Some of the best books I’ve read in recent years arrived into my awareness via some of the best TED Talks I’ve seen, so this month I share some of those books along with their associated TED talks – all of which are rather famous online, and all of which have powerful, fresh messages.
You’ll find below my take on the books of Brene Brown, who has become famous for talking about shame (imagine that!), Simon Sinek who talks about the importance of understanding why you do what you do and how to make sure others know too, and Dan Pink who blows the lid on motivation and what is all wrong about our old carrot and stick approach. So here goes …
Rising Strong by Brene Brown
Brene Brown spoke in 2010 at a TED event in Houston, not realising that what she was sharing from her years of research would become an online phenomenon. Perhaps even more astonishing is that she was talking about vulnerability and shame – and she’s made them kinda famous. What she has shown – through extensive research as a social scientist – is that these two unappealing, squeamish, seemingly very uncool sensations, are the birthplace of joy, belonging and resilience.
In Rising Strong she writes about how the most resilient people deal with and in fact transcend life’s catastrophes – the way they think, feel and respond in a way that enables them to grow through those experiences and rise even stronger. And as the saying goes, shit happens, and I think when you’re living life fully and making the most of all opportunities, there are usually blips along the way. She says “if we are brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability.”
For leaders in business, this is valuable reading. Brown says “The most transformative and resilient leaders that I’ve worked with over the course of my career have three things in common: First, they recognize the central role that relationships and story play in culture and strategy, and they stay curious about their own emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Second, they understand and stay curious about how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are connected in the people they lead, and how those factors affect relationships and perception. And, third, they have the ability and willingness to lean in to discomfort and vulnerability.”
And like other brilliant writers of our time – namely and on my radar right now, poet David Whyte and author Elizabeth Gilbert – Brown talks of living wholeheartedly, which is borne out of our vulnerability. “Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it’s the process that teaches us the most about who we are.” All of her books are worth getting your hands on, and Rising Strong is her latest.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Do you remember that sensation of coming across a new idea that sort of sounds familiar when you first hear it, but at the same time makes something so much clearer, gives you so much more insight, and makes innate sense? This is what listening to Simon Sinek is like for a lot of people who have been trying to get a hold of their sense of purpose, to understand why they’re into what they’re into, and why anyone should give a toss about it.
Simon’s core idea is called the Golden Circle, which is a simple but powerful way of looking at what a person or an organisation does. The circle is like a bullseye with three layers. The centre is ‘Why’, then ‘What’, then ‘How’. Sounds pretty lame, right? Do not be deceived, because this circle readlly does contain gold. The distinction Simon makes is between what we do, how we do it, and why we do it – and most of us are really good at talking about the ‘what’ and ‘how’, and not so great at articulating ‘Why’. Even if you know why you do what you do, the odds are you haven’t worked out how to convey it to anyone else, in a meaningful way at least. And it is SO powerful to be able to do this, for a whole lot of reasons. This makes it another must-read for leaders.
Sinek’s now famous TED talk is called “How great leaders inspire action” and he is offering a very fresh angle on engaging others, one that not only has applications for internal engagement, but also sets the foundation of any marketing activity. One of his maxims is ‘people don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it’ – and if we know our why, just putting the information from your own golden circle in the right order can make all the difference. I’ve found this work to be illuminating for my own clarity of purpose. Check out the TED video and if it resonates, grab the book next. I read it in one weekend, and had my Why pretty sussed in a few days, and have fine-tuned it over the last couple of years. It can take weeks or months, but regardless of the length of the journey, I reckon it’s worth it.
Drive by Dan Pink
I remember studying motivation at university, a good 20+ years ago and feeling both perplexed and despairing at the conflicting information I was getting from lecturers and the literature, and to find that just when I thought I was reading about a theory that was pretty solid and worth noting, I’d soon find out it had since been discredited, or the flaws started showing up as blatantly as a pair of well-laddered stockings. In fact, one year I recall studying the Friedman system of motivation for sales people in my last semester, seeing all that appeared ‘holey’ about it, and then promptly found myself at the mercy of it when I got to my summer job in a jewellery store. Let’s just say that was the last summer I worked in the shop.
Thankfully Dan Pink has lifted the lid on motivation, bringing what I think of as the human element back into workplace motivation. He talks about Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose: The Science of What Motivates Us. His TED talk is definitely worthy of a watch (and the animated version from RSA below is great), and if you want more detail, and to look at how to bring these principles into your workplace, check out his book.
Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of managers and leaders in business, many of whom want to empower, motivate and engage their staff. And I think we often want a quick and dirty solution. There isn’t one. And if there is, it probably gets you quick and dirty (and temporary) results. Pink starts to give us a map for how to have conversations that create a new, sustaining dynamic, focusing on these three needs – autonomy, mastery and purpose – of every one of us. We need to have a certain degree of autonomy over what we’re doing – whether you’re an administrator or a CEO, we need the chance to achieve mastery in what we’re doing, and we need to have a sense of purpose to what we do. His book might just tell you a bit more about what motivates you, as much as how you can engender this in others. Pink lifts the lid on both, and it’s good. He even talks about beer and cake. Really.
Which TED Talks are your favourites? I’d love to hear below about your faves.