7 TED talks for accountants

These thought-provoking presentations are sparking interest.
By Cheryl Meyer

Accountants listen to speeches all the time—at work, at conferences, and online. But not all accountants find talks so compelling that they remember their content years down the road, or even tomorrow.

Enter TED, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to share ideas, mostly through a plethora of short and stimulating speeches that are presented at conferences and on its website. TED's site is a place for people to listen, watch, learn, and indulge—and take away ideas that they may have never considered.  

For the second year running, we asked several accountants to highlight their favorite TED talks and describe how these talks have influenced them both professionally and personally. Here are their top picks:

Stanley McChrystal: "Listen, Learn ... Then Lead": A retired four-star general, Stanley McChrystal fills this TED talk with numerous anecdotes about his military experiences, with one major theme: leadership. He realized that leaders aren't good because they are right. "They're good because they're willing to learn and trust," he says, noting that he often had to lead a team dispersed around the world via technology. McChrystal's talk resonated with Nancy E. Kelly, CPA, co-managing partner of DavisKelly Certified Public Accountants LLC in New York. "Over the several years of growing my company, I have learned, and continue to learn, that having a successful team requires me to build relationships with those I work alongside," she said. "These relationships, in turn, help to develop my team's trust in me as their leader."

Emilie Wapnick: "Why Some of Us Don't Have One True Calling": Wapnick, a writer, coach, artist, and founder of website, calls herself a "multipotentialite"—a person who gets bored easily and has so many interests that she once considered herself abnormal. "In high school, I liked English and math and art and I built websites and I played guitar in a punk band called Frustrated Telephone Operator. Maybe you've heard of us," she quipped. Today, though, Wapnick has flipped that "abnormal" idea on its head by recognizing that those who have many passions and creative pursuits can excel in life and business. Charlene Rhinehart, CPA, consultant and founder of Career Goddess Academy, an online career site, said this notion describes her personality and mission. "It redefines the possibilities for a CPA," she said. "Listening to this TED talk confirmed my belief that you can use your skills in different ways; there is no one-size-fits-all path to success."

Drew Dudley: "Everyday Leadership": Founder of Day One Leadership, a Toronto-based consulting firm, Dudley asserts that all of us can lead simply by improving someone else's life. People often give themselves "an excuse not to expect [leadership] every day" from themselves and from others, he said in his talk. Eddie Rivera, CPA, a tax partner at Citrin Cooperman in Livingston, N.J., said Dudley's TED talk inspired him. "As a leader, we have such a profound impact on the holistic well-being of our people," he said. "When your people are happy and feel important and know you truly care, they achieve more."

Mellody Hobson: "Color Blind or Color Brave?": Hobson, president of Ariel Investments in Chicago and a black woman, said she almost didn't give this talk at an official TED conference because race can be an uncomfortable topic. But she decided that speaking openly about race would start a discussion and could help businesses thrive. "We cannot afford to be colorblind," she said in her speech. "We have to be color-brave. … We have to be willing to have proactive conversations about race with honesty and understanding and courage … because our businesses and our products and our science, our research, all of that will be better with greater diversity." Stephani Mason, CPA, assistant professor of accounting at DePaul University in Chicago, said Hobson's TED talk is long overdue. "We have been tiptoeing around this for years, and we cannot move forward unless we learn to have an honest, open dialogue," she noted.

Dr. Ivan Joseph: "The Skill of Self-Confidence": Joseph, director of athletics at Ryerson University in Toronto, has learned plenty from competitive sports. In a talk on TEDEd, TED's lesson-focused affiliate, he defines and promotes self-confidence as the ability "to believe in yourself, to accomplish any task, no matter the odds, no matter the difficulty, no matter the adversity"—either on the field or in any endeavor. Spiro Leunes, CPA, partner at WithumSmith+Brown PC in Whippany, N.J., was inspired by this talk because of cynics he encountered (and dismissed) during his successful career trajectory. "We are all captains of our own ship," he said. "We just have to have the courage to take action and the self-confidence to make it happen. No one is going to be a better cheerleader for you than you."

Kelly McGonigal: "How to Make Stress Your Friend": A consultant and health psychologist at Stanford University, McGonigal begins her talk (which has garnered more than 14 million views) citing a study that indicates stress impacts your health primarily if you view stress as a negative. "When you change your mind about stress, you can change your body's response to stress," she said. "When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience." This talk was particularly appealing to Donna Dolansky, CPA, professor of practice-accounting at Utica College in Utica, N.Y., because "it shows you how to change the way you think about stress," she said. "I view stress as a motivator, and it helps me meet aggressive deadlines."

Scott Dinsmore: "How to Find Work You Love": Dinsmore, an adventurer and founder of Live Your Legend, a company that encourages people to seek out their professional passions, gave this still-popular TED talk in 2012, three years before his death while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. The talk is still having an impact, with more than 4 million views. Years earlier, Dinsmore had quit a job where he was unhappy. He went on a quest to research people that do "world-changing work, that wake up inspired every day," he said. He concluded that professionals need to become self-experts, determine their strengths and passions, and figure out why they make decisions and how to apply their findings to their lives. This hit home with Rhinehart. "If every CPA dived fully into the plate of passions that inspired them, they could contribute to the profession in a greater way and wear their CPA badge with ultimate enthusiasm," she said.

Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer in Orange County, Calif. To comment on this article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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