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How Everyone Can Make Their Dreams Reality: Tom Oliver (Transcript)

Full text of innovation guru Tom Oliver’s talk: How Everyone Can Make Their Dreams Reality at TEDxMonteCarlo conference.

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Tom Oliver – Innovation guru

When I was about five years old, I started to become a heavy stutterer. And it was so bad that I would sometimes sit in class and not a word came out.

Now let me share with you how I solved it… that lasted until I was about… well 17-18 years old. When I was 16, I got a scholarship to go to U.S. boarding school. I was actually born and raised in Germany.

When I went to the U.S., something special happened. At that boarding school, I had to do sports every afternoon. And that was not the case in Germany.

So suddenly after about a year or two, I started to notice the stuttering went away completely. Why was that? I had been hyperactive all my life, but nobody had realized it. Not my parents, not my friends, not the teachers at school.

And I realized that I had to be one with my energy. And nowadays, my assistant schedules an hour and a half of sports every day wherever I am on the planet. You see me painting around here already. The hardest thing actually for me today is to stay inside this little red dot.

But after that, I got hooked. I wanted to know if I can solve that, what else can I do? What else can anyone do, no matter who they are, no matter where they are, no matter their race, origin, education, background or talent?

And that led me on a journey. And that journey took me to many of the world’s greatest performers: self-made billionaire entrepreneurs; Nobel Peace Prize laureates; world’s famous artists; best-selling authors; and heads of state.

And I found one thing that they all apply the same principles to succeed, to realize their dreams and make the impossible possible. And I learned that it’s the simple principles that allow them to accomplish the impossible and make their dreams reality.

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I would like to share some of these principles with you today.

The first one I shared already: it’s to be one with your energy. To not go against who you really are, to truly see what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses.

But do we really do that? Our occasional systems tell us to focus on our weaknesses, our mistakes, what we do wrong?

Well, if we focus on improving our weaknesses, at best we get mediocre. But if we play to our strengths… and I saw every single one of these high achievers I’ve met in my life did that. If we focus on our strengths and play to our strengths, we can go from good to great to extraordinary. And we will be remembered for that.

So number one, I learned we have to be one with our energy, and one with our strengths.

The second thing that I learned is that these high achievers from around the planet are one with their dreams. They’re one with their purpose. They know why they’re here.

And for big organizations, it’s the same. When I consult CEOs of big Fortune 500 companies around the world, the first thing I ask them: what is your purpose, the purpose of your company and your own purpose? Because that is key. Everything starts and ends with purpose: the why.

So these high achievers clearly define what is it that drives and motivates them, that makes them get up in the morning and surmount seemingly impossible challenges, again and again and again, because they’re one with their dreams.

And I learned that in order to do that, we have to define and sit down what is it that we really want to accomplish. And each and every one of us can do that. We can sit down, take 20 minutes, and that’s all it takes, and write down what would my ideal life look like if nothing was impossible 5, 10, or 15 years from now?

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The youngest person I ever met who did that exercise was about, I think, six or seven; the oldest one was 65. And the 65 year old said you know what, I’ll not take the 20 years, I’ll just take the five years.

But it works no matter what age but we have to define what is it that we really really want. And that’s already a big problem in today’s society, because that is not taught at school.

We’re taught to accumulate skills but not focus on the elephant in the room. And that is the question: what is it that I truly care about? What is it that I really really want?

And I learned that we all have to do exactly that first. So I learned those high achievers are one with their dreams.

The next principle as I discovered was: they’re one with their creative flow. What does that mean? Well, we all think that creativity is reserved for some people. But I truly believe we’re all creative geniuses.

But once we go through education and we go on with our lives, we tend to lose that. Children still have that creative power.

And what is the number one mistake that most people and organizations make when it comes to creating breakthrough out-of-the-box solutions and innovative thinking? They’re too rigid. They’re too rigid. They’re so much hooked on a plan and a system but they don’t have flexibility.

Now let me illustrate what that means by using a musical example. And I will play something for you. And let me see if you recognize that song.


Awkward silence in the room! Everybody thinks that guy’s not really good. Why is that guy up there? Well what I just played are the chords of music… chords … how many of you have played music in a band? Anybody? There we go a lot of hands actually; fantastic.

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So when musicians come together to play, these are the chords. The chords are the structure for the music. But when you play just the chords, it doesn’t really sound great.

So let me play the same chords but let me take a little bit of that Californian Silicon Valley playfulness and play around the chords a little bit with flexibility, passion, enthusiasm. Let’s see if you recognize this song.

[Music – Lyrics]

“When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me,

Singing songs of wisdom, let it be.

And in my hour of darkness,

She is standing right in front of me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

Let it be, let it be. Let it be, all right.

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.


Let it be, let it be, let it be,

Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.

Great. You should be up here, singing so well you should be up here.

So what just happened, right? Same chords but we were playing around the chords, right, and that’s exactly what these high achievers have learned.

Yes, they have a plan. They have a plan for their goals, but they allow for enough flexibility to play around the chords and recognize that a plan is just a plan. But most organizations don’t do that either. They think they got to be innovative and they put a 10-point plan together. But then they’re lacking that flexibility and that’s what brings their innovation down.

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