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time for a change

Here's 12 talks that could change your career

Take yourself up to inspiration point.

WE ALL KNOW the conventional career advice. Confidence is important. Dress for the job you want. Be authentic (but not too authentic). Follow your dreams (but also make a living). Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary, always use spell check, and once and for all, stop eating lunch at your desk.  But some of the most valuable advice is the stuff doesn’t get repeated ad nauseam, which is why TED put together a playlist showcasing the best unconventional — and counterintuitive — career wisdom ever discussed on their stages.We watched them all. Here’s what we learned.

Susan Colantuono: There’s a reason there aren’t more women in the C-suite — and it’s not the one you think.

TED / YouTube

Colantuono, founder and CEO of the management-consulting firm Leading Women, begins her talk with what we already know: Women are breaking through to middle management, but there aren’t enough women making it all the way to the top.

The reason for that, she argues, is deceptively simple. Women are being advised to work on being great themselves, and they’re being advised to cultivate greatness in others. And those are indeed two of the three major leadership tenets, she says in the talk. But nobody is talking to women about the tenets that are most important for advancement: strong business acumen and strategic thinking.

If that seems too obvious to mention — obviously hard skills matter — it isn’t: Performance reviews, personal-development efforts, and mentorship programs all tend to focus on the personal and interpersonal stuff.

To close the gender gap, that needs to change — and in her talk, Colantuono outlines a plan for making that happen.

Nigel Marsh: Flexible hours and generous parental policies are NOT the keys to work-life balance.

TED / YouTube

Pretty much everyone is on board with the concept of work-life balance, but according Marsh, a writer and marketing expert, pretty much everyone is thinking about it wrong.

“Some job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family,” he says, and no amount of “flexitime,” is going to fundamentally change that.

“Corporations aren’t going to solve this issue for us,” he says, pointing out that it’s almost always in the company’s interest to keep you at work. (That’s the dark side of employee perks: If they offer childcare, you can stay even longer.)

Instead, he uses his talk to advocate for an alternative solution: Change the time frame for balance (a day is too short; after you retire is too long), and — perhaps most importantly — make the right investments in the right places.

Simon Sinek: People don’t buy WHAT you do — they buy WHY you do it.

TEDx Talks / YouTube

Every company knows what it does, says leadership expert Sinek. Most companies know how they do it. But only some know why they do it — and that’s a problem, because knowing your “why” is the most important tenet of any business, hands-down.

The “why” is what motivates behavior. It’s what gets people to believe in your cause. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” he explains in his talk. Belief matters — and that’s true for selling iPhones, for motivating employees, and for inspiring social change.

Sinek points to Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate.”Dr. King gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, not the ‘I Have a Plan’ speech,” he points out.

Shawn Achor: You’ll perform better if you’re happy.

TED / YouTube

Being miserable, stressed, and mildly panicked is not making any of us work any better, as much as we like to imagine it does, says Achor, a psychologist and the CEO of the Cambridge-based consulting firm GoodThink.
Actually, the reverse is true: ”If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage,” he explains. Your brain literally performs better when you’re feeling positive — you’re 31% more productive and 37% better at sales than when you’re negative, neutral, or stressed. If you’re a doctor, you’re faster and more accurate.

And — as he outlines in the talk — you can train your brain to do this. By intentionally conditioning yourself to be more positive, you’ll not only be happier personally, but you’ll also be able to “work harder, faster, and more intelligently.”

Amy Cuddy: Use your body to change your mind.

TED / YouTube

In the TED talk that launched a thousand articles — so many articles that the idea hardly feels counterintuitive anymore — Harvard psychologist Cuddy argues that we are influenced by our own nonverbal cues.

It’s “fake it till you make it,” backed by science: By changing the way we carry our bodies, we can actually change the way we see ourselves. When you make yourself big, by stretching out and taking up space — assuming a “power pose,” Cuddy calls it — you’re opening up and taking on a position of power. And it works, even if you don’t particularly “feel” powerful.

So perhaps it’s not “fake it till you make it” after all, Cuddy concludes — instead, “fake it till you become it.”

Larry Smith: You might fail. But if you don’t follow your passion, you’ll definitely fail.

TEDx Talks / YouTube

Straight-shooting economics professor Smith lays out all the reasons you’ll fail to have a great career. There are a lot of them:

-You’re happy with a good career
-You’re not special
-You’re lazy
-You’re scared that if you looked for your passion, you might not find it
-You’re not “weird” enough to be brilliant
-You’re content because you’re doing something reasonably interesting
-You “value human relationships” and therefore can’t take risks
-You’re afraid

But none of those are good reasons, he argues in the talk. If you don’t follow your passion, even a good career — a very good career — will have been a missed opportunity.

Mellody Hobson: Pretending you don’t see race doesn’t serve anyone.

TED / YouTube

We like to pretend we don’t see race, says Hobson, president of Ariel Investments, who notes that it’s particularly easy to avoid thinking about demographics when you surround yourself with people who look like you.

But to build a society that’s genuinely equitable — instead of just pretending to be equitable — ”we cannot afford to be color blind,” she says. “We have to be color brave.” That means having open, honest, understanding, and courageous conversations about race — not, she clarifies, because it’s the “right” thing to do, “but because it’s the smart thing to do,” in life and in business.

Her request is simple: “Observe your environment,” she urges, and “invite people into your life who don’t look like you, don’t think like you, don’t act like you, don’t come from where you come from.” They might challenge you, Hobson says. They might offer powerful insights. They might make you grow.

Margaret Heffernan: Don’t avoid people who think you’re wrong — work with them.

TED / YouTube

Too often, argues management expert Heffernan, people and organizations fail because everyone scared of conflict. But that’s destructive — even dangerous.

Instead, we need “thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers,” she says. We need to overcome our neurobiological drive to find people like ourselves and seek out people who are different from us.

It’s imperative that we embrace conflict as a thinking tool, she urges — both on an individual level, and on an organizational one. Conflict is a way to identify blind spots, to see problems before they’re catastrophes, and to find solutions that might never have otherwise been possible. The thesis of her talk: It’s not conflict that should unsettle us. It’s silence.

Sarah Lewis: The ‘near win’ matters MORE than success.

TED / YouTube

“Success is a moment,” says art historian and critic Lewis. But what makes a legend — what we celebrate decades later — isn’t success. It’s mastery.

In her talk, she explains the difference: ”Mastery is in the reaching, not the arriving. It’s in constantly wanting to close that gap between where you are and where you want to be.” And that perpetual reaching is more important that victory.

“We thrive when we stay at our own leading edge,” she continues. And the more we know, and the better we get, then we see more clearly what we don’t know, where we can improve, and the progress still to be made. To make ourselves keep going in that pursuit, she says, we have to learn to celebrate the “near win.”

Success is motivating, but “a near win” — an almost success — “can propel us into an ongoing quest.”

Angela Lee Duckworth: Grit — not talent, not intelligence — is the key to success.

TED / YouTube

As a teacher in the New York City public schools, former management consultant Duckworth was struck by a simple question: What’s the difference between kids who succeed and kids who fail?

As a research psychologist, she’s been investigating that question, and the answer — for kids and for adults alike — isn’t ability. It’s not IQ. It’s not looks, and it’s not social intelligence. It’s grit.

“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” she explains in the talk. “Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.” Grit, Duckworth says, is playing the long game — and it’s (much) more predictive of success than talent.

Stefan Sagmeister: Taking time off is good for you AND good for business.

TED / YouTube

Every seven years, Sagmeister, a graphic designer, closes his studio for an entire year.

During that time, he’s not available to clients. The place is completely shut down. And, he reports, those sabbaticals have been incredibly valuable for him — and his business.

Taking a break allows him to get close to design again, and — it goes without saying — taking a break is fun. But it’s also productive, he tells the audience. “Financially, seen over the long term, it was actually successful.” His work got better, he explains, which allowed him to ask for higher prices.

And most importantly, he had ideas. “Basically everything we’ve done in the seven years following the first sabbatical comes out of thinking of that one single year.”

Bel Pesce: Don’t let your goals kill your dreams.

TED / YouTube

According to Pesce, an entrepreneur, there are five ways to kill your dreams:

-Believe in overnight success
-Believe someone else has the answers
-Believe you should settle once everything’s going well
-Believe everything is someone else’s fault
-Believe only goals matter

“Life is never about the goals themselves,” she argues in her talk. The problem with that mindset isn’t that dreams aren’t worth achieving — obviously, they are. “But achieving a dream is a momentary sensation,” Pesce notes, “and your life is not.”

A dream can’t carry you through, unless the plan is to die the moment you achieve it. “The only way to really achieve all of your dreams is to fully enjoy every step of your journey,” she says.

- Rachel Sugar

Read: How one inventor turned an idea for ‘space-age Play-Doh’ into a million-euro company

Read: A lingerie company stopped retouching ads – and its sales soared

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