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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

The secret to self improvement isn’t always about improvements

(EDITORIAL) Self improvement and happiness go hand in hand, but are you getting lost in the mechanics of self improvement?

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Think back to your New Year’s resolutions. Now that it’s summer, how many of them are you still keeping? Think about which ones stuck and what went by the wayside.

If you’re like most of us, you had big plans to make yourself better but didn’t stay the course. I’ve only managed to keep one of my resolutions, but it isn’t always easy.

I want to take a look at why we can’t keep our goals. I think we’re always on a journey of self-improvement. It’s easy to get obsessed with reading self-help books or trying to learn new things. We want to be better. This spring, I went through a Lent study with a group of people. Lent is a time of growth and self-reflection, just six weeks. And yet many of us are struggling to keep up with the daily reading or maintaining a fast of something we willingly chose to give up.

Why do we fail?

I think we fail because of three things.

You might think I’m going to say something like we fail because we don’t have willpower, but I think that is the farthest thing from the truth. I’m no therapist, but I’ve read the literature on alcohol and drug rehab. It’s not willpower that keeps a person sober. It’s community. One reason I think we fail at our goals is that we don’t have a cheerleading team. I believe that we need people on our side when we’re trying to improve.

Secondly, I think we fail because we want immediate results. We have this mentality that things should happen quickly. I’ve written about this before. It’s like you workout once and want that swimsuit body. We get frustrated when we don’t see results right away. So, we move on to the next pursuit.

Do your goals lead to happiness?

Failure can also be because self-improvement goals don’t always lead to being better person. We do a lot of things because “we should.” Your doctor might think you need to lose weight. Maybe your boss wants you to be a better speaker. Meditation should make you a better person. Maybe you ran a marathon, and now you think you need to run an ultramarathon because that’s what your best friend did.

What makes you happy isn’t always what you should be doing.

Your doctor might be right, but if you’re choosing to lose weight because you want to make your doctor happy, you’re probably not going to stick with a program. If you’re trying to learn Spanish to make your boss happy, again, you’re probably not going to enjoy it enough to really learn. If you’re chasing after goals just to say you’ve done it, what value do your achievements bring to your life?

If you’re obsessed because you “should” do something, you’re going to get burned out and fail. Whether it’s New Year’s resolutions, a self-improvement project or giving up meat for Lent, you need solid reasons for change. And if you give something a try that isn’t for you, don’t soldier on. You don’t need to spend years taking yoga classes if you don’t enjoy it.

When something becomes a burden rather than bringing benefits, maybe it’s time to take a look at why you’re doing it.

When you don’t know why you’re knocking yourself out to be better, maybe you need to figure out a reason. And if you feel as if what you’re doing isn’t enough, stop and figure out what will satisfy you.

I’ve been doing a lot of meal prepping on the weekends. Sometimes, I want to quit. But it pays off because I have less to do throughout the week. It might seem like a burden, but the benefits outweigh the burdens. I’ve been able to eat much healthier and use more vegetables in my meals, which is the one goal I’ve been able to keep. I have some good friends that help me stay on track, too. I choose to eat more vegetables for my health. I think it’s a combination of all these things that is helping me meet my goal this year.

Don’t give up on making yourself a better person. Just don’t become obsessed over the program. Look at the outcome. Are you pursing happiness on a treadmill or are you really working to find happiness?

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Opinion Editorials

What I wish I knew about finances in my 20s

(EDITORIAL) They say money makes the world go round. So, let’s discuss how to be smart with finances before it’s too late.

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Being in my early twenties, something I’m still getting used to is the fact that I’m making my own money. This is not to be confused with the babysitting money I was making 10 years ago.

Twice a month is the same routine: I get my paycheck and think, “Wooo! We goin’ out tonight!” but then I snap back to reality and think about what that money needs to be put towards. The smallest part of it going towards fun.

It’s been tricky to really start learning the ins and outs of finances. So, I do what I usually do in any type of learning process? I ask for advice.

I used to be fixated on asking those more advanced in age than I what they wish they knew when they were my age. Now that I’m determined to learn about finances, that question has been altered.

I reached out to a few professionals I know and trust and they gave me solid feedback to keep in mind about building my finances, about what they wish they had known in their 20s. However, I don’t think this only applies to those just starting out, and may be helpful for all of us.

“It’s important to simply know the value of money,” says human resource expert, Nicole Clark. “I think once you start earning your own money and are responsible for your housing, food, etc. you realize how valuable money is and how important it is to budget appropriately and make sure you’re watching your spending.”

Law firm executive director, Michael John, agrees with Clark’s sentiments. “I wish I had kept the value of saving in mind when I was younger,” explains John. “But, still remembering to balance savings while rewarding yourself and enjoying what your efforts produce.”

There are so many aspects of finance to keep in mind – saving, investing, budgeting, retirement plans, and so on and so forth.

In addition to suggesting to spend less than you make and to pay off your credit card in full each month, Kentucky-based attorney, Christopher Groeschen, explained the importance of a 401k.

“Every employee in America should be contributing everything they can into a 401k every year, up to the current $18,000 maximum per person,” suggests Groeschen.

“401ks present an opportunity for young investors to 1) learn about investing and 2) enter the market through a relatively low-risk vehicle (depending on your allocations),” he observes.

“An additional benefit is that 401ks also allow employees to earn FREE MONEY through employer matches,” he continues. “At the very least, every employee should contribute the amount necessary to earn the employer match (usually up to 4%) otherwise, you are giving up the opportunity to earn FREE MONEY. Earning FREE MONEY from your employer that is TAX FREE is much more important than having an extra Starbucks latte every day.”

Whether we like it or not, money is a core aspect of our daily lives. It should never be the most important thing, but we cannot deny that it is, in fact, an important thing. It’s tricky to learn, but investing in my future has become a priority.

This editorial was first published in May 2018.

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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