Nine things we’ve learnt at BBC Ideas in the past year

BBC Ideas is one! If you don’t already know, we’re a short-form digital video project all about ideas, and in the last 12 months we’ve published 358 videos, in 76 different playlists. We’ve covered big ideas (what Foucault would make of fake news?) and small (why you should always wear trainers to work), from the worlds of psychology, philosophy, history, neuroscience, linguistics and anthropology.

And we’ve also, genuinely, learnt a lot. As well as being informative and (hopefully) entertaining, we try and make sure every one of our videos gives you a new perspective or insight to take away.

Here’s nine things we’ve learnt:

  1. You can’t ever really trust your brain

That the brain has to filter the world in order to make sense of it is fairly obvious, but the lengths it will go to preserve your sense of ego and core beliefs — even at the expense of facts and rationality — was really quite shocking. A great primer on cognitive bias.

2) Dying is not as bad as you think:

This video featuring palliative care specialist Kathryn Mannix has been our most viral so far. With over 3 million views on Facebook, and tons of retweets, Kathryn’s calm and reassuring description of the normal process of human dying has been hugely popular with the audience, and has genuinely made us feel a lot less scared about death.

3) A ‘vomit draft’ is a good thing:

A couple of weeks ago, BBC3 star Kayode Ewumi popped into a studio with us to share his top tips on creativity. These included taking a bus to nowhere and the importance of a “vomit draft” — something that looks, smells and feels absolutely horrible, but is the first stage of the creative process. Great fun.

4) ‘Monk mode’ can change your working life

This was one of our early hits on BBC Ideas — Twitter VP Bruce Daisley sharing practical tips about how to relieve the stress and cut down on the interruptions to your day. What I loved about Bruce’s tips was that they weren’t just common sense, they were all backed up by academic research, and genuinely useful.

5) Ordering the worst thing on the menu can improve your thinking

A lot of self-help on the internet can be patronising, disingenuous and sometimes even dangerous. Author Leonard Mlodinow describing five ways to make your mind more elastic is none of these — he gently nudges you out of your comfort zone, and gives you the incentive to make small, manageable changes that could help you become more resilient in the long run.

6) There are positive sides to having ADHD:

Blogger Penny Jarrett was not diagnosed with ADHD until she was 30. At first she saw it as just a negative — like having 40 tabs open in your brain at once. But then she came to realise that actually ADHD has many positive sides, including the opportunity for hyper-focus and (often) a great sense of humour. (I loved her description of finding her remote control in the fridge.) Part of our Life Lessons series with R4 — voices of young UK talking about the issues that mattered to them.

7) We can all play a role in tackling knife crime:

Musician and youth leader Femi Koleoso gave us another life lesson, but on a totally different subject. Femi spends a lot of time mentoring young people. He made a very eloquent case that teaching a young person the violin or a language can be the reason they ‘don’t roll out with a knife that night’. One of our favourite BBC Ideas videos this year, and a huge incentive for anyone considering becoming a mentor.

8) Rock, paper, scissors is not entirely a game of chance:

Making the familiar unfamiliar is something we love to do at BBC ideas, and we really enjoyed commissioning this series on how to win at stuff. Watch this video and you’ll never start with ‘rock’ again.

And finally, 9) we’re more similar to ants than you might think

Biologically, humans and ants have very little in common. But actually we can learn a lot from these little critters. If you feel that you spend a lot of time trying to second-guess what your manager wants, this is the video for you.

These are just a few of the things we’ve learnt this year. If one of your new year’s resolutions is to expand your mind and keep learning, you can find all these videos and more at , follow us on twitter or subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Bethan Jinkinson

Executive Editor, BBC Ideas