While a simple TED talk may not be an antidote to the frightening coronavirus, or to fake news, political populism or the environmental crisis, there is consolation in the reminder that human beings really do possess endless imagination and resourcefulness. Even when problems seem insurmountable, TED reminds us through the uniquely human medium of storytelling, that there are always ideas and ways to solve any problem. We just have to think, and we just have to keep on believing.

We highlight five thought-provoking TED and TEDx talks from the past that are as relevant today as they were when first shared – possibly more so.

Bill Gates, The Next Outbreak? We’re Not Ready – 2015
Just five years ago, Microsoft founder Bill Gates warned the world that the most immediate threat to humanity was more likely to be an infectious virus rather than armed conflict: “Not missiles, but microbes.” Gates’ concern was borne out of the 2014 ebola epidemic in West Africa that fortunately didn’t make the jump to a global pandemic. His view in the talk is that countries do have the tools to prepare for pandemics and that effective global response systems could be developed to minimise the spread and impact of future pandemics. The world might tragically have ignored Gates’s message in the past five years, but the question is whether it will listen now, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, to prevent future outbreaks…

Matt Mullenweg, Why Working from Home Is Good – 2019
While countless people across the world are currently being required to work from home as a preventive measure to stop the spread of COVID-19, others have long since discovered and realised its many advantages. As co-founder of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg knows what he’s talking about. In his role as CEO of Automattic, his workforce of around 800 staff is scattered around the world: “As long as they have good WiFi, we don’t care where they are.” If one lasting impact of the current coronavirus proves to be a change in how the world works, then bosses everywhere would be wise to heed Mullenweg’s advice.

Luvvie Ajayi, Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable – 2018
Luvvie Ajayi is a writer, activist and digital strategist who has been affectionately described as a “professional troublemaker”. Not that the latter description should be seen in any way as a bad thing. Ajayi’s intention is to inspire people to have the courage to dissent and to challenge the status quo if it isn’t working. And her aim is a noble one: “I want us to leave this world better than we found it.”

Niqolas Ruud, The Art of Alone – 2016
Recorded while he was a freshman studying for a degree in theology, in his TEDx talk Ruud reflects on how being alone for a time can benefit individuals and the communities we are part of, and emphasises the importance of not confusing isolation with separation. The message is clear: Approached with the right mindset, a period of solitude can stimulate the mind, giving people fresh hope and resolve.

Brené Brown, The Power of Vulnerability – 2010
Dr Brené Brown earned her PhD in social work and is a bestselling author, with her books and career focusing on human connection and, above all, the role of vulnerability, courage, shame and empathy in our lives. Brown’s presentation below remains one of the five most-viewed TED talks online.

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