TED Talks are one of the best resources for educational videos that expand your mind. Often, the speakers at these conferences are people from a creative background, and through their short speeches, you can learn how to tap the creativity in you.
When rounding up these talks, we decided not to go for creativity talks about passion and inspiration. We wanted to focus on practicality — something which doesn’t just inspire you, but also helps you take action. Here are our picks for the best TED Talks on being a creative.
- Speaker: David Kelley (Educator and Founder of IDEO)
- Runtime: 12 minutes
- When: March 2012
If you think you aren’t the creative type, if you think creativity is something people are born with or not, then this is the most important talk you’ll see in your life.
Even if you skip everything else in this article, take 12 minutes to hear David Kelley talk about how fear holds back the creativity within all of us, how to get over that fear through renowned psychologist Albert Bandura’s theory of “Guided Mastery”, and how it can change your life entirely.
It’s such a soul-searching speech that you probably should download this TED talk and watch it once a day.
Why It’s Practical: Kelley’s talk is inspiring enough to actually make you break out of your shell and face your creative fears, whether it’s getting started or whether it’s pushing yourself into trying something you aren’t comfortable with. Creativity is about pushing boundaries. Kelley will take you there.
- Speaker: Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO)
- Runtime: 28 minutes
- When: May 2008
Another IDEO man, Tim Brown’s talk features high in this list because there are two exercises he conducts in the talk which are essential to breaking out of self-censorship. Brown says your worst critic is you — we all have a desire to be original, an apprehension to offend, and a tendency for self-editing.
To illustrate these, Brown conducts two tests. We won’t spoil them, but just know that you’ll need a piece of paper and a pencil, and ideally you should be watching this talk with someone else around you.
Why It’s Practical: Brown’s talk emphasizes how creativity can be harnessed through a playful atmosphere. He cites several examples of “playing” that actually benefit in thinking out of the box.
- Speaker: Tim Harford (Economist and Author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure)
- Runtime: 18 minutes
- When: July 2011
One of the intrinsic problems with creativity is that, since you have to put your heart and soul into it, you treat it as your baby — your way is the right way and suggestions otherwise aren’t exactly welcome.
Harford’s talk focuses on this God Complex, an inability to think that your way might not be the best way. Through several examples, Harford shows how a process of trial and error helps in coming up with creative thoughts whereas the God Complex keeps you stuck in one line of thinking.
Why It’s Practical: While not intended as a course in handling criticism, that’s what Harford’s talk ends up being. The ability to listen to people challenge your opinion and your work, and then to build upon that with trial and error, is an important component in any creative endeavor.
- Speaker: Julie Burstein (Radio Personality and Author of Spark: How Creativity Works)
- Runtime: 17 minutes
- When: February 2012
Julie Burstein spoke with a lot of creative individuals while researching her book, and she came up with four key takeaways from the process. In many ways, the focal point of these lessons lies in how to open up your creative eye — the eye which we often close as we go through our daily lives.
There is beauty in struggle, there is beauty in flaws, there is beauty in the everyday moments around us. It is difficult to extricate yourself from the insular world of things that affect you, but Burstein shows how it can be done using famous artists as examples.
Why It’s Practical: The story of photographer Joel Meyerowitz is particularly powerful because of how much it drills in the idea of “work”. Often a creative pursuit seems like an intellectual exercise, but Meyerowitz’s example shows how the work triumphs over the thought.
- Speaker: Shimpei Takahashi (Toy Designer)
- Runtime: 6 minutes
- When: May 2013
Have you ever heard of a toothbrush that’s also a guitar? As you brush, you’re playing a tune! Rock on!
Shimpei Takahashi’s job is to dream up such new and wonderful toys, but his boss hounds him for data-driven ideas. Data ended up killing Takahashi’s creativity until he finally found a resolution: a brainstorming game called Shiritori, which is basically a simple exercise to get your creative juices flowing.
Note: The talk is in Japanese, but with subtitles. You might be tempted to cheat and read the interactive transcript alone, but don’t. Takahashi’s presentation is important to the talk, so watch it, don’t read it.
Why It’s Practical: As Takahashi explains, when you come up with a list of random words, you start seeing images in your head. The images of those words end up forming a connection in your brain, and odd connections later lead to great ideas, whether consciously or subconsciously.
- Speaker: Kirby Ferguson (Creator of Everything Is a Remix)
- Runtime: 10 minutes
- When: June 2012
All creative people have to face the hurdle of originality at one point or another. After all, the simplest definition of creativity is to come up with something original — something which has never been done before. Kirby Ferguson, by citing acclaimed modern creative thinkers, busts this idea open.
“Our creativity comes from without, not from within. We are not self-made. We are dependent on one another, and admitting this to ourselves isn’t an embrace of mediocrity and derivativeness. It’s a liberation from our misconceptions, and it’s an incentive to not expect so much from ourselves and to simply begin.”
Why It’s Practical: Creative blocks are perhaps the biggest problem for artists. Ferguson drills down the message that several accomplished artists exemplify: you need to first do something before you can judge whether it’s actually creative or not. Often, it’s in the process of actually doing that you discover true creativity.
- Speaker: Joi Ito (Director of MIT Media Lab)
- Runtime: 10 minutes
- When: March 2014
Creative thinking is often seen as an exploration of the future or the unknown. How will things be in another five years? How do you make art which is timeless and appreciated by generations to come? Heck, robots may even be the artists of the future.
This quest for future-proofing is actually stifling creative thinking, at least according to Joi Ito, and this coming from someone who heads one of the most innovation-friendly technological research environments on the planet today. Ito stresses the importance of making things for the now, not the future.
Why It’s Practical: Ito’s talk is probably the most practical approach to creative thinking as he puts a premium on simplicity. His approach to creativity is to disregard complex planning and instead focus on being connected to the present.
- Speaker: Sting (Singer and Songwriter)
- Runtime: 23 minutes
- When: March 2014
Writer’s block? Even accomplished creative individuals like singer-songwriter Sting struggle with it.
In this talk, Sting recounts how he was unable to write for years, staring at a blank page every day, and kept wondering if his best work was behind him. It took some time to regain creative motivation after burnout, but in that time, Sting found perhaps the strongest force in writing, which was finally able to get him over his block: empathy.
Why It’s Practical: The “write what you know” paradigm only goes so far. After a point, your personal experiences dry out, so where does expression come from? Sting explains how empathy can broaden your perspective and give you new ideas to express. Give a voice to someone without a voice, as he poetically puts it.
Share Your Favorite Creative Talk
TED has 135 talks on creativity and we obviously couldn’t include them all here, and there are plenty more when it comes to motivation and inspiration.
But we want to know which ones are your favorites. If you had to pick one video about creativity — not necessarily from TED — which would it be and why? Tell us in the comments below!
Image Credits:Colored splashes by Jag_cz via Shutterstock