This is really a two-hour presentation I give to high school students, cut down to three minutes. And it all started one day on a plane, on my way to TED, seven years ago. And in the seat next to me was a high school student, a teenager, and she came from a really poor family. And she wanted to make something of her life, and she asked me a simple little question. She said, “What leads to success?” And I felt really badly, because I couldn’t give her a good answer.
So I get off the plane, and I come to TED. And I think, jeez, I’m in the middle of a room of successful people! So why don’t I ask them what helped them succeed, and pass it on to kids? So here we are, seven years, 500 interviews later, and I’m going to tell you what really leads to success and makes TEDsters tick.
And the first thing is passion. Freeman Thomas says, “I’m driven by my passion.” TEDsters do it for love; they don’t do it for money. Carol Coletta says, “I would pay someone to do what I do.” And the interesting thing is: if you do it for love, the money comes anyway. Work! Rupert Murdoch said to me, “It’s all hard work. Nothing comes easily. But I have a lot of fun.” Did he say fun? Rupert? Yes! (Laughter) TEDsters do have fun working. And they work hard. I figured, they’re not workaholics. They’re workafrolics.
Good! Alex Garden says, “To be successful, put your nose down in something and get damn good at it.” There’s no magic; it’s practice, practice, practice. And it’s focus. Norman Jewison said to me, “I think it all has to do with focusing yourself on one thing.” And push! David Gallo says, “Push yourself. Physically, mentally, you’ve got to push, push, push.” You’ve got to push through shyness and self-doubt. Goldie Hawn says, “I always had self-doubts. I wasn’t good enough; I wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t think I’d make it.”
Now it’s not always easy to push yourself, and that’s why they invented mothers. Frank Gehry said to me, “My mother pushed me.” Serve! Sherwin Nuland says, “It was a privilege to serve as a doctor.” A lot of kids want to be millionaires. The first thing I say is: “OK, well you can’t serve yourself; you’ve got to serve others something of value. Because that’s the way people really get rich.” Ideas! TEDster Bill Gates says, “I had an idea: founding the first micro-computer software company.”
I’d say it was a pretty good idea. And there’s no magic to creativity in coming up with ideas — it’s just doing some very simple things. And I give lots of evidence. Persist! Joe Kraus says, “Persistence is the number one reason for our success.” You’ve got to persist through failure. You’ve got to persist through crap! Which of course means “Criticism, Rejection, Assholes and Pressure.”
So, the answer to this question is simple: Pay 4,000 bucks and come to TED. Or failing that, do the eight things — and trust me, these are the big eight things that lead to success. Thank you TEDsters for all your interviews!
“8 smart words to success; Passion, Work, Good, Focus, Push, Service, Ideas and Persist”
Richard St. John