TED talks that will inspire CPAs

These free, online talks make people reflect—about their behavior, about business practices, about life, about humankind.
By Cheryl Meyer

Everyone loves a good speech. But TED, an online community that offers free motivational and educational talks on a plethora of topics from business to addiction to biology to birds, hasn't just proved to be entertaining. It has also inspired CPAs to implement lasting and successful changes in their practices.

Case in point: Napa Valley, Calif., CPA firm Brotemarkle Davis and Co. LLP, was so inspired by Simon Sinek's TED talk "How Great Leaders Inspire Action," that it revamped its offerings to the wine industry. The firm didn't reexamine what it was doing, but rather why it was doing business—which was the premise of Sinek's talk.

"After really focusing on our own WHY statement, which included a desire to elevate the Napa Valley and the entire wine industry, our managing partner decided we should offer training classes at no charge," said Geni Whitehouse, CPA/CITP, a communication coach who works for the firm. "We have been creating and delivering six to 10 free training classes a year for winery owners and teams ever since, and as a result have created a very visible brand in our area."

These classes, which her firm previously offered for a fee, include "Next generation planning,"  "Communication skills," and "Software selection and best practices," to name a few.

A great big candy storefor ideas

Launched in 1984 as a conference about technology, entertainment, and design (hence TED), the nonprofit organization has emerged as an international platform for sharing ideas via its famous TED talks, given by some of the globe's greatest thinkers in more than 100 languages. TED talks make people reflect—about their behavior, about business practices, about life, about humankind.

"TED is like a great big candy store, or a library," said Tom Birch, staff accountant at Hansen Hunter & Co. PC, in Beaverton, Ore. "There's always something new to learn, something to encourage me, and something that reminds me the world is bigger and better than the narrow confines of my day."

Scott Smith, CPA/PFS, CGMA, an accountant with Smith, Kunz & Associates in Rexburg, Idaho, listens to TED talks when he needs an "intellectual distraction," or he saves them for later viewing when he has time. "These talks resonate with me, especially when I'm not exercising, eating poorly, and have a poor work/life balance," he said.

There are more than 2,000 TED talks to peruse, but Birch, Smith, and other CPAs offered the following as their top picks for accountants:

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts. In this talk, Cain, a former corporate lawyer and the founder of Quiet Revolution, an organization that aims to unlock the power of introverts, explains that introversion is not about being shy, but rather about how people respond to stimulation. Extroverts crave a lot of stimulation, while introverts tend to thrive in quieter environments. "So the key then to maximizing our talents is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us," Cain said in her talk.

Griffiths, a self-proclaimed introvert, said Cain's talk is compelling and fascinating, and "provides hope to those of us who are not naturally the life of the party."

Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Sinek's point is simple: Great leaders start with a  "why"—a purpose—and not with what they plan to do or how they will accomplish something. "If you hire people just because they can do a job, they'll work for your money, but if you hire people who believe what you believe, they'll work for you with blood and sweat and tears," Sinek said in his talk, which has been watched more than 27 million times.

"It was inspiring to me because it made me understand how to better lead my classroom and my business, and how to better lead corporate training seminars," said Kelly Richmond Pope, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., an associate accounting professor at DePaul University in Chicago and founder of Helios Digital Learning.

Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation. Pink, who served as speechwriter for former Vice President Al Gore, is now an author and career analyst who says that too many organizations make decisions based on outdated assumptions, such as pay-for-performance rewards for their employees. Pink "shares compelling examples of behavioral science research that show how things like monetary incentives and rewards narrow our focus and reduce our capacity for creativity and collaboration," Griffiths said.

Whitehouse, who also recommended Pink's TED talk, said that organizations concentrating on "top-down, owner-defined, revenue-focused metrics" prompt employees to also focus on revenue, and that by doing so "they miss the bigger picture, like collecting on sales, building long-term engagement, [and] contribution to organizational goals."

Pink's talk prompted Whitehouse's firm to reconsider reward systems and how to inspire workers. "We broadened our view of incentives and helped clients look at other ways to motivate," she said.

Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work. Few speakers can rival Achor, who bills himself as a "happiness researcher and speaker" on LinkedIn. In his TED talk, Achor claims that happiness leads to greater productivity—not the other way around. "If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we're able to work harder, faster, and more intelligently," he said in his talk.

Smith says Achor's talk debunks the myth that working harder leads to success and, ultimately, happiness. "This 12-minute talk has helped me to approach life more optimistically," he said.

Pope notes that Achor's talk is about finding true contentment. "That's important for CPAs, especially when you have a staff and are trying to motivate and inspire people to do better work," she said.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California. To comment on this story, email Chris Baysden, senior managerMagazines & Newsletters at the AICPA.

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