What do an investigative journalist, STEM educator, best-selling book author, and globally recognized leadership expert all have in common? Aside from the fact that each of these individuals has achieved an incredible level of success, there is one common thread among them that stands out above all the rest, and that is a passion for education and a commitment to continued learning.
Among the TEDx talks given by Sharyl Atkisson, Misha Raffiee, Liz Wiseman, and Barry Posner, a theme soon emerged that the need for continuous learning in today’s ever-changing and technologically driven world is not only imperative, but a requirement for thriving.
In her talk, investigative journalist Sharyl Atkisson asked the audience: how do you know that what you know to be true? What if all isn’t as it seems? The short answer is, you don’t know. Because you place your trust in others, specifically in outlets such as the news media, it’s everyone’s personal responsibility to do their own research, knowledge gathering, and question asking in order to make sound decisions and operate successfully within a complex world.
Atkisson, a former CBS news correspondent of 20 years, should know. Having won Emmy’s for her news reporting, she talked about Astroturf marketing, or fake grassroots marketing, which can be spotted whenever there appears to be widespread support of a cause, when in actuality, there are politics and advertising dollars at work behind the scenes to make it just look that way. To spot this type of propaganda, she suggested paying attention to messages that attack the issues, people, personalities, and organizations on the other side of an issue. In short, don’t be afraid to conduct your own research. Atkisson is currently writing a book entitled “Stonewalled,” which addresses the unseen influences of corporations and special interests on the information and images the public receives every day in the news and elsewhere.
In Misha Raffiee’s talk—a budding scientist, musician, and STEM educator who is currently a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in biology and mechanical engineering—many of these same sentiments were echoed. Specifically, she talked about the need to be personally responsible for nurturing one’s own curiosity in order to develop a passion for learning.
Recounting a story from elementary school whereby she became highly interested in the Pythagorean Theorem and once asked her teacher about it, only to be shut down by being asked to not be so “curious,” she realized it would be up to her personally to take responsibility for learning about the very things she was most curious about. “To nurture our curiosities we need to challenge ourselves to develop a confidence when we encounter something new,” said Raffiee. “When was the last time you took that curiosity and developed it into a deeper thinking? This deep thinking is what I call natural curiosity.” To nurture curiosity, she encouraged the audience to develop a confidence to ask questions, think more deeply, and turn exploration into passion.
Similar to Raffiee’s challenge to explore that which piques our curiosity, Liz Wiseman helped to explain how being curious and approaching the world with “childlike wonder” actually leads to better learning experiences.
According to Wiseman, a prominent book author who teaches leadership to executives and emerging leaders around the world, “we find that when we’re new, a learner’s advantage kicks in. And in the process of asking, wondering, discovering, we tend to do our best thinking, often outperforming people with experience.” In her talk she recounted a story of rising up the ranks in management at Oracle soon after college graduation, always stepping into much larger roles than initially prepared for, which hence forced her to approach her work from an angle of intrigue and wonder. Because of her circumstance, she positioned herself to remain close to her stakeholders, she was never afraid to ask questions, and as a result she continued to learn and grow throughout her career until she eventually hit the point of being (and feeling) truly “qualified” to serve in her leadership roles. At that point, a funny thing happened: she became burned out. Eventually she experienced an “aha” moment while on vacation with her family that helped her to reconsider the way she approached life and work.
Having conducted significant research in the field of leadership and collective intelligence, Wiseman shared many statistics for how having a curiosity, interest in, and aptitude for play when approaching work can lead to much more beneficial outcomes. Quoting Alvin Toffler, she stated: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can’t read or write, but those you can’t learn, unlearn and relearn.” She urged the audience to always remember to ask questions, seek novelty, and play more. Our best learning happens when we are curious, engaged, and having fun.
Underscoring many of the excellent points made in Wiseman’s talk, Barry Posner next gave an insightful talk about the nature of leadership, and how both learning and staying curious are requirements for being a strong leader. In his talk, Posner —an eminent scholar and researcher, bestselling author, and award-winning teacher and educator—discussed the traits that make up a good leader and encouraged the audience to consider the reasons why we choose follow someone? He then delved into some of the insights from his research about leadership, stating: “Competency is an asset that depreciates over time. Good enough never is … leaders should be great learners,” once again proving that continued learning is a requirement for being successful.
Because credibility is the foundation of leadership, “leaders must be honest, competent, forward-looking and inspiring.” While the choice to be honest might be a personal virtue, competency is something that individuals must continuously strive toward achieving. A commitment to continued learning is therefore a baseline trait shared among leaders, for the ability to be a great learner allows for growth to happen, as well as for passions to emerge, ultimately underscoring competency, and the ability to be more inspiring, aka a great leader.
Make sure to check out all four of these great speakers’ TEDxUniversityofNevada talks, now available on our Facebook page.