Have you ever noticed that TED Talks all sound the same? From the speed of the dictation, to the hand gestures, to the flawless execution–it’s all identical. But of course this isn’t by coincidence. It’s a carefully crafted formula.
The TED formula is almost unmistakable. It usually involves some self-discovery, a presentation of a common problem, and a perfectly practiced delivery that is neither spontaneous nor conversational. Nothing would be more un-TED-like if the speaker coughed, forgot their words, changed the direction of the topic, or dropped the PowerPoint clicker.
But if TED is helping to create ‘ideas worth spreading’, then what’s the problem?
Well my gripe isn’t really with TED. It’s that they’ve created a formula, and a belief, that if you watch their talks, then you are closer to being a leader. In a TED talk, there are no errors, nervous tics, or mannerisms. It’s devoid of any true authenticity and it’s a formula that forgets that we are human. And yet people spend how much to attend these?
But I am not really surprised. There seems to be a formula these days for everything–from how we run companies to how we attract a potential partner in life. So naturally, there is no shortage of people lining up to benefit from it.
I see it every day from people who think they can run a company because they read a Steve Jobs book or an article on Forbes. Or even worse, the naive soul who thinks attending a Tony Robbins seminar is going to change their life overnight. Sure, attending a seminar might spark great motivation, but at the end of the day that thousand dollar investment is just lining Tony’s pockets.
We also see it in the business world where companies everywhere copy Apple or some other success story, regardless if they are in a different industry or not. “If it worked for Apple, it must work for us!”
Believing that there is a formula for everything is not only naive, but contributes to a societal decline of our own originality and creative thinking. If a leadership formula exists, does this mean we all can be leaders? Who then is leading the leaders? Is there a TED Talk for this?
If you are wondering what the harm is in a so called leadership formula, consider how you might feel knowing that someone with zero leadership skills had mastered a formula for how to speak and persuade people. What if this person eventually ended up with great power over your life? Perhaps it’s as a politician or a doctor. This means you have someone with great control speaking about something they don’t really know. Is this the type of leader you want?
We talk about people being born leaders, but no one is a born leader. We live life, we make a few mistakes, and we hopefully learn along the way. Real leadership is the result of a lifelong journey, not a formula mastered by someone else. And not the culmination of attending a bunch of TED Talks.
When I think of some of the greatest leaders in history, like Nelson Mandela, or Abraham Lincoln— they didn’t follow a formula. They had their own unique vision. And in the face of diversity, they were able to deliver that vision. I have do doubt that each of them drew inspiration from someone or something, but at the end of the day they had the courage and conviction to do it their way.