now. Over that time we have reviewed 76 talks and collected quite a few readers, including one who wrote a few summaries himself. I’ve also managed to settle in to publishing a summary every 4 days – with a good pipeline scheduled in the future to keep this coming.

I want to make sure I am offering what you want, and if there is anything I can do to improve the content I deliver. I’d appreciate if you could take a minute to post a comment to respond to the following questions

  1. Why did you subscribe or read this blog?
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  3. What topics or talks do you want me to look at more in future?
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Thank you for your time.

Naomi Oreskes: Why we should trust scientists


Naomi Oreskes is an American historian of science.


We as a people have to answer questions that rely on the scientific method – about global warming, evolution, and the effectiveness of vaccines. But increasingly, public opinion polls show that Americans don’t believe the science on these issues. For most people, science is not fully understood, so it is reduced to a matter of ‘belief’, and this is true even for scientists operating outside of their own field (eg a chemist talking about evolutionary biology). So how do we trust scientists?

The inductive model is the textbook scientific method. This forces scientists to

  1. Develop a hypothesis
  2. Deduce it’s consequences
  3. Observe these consequences

In the ideal case, the idea is a law of nature. A law is true in the general case – in all times and places, and cannot be broken.

For example, the theory of general relativity said that space-time wasn’t an empty void and actually had a fabric that was bent in the presence of large objects. An observable conclusion was that light would bend around the sun. This took a few years to test, but was observable and therefore verified the theory of general relativity.

Naomi says this deductive model of science is wrong for 3 reasons

  1. False theories can make true predictions – just because a test shows something, doesn’t prove this hypothesis.
  2. Auxiliary Hypothesis – assumptions that scientists are making without realising they are making them. For example to test that the Earth rotated around the sun, scientists suggested that when they focussed on a particular star in June, the backdrop of other stars would be different in December (since it was being observed from a different ‘angle’). They did not see this, so disproved the (correct) model because the effect of ‘stellar parallax’ was small (Earth’s orbit relative to star distances was tiny), and their telescopes were not sensitive enough. The scientists made incorrect implicit assumptions about the size of the orbit and the sensitivity of their equipment, which undermined their conclusions.
  3. Inductive science – a lot of science is based on finding evidence and data first, then developing a model later. Darwin’s evolutionary work itself evolved after Darwin collected samples and data over a number of years.

Scientists often build models, to explain the root causes of something. A geologist who hypothesised continental drift to form mountains did so first by compressing clay with a clamp – this did show results similar to the folds in mountains and this added to the evidence of continental drift. Climate change is an area where modelling is used to explain the 1 degree celsius temperature increase over the past 50 years. Temperature measurements over 150yr period show that the increase is clear, but the models explain this by taking into account all effects (for example sulfates, volcanic eruptions, greenhouse gases, ozone, solar radiation). By modelling each of these effects, we can see which combination of them affects temperature. The modelling shows that each of these effects yield a temperature change, but the largest rise was driven by the impact of greenhouse gases. This lets us show that not only is climate change happening (from observations of temperature), but also that greenhouse gases are a major driver (from the models).

If scientists do not use a common methodology, how do we know if they are right or wrong? By organised skepticism – they convince each other from a position of mistrust, with the burden of proof on someone who wants to make a novel claim. It is difficult to shift scientific thought to a new radical idea – the model is conservative by design. Scientific knowledge is therefore a model of consensus by the experts.

Is this consensus any different from the ‘appeal to authority’ argument? It is similar to an appeal to authority, but it is not an appeal to an individual, but the authority of the entire collective scientific community. For example – modern automobiles are the product of not 1 person, but on the collective work of every person who has worked on the car for the past 100 years. The same is true for science – but it has been collected over thousands of years. We should trust science, but not blindly – it should be based on evidence. This means scientists need to be better at sharing their reasons for knowing something, but also that we as a community need to be better at listening.