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Opinion Editorials

Why you should stop watching TED Talks

(Editorial) TED Talks are amazing. Wonderful. Inspiring. But you should reconsider how much time you spend on them and how you let them impact your life.

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TED Talks: great stories that can transform you

Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist who personally experienced a massive stroke.
Simon Sinek challenges business leaders to start with their why.
Sir Ken Robinson teaches us how schools kill creativity.
Elizabeth Gilbert of the famed ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ contemplates a life where her greatest moment is behind her.
David Blaine stays underwater for about 16 minutes longer than I’m capable of doing.

Each of these powerful stories are available to you by simply visiting TED.com. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you this. TED.com has built an empire of fascinating content, and millions have responded by watching speech after speech.

TED Talks tell the stories of many of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. They spotlight injustices, tackle life’s perplexing questions, reveal ways we can improve performance, offer hidden clues into the psychology of happiness, and teach us about human potential. Great stories, told well, have the unique power to create real cultural transformation.

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My advice? Stop watching them. Un-bookmark the tab. Consider doing other things with the 10 to 20 minutes it takes to ingest a TED talk. That’s right. And this is coming from the last person who should suggest such a tactic. I own a company that helps people create powerful presentations. I have a division that sources TED speakers for live events. I speak professionally for a living.

And you know, TED is GREAT for business. They are living examples of the power of presentation. A reminder that your CEO is not the best choice for the closing keynote at your annual retreat (he isn’t… at least not without training (from me)). I should love TED Talks. I do love TED Talks.

At the same time, there are hidden costs to ingesting the specific types of stories that TED offers.

First: The Hero Complex

While reminders of our potential as humans can inspire, too much of it will leave us setting the proverbial bar too high. We are saturated by the most heroic examples of life at every turn. We’re over-successed and under-accomplished as a society. It’s no surprise that we get depressed and feel like we’re not contributing anything significant when we’re constantly comparing ourselves to the outliers and the elites of the elite.

In the book I’m currently writing, one of the chapters is titled ‘Less Superman, More Clark Kent.’ The mundane of life is where life takes place. There’s something beautiful about having a job, a family, friends, a community. But that has never felt less satisfying for so many of us.

TED is not the only problem. Facebook is filled with happy babies, picturesque vacations, and delicious meals. And in a survey of over 500 people, 61% admitted that their mood was noticeably altered to the negative based on a simple check-in on Facebook. But TED is Facebook on steroids in this particular category.

Second: The Knowledge Rabbit Hole

Do you know the key indicators of deception in body language? You should. How about the psychology of what will REALLY make you happy? You are probably doing it incorrectly (according to Harvard!). Have you listened to the speech about the dangers of story? If you haven’t, you are setting yourself up to be manipulated.

We crave greater unique insights and understanding. TED offers it in droves. How quickly we find ourselves falling into the endless rabbit hole of interesting factoids. And each video serves as another reminder of our ignorance on yet another critical subject. While we are aware that we can’t know all things, it certainly feels like others must be living with some key ingredient that our laziness and comparably low intelligence keeps us from benefiting from.

This is a new problem that we are not well-equipped to deal with. In 1900, a well-educated person could still grasp all existing knowledge in almost every field of science and the arts. This was the whole point of a college education! (Tom Davenport, Attention Economy)

Today, our problem is not information. It’s not ideas. It’s too many choices, unrealistic expectations, and unfair comparisons. My church choral director growing up often reminded us that comparison is the thief of joy. TED Talks subtly remind many of us of what we have not done with our lives. So, let’s turn off the new inspiring TED video, and get to work without the weight of ‘how does my job compare to the guy who just walked across Africa.’

And if you don’t believe me, watch this TED Talk by Barry Schwartz. It’s a MUST SEE.

Curt Steinhorst loves attention. More specifically, he loves understanding attention. How it works. Why it matters. How to get it. As someone who personally deals with ADD, he overcame the unique distractions that today’s technology creates to start a Communications Consultancy, The Promentum Group, and Speakers Bureau, Promentum Speakers, both of which he runs today. Curt’s expertise and communication style has led to more than 75 speaking engagements in the last year to organizations such as GM, Raytheon, Naval Academy, Cadillac, and World Presidents’ Organization.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Tinu

    July 8, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    See I’m not even slightly tempted to click that last link for the TED Talk you suggested. I don’t watch any videos of any kind during the day with two exceptions.

    1- It’s critical to a business task I have to complete.
    2- It’s less than 2 minutes.

    The number one reason for me? You can’t skim video. I can see a paragraph as a chunk of text and consume it faster with the same level of enjoyment. I can speed up an audio. A video I must completely engage in.

    During my workday? This somebody has no time for that.

  2. Virginia Attaway

    July 17, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    Thank you Curt! Loved this, and identify with it all; even the bit in your bio about life with ADD and ‘flipping the script’ on it to embrace and claim a small portion of the new media-saturated world as my/our own.

    • Curt Steinhorst

      July 18, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Virginia! I really appreciate hearing that you identify with the message. It’s my passion to help others learn to deal with the craziness of our digitally saturated culture.

  3. Max

    May 6, 2015 at 1:44 pm

    I completely disagree with your article. Why should anyone bar themselves from taking in amazing stories and information because it makes them feel bad? Maybe these people need to take a serious introspective look and see that you don’t have to BE like these people in order to be successful or happy. A true consumer of TEDtalks would revel in the opportunity to hear these awesome speakers and maybe learn a thing or two about the world.

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Opinion Editorials

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

Serial procrastinator? Your issue isn’t time management

(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your energy management.

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Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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