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.
Related: Meet the New 'TEDx' of Social Action
But just as impressive are the independently organized TEDx presentations, which, while following TED's model, are organized locally, to bring more thought leaders to the stage.
Here are nine of the most important things I’ve learned from these events over the years:
1. People buy a 'why,' not a 'what.'
In one particularly fascinating TEDx presentation, author and consultant Simon Sinek talked about how great leaders inspire action in their teams. To do this, he covered many different areas; but the most significant takeaway, I felt, was the fact that when people buy into something—whether that be a basic product purchase or a team leader’s vision -- they buy into a “why,” not a “what.”
In other words, they buy into an abstract idea, and a way of distinguishing themselves. One of Sinek’s best examples was 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 itself; they’re buying a computer for the idea behind it.
2. Vulnerability is what makes us human.
Brené Brown’s talk explored another side of how to reach people -- through vulnerability. Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, advised that 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 -- just as these life skills can do with friendships and other basic relationships.
3. Happiness makes us productive, and can come only from inside.
Okay, part of this should be obvious: A happier worker is a more productive worker, and Shawn Achor, who terms himself a "happiness researcher," made this fact evident.
Thus, if you want to be more productive in your work, you have to strive to be happier, Achor said. 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 argued, can only come from within: All those extraneous factors you think will make you happy (money, security, fame, etc.) account only for a predictability factor of about 10 percent.
I recommend the 2011 documentary Happy; it explores what makes people happy around the world, and it’s quite compelling.
4. Relationships determine our success and satisfaction.
Speaking of happiness, psychiatrist Dr. Robert Waldinger presented some results and takeaways from the longest study on happiness ever conducted. He found some of the same conclusions that Achor did and noted in his talk that many of the “conventional” routes to happiness don’t always make people happy.
Instead, he said, he found that 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 gave a hilarious presentation called “Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career.” In it, Smith, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo, joked that everybody wants to have a great career, but most of us never will. Is this problem a product of luck? Are great careers available only for the most intelligent and skilled geniuses our country has to offer? Not really.
In fact, Smith argued, these excuses -- these rationalizations for why many of us will never have a great career -- are part of the reason we'll never have a great career. So stop making excuses. Do things and try things instead.
6. 'Not yet' is the key phrase to solving problems.
In her presentation, psychologist Carol Dweck introduced 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 called a “growth mindset” that enables you to gain the information, knowledge or experience necessary to solve the problem.
The key to solving problems, then, is a “not yet” mentality. Instead, what's needed is an 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 must learn to overcome.
Tim Urban, a blogger at WaitButWhy.com (my favorite blog), took 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.”
Urban pointed out that life isn’t as long as we tend to think it is (he illustrated this by showing the audience his “life calendar”). He then explained 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, radio host Celeste Headlee shared 10 strategies for how to have a better conversation. All of these were 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, Headlee said, but we’re often distracted, or merely pretending to listen, rather than actually doing that.
9. Not everyone has a calling.
It’s a myth in our culture that all of us have a calling -- that all of us, eventually, will find out exactly what we are good at, what our talent is and what we’d really like to do for a living.
Career coach Emilie Wapnick argued that while this is true for some people (so-called “specialists”), others are "multi-potentialities," good at various things, or people 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 or 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.