TED Tuesday: The Power of Time Off – Stefan Sagmesiter


Talk Transcript

0:11I run a design studio in New York. Every seven years, I close it for one year to pursue some little experiments, things that are always difficult to accomplish during the regular working year. In that year, we are not available for any of our clients. We are totally closed. And as you can imagine, it is a lovely and very energetic time.

0:41I originally had opened the studio in New York to combine my two loves, music and design. And we created videos and packaging for many musicians that you know, and for even more that you’ve never heard of. As I realized, just like with many many things in my life that I actually love, I adapt to it. And I get, over time, bored by them. And for sure, in our case, our work started to look the same. You see here a glass eye in a die cut of a book. Quite the similar idea, then, a perfume packaged in a book, in a die cut.So I decided to close it down for one year.

1:26Also is the knowledge that right now we spend about in the first 25 years of our lives learning, then there is another 40 years that’s really reserved for working. And then tacked on at the end of it are about 15 years for retirement. And I thought it might be helpful to basically cut off five of those retirement yearsand intersperse them in between those working years. (Applause) That’s clearly enjoyable for myself. But probably even more important is that the work that comes out of these years flows back into the company and into society at large, rather than just benefiting a grandchild or two.

2:21There is a fellow TEDster who spoke two years ago, Jonathan Haidt, who defined his work into three different levels. And they rang very true for me. I can see my work as a job. I do it for money. I likely already look forward to the weekend on Thursdays. And I probably will need a hobby as a leveling mechanism. In a career I’m definitely more engaged. But at the same time, there will be periods when I think is all that really hard work really worth my while? While in the third one, in the calling, very much likely I would do it also if I wouldn’t be financially compensated for it.

3:03I am not a religious person myself, but I did look for nature. I had spent my first sabbatical in New York City. Looked for something different for the second one. Europe and the U.S. didn’t really feel enticingbecause I knew them too well. So Asia it was. The most beautiful landscapes I had seen in Asia were Sri Lanka and Bali. Sri Lanka still had the civil war going on, so Bali it was. It’s a wonderful, very craft-oriented society.

3:33I arrived there in September 2008, and pretty much started to work right away. There is wonderful inspiration coming from the area itself. However the first thing that I needed was mosquito repellent typography because they were definitely around heavily. And then I needed some sort of way to be able to get back to all the wild dogs that surround my house, and attacked me during my morning walks. So we created this series of 99 portraits on tee shirts. Every single dog on one tee shirt. As a little retaliationwith a just ever so slightly menacing message (Laughter) on the back of the shirt. (Laughter)

4:27Just before I left New York I decided I could actually renovate my studio. And then just leave it all to them.And I don’t have to do anything. So I looked for furniture. And it turned out that all the furniture that I really liked, I couldn’t afford. And all the stuff I could afford, I didn’t like. So one of the things that we pursued in Bali was pieces of furniture. This one, of course, still works with the wild dogs. It’s not quite finished yet. And I think by the time this lamp came about, (Laughter) I had finally made peace with those dogs. (Laughter)

5:13Then there is a coffee table. I also did a coffee table. It’s called Be Here Now. It includes 330 compasses.And we had custom espresso cups made that hide a magnet inside, and make those compasses go crazy, always centering on them. Then this is a fairly talkative, verbose kind of chair. I also started meditating for the first time in my life in Bali. And at the same time, I’m extremely aware how boring it is to hear about other people’s happinesses. So I will not really go too far into it.

5:56Many of you will know this TEDster, Danny Gilbert, whose book, actually, I got it through the TED book club. I think it took me four years to finally read it, while on sabbatical. And I was pleased to see that he actually wrote the book while he was on sabbatical. And I’ll show you a couple of people that did well by pursuing sabbaticals.

6:21This is Ferran Adria. Many people think he is right now the best chef in the world with his restaurant north of Barcelona, El Bulli. His restaurant is open seven months every year. He closes it down for five monthsto experiment with a full kitchen staff. His latest numbers are fairly impressive. He can seat, throughout the year, he can seat 8,000 people. And he has 2.2 million requests for reservations.

6:50If I look at my cycle, seven years, one year sabbatical, it’s 12.5 percent of my time. And if I look at companies that are actually more successful than mine, 3M since the 1930s is giving all their engineers15 percent to pursue whatever they want. There is some good successes. Scotch tape came out of this program, as well as Art Fry developed sticky notes from during his personal time for 3M. Google, of course, very famously gives 20 percent for their software engineers to pursue their own personal projects.

7:31Anybody in here has actually ever conducted a sabbatical? That’s about five percent of everybody. So I’m not sure if you saw your neighbor putting their hand up. Talk to them about if it was successful or not.I’ve found that finding out about what I’m going to like in the future, my very best way is to talk to peoplewho have actually done it much better than myself envisioning it.

8:05When I had the idea of doing one, the process was I made the decision and I put it into my daily planner book. And then I told as many, many people as I possibly could about it so that there was no way that I could chicken out later on. (Laughter)

8:22In the beginning, on the first sabbatical, it was rather disastrous. I had thought that I should do this without any plan, that this vacuum of time somehow would be wonderful and enticing for idea generation. It was not. I just, without a plan, I just reacted to little requests, not work requests, those I all said no to, but other little requests. Sending mail to Japanese design magazines and things like that. So I became my own intern. (Laughter)

9:00And I very quickly made a list of the things I was interested in, put them in a hierarchy, divided them into chunks of time and then made a plan, very much like in grade school. What does it say here? Monday, 8 to 9: story writing; 9 to 10: future thinking. Was not very successful. And so on and so forth. And that actually, specifically as a starting point of the first sabbatical, worked really well for me. What came out of it? I really got close to design again. I had fun. Financially, seen over the long term, it was actually successful. Because of the improved quality, we could ask for higher prices.

9:42And probably most importantly, basically everything we’ve done in the seven years following the first sabbatical came out of thinking of that one single year. And I’ll show you a couple of projects that came out of the seven years following that sabbatical. One of the strands of thinking I was involved in was that sameness is so incredibly overrated. This whole idea that everything needs to be exactly the same works for a very very few strand of companies, and not for everybody else.

10:15We were asked to design an identity for Casa da Musica, the Rem Koolhaas-built music center in Porto, in Portugal. And even though I desired to do an identity that doesn’t use the architecture, I failed at that.And mostly also because I realized out of a Rem Koolhaas presentation to the city of Porto, where he talked about a conglomeration of various layers of meaning. Which I understood after I translated it from architecture speech in to regular English, basically as logo making. And I understood that the building itself was a logo.

10:55So then it became quite easy. We put a mask on it, looked at it deep down in the ground, checked it out from all sides, west, north, south, east, top and bottom. Colored them in a very particular way by having a friend of mine write a piece of software, the Casa da Musica Logo Generator. That’s connected to a scanner. You put any image in there, like that Beethoven image. And the software, in a second, will give you the Casa da Musica Beethoven logo. Which, when you actually have to design a Beethoven poster,comes in handy, because the visual information of the logo and the actual poster is exactly the same.

11:39So it will always fit together, conceptually, of course. If Zappa’s music is performed, it gets its own logo.Or Philip Glass or Lou Reed or the Chemical Brothers, who all performed there, get their own Casa da Musica logo. It works the same internally with the president or the musical director, whose Casa da Musica portraits wind up on their business cards. There is a full-blown orchestra living inside the building.It has a more transparent identity. The truck they go on tour with. Or there’s a smaller contemporary orchestra, 12 people that remixes its own title.

12:23And one of the handy things that came about was that you could take the logo type and create advertising out of it. Like this Donna Toney poster, or Chopin, or Mozart, or La Monte Young. You can take the shape and make typography out of it. You can grow it underneath the skin. You can have a poster for a family event in front of the house, or a rave underneath the house or a weekly program, as well as educational services.

12:56Second insight. So far, until that point I had been mostly involved or used the language of design for promotional purposes, which was fine with me. On one hand I have nothing against selling. My parents are both salespeople. But I did feel that I spent so much time learning this language, why do I only promote with it? There must be something else. And the whole series of work came out of it. Some of you might have seen it. I showed some of it at earlier TEDs before, under the title “Things I’ve Learned in My Life So Far.” I’ll just show two now.

13:35This is a whole wall of bananas at different ripenesses on the opening day in this gallery in New York. It says, “Self-confidence produces fine results.” This is after a week. After two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, five weeks. And you see the self confidence almost comes back, but not quite. These are some pictures visitors sent to me. (Laughter)

14:04And then the city of Amsterdam gave us a plaza and asked us to do something. We used the stone plates as a grid for our little piece. We got 250,000 coins from the central bank, at different darknesses. So we got brand new ones, shiny ones, medium ones, and very old, dark ones. And with the help of 100 volunteers, over a week, created this fairly floral typography that spelled, “Obsessions make my life worse and my work better.”

14:41And the idea of course was to make the type so precious that as an audience you would be in between,“Should I really take as much money as I can? Or should I leave the piece intact as it is right now?” While we built all this up during that week, with the 100 volunteers, a good number of the neighbors surrounding the plaza got very close to it and quite loved it. So when it was finally done, and in the first night a guy came with big plastic bags and scooped up as many coins as he could possibly carry, one of the neighbors called the police.

15:20And the Amsterdam police in all their wisdom, came, saw, and they wanted to protect the artwork. And they swept it all up and put it into custody at police headquarters. (Laughter) I think you see, you see them sweeping. You see them sweeping right here. That’s the police, getting rid of it all. So after eight hours that’s pretty much all that was left of the whole thing. (Laughter)

15:51We are also working on the start of a bigger project in Bali. It’s a movie about happiness. And here we asked some nearby pigs to do the titles for us. They weren’t quite slick enough. So we asked the goose to do it again, and hoped she would do somehow, a more elegant or pretty job. And I think she overdid it.Just a bit too ornamental. And my studio is very close to the monkey forest. And the monkeys in that monkey forest looked, actually, fairly happy. So we asked those guys to do it again. They did a fine job, but had a couple of readability problems. So of course whatever you don’t really do yourself doesn’t really get done properly.

16:42That film we’ll be working on for the next two years. So it’s going to be a while. And of course you might think that doing a film on happiness might not really be worthwhile. Then you can of course always go and see this guy.

17:00Video: (Laughter) And I’m happy I’m alive. I’m happy I’m alive. I’m happy I’m alive.

17:24Stefan Sagmeister: Thank you. (Applause)

TED Tuesday: The Art of Being Yourself- Caroline McHugh

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.* (*Subject to certain rules and regulations)

TED Tuesday: Who Are you, Really? The Puzzle of Personality- Brian Little

What makes you, you? Psychologists like to talk about our traits, or defined characteristics that make us who we are. But Brian Little is more interested in moments when we transcend those traits — sometimes because our culture demands it of us, and sometimes because we demand it of ourselves. Join Little as he dissects the surprising differences between introverts and extroverts and explains why your personality may be more malleable than you think.

Talk Transcript:

0:12What an intriguing group of individuals you are … to a psychologist.


0:19I’ve had the opportunity over the last couple of days of listening in on some of your conversations and watching you interact with each other. And I think it’s fair to say, already, that there are 47 people in this audience, at this moment, displaying psychological symptoms I would like to discuss today.


0:43And I thought you might like to know who you are.


0:48But instead of pointing at you, which would be gratuitous and intrusive, I thought I would tell you a few facts and stories, in which you may catch a glimpse of yourself.

1:01I’m in the field of research known as personality psychology, which is part of a larger personality sciencewhich spans the full spectrum, from neurons to narratives. And what we try to do, in our own way, is to make sense of how each of us — each of you — is, in certain respects, like all other people, like some other people and like no other person.

1:33Now, already you may be saying of yourself, “I’m not intriguing. I am the 46th most boring person in the Western Hemisphere.” Or you may say of yourself, “I am intriguing, even if I am regarded by most people as a great, thundering twit.”


1:57But it is your self-diagnosed boringness and your inherent “twitiness” that makes me, as a psychologist, really fascinated by you. So let me explain why this is so.

2:11One of the most influential approaches in personality science is known as trait psychology, and it aligns you along five dimensions which are normally distributed, and that describe universally held aspects of difference between people. They spell out the acronym OCEAN. So, “O” stands for “open to experience,”versus those who are more closed. “C” stands for “conscientiousness,” in contrast to those with a more lackadaisical approach to life. “E” — “extroversion,” in contrast to more introverted people. “A” — “agreeable individuals,” in contrast to those decidedly not agreeable. And “N” — “neurotic individuals,” in contrast to those who are more stable.

3:03All of these dimensions have implications for our well-being, for how our life goes. And so we know that, for example, openness and conscientiousness are very good predictors of life success, but the open people achieve that success through being audacious and, occasionally, odd. The conscientious people achieve it through sticking to deadlines, to persevering, as well as having some passion. Extroversion and agreeableness are both conducive to working well with people. Extroverts, for example, I find intriguing.With my classes, I sometimes give them a basic fact that might be revealing with respect to their personality: I tell them that it is virtually impossible for adults to lick the outside of their own elbow.


4:01Did you know that? Already, some of you have tried to lick the outside of your own elbow. But extroverts amongst you are probably those who have not only tried, but they have successfully licked the elbow of the person sitting next to them.


4:18Those are the extroverts.

4:20Let me deal in a bit more detail with extroversion, because it’s consequential and it’s intriguing, and it helps us understand what I call our three natures. First, our biogenic nature — our neurophysiology.Second, our sociogenic or second nature, which has to do with the cultural and social aspects of our lives. And third, what makes you individually you — idiosyncratic — what I call your “idiogenic” nature.

4:52Let me explain. One of the things that characterizes extroverts is they need stimulation. And that stimulation can be achieved by finding things that are exciting: loud noises, parties and social events here at TED — you see the extroverts forming a magnetic core. They all gather together. And I’ve seen you.The introverts are more likely to spend time in the quiet spaces up on the second floor, where they are able to reduce stimulation — and may be misconstrued as being antisocial, but you’re not necessarily antisocial. It may be that you simply realize that you do better when you have a chance to lower that level of stimulation.

5:41Sometimes it’s an internal stimulant, from your body. Caffeine, for example, works much better with extroverts than it does introverts. When extroverts come into the office at nine o’clock in the morning and say, “I really need a cup of coffee,” they’re not kidding — they really do. Introverts do not do as well,particularly if the tasks they’re engaged in — and they’ve had some coffee — if those tasks are speeded,and if they’re quantitative, introverts may give the appearance of not being particularly quantitative. But it’s a misconstrual.

6:18So here are the consequences that are really quite intriguing: we’re not always what seem to be, and that takes me to my next point. I should say, before getting to this, something about sexual intercourse,although I may not have time. And so, if you would like me to — yes, you would? OK.


6:40There are studies done on the frequency with which individuals engage in the conjugal act, as broken down by male, female; introvert, extrovert. So I ask you: How many times per minute — oh, I’m sorry, that was a rat study —


7:01How many times per month do introverted men engage in the act? 3.0. Extroverted men? More or less?Yes, more. 5.5 — almost twice as much. Introverted women: 3.1. Extroverted women? Frankly, speaking as an introverted male, which I will explain later — they are heroic. 7.5. They not only handle all the male extroverts, they pick up a few introverts as well.



7:47We communicate differently, extroverts and introverts. Extroverts, when they interact, want to have lots of social encounter punctuated by closeness. They’d like to stand close for comfortable communication.They like to have a lot of eye contact, or mutual gaze. We found in some research that they use more diminutive terms when they meet somebody. So when an extrovert meets a Charles, it rapidly becomes “Charlie,” and then “Chuck,” and then “Chuckles Baby.”


8:22Whereas for introverts, it remains “Charles,” until he’s given a pass to be more intimate by the person he’s talking to. We speak differently. Extroverts prefer black-and-white, concrete, simple language.Introverts prefer — and I must again tell you that I am as extreme an introvert as you could possibly imagine — we speak differently. We prefer contextually complex, contingent, weasel-word sentences —


9:02More or less.


9:05As it were.


9:08Not to put too fine a point upon it — like that.

9:12When we talk, we sometimes talk past each other. I had a consulting contract I shared with a colleaguewho’s as different from me as two people can possibly be. First, his name is Tom. Mine isn’t.


9:28Secondly, he’s six foot five. I have a tendency not to be.


9:33And thirdly, he’s as extroverted a person as you could find. I am seriously introverted. I overload so much,I can’t even have a cup of coffee after three in the afternoon and expect to sleep in the evening.

9:49We had seconded to this project a fellow called Michael. And Michael almost brought the project to a crashing halt. So the person who seconded him asked Tom and me, “What do you make of Michael?”Well, I’ll tell you what Tom said in a minute. He spoke in classic “extrovert-ese.” And here is how extroverted ears heard what I said, which is actually pretty accurate. I said, “Well Michael does have a tendency at times of behaving in a way that some of us might see as perhaps more assertive than is normally called for.”


10:32Tom rolled his eyes and he said, “Brian, that’s what I said: he’s an asshole!”



10:44Now, as an introvert, I might gently allude to certain “assholic” qualities in this man’s behavior, but I’m not going to lunge for the a-word.


10:58But the extrovert says, “If he walks like one, if he talks like one, I call him one.” And we go past each other.

11:04Now is this something that we should be heedful of? Of course. It’s important that we know this. Is that all we are? Are we just a bunch of traits? No, we’re not. Remember, you’re like some other people and like no other person. How about that idiosyncratic you? As Elizabeth or as George, you may share your extroversion or your neuroticism. But are there some distinctively Elizabethan features of your behavior,or Georgian of yours, that make us understand you better than just a bunch of traits? That make us love you? Not just because you’re a certain type of person.

11:54I’m uncomfortable putting people in pigeonholes. I don’t even think pigeons belong in pigeonholes. So what is it that makes us different? It’s the doings that we have in our life — the personal projects. You have a personal project right now, but nobody may know it here. It relates to your kid — you’ve been back three times to the hospital, and they still don’t know what’s wrong. Or it could be your mom. And you’d been acting out of character. These are free traits. You’re very agreeable, but you act disagreeably in order to break down those barriers of administrative torpor in the hospital, to get something for your mom or your child.

12:44What are these free traits? They’re where we enact a script in order to advance a core project in our lives.And they are what matters. Don’t ask people what type you are; ask them, “What are your core projects in your life?” And we enact those free traits. I’m an introvert, but I have a core project, which is to profess.I’m a professor. And I adore my students, and I adore my field. And I can’t wait to tell them about what’s new, what’s exciting, what I can’t wait to tell them about. And so I act in an extroverted way, because at eight in the morning, the students need a little bit of humor, a little bit of engagement to keep them goingin arduous days of study.

13:35But we need to be very careful when we act protractedly out of character. Sometimes we may find that we don’t take care of ourselves. I find, for example, after a period of pseudo-extroverted behavior, I need to repair somewhere on my own. As Susan Cain said in her “Quiet” book, in a chapter that featured the strange Canadian professor who was teaching at the time at Harvard, I sometimes go to the men’s roomto escape the slings and arrows of outrageous extroverts.


14:13I remember one particular day when I was retired to a cubicle, trying to avoid overstimulation. And a real extrovert came in beside me — not right in my cubicle, but in the next cubicle over — and I could hear various evacuatory noises, which we hate — even our own, that’s why we flush during as well as after.


14:39And then I heard this gravelly voice saying, “Hey, is that Dr. Little?”


14:49If anything is guaranteed to constipate an introvert for six months, it’s talking on the john.


14:59That’s where I’m going now. Don’t follow me.

15:03Thank you.



TED Tuesday: A Call to Men- Tony Porter

Tony Porter makes a call to men everywhere: Don’t “act like a man.” Telling powerful stories from his own life, he shows how this mentality, drummed into so many men and boys, can lead men to disrespect, mistreat and abuse women and each other. His solution: Break free of the “man box.”

Talk Transcript:

0:11 I grew up in New York City, between Harlem and the Bronx. Growing up as a boy, we were taught that men had to be tough, had to be strong, had to be courageous, dominating — no pain, no emotions, with the exception of anger — and definitely no fear; that men are in charge, which means women are not; that men lead, and you should just follow and do what we say; that men are superior; women are inferior; that men are strong; women are weak; that women are of less value, property of men, and objects,particularly sexual objects. I’ve later come to know that to be the collective socialization of men, better known as the “man box.” See this man box has in it all the ingredients of how we define what it means to be a man. Now I also want to say, without a doubt, there are some wonderful, wonderful, absolutely wonderful things about being a man. But at the same time, there’s some stuff that’s just straight up twisted, and we really need to begin to challenge, look at it and really get in the process of deconstructing, redefining, what we come to know as manhood.

1:37This is my two at home, Kendall and Jay. They’re 11 and 12. Kendall’s 15 months older than Jay. There was a period of time when my wife — her name is Tammie — and I, we just got real busy and whip, bam, boom: Kendall and Jay. (Laughter) And when they were about five and six, four and five, Jay could come to me, come to me crying. It didn’t matter what she was crying about, she could get on my knee, she could snot my sleeve up, just cry, cry it out. Daddy’s got you. That’s all that’s important.

2:09Now Kendall on the other hand — and like I said, he’s only 15 months older than her — he’d come to me crying, it’s like as soon as I would hear him cry, a clock would go off. I would give the boy probably about 30 seconds, which means, by the time he got to me, I was already saying things like, “Why are you crying? Hold your head up. Look at me. Explain to me what’s wrong. Tell me what’s wrong. I can’t understand you. Why are you crying?” And out of my own frustration of my role and responsibility of building him up as a man to fit into these guidelines and these structures that are defining this man box, I would find myself saying things like, “Just go in your room. Just go on, go on in your room. Sit down, get yourself together and come back and talk to me when you can talk to me like a –” what? (Audience: Man.) Like a man. And he’s five years old. And as I grow in life, I would say to myself, “My God, what’s wrong with me? What am I doing? Why would I do this?” And I think back. I think back to my father.

3:22There was a time in my life where we had a very troubled experience in our family. My brother, Henry, he died tragically when we were teenagers. We lived in New York City, as I said. We lived in the Bronx at the time, and the burial was in a place called Long Island, it was about two hours outside of the city. And as we were preparing to come back from the burial, the cars stopped at the bathroom to let folks take care of themselves before the long ride back to the city. And the limousine empties out. My mother, my sister, my auntie, they all get out, but my father and I stayed in the limousine, and no sooner than the women got out, he burst out crying. He didn’t want cry in front of me, but he knew he wasn’t going to make it back to the city, and it was better me than to allow himself to express these feelings and emotions in front of the women. And this is a man who, 10 minutes ago, had just put his teenage son in the ground —something I just can’t even imagine. The thing that sticks with me the most is that he was apologizing to me for crying in front of me, and at the same time, he was also giving me props, lifting me up, for not crying.

4:42I come to also look at this as this fear that we have as men, this fear that just has us paralyzed, holding us hostage to this man box. I can remember speaking to a 12-year-old boy, a football player, and I asked him, I said, “How would you feel if, in front of all the players, your coach told you you were playing like a girl?” Now I expected him to say something like, I’d be sad; I’d be mad; I’d be angry, or something like that. No, the boy said to me — the boy said to me, “It would destroy me.” And I said to myself, “God, if it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?”


5:34It took me back to a time when I was about 12 years old. I grew up in tenement buildings in the inner city.At this time we’re living in the Bronx, and in the building next to where I lived there was a guy named Johnny. He was about 16 years old, and we were all about 12 years old — younger guys. And he was hanging out with all us younger guys. And this guy, he was up to a lot of no good. He was the kind of kid who parents would have to wonder, “What is this 16-year-old boy doing with these 12-year-old boys?”And he did spend a lot of time up to no good. He was a troubled kid. His mother had died from a heroin overdose. He was being raised by his grandmother. His father wasn’t on the set. His grandmother had two jobs. He was home alone a lot. But I’ve got to tell you, we young guys, we looked up to this dude, man. He was cool. He was fine. That’s what the sisters said, “He was fine.” He was having sex. We all looked up to him.

6:28So one day, I’m out in front of the house doing something — just playing around, doing something — I don’t know what. He looks out his window; he calls me upstairs; he said, “Hey Anthony.” They called me Anthony growing up as a kid. “Hey Anthony, come on upstairs.” Johnny call, you go. So I run right upstairs. As he opens the door, he says to me, “Do you want some?” Now I immediately knew what he meant. Because for me growing up at that time, and our relationship with this man box, “Do you want some?” meant one of two things: sex or drugs — and we weren’t doing drugs. Now my box, my card, my man box card, was immediately in jeopardy. Two things: One, I never had sex. We don’t talk about that as men. You only tell your dearest, closest friend, sworn to secrecy for life, the first time you had sex. For everybody else, we go around like we’ve been having sex since we were two. There ain’t no first time.(Laughter) The other thing I couldn’t tell him is that I didn’t want any. That’s even worse. We’re supposed to always be on the prowl. Women are objects, especially sexual objects.

7:31Anyway, so I couldn’t tell him any of that. So, like my mother would say, make a long story short, I just simply said to Johnny, “Yes.” He told me to go in his room. I go in his room. On his bed is a girl from the neighborhood named Sheila. She’s 16 years old. She’s nude. She’s what I know today to be mentally ill,higher-functioning at times than others. We had a whole choice of inappropriate names for her. Anyway, Johnny had just gotten through having sex with her. Well actually, he raped her, but he would say he had sex with her. Because, while Sheila never said no, she also never said yes.

8:06So he was offering me the opportunity to do the same. So when I go in the room, I close the door. Folks, I’m petrified. I stand with my back to the door so Johnny can’t bust in the room and see that I’m not doing anything, and I stand there long enough that I could have actually done something. So now I’m no longer trying to figure out what I’m going to do; I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get out of this room. So in my 12 years of wisdom, I zip my pants down, I walk out into the room, and lo and behold to me, while I was in the room with Sheila, Johnny was back at the window calling guys up. So now there’s a living room full of guys. It was like the waiting room in the doctor’s office. And they asked me how was it, and I say to them, “It was good,” and I zip my pants up in front of them, and I head for the door.

8:52Now I say this all with remorse, and I was feeling a tremendous amount of remorse at that time, but I was conflicted, because, while I was feeling remorse, I was excited, because I didn’t get caught. But I knew I felt bad about what was happening. This fear, getting outside the man box, totally enveloped me. It was way more important to me, about me and my man box card than about Sheila and what was happening to her.

9:17See collectively, we as men are taught to have less value in women, to view them as property and the objects of men. We see that as an equation that equals violence against women. We as men, good men,the large majority of men, we operate on the foundation of this whole collective socialization. We kind of see ourselves separate, but we’re very much a part of it. You see, we have to come to understand that less value, property and objectification is the foundation and the violence can’t happen without it. So we’re very much a part of the solution as well as the problem. The center for disease control says that men’s violence against women is at epidemic proportions, is the number one health concern for womenin this country and abroad.

10:00So quickly, I’d like to just say, this is the love of my life, my daughter Jay. The world I envision for her —how do I want men to be acting and behaving? I need you on board. I need you with me. I need you working with me and me working with you on how we raise our sons and teach them to be men — that it’s okay to not be dominating, that it’s okay to have feelings and emotions, that it’s okay to promote equality, that it’s okay to have women who are just friends and that’s it, that it’s okay to be whole, that my liberation as a man is tied to your liberation as a woman. (Applause)

10:37I remember asking a nine-year-old boy, I asked a nine-year-old boy, “What would life be like for you, if you didn’t have to adhere to this man box?” He said to me, “I would be free.”

10:49Thank you folks.


TED Tuesday: Teaching with the World Peace Game – John Hunger

John Hunter puts all the problems of the world on a 4’x5′ plywood board — and lets his 4th-graders solve them. At TED2011, he explains how his World Peace Game engages schoolkids, and why the complex lessons it teaches — spontaneous, and always surprising — go further than classroom lectures can.

Talk Transcript:

0:11 I’m very fortunate to be here. I feel so fortunate. I’ve been so impressed by the kindness expressed to me. I called my wife Leslie, and I said, “You know, there’s so many good people trying to do so much good. It feels like I’ve landed in a colony of angels.” It’s a true feeling. But let me get to the talk — I see the clock is running.

0:35 I’m a public school teacher, and I just want to share a story of my superintendent. Her name is Pam Moran in Albemarle County, Virginia, the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And she’s a very high-tech superintendent. She uses smart boards, she blogs, she Tweets, she does Facebook, she does all this sort of high-tech stuff. She’s a technology leader and instructional leader. But in her office, there’s this old wooden, weather-worn table, kitchen table — peeling green paint, it’s kind of rickety. And I said, “Pam, you’re such a modern, cutting-edge person. Why is this old table in your office?”

1:13 And she told me, she said, “You know, I grew up in Southwestern Virginia, in the coal mines and the farmlands of rural Virginia, and this table was in my grandfather’s kitchen. And we’d come in from playing, he’d come in from plowing and working, and we’d sit around that table every night. And as I grew up, I heard so much knowledge and so many insights and so much wisdom come out around this table, I began to call it the wisdom table. And when he passed on, I took this table with me and brought it to my office, and it reminds me of him. It reminds me of what goes on around an empty space sometimes.” The project I’m going to tell you about is called the World Peace Game, and essentially it is also an empty space. And I’d like to think of it as a 21st century wisdom table, really.

2:02 It all started back in 1977. I was a young man, and I had been dropping in and out of college. And my parents were very patient, but I had been doing intermittent sojourns to India on a mystical quest. And I remember the last time I came back from India — in my long white flowing robes and my big beard and my John Lennon glasses — and I said to my father, “Dad, I think I’ve just about found spiritual enlightenment.” He said, “Well there’s one more thing you need to find.” I said, “What is that, dad?” “A job.” (Laughter) And so they pleaded with me to get a degree in something. So I got a degree and it turned out to be education. It was an experimental education program. It could have been dentistry, but the word “experimental” was in it, and so that’s what I had to go for.

2:57And I went in for a job interview in the Richmond Public Schools in Virginia, the capital city, bought a three-piece suit — my concession to convention — kept my long beard and my afro and my platform shoes — at the time it was the ’70s — and I walked in, and I sat down and had an interview. And I guess they were hard up for teachers because the supervisor, her name was Anna Aro, said I had the job teaching gifted children. And I was so shocked, so stunned, I got up and said, “Well, thank you, but what do I do?” (Laughter) Gifted education hadn’t really taken hold too much. There weren’t really many materials or things to use. And I said, “What do I do?” And her answer shocked me. It stunned me. Her answer set the template for the entire career I was to have after that. She said, “What do you want to do?” And that question cleared the space. There was no program directive, no manual to follow, no standards in gifted education in that way. And she cleared such a space that I endeavored from then onto clear a space for my students, an empty space, whereby they could create and make meaning out of their own understanding.

4:14So this happened in 1978, and I was teaching many years later, and a friend of mine introduced me to a young filmmaker. His name is Chris Farina. Chris Farina is here today at his own cost. Chris, could you stand up and let them see you — a young, visionary filmmaker who’s made a film. (Applause) This film is called “World Peace and Other 4th Grade Achievements.” He proposed the film to me — it’s a great title.He proposed the film to me, and I said, “Yeah, maybe it’ll be on local TV, and we can say hi to our friends.” But the film has really gone places. Now it’s still in debt, but Chris has managed, through his own sacrifice, to get this film out. So we made a film and it turns out to be more than a story about me,more than a story about one teacher. It’s a story that’s a testament to teaching and teachers. And it’s a beautiful thing.

5:08And the strange thing is, when I watch the film — I have the eerie sensation of seeing it — I saw myself literally disappear. What I saw was my teachers coming through me. I saw my geometry teacher in high school, Mr. Rucell’s wry smile under his handlebar mustache. That’s the smile I use — that’s his smile. I saw Jan Polo’s flashing eyes. And they weren’t flashing in anger, they were flashing in love, intense love for her students. And I have that kind of flash sometimes. And I saw Miss Ethel J. Banks who wore pearls and high-heels to elementary school every day. And you know, she had that old-school teacher stare.You know the one. (Laughter) “And I’m not even talking about you behind me, because I’ve got eyes in the back of my head.” (Laughter) You know that teacher? I didn’t use that stare very often, but I do have it in my repertoire. And Miss Banks was there as a great mentor for me.

6:17And then I saw my own parents, my first teachers. My father, very inventive, spatial thinker. That’s my brother Malcolm there on the right. And my mother, who taught me in fourth grade in segregated schools in Virginia, who was my inspiration. And really, I feel as though, when I see the film — I have a gesture she does, like this — I feel like I am a continuation of her gesture. I am one of her teaching gestures. And the beautiful thing was, I got to teach my daughter in elementary school, Madeline. And so that gesture of my mother’s continues through many generations. It’s an amazing feeling to have that lineage. And so I’m here standing on the shoulders of many people. I’m not here alone. There are many people on this stage right now.

7:11And so this World Peace Game I’d like to tell you about. It started out like this: it’s just a four-foot by five-foot plywood board in an inner-city urban school, 1978. I was creating a lesson for students on Africa.We put all the problems of the world there, and I thought, let’s let them solve it. I didn’t want to lecture or have just book reading. I wanted to have them be immersed and learn the feeling of learning through their bodies. So I thought, well they like to play games. I’ll make something — I didn’t say interactive; we didn’t have that term in 1978 — but something interactive. And so we made the game, and it has since evolvedto a four-foot by four-foot by four-foot Plexiglass structure. And it has four Plexiglass layers.

7:59There’s an outer space layer with black holes and satellites and research satellites and asteroid mining.There’s an air and space level with clouds that are big puffs of cotton we push around and territorial air spaces and air forces, a ground and sea level with thousands of game pieces on it — even an undersea level with submarines and undersea mining. There are four countries around the board. The kids make up the names of the countries — some are rich; some are poor. They have different assets, commercial and military. And each country has a cabinet. There’s a Prime Minister, Secretary of State, Minister of Defenseand a CFO, or Comptroller. I choose the Prime Minister based on my relationship with them. I offer them the job, they can turn it down, and then they choose their own cabinet. There’s a World Bank, arms dealers and a United Nations. There’s also a weather goddess who controls a random stock market and random weather.


8:50That’s not all. And then there’s a 13-page crisis document with 50 interlocking problems. So that, if one thing changes, everything else changes. I throw them into this complex matrix, and they trust me because we have a deep, rich relationship together. And so with all these crises, we have — let’s see — ethnic and minority tensions; we have chemical and nuclear spills, nuclear proliferation. There’s oil spills, environmental disasters, water rights disputes, breakaway republics, famine, endangered species and global warming. If Al Gore is here, I’m going to send my fourth-graders from Agnor-Hurt and Venable schools to you because they solved global warming in a week. (Laughter) (Applause) And they’ve done it several times too.


9:42So I also have in the game a saboteur — some child — it’s basically a troublemaker — and I have my troublemaker put to use because they, on the surface, are trying to save the world and their position in the game. But they’re also trying to undermine everything in the game. And they do it secretly through misinformation and ambiguities and irrelevancies, trying to cause everyone to think more deeply. The saboteur is there, and we also read from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” Fourth-graders understand it — nine years old — and they handle that and use that to understand how to, not follow — at first they do — the paths to power and destruction, the path to war. They learn to overlook short-sighted reactions and impulsive thinking, to think in a long-term, more consequential way.

10:30Stewart Brand is here, and one of the ideas for this game came from him with a CoEvolution Quarterly article on a peace force. And in the game, sometimes students actually form a peace force. I’m just a clock watcher. I’m just a clarifier. I’m just a facilitator. The students run the game. I have no chance to make any policy whatsoever once they start playing. So I’ll just share with you …

10:54(Video) Boy: The World Peace Game is serious. You’re actually getting taught something like how to take care of the world. See, Mr. Hunter is doing that because he says his time has messed up a lot, and he’s trying to tell us how to fix that problem.

11:07John Hunter: I offered them a — (Applause) Actually, I can’t tell them anything because I don’t know the answer. And I admit the truth to them right up front: I don’t know. And because I don’t know, they’ve got to dig up the answer. And so I apologize to them as well. I say, “I’m so sorry, boys and girls, but the truth is we have left this world to you in such a sad and terrible shape, and we hope you can fix it for us, and maybe this game will help you learn how to do it.” It’s a sincere apology, and they take it very seriously.

11:39Now you may be wondering what all this complexity looks like. Well when we have the game start, here’s what you see.

11:45(Video) JH: All right, we’re going into negotiations as of now. Go. (Chatter)

11:56JH: My question to you is, who’s in charge of that classroom? It’s a serious question: who is really in charge? I’ve learned to cede control of the classroom over to the students over time. There’s a trust and an understanding and a dedication to an ideal that I simply don’t have to do what I thought I had to do as a beginning teacher: control every conversation and response in the classroom. It’s impossible. Their collective wisdom is much greater than mine, and I admit it to them openly. So I’ll just share with you some stories very quickly of some magical things that have happened.

12:31In this game we had a little girl, and she was the Defense Minister of the poorest nation. And the Defense Minister — she had the tank corps and Air Force and so forth. And she was next door to a very wealthy, oil-rich neighbor. Without provocation, suddenly she attacked, against her Prime Minister’s orders, the next-door neighbor’s oil fields. She marched into the oil field reserves, surrounded it, without firing a shot,and secured it and held it. And that neighbor was unable to conduct any military operations because their fuel supply was locked up.

13:02We were all upset with her, “Why are you doing this? This is the World Peace Game. What is wrong with you?” (Laughter) This was a little girl and, at nine years old, she held her pieces and said, “I know what I’m doing.” To her girlfriends she said that. That’s a breach there. And we learned in this, you don’t really ever want to cross a nine year-old girl with tanks. (Laughter) They are the toughest opponents. And we were very upset. I thought I was failing as a teacher. Why would she do this?

13:32But come to find out, a few game days later — and there are turns where we take negotiation from a team — actually there’s a negotiation period with all teams, and each team takes a turn, then we go back in negotiation, around and around, so each turn around is one game day. So a few game days later it came to light that we found out this major country was planning a military offensive to dominate the entire world. Had they had their fuel supplies, they would have done it. She was able to see the vectors and trend lines and intentions long before any of us and understand what was going to happen and made a philosophical decision to attack in a peace game.

14:11Now she used a small war to avert a larger war, so we stopped and had a very good philosophical discussion about whether that was right, conditional good, or not right. That’s the kind of thinking that we put them in, the situations. I could not have designed that in teaching it. It came about spontaneously through their collective wisdom.


14:35Another example, a beautiful thing happened. We have a letter in the game. If you’re a military commander and you wage troops — the little plastic toys on the board — and you lose them, I put in a letter. You have to write a letter to their parents — the fictional parents of your fictional troops —explaining what happened and offering your condolences. So you have a little bit more thought before you commit to combat. And so we had this situation come up — last summer actually, at Agnor-Hurt School in Albemarle County — and one of our military commanders got up to read that letter and one of the other kids said, “Mr. Hunter, let’s ask — there’s a parent over there.” There was a parent visiting that day, just sitting in the back of the room. “Let’s ask that mom to read the letter. It’ll be more realer if she reads it.” So we did, we asked her, and she gamely picked up the letter. “Sure.” She started reading. She read one sentence. She read two sentences. By the third sentence, she was in tears. I was in tears.Everybody understood that when we lose somebody, the winners are not gloating. We all lose. And it was an amazing occurrence and an amazing understanding.

15:44I’ll show you what my friend David says about this. He’s been in many battles.

15:48(Video) David: We’ve really had enough of people attacking. I mean, we’ve been lucky [most of] the time.But now I’m feeling really weird because I’m living what Sun Tzu said one week. One week he said,“Those who go into battle and win will want to go back, and those who lose in battle will want to go back and win.” And so I’ve been winning battles, so I’m going into battles, more battles. And I think it’s sort of weird to be living what Sun Tzu said.

16:22JH: I get chills every time I see that. That’s the kind of engagement you want to have happen. And I can’t design that, I can’t plan that, and I can’t even test that. But it’s self-evident assessment. We know that’s an authentic assessment of learning. We have a lot of data, but I think sometimes we go beyond datawith the real truth of what’s going on.

16:46So I’ll just share a third story. This is about my friend Brennan. We had played the game one session after school for many weeks, about seven weeks, and we had essentially solved all 50 of the interlocking crises. The way the game is won is all 50 problems have to be solved and every country’s asset value has to be increased above its starting point. Some are poor, some are wealthy. There are billions. The World Bank president was a third-grader one time. He says, “How many zeros in a trillion? I’ve got to calculate that right away.” But he was setting fiscal policy in that game for high school players who were playing with him.

17:21So the team that was the poorest had gotten even poorer. There was no way they could win. And we were approaching four o’clock, our cut-off time — there was about a minute left — and despair just settled over the room. I thought, I’m failing as a teacher. I should have gotten it so they could have won.They shouldn’t be failing like this. I’ve failed them. And I was just feeling so sad and dejected. And suddenly, Brennan walked over to my chair and he grabbed the bell, the bell I ring to signal a change or a reconvening of cabinets, and he ran back to his seat, rang the bell. Everybody ran to his chair: there was screaming; there was yelling, waving of their dossiers. They get these dossiers full of secret documents.They were gesticulating; they were running around. I didn’t know what they were doing. I’d lost control of my classroom. Principal walks in, I’m out of a job. The parents were looking in the window.

18:12And Brennan runs back to his seat. Everybody runs back to their seat. He rings the bell again. He says, “We have” — and there’s 12 seconds left on the clock — “we have, all nations, pooled all our funds together. And we’ve got 600 billion dollars. We’re going to offer it as a donation to this poor country. And if they accept it, it’ll raise their asset value and we can win the game. Will you accept it?” And there are three seconds left on the clock. Everybody looks at this prime minister of that country, and he says, “Yes.” And the game is won. Spontaneous compassion that could not be planned for, that was unexpected and unpredictable.

18:49Every game we play is different. Some games are more about social issues, some are more about economic issues. Some games are more about warfare. But I don’t try to deny them that reality of being human. I allow them to go there and, through their own experience, learn, in a bloodless way, how not to do what they consider to be the wrong thing. And they find out what is right their own way, their own selves. And so in this game, I’ve learned so much from it, but I would say that if only they could pick up a critical thinking tool or creative thinking tool from this game and leverage something good for the world,they may save us all. If only.

19:39And on behalf of all of my teachers on whose shoulders I’m standing, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


TED Tuesday: What adults can learn from kids – Adora Svitak

Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs “childish” thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids’ big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups’ willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.

Talk Transcript:

0:11 Now, I want to start with a question: When was the last time you were called “childish”? For kids like me,being called childish can be a frequent occurrence. Every time we make irrational demands, exhibit irresponsible behavior, or display any other signs of being normal American citizens, we are called childish. Which really bothers me. After all, take a look at these events: Imperialism and colonization,world wars, George W. Bush. Ask yourself, who’s responsible? Adults.

0:45 Now, what have kids done? Well, Anne Frank touched millions with her powerful account of the Holocaust. Ruby Bridges helped to end segregation in the United States. And, most recently, Charlie Simpson helped to raise 120,000 pounds for Haiti, on his little bike. So as you can see evidenced by such examples, age has absolutely nothing to do with it. The traits the word “childish” addresses are seen so often in adults, that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word, when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking.


1:27Thank you.

1:29 Then again, who’s to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs?Maybe you’ve had grand plans before, but stopped yourself, thinking, “That’s impossible,” or “That costs too much,” or “That won’t benefit me.” For better or worse, we kids aren’t hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things. Kids can be full of inspiring aspirations and hopeful thinking, like my wish that no one went hungry, or that everything were free, a kind of utopia.How many of you still dream like that, and believe in the possibilities? Sometimes a knowledge of history and the past failures of Utopian ideals can be a burden, because you know that if everything were free,then the food stocks would become depleted and scarce and lead to chaos. On the other hand, we kids still dream about perfection. And that’s a good thing, because in order to make anything a reality, you have to dream about it first.

2:26In many ways, our audacity to imagine helps push the boundaries of possibility. For instance, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, my home state — yoohoo, Washington!


2:40has a program called Kids Design Glass, and kids draw their own ideas for glass art. The resident artist said they got some of their best ideas from the program, because kids don’t think about the limitations of how hard it can be to blow glass into certain shapes, they just think of good ideas. Now, when you think of glass, you might think of colorful Chihuly designs, or maybe Italian vases, but kids challenge glass artists to go beyond that, into the realm of brokenhearted snakes and bacon boys, who you can see has meat vision.


3:11Now, our inherent wisdom doesn’t have to be insider’s knowledge. Kids already do a lot of learning from adults, and we have a lot to share. I think that adults should start learning from kids. Now, I do most of my speaking in front of an education crowd — teachers and students, and I like this analogy: It shouldn’t be a teacher at the head of the class, telling students, “Do this, do that.” The students should teach their teachers. Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal. The reality, unfortunately, is a little different, and it has a lot to do with trust, or a lack of it.

3:47Now, if you don’t trust someone, you place restrictions on them, right? If I doubt my older sister’s ability to pay back the 10 percent interest I established on her last loan, I’m going to withhold her ability to get more money from me, until she pays it back.


4:01True story, by the way. Now, adults seem to have a prevalently restrictive attitude towards kids, from every “Don’t do that, don’t do this” in the school handbook, to restrictions on school Internet use. As history points out, regimes become oppressive when they’re fearful about keeping control. And although adults may not be quite at the level of totalitarian regimes, kids have no or very little say in making the rules, when really, the attitude should be reciprocal, meaning that the adult population should learn and take into account the wishes of the younger population.

4:36Now, what’s even worse than restriction, is that adults often underestimate kids’ abilities. We love challenges, but when expectations are low, trust me, we will sink to them. My own parents had anything but low expectations for me and my sister. Okay, so they didn’t tell us to become doctors or lawyers or anything like that, but my dad did read to us about Aristotle and pioneer germ-fighters, when lots of other kids were hearing “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.” Well, we heard that one too, but “Pioneer Germ Fighters” totally rules.


5:12I loved to write from the age of four, and when I was six, my mom bought me my own laptop equipped with Microsoft Word. Thank you, Bill Gates, and thank you, Ma. I wrote over 300 short stories on that little laptop, and I wanted to get published. Instead of just scoffing at this heresy that a kid wanted to get published, or saying wait until you’re older, my parents were really supportive. Many publishers were not quite so encouraging. One large children’s publisher ironically said that they didn’t work with children.Children’s publisher not working with children? I don’t know, you’re kind of alienating a large client there.


5:53One publisher, Action Publishing, was willing to take that leap and trust me, and to listen to what I had to say. They published my first book, “Flying Fingers,” you see it here. And from there on, it’s gone to speaking at hundreds of schools, keynoting to thousands of educators, and finally, today, speaking to you.

6:12I appreciate your attention today, because to show that you truly care, you listen. But there’s a problem with this rosy picture of kids being so much better than adults. Kids grow up and become adults just like you.


6:29Or just like you? Really? The goal is not to turn kids into your kind of adult, but rather, better adults than you have been, which may be a little challenging, considering your guys’ credentials.


6:41But the way progress happens, is because new generations and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones. It’s the reason we’re not in the Dark Ages anymore. No matter your position or place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children, so that we can grow up to blow you away.


7:03Adults and fellow TEDsters, you need to listen and learn from kids, and trust us and expect more from us.You must lend an ear today, because we are the leaders of tomorrow, which means we’re going to take care of you when you’re old and senile. No, just kidding.


7:22No, really, we are going to be the next generation, the ones who will bring this world forward. And in case you don’t think that this really has meaning for you, remember that cloning is possible, and that involves going through childhood again, in which case you’ll want to be heard, just like my generation. Now, the world needs opportunities for new leaders and new ideas. Kids need opportunities to lead and succeed.Are you ready to make the match? Because the world’s problems shouldn’t be the human family’s heirloom.

7:54Thank you.


7:59Thank you. Thank you.

TED Tuesday: Why Gun Violence Can’t be our New Normal- Dan Gross

It doesn’t matter whether you love or hate guns; it’s obvious that the US would be a safer place if there weren’t thousands of them sold every day without background checks. Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, makes a passionate, personal appeal for something that more than 90 percent of Americans want: background checks for all gun sales. “For every great movement around the world, there’s a moment where you can look back and say, ‘That’s when things really started to change,'” Gross says. “For the movement to end gun violence in America, that moment is here.”

Talk Transcript

00:11OK, so, confession: I’ve always been weirdly obsessed with advertising. I remember watching Saturday morning cartoons, paying more attention to the commercials than to the shows, trying to figure out how they were trying to get inside my head. Ultimately, that led me to my dream job. I became a partner at a big New York ad agency.

00:34But then, all of that suddenly changed on February 23, 1997, when my little brother Matt was shot in the head in a shooting that happened on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Suddenly, my family was thrown into the middle of a nightmare, being told that my brother was going to die, actually being given the opportunity to say goodbye to him, then several emergency brain surgeries and now what’s amounted, for Matt, to a lifetime spent courageously recovering from a traumatic brain injury. He is definitely my hero.

01:16But as much as (Applause) — yeah, deserves it —


01:23But as much as this tragedy was a nightmare for my family, I often think about how much worse it could have been; in fact, how much worse it is for the 90 families every day who aren’t as fortunate, who lose loved ones — brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, parents. They don’t all make national headlines. In fact, most of them don’t. They go largely unnoticed, in a nation that’s kind of come to accept a disgraceful national epidemic as some kind of new normal.

02:01So I quit my job in advertising to try and do something about this disgraceful national epidemic, because I came to realize that the challenges to preventing gun violence are actually the same ones that made me love advertising, which is to try to figure out how to engage people. Only instead of doing it to sell products, doing it to save lives. And that comes down to finding common ground, where what I want overlaps with what you want. And you might be surprised to learn, when it comes to gun violence, just how much common ground there is.

02:39Let’s look, for example, at people who love to hunt, a sport enjoyed by millions across the US. It’s a proud tradition. Families. In some places, the first day of hunting season is actually a school holiday.What do hunters want? Well, they want to hunt. They love their guns. They believe deeply in the Second Amendment right to own those guns. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t common ground.

03:02In fact, there’s a lot of it, starting with the basic idea of keeping guns out of dangerous hands. This isn’t about taking certain guns away from all people. It’s about keeping all guns away from certain people, and it’s the people that, it turns out, we all agree shouldn’t have guns: convicted violent criminals, domestic abusers, the dangerously mentally ill. We can all appreciate how Brady background checks have been incredibly effective in keeping guns out of those dangerous hands. In 20 years, Brady background checks at federally licensed firearm dealers have blocked 2.4 million gun sales to those people that we all agree shouldn’t have guns.


03:48And whether you love guns or hate guns, you probably also appreciate that there shouldn’t be thousands of gun sales every day at guns shows or online without those Brady background checks, just like there shouldn’t be two lines to get on an airplane — one with security and one with no security. And —


04:09And the numbers show the overwhelming agreement among the American public: 90 percent of Americans support expanding Brady background checks to all gun sales — including 90 percent of Republicans, more than 80 percent of gun owners, more than 70 percent of NRA members. This is not a controversial idea. In fact, only six percent of the American public disagrees. That’s about the percentage of the American public that believes the moon landing was a fake.


04:36And it’s also about the percentage that believes the government is putting mind-controlling technology in our TV broadcast signals. That’s the extent to which we agree about background checks.

04:46But what about the 300 million guns already out there in homes across America? Well first, it’s important to realize that those guns are mostly in the hands and homes of decent, law-abiding people like you and me, who want what we all want — including keeping our families safe. In fact, that’s why more and more people are choosing to own guns. Ten years ago, 42 percent of the American public believed — incorrectly — that a gun makes your home safer. Today, that number is 63 percent.

05:22Why? I kind of hate to say it, because it gets to the dark underbelly of advertising, which is if you tell a big enough lie enough times, eventually that lie becomes the truth. And that’s exactly what’s happened here.The corporate gun lobby has spent billions of dollars blocking the CDC from doing research into the public health epidemic of gun violence; blocking pediatricians from talking to parents about the dangers of guns in the home; blocking smart-gun technology and other technology that would prevent kids from firing parents’ guns and would save lives. They’re desperate to hide the truth, because they view the truth as a threat to their bottom line.

05:59And every day, people are dying as a result. And a lot of those people are children. Every day in the US,nine kids are just shot unintentionally. 900 children and teens take their own lives every year. And here’s the thing: they’re almost all with a parent’s gun. Even two-thirds of school shootings happen with a gun taken from the home, including the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook. I meet so many of these parents; it’s the most heartbreaking part of my job. These are not bad people. They’re just living with the unimaginable consequences of a very bad decision, made based on very bad information that was put into their minds by very bad people, who know good and well the misery that they’re causing, but just don’t care. And the result is a nightmare — not only for families like mine, but for, really, at the end of the day, all of us.

07:04But I’m not here to talk about the nightmare of gun violence. I’m here to talk about our dream, and it’s a dream we all share, which is the dream of a better, safer, future. For my organization, for the Brady Campaign, that dream is reflected in the bold goal to cut the number of gun deaths in the US in half by 2025. And I hope to leave all of you here tonight with a strong sense of exactly why that dream is so absolutely within reach. Because folks, for every great movement around the world, there’s a moment where you can look back and say, “That’s when things really started to change.” And I’m here to say that for the movement to end gun violence in America, that moment is here.


07:54We are so clearly at a tipping point, because the American public has come together by the millions like never before, based on that common ground, to say, “Enough.” Enough of the mass shootings in malls and movie theaters and churches and schools. Enough of the daily terror of gun violence in homes and streets that’s claimed the lives of women and young black men in staggering proportions. Enough of easy access to guns by the people that we all agree shouldn’t have them. And enough of a small group of craven politicians putting the interests of the corporate gun lobby ahead of the people they have been elected to represent. Enough.


08:39And the really exciting thing is, it’s not just the usual suspects like me that are saying it anymore. It’s so much bigger than that. And if you want proof, let’s start where most conversations in the US seem to start — with Kim Kardashian.


08:54And here’s the thing: it’s not really a joke. I mean, think about when issues change. It’s when they go from being political and advocacy issues to being part of pop culture, voices coming from everywhere, celebrities using their platforms, musicians, athletes. The NBA has come forward. Conservative pundits that you never would have imagined have come forward. There’s real cultural change — I even hear there’s a TED Talk about it this year. That’s the extent to which this cultural change is happening. And yes, Kim Kardashian has made an unsolicited passionate appeal to her 35 million Twitter followers for expanded background checks.

09:30Let’s look at the political elections that are heating up. This used to be the classic third-rail issue for Democrats. Couldn’t run from it fast enough. Now candidates are running on it. Some are being forced to reverse very bad positions they defended very comfortably, until very recently. For somebody like me,watching people wave around their negative NRA ratings — it’s almost surreal to watch. We’re still outfunded, yes, by the corporate gun lobby, and ultimately that needs to change. But you know what?We’re smarter and we’re scrappier, and we have the truth on our side. And we’re on offense.

10:10You know, they say that the Internet democratizes information. Social media and some of the organizing tools that plug into it have democratized activism. It’s allowed us to show what 90 percent support really looks like. Sometimes I think of it — you know, we’re converging and attacking instantly by the millions,kind of like white blood cells. It’s enabled us to start to really close — and this is the bottom line — close that disgraceful disconnect between what the American public wants and what our elected leaders are doing about it.

10:41Until recently, the narrative in Congress was that calls from the other side, from that six percent,outnumbered calls from our side 10 to one. We’re flipping that narrative on its head. After that recent terrible tragedy in San Bernardino, we jammed Congressional switchboards. We put 15,000 calls into Congress in 24 hours. And you know what? We got a vote on a bill that nobody thought was going to see the light of day anytime soon. We’re seeing real movement to repeal some of the most evil, ugly gun lobby legislation passed over the last dark decade. The stranglehold of the gun lobby is clearly being broken. We’ve seen President Obama’s historic executive actions. They don’t go all the way, but they are going to save lives, because they expand Brady background checks to thousands of gun sales that didn’t have them previously. And we’re marching across the country — we’re not just waiting for Congress to act; that would almost be the definition of insanity. We’re marching across the country, state by state, marriage-equality style.

11:40And you know what? We’re winning. Congress is almost always the last to wake up and realize that it’s on the wrong side of history. And when they do, it’s always because the American public shakes them.And that’s exactly what we’re doing right now, as we’re in this tipping point.

11:55You know, recently I was flying cross-country to give a speech to a large group like this, although far less intimidating, and the woman sitting next to me happened to be binge-watching one of my all-time favorite TV shows, “Mad Men,” a period TV show about advertising in the 1960s. And as I was trying to think about how to end my remarks, I’d glance up at her screen every now and then, and it seemed that every time I did, I’d see somebody smoking in an office or around children or while pregnant or drinking and driving or driving without seat belts or sexually harassing a coworker.

12:35And ultimately it dawned on me: what tremendous inspiration to those of us who have this dream to end gun violence. I mean, think about how much the world has changed in a relatively short period of time,how all those behaviors that were once considered commonplace or normal — some even glamorous or sexy — have become stigmatized in just a generation or two, once they became conversations about our common ground. That is the magnitude of the change we have the potential to create around gun violence.

13:09And that’s my dream, that maybe someday, some period TV show will depict the terrible nightmare of gun violence, and a future generation of children might only be able to imagine how terrible it must have been.

13:23Thank you.


13:30Thank you.


13:32Thank you.


TED Tuesday: Wisdom from Great Writers on Every Year of Life- Joshua Prager

As different as we humans are from one another, we all age along the same great sequence, and the shared patterns of our lives pass into the pages of the books we love. In this moving talk, journalist Joshua Prager explores the stages of life through quotations from Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, William Trevor and other great writers, set to visualizations by graphic designer Milton Glaser. “Books tell us who we’ve been, who we are, who we will be, too,” Prager says.

Talk Transcript:

00:11-I’m turning 44 next month, and I have the sense that 44 is going to be a very good year, a year of fulfillment, realization. I have that sense, not because of anything particular in store for me, but because I read it would be a good year in a 1968 book by Norman Mailer.

00:33-“He felt his own age, forty-four …” wrote Mailer in “The Armies of the Night,” “… felt as if he were a solid embodiment of bone, muscle, heart, mind, and sentiment to be a man, as if he had arrived.”

00:48-Yes, I know Mailer wasn’t writing about me. But I also know that he was; for all of us — you, me, the subject of his book, age more or less in step, proceed from birth along the same great sequence: through the wonders and confinements of childhood; the emancipations and frustrations of adolescence; the empowerments and millstones of adulthood; the recognitions and resignations of old age. There are patterns to life, and they are shared. As Thomas Mann wrote: “It will happen to me as to them.”

01:28-We don’t simply live these patterns. We record them, too. We write them down in books, where they become narratives that we can then read and recognize. Books tell us who we’ve been, who we are, who we will be, too. So they have for millennia. As James Salter wrote, “Life passes into pages if it passes into anything.”

01:53-And so six years ago, a thought leapt to mind: if life passed into pages, there were, somewhere,passages written about every age. If I could find them, I could assemble them into a narrative. I could assemble them into a life, a long life, a hundred-year life, the entirety of that same great sequencethrough which the luckiest among us pass. I was then 37 years old, “an age of discretion,” wrote William Trevor. I was prone to meditating on time and age. An illness in the family and later an injury to me had long made clear that growing old could not be assumed. And besides, growing old only postponed the inevitable, time seeing through what circumstance did not. It was all a bit disheartening.

02:45-A list, though, would last. To chronicle a life year by vulnerable year would be to clasp and to ground what was fleeting, would be to provide myself and others a glimpse into the future, whether we made it there or not. And when I then began to compile my list, I was quickly obsessed, searching pages and pages for ages and ages. Here we were at every annual step through our first hundred years. “Twenty-seven … a time of sudden revelations,” “sixty-two, … of subtle diminishments.”

03:22-I was mindful, of course, that such insights were relative. For starters, we now live longer, and so age more slowly. Christopher Isherwood used the phrase “the yellow leaf” to describe a man at 53, only one century after Lord Byron used it to describe himself at 36.


03:44-I was mindful, too, that life can swing wildly and unpredictably from one year to the next, and that people may experience the same age differently. But even so, as the list coalesced, so, too, on the page, clear as the reflection in the mirror, did the life that I had been living: finding at 20 that “… one is less and less sure of who one is;” emerging at 30 from the “… wasteland of preparation into active life;” learning at 40 “… to close softly the doors to rooms [I would] not be coming back to.” There I was.

04:22-Of course, there we all are. Milton Glaser, the great graphic designer whose beautiful visualizations you see here, and who today is 85 — all those years “… a ripening and an apotheosis,” wrote Nabokov —noted to me that, like art and like color, literature helps us to remember what we’ve experienced.

04:46-And indeed, when I shared the list with my grandfather, he nodded in recognition. He was then 95 and soon to die, which, wrote Roberto Bolaño, “… is the same as never dying.” And looking back, he said to me that, yes, Proust was right that at 22, we are sure we will not die, just as a thanatologist named Edwin Shneidman was right that at 90, we are sure we will. It had happened to him, as to them.

05:26-Now the list is done: a hundred years. And looking back over it, I know that I am not done. I still have my life to live, still have many more pages to pass into. And mindful of Mailer, I await 44.

05:47-Thank you.


TED Tuesday: What does it mean to be a citizen of the world? – Hugh Evans

Hugh Evans started a movement that mobilizes “global citizens,” people who self-identify first and foremost not as members of a state, nation or tribe but as members of the human race. In this uplifting and personal talk, learn more about how this new understanding of our place in the world is galvanizing people to take action in the fights against extreme poverty, climate change, gender inequality and more. “These are ultimately global issues,” Evans says, “and they can only be solved by global citizens demanding global solutions from their leaders.”

Talk Transcript

00:11I want to introduce you to an amazing woman. Her name is Davinia. Davinia was born in Jamaica, emigrated to the US at the age of 18, and now lives just outside of Washington, DC. She’s not a high-powered political staffer, nor a lobbyist. She’d probably tell you she’s quite unremarkable, but she’s having the most remarkable impact. What’s incredible about Davinia is that she’s willing to spend time every single week focused on people who are not her: people not her in her neighborhood, her state, nor even in her country — people she’d likely never meet.

00:48Davinia’s impact started a few years ago when she reached out to all of her friends on Facebook, and asked them to donate their pennies so she could fund girls’ education. She wasn’t expecting a huge response, but 700,000 pennies later, she’s now sent over 120 girls to school. When we spoke last week,she told me she’s become a little infamous at the local bank every time she rocks up with a shopping cart full of pennies.

01:16Now — Davinia is not alone. Far from it. She’s part of a growing movement. And there’s a name for people like Davinia: global citizens. A global citizen is someone who self-identifies first and foremost not as a member of a state, a tribe or a nation, but as a member of the human race, and someone who is prepared to act on that belief, to tackle our world’s greatest challenges. Our work is focused on finding,supporting and activating global citizens. They exist in every country and among every demographic.

01:56I want to make the case to you today that the world’s future depends on global citizens. I’m convinced that if we had more global citizens active in our world, then every single one of the major challenges we face — from poverty, climate change, gender inequality — these issues become solvable. They are ultimately global issues, and they can ultimately only be solved by global citizens demanding global solutions from their leaders.

02:23Now, some people’s immediate reaction to this idea is that it’s either a bit utopian or even threatening. So I’d like to share with you a little of my story today, how I ended up here, how it connects with Davinia and, hopefully, with you.

02:39Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, I was one of those seriously irritating little kids that never, ever stopped asking, “Why?” You might have been one yourself. I used to ask my mum the most annoying questions. I’d ask her questions like, “Mum, why I can’t I dress up and play with puppets all day?” “Why do you want fries with that?” “What is a shrimp, and why do we have to keep throwing them on the barbie?”


03:03“And mum — this haircut. Why?”


03:09The worst haircut, I think. Still terrible.

03:13As a “why” kid, I thought I could change the world, and it was impossible to convince me otherwise. And when I was 12 and in my first year of high school, I started raising money for communities in the developing world. We were a really enthusiastic group of kids, and we raised more money than any other school in Australia. And so I was awarded the chance to go to the Philippines to learn more. It was 1998.We were taken into a slum in the outskirts of Manila. It was there I became friends with Sonny Boy, who lived on what was literally a pile of steaming garbage. “Smoky Mountain” was what they called it. But don’t let the romance of that name fool you, because it was nothing more than a rancid landfill that kids like Sonny Boy spent hours rummaging through every single day to find something, anything of value.

04:02That night with Sonny Boy and his family changed my life forever, because when it came time to go to sleep, we simply laid down on this concrete slab the size of half my bedroom with myself, Sonny Boy, and the rest of his family, seven of us in this long line, with the smell of rubbish all around us and cockroaches crawling all around. And I didn’t sleep a wink, but I lay awake thinking to myself, “Why should anyone have to live like this when I have so much? Why should Sonny Boy’s ability to live out his dreams be determined by where he’s born, or what Warren Buffett called ‘the ovarian lottery?'” I just didn’t get it, and I needed to understand why.

04:40Now, I only later came to understand that the poverty I’d seen in the Philippines was the result of decisions made or not made, man-made, by a succession of colonial powers and corrupt governmentswho had anything but the interests of Sonny Boy at heart. Sure, they didn’t create Smoky Mountain, but they may as well have. And if we’re to try to help kids like Sonny Boy, it wouldn’t work just to try to send him a few dollars or to try to clean up the garbage dump on which he lived, because the core of the problem lay elsewhere. And as I worked on community development projects over the coming yearstrying to help build schools, train teachers, and tackle HIV and AIDS, I came to see that community development should be driven by communities themselves, and that although charity is necessary, it’s not sufficient. We need to confront these challenges on a global scale and in a systemic way. And the best thing I could do is try to mobilize a large group of citizens back home to insist that our leaders engage in that systemic change.

05:42That’s why, a few years later, I joined with a group of college friends in bringing the Make Poverty History campaign to Australia. We had this dream of staging this small concert around the time of the G20 with local Aussie artists, and it suddenly exploded one day when we got a phone call from Bono, the Edge and Pearl Jam, who all agreed to headline our concert. I got a little bit excited that day, as you can see.


06:10But to our amazement, the Australian government heard our collective voices, and they agreed to double investment into global health and development — an additional 6.2 billion dollars. It felt like —


06:27It felt like this incredible validation. By rallying citizens together, we helped persuade our government to do the unthinkable, and act to fix a problem miles outside of our borders.

06:39But here’s the thing: it didn’t last. See, there was a change in government, and six years later, all that new money disappeared. What did we learn? We learned that one-off spikes are not enough. We needed a sustainable movement, not one that is susceptible to the fluctuating moods of a politician or the hint of an economic downturn. And it needed to happen everywhere; otherwise, every individual government would have this built-in excuse mechanism that they couldn’t possibly carry the burden of global action alone.

07:16And so this is what we embarked upon. And as we embarked upon this challenge, we asked ourselves,how do we gain enough pressure and build a broad enough army to win these fights for the long term?We could only think of one way. We needed to somehow turn that short-term excitement of people involved with the Make Poverty History campaign into long-term passion. It had to be part of their identity. So in 2012, we cofounded an organization that had exactly that as its goal. And there was only one name for it: Global Citizen.

07:51But this is not about any one organization. This is about citizens taking action. And research data tells usthat of the total population who even care about global issues, only 18 percent have done anything about it. It’s not that people don’t want to act. It’s often that they don’t know how to take action, or that they believe that their actions will have no effect. So we had to somehow recruit and activate millions of citizens in dozens of countries to put pressure on their leaders to behave altruistically.

08:23And as we did so, we discovered something really thrilling, that when you make global citizenship your mission, you suddenly find yourself with some extraordinary allies. See, extreme poverty isn’t the only issue that’s fundamentally global. So, too, is climate change, human rights, gender equality, even conflict.We found ourselves shoulder to shoulder with people who are passionate about targeting all these interrelated issues.

08:50But how did we actually go about recruiting and engaging those global citizens? Well, we used the universal language: music. We launched the Global Citizen Festival in the heart of New York City in Central Park, and we persuaded some of the world’s biggest artists to participate. We made sure that these festivals coincided with the UN General Assembly meeting, so that leaders who need to hear our voices couldn’t possible ignore them.

09:17But there was a twist: you couldn’t buy a ticket. You had to earn it. You had to take action on behalf of a global cause, and only once you’d done that could you earn enough points to qualify. Activism is the currency. I had no interest in citizenship purely as some sort of feel-good thing. For me, citizenship means you have to act, and that’s what we required. And amazingly, it worked. Last year, more than 155,000 citizens in the New York area alone earned enough points to qualify. Globally, we’ve now signed up citizens in over 150 countries around the world. And last year, we signed up more than 100,000 new members each and every week of the whole year.

10:00See, we don’t need to create global citizens from nothing. We’re already everywhere. We just need to be organized and motivated to start acting. And this is where I believe we can learn a lot from Davinia, who started taking action as a global citizen back in 2012. Here’s what she did. It wasn’t rocket science. She started writing letters, emailing politicians’ offices. She volunteered her time in her local community.That’s when she got active on social media and started to collect pennies — a lot of pennies.

10:37Now, maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to you. How will that achieve anything? Well, it achieved a lot because she wasn’t alone. Her actions, alongside 142,000 other global citizens’, led the US government to double their investment into global partnership for education. And here’s Dr. Raj Shah, the head of USAID, making that announcement. See, when thousands of global citizens find inspiration from each other, it’s amazing to see their collective power. Global citizens like Davinia helped persuade the World Bank to boost their investment into water and sanitation. Here’s the Bank’s president Jim Kim announcing 15 billion dollars onstage at Global Citizen, and Prime Minister Modi of India affirmed his commitment to put a toilet in every household and school across India by 2019. Global citizens encouraged by the late-night host Stephen Colbert launched a Twitter invasion on Norway. Erna Solberg, the country’s Prime Minister, got the message, committing to double investment into girls’ education.Global citizens together with Rotarians called on the Canadian, UK, and Australian governments to boost their investment into polio eradication. They got together and committed 665 million dollars.

11:55But despite all of this momentum, we face some huge challenges. See, you might be thinking to yourself,how can we possibly persuade world leaders to sustain a focus on global issues? Indeed, the powerful American politician Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics is local.” That’s what always got politicians elected:to seek, gain and hold onto power through the pursuit of local or at very best national interests.

12:27I experienced this for the first time when I was 21 years old. I took a meeting with a then-Australian Foreign Minister who shall remain nameless —

12:38[Alexander Downer]


12:42And behind closed doors, I shared with him my passion to end extreme poverty. I said, “Minister — Australia has this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals. We can do this.” And he paused, looked down on me with cold, dismissive eyes, and he said, “Hugh, no one gives a funk about foreign aid.” Except he didn’t use the word “funk.” He went on. He said we need to look after our own backyard first.

13:10This is, I believe, outdated, even dangerous thinking. Or as my late grandfather would say, complete BS.Parochialism offers this false dichotomy because it pits the poor in one country against the poor in another. It pretends we can isolate ourselves and our nations from one another. The whole world is our backyard, and we ignore it at our peril. See, look what happened when we ignored Rwanda, when we ignore Syria, when we ignore climate change. Political leaders ought to give a “funk” because the impact of climate change and extreme poverty comes right to our shore.

13:46Now, global citizens — they understand this. We live in a time that favors the global citizen, in an age where every single voice can be heard. See, do you remember when the Millennium Development Goals were signed back in the year 2000? The most we could do in those days was fire off a letter and wait for the next election. There was no social media. Today, billions of citizens have more tools, more access to information, more capacity to influence than ever before. Both the problems and the tools to solve them are right before us. The world has changed, and those of us who look beyond our borders are on the right side of history.

14:27So where are we? So we run this amazing festival, we’ve scored some big policy wins, and citizens are signing up all over the world. But have we achieved our mission? No. We have such a long way to go.

14:43But this is the opportunity that I see. The concept of global citizenship, self-evident in its logic but until now impractical in many ways, has coincided with this particular moment in which we are privileged to live. We, as global citizens, now have a unique opportunity to accelerate large-scale positive changearound the world. So in the months and years ahead, global citizens will hold world leaders accountableto ensure that the new Global Goals for Sustainable Development are tracked and implemented. Global citizens will partner with the world’s leading NGOs to end diseases like polio and malaria. Global citizens will sign up in every corner of this globe, increasing the frequency, quality and impact of their actions.These dreams are within reach. Imagine an army of millions growing into tens of millions, connected, informed, engaged and unwilling to take no for an answer.

15:49Over all these years, I’ve tried to reconnect with Sonny Boy. Sadly, I’ve been unable to. We met long before social media, and his address has now been relocated by the authorities, as often happens with slums. I’d love to sit down with him, wherever he is, and share with him how much the time I spent on Smoky Mountain inspired me. Thanks to him and so many others, I came to understand the importance of being part of a movement of people — the kids willing to look up from their screens and out to the world, the global citizens. Global citizens who stand together, who ask the question “Why?,” who reject the naysayers, and embrace the amazing possibilities of the world we share.

16:42I’m a global citizen.

16:44Are you?

16:45Thank you.



TED Tuesday: The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers- Adam Grant

How do creative people come up with great ideas? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant studies “originals”: thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world. In this talk, learn three unexpected habits of originals — including embracing failure. “The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most,” Grant says. “You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.”

Talk Transcript:

00:12-Seven years ago, a student came to me and asked me to invest in his company. He said, “I’m working with three friends, and we’re going to try to disrupt an industry by selling stuff online.” And I said, “OK, you guys spent the whole summer on this, right?” “No, we all took internships just in case it doesn’t work out.” “All right, but you’re going to go in full time once you graduate.” “Not exactly. We’ve all lined up backup jobs.” Six months go by, it’s the day before the company launches, and there is still not a functioning website. “You guys realize, the entire company is a website. That’s literally all it is.” So I obviously declined to invest.

00:52-And they ended up naming the company Warby Parker.

00:54-(Laughter) They sell glasses online. They were recently recognized as the world’s most innovative company and valued at over a billion dollars. And now? My wife handles our investments. Why was I so wrong?

01:12-To find out, I’ve been studying people that I come to call “originals.” Originals are nonconformists, people who not only have new ideas but take action to champion them. They are people who stand out and speak up. Originals drive creativity and change in the world. They’re the people you want to bet on. And they look nothing like I expected. I want to show you today three things I’ve learned about recognizing originals and becoming a little bit more like them.

01:41-So the first reason that I passed on Warby Parker was they were really slow getting off the ground. Now, you are all intimately familiar with the mind of a procrastinator. Well, I have a confession for you. I’m the opposite. I’m a precrastinator. Yes, that’s an actual term. You know that panic you feel a few hours before a big deadline when you haven’t done anything yet. I just feel that a few months ahead of time.


02:10-So this started early: when I was a kid, I took Nintendo games very seriously. I would wake up at 5am,start playing and not stop until I had mastered them. Eventually it got so out of hand that a local newspaper came and did a story on the dark side of Nintendo, starring me.



02:40-Since then, I have traded hair for teeth.


02:48-But this served me well in college, because I finished my senior thesis four months before the deadline.And I was proud of that, until a few years ago. I had a student named Jihae, who came to me and said, “I have my most creative ideas when I’m procrastinating.” And I was like, “That’s cute, where are the four papers you owe me?”


03:12-No, she was one of our most creative students, and as an organizational psychologist, this is the kind of idea that I test. So I challenged her to get some data. She goes into a bunch of companies. She has people fill out surveys about how often they procrastinate. Then she gets their bosses to rate how creative and innovative they are. And sure enough, the precrastinators like me, who rush in and do everything early are rated as less creative than people who procrastinate moderately. So I want to know what happens to the chronic procrastinators. She was like, “I don’t know. They didn’t fill out my survey.”


03:48-No, here are our results. You actually do see that the people who wait until the last minute are so busy goofing off that they don’t have any new ideas. And on the flip side, the people who race in are in such a frenzy of anxiety that they don’t have original thoughts either. There’s a sweet spot where originals seem to live. Why is this? Maybe original people just have bad work habits. Maybe procrastinating does not cause creativity.

04:21-To find out, we designed some experiments. We asked people to generate new business ideas, and then we get independent readers to evaluate how creative and useful they are. And some of them are asked to do the task right away. Others we randomly assign to procrastinate by dangling Minesweeper in front of them for either five or 10 minutes. And sure enough, the moderate procrastinators are 16 percent more creative than the other two groups. Now, Minesweeper is awesome, but it’s not the driver of the effect,because if you play the game first before you learn about the task, there’s no creativity boost. It’s only when you’re told that you’re going to be working on this problem, and then you start procrastinating, but the task is still active in the back of your mind, that you start to incubate. Procrastination gives you time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.

05:15-So just as we were finishing these experiments, I was starting to write a book about originals, and I thought, “This is the perfect time to teach myself to procrastinate, while writing a chapter on procrastination.” So I metaprocrastinated, and like any self-respecting precrastinator, I woke up early the next morning and I made a to-do list with steps on how to procrastinate.


05:42-And then I worked diligently toward my goal of not making progress toward my goal. I started writing the procrastination chapter, and one day — I was halfway through — I literally put it away in mid-sentence for months. It was agony. But when I came back to it, I had all sorts of new ideas. As Aaron Sorkin put it,“You call it procrastinating. I call it thinking.” And along the way I discovered that a lot of great originals in history were procrastinators. Take Leonardo da Vinci. He toiled on and off for 16 years on the Mona Lisa.He felt like a failure. He wrote as much in his journal. But some of the diversions he took in opticstransformed the way that he modeled light and made him into a much better painter. What about Martin Luther King, Jr.? The night before the biggest speech of his life, the March on Washington, he was up past 3am, rewriting it. He’s sitting in the audience waiting for his turn to go onstage, and he is still scribbling notes and crossing out lines. When he gets onstage, 11 minutes in, he leaves his prepared remarks to utter four words that changed the course of history: “I have a dream.” That was not in the script. By delaying the task of finalizing the speech until the very last minute, he left himself open to the widest range of possible ideas. And because the text wasn’t set in stone, he had freedom to improvise.

07:19-Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity. What you see with a lot of great originals is that they are quick to start but they’re slow to finish. And this is what I missed with Warby Parker. When they were dragging their heels for six months, I looked at them and said, “You know, a lot of other companies are starting to sell glasses online.” They missed the first-mover advantage. But what I didn’t realize was they were spending all that time trying to figure out how to get people to be comfortable ordering glasses online. And it turns out the first-mover advantage is mostly a myth. Look at a classic study of over 50 product categories, comparing the first movers who created the market with the improvers who introduced something different and better. What you see is that the first movers had a failure rate of 47 percent, compared with only 8 percent for the improvers. Look at Facebook, waiting to build a social network until after Myspace and Friendster. Look at Google, waiting for years after Altavista and Yahoo. It’s much easier to improve on somebody else’s idea than it is to create something new from scratch. So the lesson I learned is that to be original you don’t have to be first. You just have to be different and better.

08:37-But that wasn’t the only reason I passed on Warby Parker. They were also full of doubts. They had backup plans lined up, and that made me doubt that they had the courage to be original, because I expected that originals would look something like this.


08:57-Now, on the surface, a lot of original people look confident, but behind the scenes, they feel the same fear and doubt that the rest of us do. They just manage it differently. Let me show you: this is a depictionof how the creative process works for most of us.


09:19-Now, in my research, I discovered there are two different kinds of doubt. There’s self-doubt and idea doubt. Self-doubt is paralyzing. It leads you to freeze. But idea doubt is energizing. It motivates you to test, to experiment, to refine, just like MLK did. And so the key to being original is just a simple thing of avoiding the leap from step three to step four. Instead of saying, “I’m crap,” you say, “The first few drafts are always crap, and I’m just not there yet.” So how do you get there? Well, there’s a clue, it turns out, in the Internet browser that you use. We can predict your job performance and your commitment just by knowing what web browser you use. Now, some of you are not going to like the results of this study —


10:07-But there is good evidence that Firefox and Chrome users significantly outperform Internet Explorer and Safari users. Yes.


10:18-They also stay in their jobs 15 percent longer, by the way. Why? It’s not a technical advantage. The four browser groups on average have similar typing speed and they also have similar levels of computer knowledge. It’s about how you got the browser. Because if you use Internet Explorer or Safari, those came preinstalled on your computer, and you accepted the default option that was handed to you. If you wanted Firefox or Chrome, you had to doubt the default and ask, is there a different option out there, and then be a little resourceful and download a new browser. So people hear about this study and they’re like, “Great, if I want to get better at my job, I just need to upgrade my browser?”


10:57-No, it’s about being the kind of person who takes the initiative to doubt the default and look for a better option. And if you do that well, you will open yourself up to the opposite of déjà vu. There’s a name for it. It’s called vuja de.


11:15Vuja de is when you look at something you’ve seen many times before and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes. It’s a screenwriter who looks at a movie script that can’t get the green light for more than half a century. In every past version, the main character has been an evil queen. But Jennifer Lee starts to question whether that makes sense. She rewrites the first act, reinvents the villain as a tortured hero and Frozen becomes the most successful animated movie ever. So there’s a simple message from this story.When you feel doubt, don’t let it go.


11:52-What about fear? Originals feel fear, too. They’re afraid of failing, but what sets them apart from the rest of us is that they’re even more afraid of failing to try. They know you can fail by starting a business that goes bankrupt or by failing to start a business at all. They know that in the long run, our biggest regrets are not our actions but our inactions. The things we wish we could redo, if you look at the science, are the chances not taken.

12:20-Elon Musk told me recently, he didn’t expect Tesla to succeed. He was sure the first few SpaceX launches would fail to make it to orbit, let alone get back, but it was too important not to try. And for so many of us, when we have an important idea, we don’t bother to try. But I have some good news for you.You are not going to get judged on your bad ideas. A lot of people think they will. If you look across industries and ask people about their biggest idea, their most important suggestion, 85 percent of them stayed silent instead of speaking up. They were afraid of embarrassing themselves, of looking stupid. But guess what? Originals have lots and lots of bad ideas, tons of them, in fact. Take the guy who invented this. Do you care that he came up with a talking doll so creepy that it scared not only kids but adults, too? No. You celebrate Thomas Edison for pioneering the light bulb.


13:19-If you look across fields, the greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most. Take classical composers, the best of the best. Why do some of them get more pages in encyclopedias than others and also have their compositions rerecorded more times? One of the best predictors is the sheer volume of compositions that they generate. The more output you churn out, the more variety you get and the better your chances of stumbling on something truly original. Even the three icons of classical music — Bach, Beethoven, Mozart — had to generate hundreds and hundreds of compositions to come up with a much smaller number of masterpieces. Now, you may be wondering,how did this guy become great without doing a whole lot? I don’t know how Wagner pulled that off. But for most of us, if we want to be more original, we have to generate more ideas.

14:15-The Warby Parker founders, when they were trying to name their company, they needed something sophisticated, unique, with no negative associations to build a retail brand, and they tested over 2,000 possibilities before they finally put together Warby and Parker. So if you put all this together, what you see is that originals are not that different from the rest of us. They feel fear and doubt. They procrastinate.They have bad ideas. And sometimes, it’s not in spite of those qualities but because of them that they succeed.

14:47-So when you see those things, don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t write them off. And when that’s you, don’t count yourself out either. Know that being quick to start but slow to finish can boost your creativity, that you can motivate yourself by doubting your ideas and embracing the fear of failing to try,and that you need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.

15:07-Look, being original is not easy, but I have no doubt about this: it’s the best way to improve the world around us.

15:15-Thank you.