What links me, an underwear model, and the Wright Brothers

It’s rare to find oneself in such an eclectic group, writes our blogger Stuart Pearcey, but it’s where I sit right now, linked by a conversation in the past to the latest trending presentations in that wonderful online collection of motivation, Ted Talks. If you’ve not come across them yet, there’s no better time to start than today… 

A former boss once told me I was too flippant. He said I wasn’t taking work seriously enough. I countered by saying that happy people got through work better, and that I left a trail of happy people in my wake. It cut no ice at the time, but I’m delighted to say that, even 20 years later, it turns out I was right.

That little victory puts me in the company of an underwear model, a 12-yr-old boy, and the Wright brothers, those pioneers of powered flight.

It’s an unlikely and tenuous alliance, I’ll grant you, but one that exists nonetheless, in the world of Ted Talks. The ten most popular are about a diverse range of topics, and my very minor claim to fame about being happy at work, and where I started this post, lies with Shawn Achor. He’s a psychologist, and argues that in working hard at being happy we’re getting things the wrong way round, because by being happy we’ll be more productive, and that in turn, will make us happier. That’s the nub of his message, but he puts it over in a very funny and appealing way.

Then there’s Cameron Russell, who freely admits that she won what she called a ‘genetic lottery’. That lottery win gave her the looks that allowed her to be an underwear model, and appear on the cover of Vogue. As such she was part of an industry that now, an older and wiser, she takes a different view of. Her talk reveals the unseen side of photo shoots.

 Computer prodigy
I wonder too, what Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were like when they were 12? Were they anything like the app developer Thomas Suarez? At that tender age, he is not only an app developer in his own right, but is also teaching other children how to do the same thing. And what’s more, he’s self-taught. I’d suggest that his is a name to keep an eye on for the future.

Beauty in silence
Two of the talks in the top ten are perhaps misnamed, because their central theme has nothing to do with speech – and one even has nothing to do with any kind of sound at all. The former is by Tom Thum, who’s a beatboxer. That means he has an orchestra in his mouth, and if that’s a difficult concept to grasp, all will become clear when you listen to his presentation. The other is a beautiful collection of the time-lapse photography of Louie Schwartzberg. It’s impossible to describe the true beauty of his work in words; to appreciate it I’d suggest you watch it.

Ideas take flight
So where, I hear you ask, do the Wright brothers fit into all this, given that they lived long before the invention of the computer? They feature in a Ted Talk presented by Simon Sinek, in which he examines a powerful model for inspirational leadership, in which he references Apple and Martin Luther King en route to answering his central one-word question: “Why?”

IdeasAnd that leads me into the last of these top ten Ted Talks I’m going to mention, which comes from Larry Smith, who looks into the excuses people offer for not pursuing their passions on the way to developing a great career. He pulls no punches, and left me thinking about the similarities of his message with those of Sinek, and looking at the gaps between them. And that in turn took me back 20 years to when I was told there was no room for laughter at work. Was that inspirational; the mark of a great leader? I think not. It certainly didn’t inspire me, but rather made what I had to do into more of a chore than a pleasure.

Couldn’t do that, or that, but I could do that
I could never have been an underwear model, and I’m not clever enough to achieve anything like the Wright brothers did, but I like to think the good humour I’ve tried to inject into what I’ve done for a living has made a difference for the better. And we can all aspire to do that, especially with the help of a Ted Talk or two.