TED Talks of 2010

How great leaders inspire action

As it turns out, all the great inspiring leaders and organizations in the world, whether it's Apple or Martin Luther King or the Wright brothers, they all think, act and communicate the exact same way. And it's the complete opposite to everyone else. All I did was codify it, and it's probably the world's simplest idea. I call it the golden circle.

Why? How? What? This little idea explains why some organizations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren't. Let me define the terms really quickly. Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by "why" I don't mean "to make a profit." That's a result. It's always a result. By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it's obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations -- regardless of their size, regardless of their industry -- all think, act and communicate from the inside out.

Here's how Apple actually communicates. "Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?" Totally different, right? You're ready to buy a computer from me. I just reversed the order of the information. What it proves to us is that people don't buy what you do; people buy why you do it.


Pointing to the future of UI

It was such a radical change, in fact, that the early Macintosh development team in '82, '83, '84 had to write an entirely new operating system from the ground up. Now, this is an interesting little message, and it's a lesson that has since, I think, been forgotten or lost or something, and that is, namely, that the OS is the interface.

So here we have a bunch of stuff, some images. And, using a hand, we can actually exercise six degrees of freedom, six degrees of navigational control. And it's fun to fly through Mr. Beckett's eye. And you can come back out through the scary orangutan. And that's all well and good. Let's do something a little more difficult. Here, we have a whole bunch of disparate images. We can fly around them. So navigation is a fundamental issue. You have to be able to navigate in 3D. Much of what we want computers to help us with in the first place is inherently spatial. And the part that isn't spatial can often be spatialized to allow our wetware to make greater sense of it. Now we can distribute this stuff in many different ways. So we can throw it out like that. Let's reset it. We can organize it this way.

The author of this new pointing device is sitting over there, so I can pull this from there to there. These are unrelated machines, right? So the computation is space soluble and network soluble. So I'm going to leave that over there because I have a question for Paul. Paul is the designer of this wand, and maybe its easiest for him to come over here and tell me in person what's going on. So let me get some of these out of the way. Let's pull this apart: I'll go ahead and explode it. Kevin, can you help? Let me see if I can help us find the circuit board. Mind you, it's a sort of gratuitous field-stripping exercise, but we do it in the lab all the time. All right. So collaborative work, whether it's immediately co-located or distant and distinct, is always important. And again, that stuff needs to be undertaken in the context of space.


The art of choosing

On my first day, I went to a restaurant, and I ordered a cup of green tea with sugar. After a pause, the waiter said, "One does not put sugar in green tea." "I know," I said. "I'm aware of this custom. But I really like my tea sweet." In response, he gave me an even more courteous version of the same explanation. "One does not put sugar in green tea." "I understand," I said, "that the Japanese do not put sugar in their green tea, but I'd like to put some sugar in my green tea." (Laughter) Surprised by my insistence, the waiter took up the issue with the manager. Pretty soon, a lengthy discussion ensued, and finally the manager came over to me and said, "I am very sorry. We do not have sugar." (Laughter) Well, since I couldn't have my tea the way I wanted it, I ordered a cup of coffee, which the waiter brought over promptly. Resting on the saucer were two packets of sugar.

My failure to procure myself a cup of sweet, green tea was not due to a simple misunderstanding. This was due to a fundamental difference in our ideas about choice. From my American perspective, when a paying customer makes a reasonable request based on her preferences, she has every right to have that request met. The American way, to quote Burger King, is to "have it your way," because, as Starbucks says, "happiness is in your choices." (Laughter) But from the Japanese perspective, it's their duty to protect those who don't know any better -- (Laughter) in this case, the ignorant gaijin -- from making the wrong choice. Let's face it: the way I wanted my tea was inappropriate according to cultural standards, and they were doing their best to help me save face.

Americans tend to believe that they've reached some sort of pinnacle in the way they practice choice. They think that choice, as seen through the American lens best fulfills an innate and universal desire for choice in all humans.


The power of vulnerability

So very quickly -- really about six weeks into this research -- I ran into this unnamed thing that absolutely unraveled connection in a way that I didn't understand or had never seen. And so I pulled back out of the research and thought, I need to figure out what this is. And it turned out to be shame. And shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection?


Using design to make ideas new

'Theme and variations' is one of those forms that require a certain kind of intellectual activity, because you are always comparing the variation with the theme that you hold in your mind. You might say that the theme is nature and everything that follows is a variation on the subject.

Sometimes, in the middle of a resistant problem, I write down things that I know about it. But you can see the beginning of an idea there, because you can see the word "new" emerging from the "old." That's what happens. There's a relationship between the old and the new; the new emerges from the context of the old. And then I did some variations of it, but it still wasn't coalescing graphically at all. I had this other version which had something interesting about it in terms of being able to put it together in your mind from clues.