Here is the full transcript of high performance expert Paul Rulkens’ TEDx Talk: Why the Majority is Always Wrong at TEDxMaastricht conference.
Paul Rulkens – High Performance Expert
In 1942, Albert Einstein was teaching at Oxford University, and one day, he just gave an exam of physics to his senior class of physics students. He was walking on the campus with his assistant, and all of a sudden, the assistant looked at Albert Einstein and said, “Dr Einstein, this exam which you just gave to the senior class of physics students, isn’t that exactly the same exam you gave to exactly the same class one year ago?”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Albert Einstein, “it’s exactly the same.”
“But Dr Einstein, how could you possibly do that?”, the assistant said.
“Well,” said Einstein, “the answers have changed.”
The answers have changed.
In other words, what is true for 1942 is even more true for today. We live in a world where the questions might be the same, but the answers have changed. In other words, what has got you here, will no longer get you there. And if you want to have results that you’ve never had before, well, you need to start doing things you’ve never done before.
The key question for today is of course: Is there a method to the madness? Is there a way that each of us can do impossible things to truly create dramatic results? The good news is that the answer to that question is ‘yes’.
Because what I’m going to explain today is when it comes to high performance, why the majority is always wrong, and how you can use that to get everything you can out of everything you’ve got.
But let me first introduce you to something interesting, an interesting observation. When people, teams, and organizations, whenever they hit a wall, they tend to do one of two things: they either do more of the same things, or they do less of the same things.
But what you very seldom see is that they start to do different things instead. It’s interesting, if you look at the data, approximately 3% of people are inclined to even do different things. The remaining 97% continues to smash into the wall, like some kind of crazy energy bunny on steroids.
Why is that? To understand what’s going on here, we need to ask another question. The question we need to ask ourselves is: What is the purpose of thinking? What is the purpose of thinking? If you ask that question to a brain scientist, the brain scientist will say, “Well, the purpose of thinking is to stop thinking.” The purpose of thinking is to stop thinking.
What does she mean by that? Here’s the thing: Thinking is a high energy activity; it takes a lot of energy to think. So whenever we think, we try to think as short as possible, and then we return to automatic pilot. Over 95% of our life, we run on automatic pilot. For example, if you’ve ever driven a car, and then realize, whoa! What did I do in the past half hour? That’s your brain on automatic pilot.
Another example. Many of you right now are listening to me on automatic pilot. And I know who you are.
Here’s the thing, if your brain is on automatic pilot, this leads to what scientists call mental myopia, also known as tunnel vision. If you have tunnel vision, that’s a bit of a problem because it confuses people about their own performance. This is the reason that many people go through life acting like a mediocre race car driver who sits in his car, looks in his rear-view mirror, sees his competition, and is so far behind that they think they are first.
In other words, ladies and gentlemen, we tend to think inside the box, and the box is a very good metaphor, here. So let me draw a box. If you take a close look at the box, you see that the boundaries of this box are very well defined. We think inside defined boundaries.
I’ll give an example. One boundary is a legal boundary, and we think within the legal framework. I’ll give you an example. Very few of you would think of stealing the wallet of the person next to you in order to fund your next cool startup. At least that’s what I hope. We think in legal boundaries, but there are other boundaries as well.
We think in technological boundaries, in physical boundaries, but we also think in moral boundaries. This is why we think inside the box. At least, that’s what we think. Because the reality is that the box in which we think looks more like this. For those of you in the back who cannot see it, the reason is this is a very small box.
Let me illustrate how small this box can be. For example, if I would say tonight, “Let’s have something to eat, have dinner tonight, what would be options to do that?” Probably you come up with, “Let’s buy some pizza,” “Go to a restaurant,” “Cook at home,” all kinds of cool ideas.
But I believe that very few of you would raise their hand and say, “Hey let’s go to the highway close by, see if we can pick up some dead animals on the side of the road and prepare ourselves a crispy dinner.” That’s a disturbing thought.
But here’s the funny thing, for many in the world this would be a perfectly normal response, nothing wrong with that. What it shows is that the box in which we think is actually very, very small. If you take a closer look at your industry or professional field, you also think inside a very small box. The boundaries of this box, they are called industry standards, or industry norms. For example, if you are in the restaurant business, then the industry standard is that people come to your establishment, they eat, and then they pay. That’s the standard; that’s how everyone is doing it.
Another example, if you are in the banking business, this norm is that people give you money, you say thank you very much, and you give the money to someone else. I mean, that’s banking! Those are standards, those are norms in the industry or professional field.
But this is what you need to know: The word ‘norm’ is an abbreviation for ‘normal’. In other words, if you do what everyone else is doing, you get results that everyone else is getting, and those are ‘normal’ results. And the thing is, what we are after today, are extraordinary results.
So the key question is of course: How can you kick yourself out of the box? Out this very small box of your industry and professional field, and move to the happy place, where cool innovation happens.
How can you do that? Let me introduce you to the curious case of the London taxi drivers. If you want to become a taxi driver in London, you need to know the entire city by heart, and this is called ‘the Knowledge’. You can imagine it takes years to get ‘the Knowledge’ in your head. And that’s a bit of a problem if you want to rapidly expand your taxi business.
So they asked themselves a question: How can we rapidly expand our taxi business, while at the same time employing taxi drivers who do not know anything about the city of London? Then they came up with a very ingenious solution.
They said, well actually, then we make two kinds of taxis. One is a normal taxi, and the other taxi has a big sign on it which says, “The driver of this vehicle does not know anything about the city of London, but loves to get directions from you.” That’s a brilliant solution because this attracted those people who lived in London, who knew the city very well, and finally, finally, finally, could play boss in a taxi.
Brilliant! Ladies and gentleman, this sounds like a very cute story, but there’s much more than meets the eye. Because what we have found is that breakthrough innovation, extraordinary results happen when people decide to finally break the standards or the norms in their industry or professional field. You see this over and over again.
For example, if you would have a furniture business, and one day you would decide to no longer assemble furniture for your customers, probably you would end up with a company called IKEA.
Another example, if you owned a computer business, and one day you decide to no longer sell your computer using a physical store, probably you would end up with a company called Dell computers.
Ladies and gentlemen, what it tells us, there is a method to the madness. And by understanding that the majority is always wrong, when it comes to high performance, finally you have the opportunity to quit fixing things, and move to massive innovation, instead.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius once said that the object of life is not to side with the majority, but the object of life is to escape finding oneself joining the ranks of clinically insane. If you do what everyone else is doing, you’re not distinguishing yourself, and you’re probably stuck.
This is why, when it comes to high performance, the majority is always wrong. This is what we know. We know that 3% of people are able to achieve extraordinary results. Each of you can become part of those 3% by deciding, as of today, to break your industry standards and to break your industry norms. The alternative of course, is that you become part of the 97% who, in the end, works for those 3%.
As of today, that choice is completely yours.
Thank you very much.