Better In Business, Better Motivational Speaker

The great philosopher Lau Tzu famously said, “The wise man knows what he does not know.” Were you to lock inside a room with one man convinced he has nothing left to learn and another equally steadfast in his conviction that the most profound knowledge yet awaits him, the surely self-professed most learned man alive would no doubt unfurl some florid cornucopia of accumulated facts and insights to know and tell. He would also be the more likely of the pair to bumble into some pratfall, be it merely shoving his foot down his craw in conversation or happening upon some physical accident through assumptions about his environment, than the gentleman who would bide his time observing and pondering everything around him, asking questions and seeking to understand rather than being understood.

What you don’t know can damn certainly hurt you. If you don’t know how much you don’t know, there are multitudes more dangers lurking throughout Creation that you likely don’t fear remotely enough than would threaten someone obsessed with gathering reconnaissance.

That’s the first of many reasons every committed entrepreneur has no excuse not to set aside at least 20 minutes every day to listen to a TED talk: it takes less than a half-hour to fill in a potentially catastrophic gap in one’s knowledge with catalytic ideas waiting to ripen and birth innovation.

Behold, The Power Of “Now What?”

The TED mission statement is genuinely some of the most earnest, succinct marketing copy defining any organization in the world:

“TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world. On TED.com, we’re building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers — and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other, both online and at TED and TEDx events around the world, all year long.”

Here’s the thing, though: with all due respect to this ubiquitous wellspring of mindful dialogue among millennials worldwide, this ambitious forward-focused think tank achieves so very much more than this encompassing snippet would suggest.

TED talks and live TEDx events weaponize the most disruptive element any inspirational speech can bring to bear on a subject: “Now what?”

Occasional articles through the years have occasionally questioned the ambition of this ongoing series of 18-minute-or-less speeches sparked in 1984 by a single conference dedicated to Technology, Entertainment, and Design – hence, TED. Unsatisfied critics who respect the general content and engaging format of a standard TED talk sometimes walk away personally deflated by their overarching scope. Yes, thank you for the prescient perspective on the nature and stakes of some burgeoning problems throwing a wrench into the world’s works, but would you kindly favor us with some solutions?

The charismatic presenters invited beneath the TED banner could likely all expand their formats to lay their solutions perfectly bare in excruciating detail. However, that would be short-sightedly depriving imaginative minds of a spark to ignite a more sweeping blaze.

Instead of handing everyone in the audience a fish and inviting them to feast with gratitude, TED talks proceed even beyond teaching men to fish, that they might feed themselves for a lifetime. These monologues present the audience with a sea teeming with bounty, offer them the tools and knowledge of a mariner’s trade, and challenge them, “Show us a better way to haul in a catch.”

Anyone can commit a problem’s established solution to memory and demonstrate it to others. It takes a brave kind of brilliance and faith in a single thought’s exponential evolutionary capacity for a speaker to stand before daring minds, present them with a test of their ingenuity, and end on a cliffhanger that provokes them to write their own conclusion. That process of invention intended to follow the absorption of a TED talk is the same kind whose residual byproducts of knowledge deepened and broadened through research have given rise throughout human history not just to a single solution to a single conundrum but vast universes of knowledge.

A TED talk challenges its audience not just to conquer a single mystery but to give in to fascination at everything else one might discover along the way. Every resonant inspirational speech concludes with the audience asking the presenter, “Now what?”

Instead of offering an answer, a TED talk tests its audience’s thirst to innovate by answering them, “You tell us.”

The Essence Of Entrepreneurship

Bad news, folks: if a TED talk’s provocation to question the world’s accepted conventions and forge a new path doesn’t immediately strike a chord within you as the fundamental essence of entrepreneurship, you may have no business operating any enterprise more independent or complicated than a fast-food franchise.

There was a time, over a century ago, when attending a lecture was tantamount to scoring tickets to a major sporting extravaganza or concert today. That’s because people both hungered for a more profound understanding of the natural world around them and had to actively hunt for information about it. Education was an active pursuit and it demanded fortitude not common to the faint of heart. Today, we are inundated and stimulated to the point of being, quite frankly, spoiled. How depressing, when snarky commentators across the internet greet questions with the pithy online colloquialism, “Google is your friend.” Yes, how dare anyone engage a fellow human being’s intellect. The nerve.

Yet, here we are. Explicit instructions to troubleshoot any and all everyday gremlins of modern life exist at no cost within a fraction of a fraction of a second’s reach. Why would we threaten the status quo with our audacity to dig the pool of shared human knowledge a foot or two deeper? Someone else has already done the heavy lifting. The giant is doubled over. Onto his shoulders, everyone.

Why? Because common knowledge is the safe harbor for all ships, but that is not why ships exist. That’s why. We only know what we know because others didn’t know how much they didn’t know, but wanted to find out. Every company to ever stand the test of time and thrive in this day and age began with confronting a problem jealously guarding the enigma of its solution. The embers that fed those flames were first warmed by the acceptance that someone didn’t know something.

What could power a carriage, if not a horse?

Perhaps God didn’t mean man to fly. Still, what if we found a way regardless?

How do we manufacture revolutionary devices on a massive scale that makes them available to people the world over who need them?

What if a computer’s unprecedented processing power could be made to fit functionally and practically atop an average desk?

The innovative vanguards who ushered in the advancements that vanquished these questions and so many more had few blueprints for the future they sought to shape – if any at all. They ruminated on their problems at hand and asked themselves, “Now what?”

Somewhere within each mind, from Henry Ford and the Wright Brothers to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, the universe dared them, “You tell us.”

Please, do enjoy these four inspirational TED talks composed to awaken a legendary entrepreneur that could await a decisive epiphany within anyone. Time to break some eggs.

SETH GODIN: HOW TO GET YOUR IDEAS TO SPREAD

LINDA HILL: HOW TO MANAGE FOR COLLECTIVE CREATIVITY

TONY ROBBINS: WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO

ADAM GRANT: THE SURPRISING HABITS OF ORIGINAL THINKERS

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