I like people who do stuff. While that might seem like a helluva broad statement, what I'm talking about are the folks who do one thing and do it amazingly well — from writers to astronomers to guys who make handmade knives. There's something lovely about the human urge to create and understand, and when you get right down to where the shoe leather meets the sidewalk, it is what makes us human to begin with. And while most of us can't do the math to start thinking toward building a working time machine, or study chimpanzee behavior in Africa, or dive to the lowest depths of the ocean in a tiny submarine, there's a place where you can do the next best thing: listen to people who do.
Founded in 1985, the TED Conference was originally centered on bringing in the brightest speakers in technology, entertainment and design for a four-day love fest of brainpower. These days, the annual conference in Long Beach (and a companion conference in Oxford, UK) brings in next-level speakers in all disciplines, with subjects ranging from groundbreaking to the sublime.
Participants are given 18 minutes to speak on any subject they want, and they have more than 500 of those chats archived at the TED website. In addition to the talks by glitterati like Robert Ballard, Al Gore, Jeff Bezos, J.K. Rowling, Jane Goodall and J.J. Abrams, be sure to take a little time to browse the other, lesser-known speakers — many of whom are scientists, educators and researchers working in obscure-but-fascinating fields like deep ocean marine life, movie-prop making, cosmology, and what comes next on the Internet. My personal favorites so far: Adam Savage, of the TV show “Mythbusters,” talking about his obsessive-compulsive quest to create the ultimate replica of the Maltese Falcon, and slaughterhouse designer Temple Grandin talking about how her autistic brain lets her see the world as animals do.