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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

Do women that downplay their gender get ahead faster?

(OPINION) A new study about gender in the workplace is being perceived differently than we are viewing it – let’s discuss.

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The Harvard Business Review reports that women benefit professionally when they downplay their gender, as opposed to trying to focus on their “differences” as professional strength.

The article includes a lot of interesting concepts underneath its click-bait-y title. According to the study by Professors Ashley Martin and Katherine Phillips, women felt increasingly confident when they pivoted from focusing on highlighting potential differences in their perceived abilities based on their gender and instead gave their attention to cultivating qualities that are traditionally coded as male*.

Does this really mean that women need to “downplay” their gender? Does it really mean women who attempt this get ahead in this world faster?

I don’t think so.

The article seems to imply that “celebrating diversity” in workers is akin to giving femme-identified employees a hot pink briefcase – it actually calls attention to stereotyped behaviors. I would argue that this is not the case (and, for the record, rock a hot pink briefcase if you want to, that sounds pretty badass).

I believe that we should instead highlight the fact that this study shows the benefits that come when everyone expands preconceived notions of gender.

Dr. Martin and her interviewer touch on this when they discuss the difference between gender “awareness” and “blindness.” As Dr. Martin explains, “Gender blindness doesn’t mean that women should act more like men; it diminishes the idea that certain qualities are associated with men and women.”

It is the paradox of studies like this one that, in order to interrogate how noxious gendered beliefs are, researchers must create categories to place otherwise gender-neutral qualities and actions in, thus emphasizing the sort of stereotypes being investigated. Regardless, there is a silver lining here as said by Dr. Martin herself:

“[People] are not naturally better suited to different roles, and [people] aren’t better or worse at certain things.”

Regardless of a worker’s gender identity, they are capable of excelling at whatever their skills and talent help them to.

*Though the HBR article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole.

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Opinion Editorials

Dispelling the myth that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask

(EDITORIAL) It has been accepted as fact that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask as often as men, but new studies indicate that’s not true at all.

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Many of the seemingly universal “truths” of business often come down to assumptions made about workers based on their gender.

Among the most oft-repeated of these “truths” is that women and other femme-identifying people are bad at self-advocating, particularly in matters involving compensation.

These include: Women don’t negotiate their salaries. Women don’t get promotions or leadership positions because they don’t “lean in.” Women don’t ask for raises.

This last truth is finally being discussed as the myth it is.

Over at The Cut, Otegha Uwagba discusses her own experience successfully and not-so-successfully negotiating a raise, but more interestingly how increasingly research has shown that there is no “gap” in between the genders when it comes to asking. Rather, the disparity really arises when it comes to which ask is heard.

As Uwagba explains, “While men and women ask for pay raises at broadly similar rates, women are more likely to be refused or suffer blowback for daring to broach the topic.”

This blowback comes from the inability of some people in leadership positions to think critically about the ways in which business still actively dismisses women’s leadership qualities while simultaneously praising less-competent men who demonstrate these very characteristics.

The HBR article acts as good reminder that the cumulative effect of all of these misguided “facts” about women and business often perpetuate the toxic culture that creates and circulates them.

The implication of all of these myths creates a sense that women are the ones responsible for the unequal treatment they often receive. When the message that women receive is that the reason they don’t get a raise is that they didn’t ask—even when they DO—that tells them that their lived experience isn’t as valid as the pervasive “truth.”

This is, simply put, gaslighting.

Even more, telling women that women face challenges because they didn’t do something or know something, rather than the addressing the very real fact that professional women face sexism at almost every step of their career does not help them.

It only helps those already in positions of power blame women for their own archaic beliefs and actions.

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Opinion Editorials

Why tech companies should embrace Artist Residency Programs

(EDITORIAL) With technology founders wiping themselves with money while also truly caring about culture and inclusion, they’re missing a huge opportunity by ignoring artist in residency programs. Even Amtrak does it – come on, y’all.

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There’s a ton of cash in the tech industry. Like, more money than your primate brain can process, like “get-the-country-out-of-debt” money – Scrooge McDuck swimming in gold levels of cash. That’s how profitable technology has become.

And we’re not just talking laptops and smartphones, either. All of those monthly subscriptions you’re not thinking about, the Hulu, Netflix, Microsoft Office, that extra storage for your MacBook or iPhone, that’s all got a name: Software as a Service (SaaS) and with major players like Apple and Disney upping their stakes in the game – this model ain’t going anywhere.

Our thermostats are connected to our iPhones, and our cars are plugged into a matrix that’s fed into the Internet. Everywhere you look, the tech industry is changing everything. Everyone has a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop, or a television that’s Internet-enabled.

And for everything that’s connected to the Internet, someone’s making a buck.

According to CTA, the tech industry will make $398B this year, and The Big 5 – Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook are worth a combined three trillion dollars. What do these companies do with all of the cash?

These companies typically pay well. To hire the best, workers want a payday. That’s fine, everyone who bangs at their job should get their slice of the action. After that, companies invest in culture and hiring that next tier of top talent. But, after the company offsites in a wooded cabin, the multi-million-dollar research projects, and the fully covered healthcare are accounted for, there’s still dough to play with.

Let’s get creative.

A lot of the more prominent tech companies have established that giving back is critical to their mission. Teams do charity work, they fly to other countries to help build schools; all kinds of amazing wonderful things are happening thanks to some of the world’s biggest players.

But what if those same companies established a new precedent – What if they established artist in residency programs?

One of the greatest professional experiences of my life was working for Atlassian and traveling between the Austin, San Francisco, and Sydney offices. While I was there to write for them, I’m still a writer, I always worked on my stuff. I’ve written in cafés in North Beach after browsing City Lights books where Ginsburg stomped his feet. I’ve been in bookstores in Sydney, never taking for granted for a second that I was beyond lucky to have this chance; that experience opened up a world that money had prevented me from exploring.

Can you imagine being allowed to fly to another office to work in a different environment, just for a change of scenery? It’s staggering what a comprehensive program could do for the arts community. The money and infrastructure is there, and so long as companies continue their dedication to paying it forward, this should be an added flavor to that mission.

This might sound like a shocker, but most of your friends who pursue art for a living ain’t exactly making windfalls of cash.

Most artistic types are freelancers or have multiple side hustles – they wait tables, or slug away in the bars, they cut corners on life’s everyday expenses in pursuit of their art. Your average painter, cartoonist, writer, filmmaker, they’re all chasing the project that gives them a chance to make their art their living. The problem is, for most creatives, it’s a dog chases its tail kinda life and that tail ain’t getting any longer or tastier.

How would it work?

Companies should work with the Alliance of Artist Communities (AAC) and set up a residency program. The AAC had been setting up residencies across the country for years, so while this is a feel-good philanthropic endeavor, the organization knows every tax break and loophole out there.

And realistically, the AAC has to, considering the culture of treating the arts in our communities is seen more of a begrudging, “we should probably do this” offense rather than an important investment. Most artistic programs receive pennies on the dollar, and most creatives live hand to mouth in pursuit of their dreams, and for many tech founders, the story is relatable, only they’re masters at problem-solving. Creativity doesn’t have to be pen to paper and the outcome being a funny doodle of a dog riding a skateboard, the creative mind is our innate core, we’re programmed to search for inventive ways to solve problems.

We just turn it off as society deems creativity an expendable commodity.

Creativity shouldn’t be relegated as frivolity, but essential.

In the world of artistic residences, paying bills is an issue. So, many programs have to drum up funds, find donors, seek out worthwhile endowments, search for tax breaks. Many are non-for-profits because they need grants for just about everything.

But in tech, cash is there aplenty.

Instead of throwing a Christmas party with a $100K budget for each office around the world, that money could be better spent on social enrichment. I’ve worked in the tech world for the past six years, and I’ve seen a lot of wasteful spending. While I love a good massage chair experience, that money could have been spent elsewhere versus giving staff of over three hundred already fabulously well paid people fifteen minutes of “me time.”

For one year or whatever predetermined amount of time, a company would allow a creative in their city to “join the team.”

What’s that look like?

Allow someone to create in these offices that are more like adult Disney World with their free snacks, open collaboration, catered meals, and endless perks. Give an artist a space that was once a small meeting room and let them do their thing.

The culture aspect of a creative being dropped in the average technology environment would blow their minds – most tech companies strive for diversity and inclusivity, and this program would be a brushstroke in that palette of reasoning.

By giving the creative the chance to mix it up with people who think in code, in marketing campaigns or how to “disrupt the market,” the influence would be impactful: a developer might become a nature photographer, or maybe a mixed media artist helps the marketing team see a problem from a different point of view. If there are anything companies in tech suffer from, it’s a little too much inward focus.

Change everything with a pen stroke.

Some campuses are so big (Facebook, Apple to name just two), they could support two or three artists at a time.

Indeed, Atlassian, Oracle, Uber, Lyft, all have multiple offices around the world. Imagine an extroverted painter working in a common room, while people move to and from meetings, getting that flash of inspiration, even if minute.

That’s beautiful.

Maybe instead of continually talking about code depositories or the next sprint, people got hip to new books? Maybe an essayist learns how to use Trello to manage their weekly pitches or maybe even further, they learn about how agile principles work could make their processes more manageable?

And while this person is getting paid, maybe they’re earning more money than they’ve ever seen. What if someone who’s always worked minimum wage jobs were given an $80K gig to create? Sure, you’d need to coach them on saving up for when the program is over, but for that period, being restricted to the dollar menu wouldn’t be everyday life.

The results would be staggering. The average working artist has to grind while others are asleep, early in the morning or late at night, they find ways to communicate their feelings, but while still making sure rent is on time.

Companies could establish an annual open competition where artists of whatever designated mediums submit their work.

Maybe it’s film or painting, or gosh, even a writer. But for that year, the winner gets to attend the fun parties, the culture building events, but most importantly gets paid well for their residency.

If the competition is opened up beyond the borders of the company’s home base, that works, too. Most bigger companies have a few corporate apartments that are barely used. Giving someone a room wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

Artists could donate their skills to workshops, creative programming, even create art specifically for the space. Most offices anywhere could use a little freshening up, or at least an ongoing blog series, something.

As for the perception of “selling out” the artistic culture has changed, where it was once punk rock to keep everything as DIY as possible, most of us creatives are fighting against a sea of other talented people all of the time, the chance for exposure on a bigger level, but also being financially free is worth wearing a few corporate branded t-shirts. And honestly, tech companies generally aren’t as gross as the old school monoliths of the past, most of the executive boards are made up of actual people who started from the bottom.

As my friend Jason Saul of BirdNote once told me, “don’t think of it as ‘selling out’ we’re in a hip hop-driven culture, you’re blowing up.”

There are residency programs on farms, a recycling center in SF, in the woods, the Florida keys, Amtrak got into the residency game for a while, just as Padre Island in Texas, the national parks all have them, even the CERN large hadron collider has an artist in residence program.

To double-down even further, even The Mall of America, the place where you can buy a corn dog or visit one of five Victoria’s Secret stores (who needs that many panties?) or ride a rollercoaster, has an artist in residence program.

The artist is given $2500 for a week, plus a hotel room and are allowed to roam the mall 24/7. LaGuardia airport in New York rehabbed an old Hudson News and converted it into a kiosk to people watch and create, so why not the tech companies who purposely set up shop in buildings in the heart of downtowns across the world or amongst trees in sprawling acreage?

This is possible.

Who’s going to be first?

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