Here is the full transcript of philosopher, and entrepreneur Adam Radly’s TEDx Talk: Passion Before Motivation And Humanity Before Happiness at TEDxStKilda conference. Adam Radly is the founder of Maximum Positive Impact (MPI), the world’s first open source philosophy. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.
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Adam Radly – Philosopher, and entrepreneur
Imagine putting all of your heart and soul and energy into searching for your passion and then running into a TEDTalk with the title: Don’t search for your passion.
Why not search for it? Are the things that we’re passionate about trivial? Is a life drenched in passion just something that we see in the movies? What role does passion play in our lives?
Some people have trouble finding their passion. Later in this talk, I’ll ask a question that anyone can answer in one minute and your answer will include the things that you’re passionate about even if you have no idea what they are right now.
Now if you google passion, you’ll find people telling you to pursue it by setting a goal and taking action. And if that doesn’t work, motivate yourself. Think positively. Looks like every motivational speaker guru that we know and hate just vomited on the screen. Outdated belief systems and isolated concepts like these don’t cut it anymore.
It’s 2016 and it’s time to raise our level of thinking. I want to tell you three stories about three of my passions, not because I want to talk about what I’ve done, but because I want to talk about what I was thinking while doing it.
My first passion was entrepreneurship. In my mind, entrepreneurs were rebels and renegades that wanted to change the status quo. And I could relate, and I felt strongly about it. My first business at the age of 23 was in property development. It succeeded and then it failed. And then I had no money. Literally zero. Then I discovered that zero is not as low as you can go. So I got some credit cards and went into debt — to fund my next big idea: delivering education through this new thing called the Internet.
This time, my company succeeded and we completed an IPO. But it was a rollercoaster ride. Friends of mine lost, I felt like I was metaphorically beaten up at least once a week and I’d lost an arm and a leg but I made it across the finish line.
The bank account that once had no money in it, now had a lot of money in it. And I was faced with that moment of truth where anyone has been in this position or imagines being in this position asks this question: has money solved all of our problems and made me happy? It solved some problems but there was still something missing.
At the same time, I was working on a project called World Reconciliation Day featuring Nelson Mandela. Told anybody that would listen that my three heroes were Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. I spent the day with Mandela. I gave a speech in front of him and two former prime ministers and a list of other important people. And thousands of people came to a concert in a football stadium.
But I recall when Mandela was answering questions from the media about his lifelong struggle for the rights of his people, it occurred to me that a lot of people think that human rights were important but didn’t actually do anything about it. So why is that?
Later that year, the stock market crashed. The value of my stock fell by 90%. So I lost a lot of money but I still had more than the zero that I started with.
So did I succeed or did I fail? Did it make any difference? What was the point of it all? What should I do next?
Well, I decided to continue being an entrepreneur but my heart wasn’t in it. I was more interested in answering their question about why people like Mandela do what they do and other people didn’t. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be one of the other people. And I felt strongly about it. And it led to passion number two.
Now what happened next was a process of elimination that unfolded over four years and here it is in 60 seconds. There’s a lot of people in the world that need help but who should I help? Helping one group of people meant not helping another group of people. So it was an important decision.
I decided that the world’s poorest people needed the most help. I found a report from the United Nations that ranked all countries from richest to poorest and the country that was ranked lowest on the list but safe enough to visit was Mali in West Africa. The people in the north had less rainfall than the people in the south. So I decided to help a village in the north.
Now the village needed a million things but my resources were finite. So what should I do?
Well, at the time they had no electricity and one in five children died before the age of five due to malaria and childbirth complications. So I decided on a combination of solar power and a health center. That’s me in the middle.
When I look back on the sequence of decisions, I could see that I was always trying to answer one question: what could I do that would have the maximum positive impact? Over time I thought to myself, well maybe all nonprofits should use this MPI methodology. Then I thought why not all schools? Why not all governments or corporations?
I eventually thought, well, why not make it a way of life? Well, that was a more philosophical concept but I was at a point in my life where I was desperate to break everything down to its most fundamental level. And it led to passion number three.
Now if there was a philosophy buried inside of those three words, I wanted to discover it by only considering what I could observe and reasonably believe to be true. And my thinking went something like this.
What does MPI really mean? If it literally means dedicating 100% of my time to saving the planet, then the philosophy breaks down immediately, because living that way is not sustainable. The very least I need to take breaks for food, water and sleep.
So what else does a human need? Well, I found some answers in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. And I did some research and found some more and came up with this. Well, I’ve broken down into 21 elements. I found research telling me that I only needed $60,000 a year to be happy, that bad friends are as bad from his bad diet, that being present and meditating would add use to my life, and getting into flow and expressing my individuality, we’re all ridiculously enjoyable.
So if I focus on these elements, I’m selfish; and if I focus on saving the planet, I’m selfless. Is that really true? Seems to me that if I theoretically perfected all of these elements, I will end up having the biggest impact on myself and the biggest impact on the planet. So MPI and myself, and MPI and the planet are the same thing. And I do believe that we’re all part of one organism, so they should be the same thing.
OK, so let’s test this out. This is my life wall on the day that I asked myself if money had made me happy, and felt like there was something missing. You can see why I wasn’t happy. Income is only one out of 21 elements and I overdosed on it. You can see what was missing: Total lack of attention to everything else.
So this tells me what I should do but why should I do it? And while I was having this conversation with myself, I thought, well, why do anything? For me the primal selfish and simplistic answer had to be something like I really just want to be happy and everything else is just an act for the outside world. So I want to imagine doing something that I think will make me happy and then I’ll do it and then I’ll see if it worked. And I’ll use that information to see if I want to do it again. So it’s like an ongoing cycles of trial and error experiments.
But the interesting thing is that I would always end up getting this information — information about whether it made me happy, how happy it made me, how it compared with other ways to make myself happy. Another name for this information: self-discovery. Seems like important information to have if at the most primal simplistic and selfish level I just wanted to be happy and this is the information that tells me how to do it, then my purpose must be to get as much of it as possible.
So my purpose in my mind was self-discovery and happiness was the reward. So now I know what to do and why to do it? What should I do next? I mean literally right now while I’m standing here in front of you?
Well, my thinking was, well, self-discovery seems to be infinite. So it cannot be a destination. And if there’s no destination, I have no choice but to enjoy the journey — a journey that can only unfold in the present. So I’m standing here enjoying myself. This is a trial and error experiment unfolding in real time.
When I get off the stage, nature has pre-programmed me to make a mental note about whether it made me happy and which life wall elements it contributed to?