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The Power of Unconventional Thinking: David McWilliams (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript and summary of David McWilliams’ talk titled “The Power of Unconventional Thinking” at TED conference.

In this TED talk, economist David McWilliams discusses the importance of unconventional thinking in today’s world. He discussed how poets, like W.B. Yeats, were given permission to think differently while economists were not recognized for this type of intelligence. He also talked about the phenomenon of groupthink and how it can lead to overconfidence and a lack of self-awareness. Finally, he argued that the pursuit of tradition and conformity often leads to missed opportunities and mistakes at critical moments, urging the audience to seek out the insights of non-conformists like poets and artists in order to better understand the world.

Listen to the audio version here:


I was supposed to go in the very first session. And I had a plan. And that plan was I’d do TED, I’d see Vancouver, I’d chill out, I’d get this thing done, then I’d relax. I’d listen to other people’s speeches, rob their best ideas, bring them home and sound incredibly, incredibly brainy.

And then your man, Chris, rings me last weekend. He says, “You know that last thing, the first thing? Why don’t you go last?” I’m like, “Oh, man.” That brought to mind the words of the great American philosopher, Mike Tyson, who said of plans, “Everybody has a plan until they get a punch in the face.”

And of course, you know, doing the last gig at TED, it’s not about the pressure, that’s not the problem. The pressure isn’t the problem. The problem is the sobriety. But the speeches have been amazing, right? And if I could kind of encapsulate them all, it’s really been about, as far as I can see, the pace of change and what that’s doing to us demographically, politically, socially, economically.

Extraordinary stuff. And I’d now like to quote from a great liberal, democrat, a friend of TED, Vladimir Lenin, who said of change and crises that there are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen. And we’re living through those weeks, you get that feeling, and it’s really difficult to know where to start to think about these… How do you analyze this stuff?

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