TEDx

TEDxEastSalon: Irrationality as the real invisible hand

Want short TEDx events, once a month? Many TEDx organizers are doing exactly that, including TEDxEast, which has a series of TEDxEastSalon events, each guest curated by a different TED speaker. The first one, curated by Dan Ariely, occurred at the end of September. TEDster Laure Parsons was there, and sent us this report.

The surprising sides of value emerged over a lively evening of comedy, music and presentations at TEDxEast‘s first in a series of Salons designed to present a taste of TED in an intimate setting.  One hundred TEDsters packed the Highline Room at New York’s elegant Standard Hotel overlooking the Hudson River.

To start off the show and punctuate the breaks, the lovely singer Nikki Jean performed a number of her soulful, engaging numbers co-written with some of the biggest names in songwriting.

Cheating is the surefire way to riches.  Entering the room to the tune “Money, Money, Money” and throwing bills into the crowd, comedian and writer Jeff Kreisler made an immediate splash.  As he presented material from his new book “Get Rich Cheating” he sold the crowd on the evils of cheaters and the myriad examples of their success in present day culture. This message was delivered tongue-in-cheek, but as Dan Ariely’s research has shown, humans are prone to cheating for various reasons.  Kreisler shows that cheaters can win, at least in the market. He’ll be presenting more about the idea with Ariely on October 11.

Harvard-based psychologist Michael I. Norton took the stage next, with the idea that while money can’t buy happiness, it’s possible to spend into a little joy– as long as you spring for someone else.  While it might seem counterintuitive, he suggests, to shell out your hard-earned cash on relatives or even strangers when you might have your own wishlist of items that you think might bring you joy, it turns out that giving has longer lasting satisfaction than self-purchased indulgence, especially in the area of tangible goods.

Host Dan Ariely headlined the evening with his talk on reward substitution and self contracts.  After an accident that left him severely burned, Ariely contracted Hepatitis C, a virus that can cause cirrhosis of the liver though a blood transfusion.  Dan chose to go through a procedure, experimental at the time, to eliminate the virus, that required him to inject himself frequently with a toxic chemical over the course of a year and a half.  He devised a system whereby he was rewarded for each injection with a movie that he very much wanted to see: connecting the reward with the action rather than the side effects.

Dan went on to discuss how this could be useful for other challenges, such as solutions for global warming, which would be almost perfect “if you were going to design a problem that people would not care about”. However, maybe with reward substitutions, we can convince people to do good for the earth “for the wrong reasons”.

The other aspect of Dan’s talk concerned self-control.  As Walter Mischel, the Stanford psychologist who ran studies on children’s marshmallow resistance, suggested, humans have a variety of ways of dealing with delayed gratification but having a restraint mechanism seems to be the more important markers for our general ability to deal with the world.  “The next Facebook will demand more of our time and attention, not less,” said Dan, and this important idea is a reminder of why understanding the way we behave and how we can correct for some of our irrational impulses is so crucial.

Whether you value time, discovery or other people, the first TEDxEast Salon offered a wonderful chance to explore your assumptions and form new ideas. TEDxEast continues the Salon model in November at Ace Hotel, hosted by Rives.

Laure Parsons