I recently watched a couple of TED talks. I like some of the presentations…some of them. Not all of them are good. In fact, I think some of the presentations are down right silly. There was one guy who did a talk on how to tie your shoe. Seriously, that was a talk. He tried to convince people that they were tying their shoes the wrong way, and then spent twenty minutes showing them the “right” way to tie your shoe. There are many ways to tie your shoe. If your shoe keeps coming un-tied, how about you be an adult and look up alternative knots. Or, if that is too much trouble, wear loafers for the rest of your life. Another guy did an entire talk on Yo-yoing. Yup. That’s right. I said, Yo-yoing. How is that helpful to anyone? “Looking for a life skill that can’t be taught? Try a Yo-yo…and then stick to it for ten years and learn advanced tricks. BAM! Your life has changed. You are now ten years older, and living alone!” Two other TED talks I saw really just seemed like self-promotions for Vegas shows. One guy was a pickpocket. He spent twenty minutes stealing from a volunteer on stage. His act was supposed to teach people about misdirection. I think we’ve all seen at least one magic trick in our lives. I didn’t need him to spend time on stage showing me how easy it was to steal a man’s watch and wallet. The last guy I want to mention did card tricks. Again, this really seemed like self-promotion for a show. Thirty minutes of card tricks. How does that improve my life? He didn’t even show us how to do a card trick. If he showed the audience HOW to do a trick, that would have been something. I could practice that and amaze complete strangers at a party that I probably will never get invited to because someone will know I will do a card trick.
Okay, so on to my TED talk. If I was asked to give a talk, I would present on appreciating truly amazing work. Think about that for just a moment. What IS truly amazing work? I’m going to give you some examples.
I have a few artist friends. And something that universally pisses them off is when they create a piece of art and someone from the audience says: “That’s a pile of junk! I could create that!” It is rare for an artist to just “whip out a masterpiece”.
“Oh my God! That’s the most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen!” says someone.
“What, this? I just popped that out on my lunch break after I finished eating. It took me, like, twenty minutes,” said the artist.
“I will buy it for one million dollars!”
The above situation never happens. I mean, it might happen in an alternate universe…but not in this one.
Generally, artists spend countless hours creating something for people to enjoy, and then someone cheapens it with a crass comment. If you think you can create a piece of art that people will enjoy, go ahead and do it. See what happens. If people love it, maybe you’re an idiot savant. If people don’t appreciate your work, maybe you’re just an idiot.
Appreciating something amazing doesn’t just have to be an art or creative endeavor. For example, in Australia and the UK, they have something called “Tall Poppy Syndrome”. In short, it means if one person stands out for something amazing, then everyone else assumes that person is cheating.
“No one can be that good at XYZ. They must be cheating!”
“You mean just because I’m better than you I’m cheating?”
“No! You can certainly be better than ME…but there’s no way you can be better than everyone else! Unless, of course, you’re cheating!”
“But I’m not!”
“You can’t be better than everyone. You’re a nobody! Maybe if you were a somebody, I would believe you…but you’re not. Therefore, you must be cheating.”
“Doesn’t every somebody start off as a nobody?”
“Yes…but they don’t cheat their way to the top!”
This is a real thing. Unfortunately, it’s not isolated to Australia and the UK alone. I know we have it in the US as well. It manifests in different forms…but it’s here. We resent people working smarter, and sometimes feel threatened by them.
For example: Imagine two people with similar jobs. Person A (PA), and Person B (PB). PA does what he’s told. Never tries harder, and never “thinks outside of the box” (I don’t like this term, but you understand what I mean). It takes PA forty hours to do his job. PA is rewarded with: more work and a steady paycheck.
PB spends time learning new technologies. He goes above and beyond his job requirements and learns to automate his job. What once took forty hours, now takes four hours. He shares this accomplishment with his boss and co-workers. How is he rewarded? His co-workers resent him because they feel like PB made them look bad, and his boss rewards the entire team with more of the same work…until such time that the company goes through a rough patch, and then the boss lays people off. At that time, the boss remembers PB for the automation work he did…but because the boss feel threatened by PB…PB gets laid off. Sorry PB, them’s the breaks. <insert sad music>
We like to tell children “Work smarter, not harder,” but we don’t appreciate their smart work or reward them appropriately. Children are forced to learn all sorts of ultimately useless information. I mean, you can argue “growth,” “maturity,” “expanding cognitive thinking” all you want, but when was the last time you needed to know the Louisiana Purchase took place in 1803 in your daily life? I’m not saying it’s bad for us to teach these things. Nor am I suggesting that children should not learn about the Pythagorean theorem (and how to properly spell Pythagorean). What I think should be allowed, not frowned upon in society is: creative cheating. What’s really wrong with creative cheating? If some kid figures out a way to get the answers for the test without memorizing the answers (which don’t last long-term anyway because I’ll bet few of my readers retained all the knowledge you learned while in school), what’s the harm? In fact, why are we not celebrating those achievements? If some kid cracks open his graphic calculator and replaces the guts with an old smartphone, and then proceeds to use this calculator in math class to look up answers on the web…I call that genius. Nicely done young man/lady. Move on to the next grade. Your work here is done.