Full text of innovation guru Tom Oliver’s talk: How Everyone Can Make Their Dreams Reality at TEDxMonteCarlo conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
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.
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?
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.
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.
So all those high achievers I’ve ever met they have a clear plan but they know the plan will always change. And they have to have that flexibility to go with the flow of life, go with the flow of a project and then play around the chords.
Another thing that these high achievers know is that we’re not all the same. And my God, that’s a biggie. We all want everybody to be the same we are but that’s not possible.
So the high achievers are not only one with their creative flow; they’re one with others. They have learned how to understand and relate to others.
What do I mean by that? Well when I’m up here for instance and just speaking another language, my whole mannerism would change, everything would be different. If I was talking German to you, for instance, right now already my body posture would be more rigid, right? I’ll be something like… [Speaking German]
You see already like my body is different right. Now, for instance, the absolute opposite Italian loves to speak with the hands, right? [Speaks Italian]
Totally different, right? Exactly, exactly.
Now then you go to the English, and already you see the Royal heritage in the way they address each other. Yes, absolutely. Tomorrow afternoon. Yes, I’ll see you five thirty absolutely absolutely. Thank you very much.
And then you go to the American and you know they got this California… hey, what’s up buddy? Are you doing all right? Yeah let’s go, let’s play some hockey, right? It’s a different right… already the whole mannerism changes but we never do that, we never take the time to really understand each other and understand that everybody is different. Organizations don’t do that.
And so it’s always mind-blowing to me they come to me and complain the Millennials like we cannot work with them, we don’t know what to do with them. And then they put them in a room for six hours with senior management, close the door, and expect them to produce breakthrough results.
Whereas most Millennials I know cannot focus for any more than 45 minutes, maximum, right? So everybody is different and we have to make the conscious effort to really understand each other, whether it’s our partners, our spouse, our colleagues, or bosses, people in our teams.
And the next big secret: we have to surround ourselves with people who are very different from who we are. Because we think we see and know everything but we don’t. Actually we’re missing most of the world’s reality, because our view is by definition very very very one-sided.
So the high achievers of this world understand that yes, they have to play to their strengths but surround themselves with people who can complement them in the areas where they are weak. So their unique talents, their core genius can shine and they can solidly focus on what they do best.
But again here our educational system and our society fails completely, completely. We’re solidly focused on mistakes, already at school, you did that… as if we have to be this magical human being that does everything perfectly an extraordinary will and does not have strengths, does not have weaknesses but is like one flat human being and a genius in all the areas… nothing could be further from the truth.
Every single high achievers I’ve ever met, whether it’s a self-made billionaire or a best-selling author or world’s famous artist are all a collection, a walking collection of weaknesses but they focus exclusively on their one or two talents and those talents allow them to truly shine and accomplish the extraordinary, not only that go the extra mile and accomplish the impossible.
The final thing I want to share with you today is, that it’s so key to be persistent. Winston Churchill said never, never, never, never, ever ever give up. By definition, if you never give up you can only succeed. At some point, life and the universe will give way. It will give up to put more challenges in your way and you will succeed.
But people today, their attention spans are too low. This is true for relationships, for job hopping, for any challenges or any dream; it doesn’t matter I go to the next one.
Every single high achiever and especially the pioneers who accomplish extraordinary things they sit there and they give their best every single day, and they are persistent.
So the last key is to be one with your focus, one with your persistence. And then anyone no matter who they are and where they are can accomplish the impossible.
Thank you very much.