Accounting firm professionals name their favorite TED talks

By Cheryl Meyer

Most accounting firm professionals are now working remotely, meaning more time behind the computer screen to not only help clients, companies, or students — but to spend time visiting thought-provoking sites on the web.

So for the third time since 2016, we reached out to accounting professionals, asking them to describe their favorite TED talks and why these short and thought-provoking speeches are meaningful to them.

"These TED talks inspire me because working in this industry takes so much more than just being a good accountant, and sometimes the pressure of getting the job done makes us forget that," said Cheryl Burke, a partner and chief strategy officer at DGC, a division of PKF O'Connor Davies, in Boston.

Burke and six other accounting professionals offered their top TED picks for 2022:

Patrick Lencioni: "Are You an Ideal Team Player?": Today, more than ever, people are connected "across continents and oceans" and, as such, they must be team players in order for businesses and individuals to succeed, stated Lencioni, an American book author and co-founder of The Table Group, a consulting firm focused on making organizations healthier and more unified. These players possess three virtues, he noted in his talk: humility (putting others ahead of themselves); a hunger for getting work done; and emotional intelligence. No. 1, though, Lencioni said, is humility.

"Being part of a team means more than just bringing your specific technical skill," said Burke, who found this speech intriguing. "Patrick Lencioni's TED talk gives me the perspective and the tools so that I can be the best team member possible."

Warren Valdmanis: "What Makes a Job 'Good' — and the Case for Investing in People": In 2021 Valdmanis, a partner at private-equity firm Two Sigma Impact in Portland, Maine, discussed why it's important for investors, executives, and others in business to "create rather than cut good jobs" following the premise that employees are more "loyal and dedicated when they feel that their company is helping them to build a career." In "good jobs," he said, employees are treated fairly, have promising futures, feel psychologically safe, and have a sense of purpose. Companies "with a higher proportion of good jobs grow faster and are more profitable," he summarized. "They attract better talent and are more innovative."

Graylin Smith, CPA, CGMA, managing partner and commercial practice leader at SB & Company LLC in Owings Mills, Md., valued this TED talk because it applies to the leadership position he holds. "A major part of my role is to develop, coach, and inspire our people to want to be at the firm and carry out our mission," he said. This includes, he noted, "ensuring our people have an enjoyable and successful career at the firm."

Carol Dweck: "The Power of Believing That You Can Improve": American psychologist and Stanford University professor Carol Dweck, Ph.D., author of the book Mindset, started her talk discussing a high school in Chicago: "If students did not pass a course, they got the grade, 'Not Yet,'" she explained. This tactic helped students understand, in a nondefeating manner, that they were on a learning curve and that their abilities were developing.

This "growth mindset" (as coined by Dweck) — the realization that we can grow and improve — can be brought into the workplace and is valuable as young people shape their careers, noted Faye Hayhurst, CPA, CGMA, the director of finance and administration for the Minnesota Society of CPAs. "CPAs are generally smart people, but it also takes an attitude of learning and growth to be best positioned for long-term success," she said. "And it's critically important to coach young people in the profession that their mistakes are not failures, but opportunities to learn how to be better."

Graham Hill: "Less Stuff, More Happiness": While this short TED talk is not business-specific, it appeals to almost everyone who leads a cluttered — or semi-cluttered — life. Hill, founder of TreeHugger.com and LifeEdited.com, has made it his mission to promote minimalism and sustainability. He starts his talk out with a catchy question, while sitting on a cardboard box: "What's in the box? Whatever it is must be pretty important because I've traveled with it, moved it from apartment to apartment to apartment." His message? Evaluate the stuff you carry around in your own life and determine what you truly don't need. Less stuff and less space will not only save money but will make people happier and less stressed.

Steven Markoff, CPA, an instructional specialist in the Department of Finance and Accounting at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J., said this TED talk hit close to home: "I immediately thought of the 'time clutter' in my life," Markoff said. "Accountants can be very busy people with all sorts of deadlines constantly being thrown at them. I [now] think small by making smaller time commitments." He also bumps things off his project list that aren't so important. "I now have time for daydreaming," he added.

Adam Grant: "Are You a Giver or a Taker?": Grant, Ph.D., a professor of management and psychology at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and author of the 2021 bestseller Think Again, said takers are bent on what others can do for them, whereas givers ask others, "What can I do for you?" He also outlined a third category: matchers, who subscribe to the theme, "I'll do something for you if you do something for me." Organizations must weed out the takers during the hiring, screening, and team-building processes so that they are left with givers and matchers, he summarized.

Taruna Kanani, CPA, co-founder of KB Tax Deviser CPAs in Center Valley, Pa., was moved by Grant's speech because "giving" is part of her firm's mission. "We emphasize this culture from day one ... to help create an environment where people can thrive as givers without seeking anything back or expecting any recognition for their efforts, other than knowing they are making a difference in someone else's life," she said.

David Grady: "How to Save the World (or at Least Yourself) From Bad Meetings": Grady, a manager of network and security marketing at Verizon Business Group in Boston, gave this talk in 2014, but it is "more relevant today than ever," said Quinn Martin, CPA, a partner at Wipfli LLP in St. Charles, Mo. Grady stated that "collaboration is key to the success of any enterprise" but that professionals should put more thought into which meetings they choose to attend and which they choose to skip.

Martin took this to heart because CPAs have many demands on their time and may need to occasionally step back. "The message is not all meetings are bad, and certainly some are very productive and necessary, but we need to be more thoughtful in how we are approaching these both as an organizer and a participant," he said. "We need to think more and react less. We can control our time, or it can control us."

James Rhee: "The Value of Kindness at Work": In a moving and well-delivered talk given in February 2021, Rhee described a heartwarming story: How he, as a Boston-based investment banker and private-equity investor, helped save women's clothing store chain Ashley Stewart from closure by changing the culture and perception of the company to one of goodwill, kindness, and compassion. Workers stepped up. They offered him insight and support, and the kindheartedness among people at Ashley Stewart spurred innovation and reminded him that "goodwill … is a real asset that can compound and be amplified independent of financial capital," he said.

Rhee's talk resonated with New York-based Jay Cardwell, CPA, the COO of CFO Squad, which offers CFO, M&A, tax compliance, and other services for clients. "We tend to focus on applying rules and regulations, viewing numbers to indicate causes. But sometimes the solution is the company culture, the approach or motivation of people that creates goodwill," Cardwell said. "TED talks remind us to step back, think, and look for a solution from a different perspective."

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in Minnesota. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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