Unlocking Human Potential: Q&A with Tiffany Shlain

Speaking during TEDMED 2014’s “Human Nature Inside and Out” session, filmmaker Tiffany Shlain captivated her audience with a personal and insightful talk about the unique strengths of the human brain and how we can unlock our potential. We reached out to her for more insights from her talk topic.

Tiffany Shlain on the TEDMED stage [Jerod Harris].
Tiffany Shlain on the TEDMED stage [Photo: Jerod Harris, TEDMED 2014].

What motivated you to speak at TEDMED?

I love the mash-up of scientists and artists coming together. Combining art and science is at the root of all of my films, talks, creativity and my upbringing.

Why does your talk matter now?

These days, there is a great deal of conversation about how technology can impact humans. These conversations tend to either be based on fear and anxiety, or are overly idealistic. Meanwhile, there are also conversations taking place about revamping the education system, and focusing on the sciences and engineering. The problem is that I haven’t seen those conversations overlap yet. I want to emphasize what they point to the potential of humanity. Our focus should be on the strengths that are unique to humans, and how we can work in concert with the things we can program machines to do, in order to flourish in the 21st century. This is the conversation we need to be having.

If you had more time on the TEDMED stage, what else would you have talked about?

My talk was the basis of a new film my team is in the process of finishing, called “The Adaptable Mind.” That film will then be the beginning of a longer project we’ll be working on over the next few years. People are ready for this conversation, and I’m excited to dive deeper into it.

Are there any action items you want your viewers to take?

I hope people will practice the human strengths I discuss – metacognition, empathy, creativity, and initiative – and begin working them into their daily lives.

What is the legacy you want to leave?

Through my talks and films, I hope to inspire people to ask questions, laugh, and think deeply about what it means to be human in our ever-changing world.

What does it take to get people to adopt healthy behaviors?

It’s the $8,402 question — health care expenditures per person in 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — Is it possible to positively influence personal health behaviors through environment, technology and monetary incentives?

As part of a video series filmed by Fenton at TEDMED 2012 and co-produced by Fenton and TEDMED, Lisa Witter talks with Scott Ratzan, Vice President of Global Health at Johnson & Johnson, and Michael Roizen, Chief Wellness Officer of the Cleveland Clinic, about what kinds of wellness programs work best to promote wellness and disease prevention.

Have ideas of your own? To discuss inventing wellness programs that work with leaders in the health and medicine community, visit TEDMED’s Great Challenges website.

Can we head off the dementia tsunami?

By 2050 there will be some 25 million Alzheimer’s patients, adding to the burden of care of our aging population, and bringing a colossal personal, medical and economic impact.

Jeffrey Cummings of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Richard Payne of the Duke Divinity School, and Gregory Petsko of Brandeis University sat down with Lisa Witter of Fenton to talk over the issue, one of TEDMED’s Great Challenges in health and medicine. Where is the science on Alzheimer’s?  Are there ways to prevent it?  And how can we better prepare caregivers?

What do you think we should be doing now to prep for what Cummings calls  “the unacceptable future?”  Share your thoughts on the interactive Great Challenges web site.