The Thinking Ladder
We focus so much on “what” we and others think that we often forget to ask ourselves how we think. In this talk, Tim Urban explores how individuals think, how groups think together, and how those two things are connected.
After a look at Urban's “Thinking Ladder,” in which he discusses the four kinds of thinkers (which he calls the Scientist, Sports Fan, Attorney, and Zealot), audiences will turn their attention to companies (or any kind of group). A lot of thought goes into the idea of company culture, but perhaps the most important type often goes undiscussed: intellectual culture.
Language gives groups of people the amazing capability to join their minds together into a superbrain—one that can do far more than the sum of its parts. But this only happens in the right kind of intellectual culture- Urban will introduce audiences to two broad kinds of intellectual culture:
- The Idea Lab: a culture where disagreement is encouraged; where people are always respected but ideas are not.
- The Echo Chamber: a culture that penalizes departure from the prevailing narratives at the company and incentivizes independent minds to remain “in the closet” about what they really think.
While Idea Lab culture unleashes the full intellectual power of a group of minds, giving the company a superbrain, Echo Chamber culture leaves that potential untapped—the company brain is simply the brain of the CEO, widely repeated. Company leaders set the intellectual culture. Urban's presentation teaches that by actively encouraging dissent and debate, and by emphasizing the distinction between people and ideas, they can make their company smarter than any single human could ever hope to be.
The AI Revolution and the Road to Superintelligence
When Tim Urban began digging into research on artificial intelligence, he could not believe what he was reading. It hit him pretty quickly that what’s happening in the world of AI is not just an important topic, but by far THE most important topic for our future. In what Vox called his “epic series on artificial intelligence,” Urban took readers on a deep exploration of what AI is, how it works and why it might dramatically change our lives. The article was widely shared, even catching the eye of Elon Musk, who shared the article twice on Twitter, commenting “Excellent and funny intro article about Artificial Superintelligence! Highly recommend reading.” Urban has since turned his exploration of AI into a gripping talk—one that the head of Sweden’s Øredev conference tweeted was “the best keynote in years.” After watching the talk at Social Media Week in New York, conference founder Toby Daniels wrote that Urban “was brilliant, inspiring and terrifying at the same time, and left most of us speechless, breathless and in a mixed emotional state of wonder and awe at what the future holds.”
Why Procrastinators Procrastinate: The Never-Ending Battle in Our Heads
In college, Tim Urban’s procrastination problem got so bad that he found himself writing the first word of his 90-page senior thesis only 72 hours before it was due. After spending years trying to understand how his own mind worked, he finally put his thoughts down on paper, creating three cartoon stick drawings—the Rational Decision-Maker, the Instant Gratification Monkey and the Panic Monster—to represent the major “players” in his head that battled over the steering wheel. The reaction to this post wildly exceeded Urban’s expectations. Urban has received over 10,000 emails about his procrastination post, each lamenting their unique struggle with the problem, and most saying some version of “How do you know what’s going on in my head?” Urban has since dug even deeper into the issue, writing two follow-up articles, and procrastination has now become one of his most popular speaking topics. A hilarious talk that consistently delights and inspires the audience, Urban was asked to perform the talk at TED2016 in Vancouver.
Cooks and Chefs: What It Means to Be a True Original
One day in early 2015, Elon Musk called Tim Urban on the phone. He told Urban he liked his blog Wait But Why, and asked Urban if he’d consider doing some writing about the industries he’s involved in with his companies Tesla and SpaceX. Urban accepted the offer and went on to write four epic blog posts that Vox’s David Roberts called “the meatiest, most fascinating, most satisfying posts I’ve read in ages.” While the first three posts dug into the full story with Musk and his companies, in the final post, Urban brought together six months of thinking, writing and talking to Musk and his staff that got to the core of the question, “Why is Elon Musk able to be so successful?” Urban believes it’s not Musk’s intelligence or wealth or drive that separates him so far from the crowd, but rather the way he thinks. Urban compares Musk’s way of thinking to other world-changers like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford and John Lennon in a post that explores the simple truth about what it means to be an original. Urban’s talk on the subject galvanizes audiences by leaving them with the belief that it’s fully in their power to be more original—simply by absorbing the epiphany that the world they live in was built by people no smarter than they are.
The Secrets Behind Communicating Complex Concepts in a Way That Delights
The most common praise Tim Urban receives for his writing is about his ability to synthesize complex concepts and present them in a clear, digestible, entertaining and highly memorable way. He has broken down in-depth topics like the situation in Iraq, climate change, the car industry, the space industry, the timeline of history, human evolution and a number of the psychological battles going on in the heads of all humans. Urban has managed to write long, 10,000+ word articles that millions of people read until the end and share enthusiastically, leading Fast Company to write, “Wait But Why is disproving the notion that thoughtful, long-form content and virality are mutually exclusive.” In a talk often given to companies, marketers and writers, Urban discusses how he chooses topics. He describes how he thinks through, researches, brainstorms, outlines and ultimately communicates his ideas so effectively.