The most popular TED Talks ever kinda prove you’re living life wrong

Lessons from TED Talks

TED Talks, as a general concept, are fairly inspirational (or at least informative). I have the TED Roku channel for this exact reason: sometimes I just want to watch 2-3 in a row to help me contextualize an issue better. (In a weird, circuitous way, a TED Talk helped get me my current job. You can read how/why in this post.)

If you look at the most popular TED Talks of all-time, then, what can you learn? Well, Inc. Magazine watched the 20 most popular and came up with a series of “mind-blowing life lessons.” Ignore the clickbait headline and focus on the content. It’s somewhat interesting. 

The Elizabeth Gilbert One

Essentially, if you’ve ever watched this, she argues that genius can exist in any person. That’s pretty much the opposite of how most people think about really smart or really-motivated individuals. They tend to think, “Oh, that person was gifted with something, or works harder.” Both are probably true, yes, but that shouldn’t necessarily limit how you perceive yourself and how far you can go. Essentially, anyone is capable of anything at the broadest sense. There’s a large chance you won’t become an Olympic hurdler, yes, but on Day 2 of your life, that possibility still exists. There’s a broader lesson here about nurturing and realizing the potential of others; that’s why it’s somewhat sad that the notion of mentorship is basically dead. In related news, I honestly believe curiosity (and promoting that in others) is the key to unlocking this genius potential.

The Shawn Achor One

The external facts of your life actually account for very little of your happiness. This is counter-intuitive for many people. Additionally: shift away from thinking about money, realize no one is very good at balancing “busy” and “happy,” and understand that it’s essentially a U-Curve.

The Tony Robbins One

There are “invisible forces” guiding what we do. This is a variation on Simon Sinek (also a popular TED Talk guy), in that they’re both arguing for “starting with why.” It’s a different way of thinking about incentives and motivation; most traditional business managers don’t get it, though.

The Brene Brown One

The happiest people are the most vulnerable, essentially. That’s why I feel like we should discuss failure more openly at work. One of my friends e-mailed me once and told me I write like Brene Brown talks; that seemed like a compliment. I try to be pretty open about my failures, yes. Why not, right? Here’s an example.

The Cameron Russell One

Very little is how you actually perceive it. Most stuff in the world can be shaped by handlers and people around an industry. This is essentially why CEOs hire consultants, in some respects. You should think deeper about something before just accepting it on face.

The Essence

TED Talks are designed to basically make you think differently on a topic, so it’s not a surprise that the most popular ones are things that do just that. But what worries me is how many managers have watched a Simon Sinek or Dan Pink or Tony Robbins talk, then gone into the office the next day and done the same day-to-day stupid crap about managing and motivation. In that way, I love TED Talks but I see them a little bit like I see business journalism, right? There’s no value unless it’s helping to change behaviors, and I think that might take a level of self-awareness that a lot of people don’t really have.

Ted Bauer