9 Things I Learned From TEDx Presentations

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Photo by Teemu Paananen on Unsplash

I’m a big fan of TED. I’ve walked away with a better understanding of the human psyche, a better business acumen, and some truly astounding enlightenments about the future of science and technology. But just as impressive are the independently organized TEDx presentations, which are organized locally, following TED’s leadership, to bring thought leaders to the stage.

These are nine of the most important things I’ve learned from them over the years:

1. People buy a “why,” not a “what.” In this fantastic TEDx presentation, Simon Sinek talks about how great leaders inspire action in their teams. And to do this, he covers a ton of different areas, but the most significant takeaway, I felt, was the fact that when people buy into something — whether that’s a basic product purchase or a team leader’s vision, they buy into a “why,” not a “what.” They buy into an abstract idea, and a way of distinguishing themselves. One of Sinek’s best examples is with Apple’s branding, which encourages consumers to “think different” and be independent by buying a computer. They aren’t buying a computer for the computer; they’re buying a computer for the idea behind it.

2. Vulnerability is what makes us human. Brene Brown’s talk explores another side of how to reach people, and that’s through vulnerability. Vulnerability is the expression or admission of thoughts and emotions you wouldn’t otherwise reveal. Society may pressure us, in various ways, to restrain our most powerful and deepest feelings, but if you really want to connect with someone, and get in touch with your humanity on a basic level, you need to find the courage to show that vulnerability. This is important on both a personal and professional level, as transparency and empathy can help organizations thrive as much as they can friendships and other basic relationships.

3. Happiness makes us productive, and it can only come from inside us. Okay, part of this should be obvious; a happier worker is a more productive worker, and Shawn Achor makes this fact evident. Thus, if you want to be more productive in your work, you have to strive to be happier. But for many of us, this presents a conundrum, as we’re actively working for happiness, striving for more money, a higher position, or a better lifestyle. But happiness, Achor argues, can only come from within — all those extraneous factors you think will make you happy (money, security, fame, etc.) only account for a predictability factor of about 10 percent. The 2011 documentary Happy explores what makes people happy around the world, and it’s pretty fascinating.

4. Relationships determine our success and satisfaction. Speaking of happiness, Robert Waldinger presents some results and takeaways from the longest study on happiness ever conducted. He found some of the same conclusions that Shawn Achor did, noting that many of the “conventional” routes to happiness don’t always make people happy. Instead, he found the single biggest indicator of happiness is the quality of our relationships with those around us. My big takeaway? Never neglect your family or friends in the pursuit of money or power.

5. Excuses will only hold you back. Larry Smith gives a hilarious presentation called “Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career.” In it, he jokes that everybody wants to have a great career, but most of us never will. Why is it? Is this a product of luck? Are great careers only available for the most intelligent and skilled geniuses our country has to offer? Not really. In fact, Smith argues that these excuses — these rationalizations for why you’ll never have a great career — are part of the reason you’ll never have a great career. Stop making excuses. Do things and try things instead.

6. “Not yet” is the key phrase to solving problems. Carol Dweck introduces two approaches to solving a problem that seems unsolvable, or at least very difficult. The first approach is to say “I can’t solve this,” stop trying, and move on. The second is to say, “I’m not ready to solve this problem,” adopting what Dweck calls a “growth mindset” and enabling the solver to gain the information, knowledge or experience necessary to solve the problem. The key to solving problems, then, is a “not yet” mentality — understanding that even though a problem seems tough, you can improve yourself (and your surroundings) to solve it.

7. “Not right now” is a phrase we all say, but can overcome. Tim Urban, blogger at WaitButWhy.com (my favorite blog), takes his popular and humorous stick figures to the TED stage to illustrate his theory on what makes us procrastinate, and how to overcome the “instant gratification monkey.” He points out that life isn’t as long as tend to think it is (by showing the audience his “life calendar”), and contends that we all need to understand that when we procrastinate, we’re delaying much more than we realize.

8. Listening is what matters in conversation, and we’re all bad at it. In this powerful TEDx presentation, Celeste Headlee shares 10 strategies for how to have a better conversation. All of these are excellent, and I recommend that you watch the full presentation to see them all, but my biggest takeaway here was that we’re all bad listeners, or we all could at least stand to improve. Listening is the only way to have a real, meaningful conversation with someone, but we’re often distracted, or pretending to listen, rather than actually listening.

9. Not everyone has a calling. It’s a myth in our culture that everyone has a calling — that everyone, eventually, will find out exactly what they’re good at, what their talent is, and what they’d really like to do for a living. Emilie Wapnick argues that while this is true for some people (so-called “specialists”), others are multipotentialities, good at various things, or with interests that shift over time.

I think everyone should watch more TEDx presentations, and TEDTalks in general. We all have a lot to learn from one another, and these insights are just the beginning. Whether you’re looking for motivation, inspiration, new ideas, practical tips, or you’re just curious about how the world around you is developing, this is one of the best places to do it — and most of the videos will only take about 10 minutes out of your day.

For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!

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