If you’re one of the millions who have discovered TED online, or the thousands who attend TED in person around the world, then you already know it’s really fantastic. I attended this year’s TED in Long Beach and came away with several lessons (in addition to all of the just plain fun.)
Last week’s TED conference really grabbed my attention when Andrew Stanton talked about storytelling. Andrew is the writer and director behind Pixar hits like Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and his newest movie, John Carter. He made me care by reeling me into his personal narrative. I think he was a perfect choice as a lead-off speaker because he reminded the audience to pay attention to the stories of the people around them, as well as their own. That set the tone for the week — listening and learning from incredible people and the unique lives we were surrounded by at TED.
For the record, here is some of my own story. I’ve always worked — all the way from kindergarten. Since school was only a half day then, our yellow school bus dropped me off around noon at the corner of Union and Natural Bridge Avenues in St. Louis. That was the location of my dad’s gas station.
Afternoons and most weekends were spent on that corner. At twelve, I managed a shift during the summer. It’s the only life I knew and I loved it. My dad woke me many mornings at around 4:30 am and we’d head out. He always drove a pick up truck, even when he was selling a whole lot of gasoline, from multiple locations around the city, and mostly doing office work himself.
Sometimes Dad made egg sandwiches and sometimes we dropped by a truck stop along the way. Before Starbucks designed a plastic top with a hole in it, my dad used to rip out a triangle in the plastic tops of disposable coffee cups. He did it just so and I thought it was magic.
Here’s why I think my dad always drives pick up trucks and goes to truck stops. He learned to drive fuel trucks as a teenager in the Air Force in France. After that, as a young man, he drove a long distance moving truck (an 18 wheeler) around the country. That, and a little gambling in Vegas, as the legend goes, is how he pulled together enough money to buy his first gas station.
By the way, it almost didn’t happen: he drove his truck off a slippery mountain pass in the Sierra just before I was born. He survived with a broken collar bone and so the pictures of him holding me as a newborn show his arm in a sling. No matter how successful, or challenged, he ever was as a businessman, he was okay, because he knew he could always drive a truck.
My mom was a school teacher and the first in her family to ever go to college. She read to me as a little boy and left me with a sense that I could do anything with a good education. By junior high, with her encouragement, I’d decided to try to make it into the U.S. Naval Academy.
There’s no way in the space of this post to go through what happened in Annapolis and when I served in the first Gulf War. We’ll have to come back to all of that another time. Suffice it to say that, by my mid-twenties, I had seen a lot of the good, the bad and the in-between.
Maybe that’s why I went to law school? I suppose that I was never really cut out to practice law the traditional way for a lifetime. But it is comforting to have a profession –to have a “unique selling proposition,” or USP. That’s just another way of saying “something to fall back on.” I don’t really think that our USPs are what we fall back on. I think they are what we spring forward from. People should periodically re-design themselves.
Practicing law, I got a chance to work in the early days of Internet start-ups – aka, the “dotcom” era. We had some spectacular successes but and also some failures. In both cases, smart people sometimes made big mistakes around their legal risks. I began to think that there was a way to use the Internet to make the law more affordable, so that more people could access the legal help everyone needs.
So, I re-designed myself as a lawyer-entrepreneur. That re-design, of course, led me to where I am now, as the founder of Rocket Lawyer. It also led me to TED and writing this blog post.
Finally, another part of my self design is that I don’t usually like to sit in class (even though military service, but my quest for that USP kept me in school until I was 30 years old, with a BS, MS and a JD). So, the notion of TED, the big ideas conference, always seemed like something that wouldn’t suit me. Boy was I wrong. It turns out that TED is more than siting in class. It is full immersion in collective thought.
Alright, with part of my story told (thanks Andrew!), here are links to 10 things I learned at TED.
- Stories make us care
- Design or fail
- Listen to both sides (well, I actually learned that in law school)
- Cities aren’t so bad (learned that in beautiful San Francisco)
- Optimists rule
- Introverts are people too
- Power off and Connect
- Sing and Dance
- Look beyond the bright and dazzling things
- Be humble because there’s a 17 year old nuclear physicist out there
Regarding #10, had I thought like Taylor Wilson back in 1979, maybe we’d be driving fusion vehicles right now, instead of still filling up our tanks with gas at a corner near you
- My life in story, backwards: Andrew Stanton at TED2012 (ted.com)
- TED2012: The Geekfest begins (guardian.co.uk)