Skip to content

TED Talks: Chip Conley discusses personal happiness

This morning’s TED Talks discussion was the best I’ve heard, yet.  Chip Conley did an amazing job discussing what makes people happy by asking hard questions people often overlook during the busyness of life.  How do you feel about the time you spend each day? How does your job make you feel? What is your emotional equation?

After Chip’s discussion, I began to think about how I spend my time.  In a normal week, I spend most of my time at work (like most people).  I also spend a significant amount of time attending class, doing homework, commuting to work and class, spending time with friends and family, and also sleeping (if I’m lucky… ha).  There are only 24 hours in a day… am I spending them in a way that makes me happy?

Chip opened his discussion by painting a picture of an immigrant woman (a personal friend and employee at his hotel) who was completely happy cleaning toilets for a living.  He said it wasn’t that she liked to clean toilets, but she liked helping people who were “far away from home”, just like she was when she moved to the United States.  At the end of the day, her janitorial job—a job which many would discredit as describe as terrible and the worst job ever—made her happy.

How does this apply to me? In my job, am I doing something that contributes to my overall happiness, or am I doing something to merely pay the bills?  When I leave work at the end of the day, do I have a sense of overall happiness and fulfillment?  Of am I am just happy that the work day is finally over?

Are you truly happy in your job? For motivation and emotional insights, I would recommend you watch Chip Conley’s TED Talk discussion.  In addition, I would also suggest reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s book Crush It! Why Now is the Time to Cash in on your Passion.


Dan Pink shares the his new model for workplace productivity


Dan Pink spoke at last years TED live event in London and revealed what many companies are still not focused on and why they are not as productive as they could be, the reason is essentially the misinformation of how to motivate employees to do good and productive work.

What Dan is able to pull from his science and business comparison is the obvious reality that there is no correlation between what science knows and what business does, what science knows through his candle model example which was created by scientist Karl Dunker in 1945, is that the performance rate of people fell dramatically when they were incentivized by money and other “motivators” to work.  The reality is that the reward system that is currently in place is not effective at all, in fact it is the negater to successful employee work production, However companies still have the same model in place at many companies who believe offering these rewards is what will motivate employees to perform. This is not the case and Dan gives us the new business model that will contribute to effective employee work performance by giving them the following three tools:
1. Autonomy

2. Mastery

3. Purpose

By giving these opportunities to employees you create more of an incentive for people to care and want to do better. He gives the meaning of each and chooses to focus his “case” (as he calls it)  on the first, autonomy, he gives the example of companies that allow their employees to have a level of autonomy in their work schedule and in creativity such as Google who allows employees use 20 percent of their time to be creative and out of this came Gmail and blogger – tools that are highly used now because the company was able to get past a restricted framework for how their employees work.
What Dan stresses is that companies already know this, however they feel restricted to the rule based on an old model of thinking, but the drive to do things because they matter will, “doing this will strengthen business, solve the candle problem and even change the world”

Does Copying Lead to Creativity?

Nobody could claim I am any kind of fashionista. However, the culture in the fashion world, as explained by Johanna Blakley, of copying (clothing can’t be copyrighted) has an interesting application to social media strategy. This is true for both the trend follower and the trend leader.

The idea of social media campaigns is relatively new in the history of marketing. Because of this, it is fairly easy, still, to create something unique. For trend followers, this is problematic. If you are trying to enter into social media marketing, there just aren’t all that many really successful case studies to copy. But there certainly are a few, which means that ultimately, many companies are trying to do the same kinds of things. It isn’t that surprising that companies have tried to follow in the footsteps of Old Spice by creating their own humorous personas, which varying degress of success. Cisco comes to mind as a company that tried to design a similar campaign, but came up well short.

Although there are a relatively small number of great success stories, most, if not all, social media tools have been notably used in one way or another. This means that it is no longer possible to break new ground with a social media campaign using a new tool. However, since like the fashion industry, marketing has the ability to operate in a type of Zoolander-esque “walk off” (rules described by David Bowie as first model walks, second model walks and elaborates), new campaigns can find new space by elaborating or innovating.

This is how we end up with successful campaigns like this one by Ikea, that offered free products to Facebook users that were the first to tag a product in a showroom picture posted on Ikea’s Facebook page. Facebook campaigns are no longer original, but by locating a function of Facebook to take advantage of, in a way that hadn’t been done before, Ikea found a way to be creative and innovative that paid off for them.

Much like the fashion industry, it is this kind of behavior and culture that will continue to lead to our most interesting successes in the future.

How did Adam Sadowsky Do That?


Adam Sadowsky's Rube Goldberg machine featured in OK Go's music video.


Adam Sadowsky, an American entrepreneur joined forces with Chicago-born band OK Go to create a machine that would be featured in the band’s video, “This Too Shall Pass.” 

Sadowsky spoke to an audience at the TED conference about the building of this machine that has been seen by more than 50 million people on  Youtube. OK Go has a history of utilizing machines in video, including treadmills, and upped the ante big time for this video. Sadowsky would create a Rube Goldberg machine with very specific guidelines. (To clarify, a Rube Goldberg machine is ” an over enginerred machine that performs a simple task.”)  Sadowsky was assigned a difficult task. He was given the 10 Commandements, or list of requiriements, for the machine that would featured in the video. Among the stringent list of requirements, the machine would have to incorporate  “band integration” and “action should follow song feeling.” The machine itself would start the music and finish in sync with the song’s end. 

It took 85 takes before the machine-song synergy was successful. Among technical elements, Sadowsky used what he had to on many occasions, including the high heel of someone who had left her shoe in the studio. Sadowsky offers some advice. “Put reliable stuff last.” And after all of the complications, takes and retakes, he stated, “This too shall pass.”

OK Go made an appearance via in after his speech. 

You can follow Sadowsky at and view his web page at

Business infrastructures and the science behind cheating

Dan Ariely’s presentation makes us question established models in our economy. We were taught that cheating is a cost-benefit analysis. Cheaters look at the probability of being caught, what the punishment you’ll get and what benefits you get by cheating.

Experiments showed that it wasn’t that a few people cheated a lot, but a lot of people cheated a little bit. Even if the probability of being caught goes up or down, people cheat just a little bit. Plus, Ariely’s research showed that people want to do well and would only cheat up to the point when they’ll still feel good about themselves, which he calls the Personal Fudge Factor. His research showed that there are three factors that affect our Personal Fudge Factor.

  • Morality – we cheat less when we are forced to think about our morality. This manifested itself when people were asked to recall the Ten Commandments. This was also reflected when people were asked to sign a honor code and cheated less.
  • Money – the closer the items are to monetary form, the less people cheat. Ariely points out, it’s easier for people to take a pencil home from work than take 10 cents from the company’s petty cash.
  • Part of group – people cheat more when they see people in their group cheat. People are reminded of morality when they see outsiders (people they do not relate to or are seen as opposite to them) cheat, but find it easier to cheat when they see peers (people like them) do the same.

How does this relate to business? Items we’re trading in the stock market are far removed from money by calling them stock, stock options, derivatives, etc. Our stock markets and businesses are a social environment. When people at Enron, for example see peers around them cheating, it makes it acceptable behavior. As Ariely notes, many of these intuitions are wrong in our lives. We should question our assumptions not just in our business environment, but in our schools, our government institutions and the societal infrastructures we’ve built.

It really matters…According to whom?


During the TED event, that the Georgetown University students are taking part of, Rory Sutherland and Dan Pink had similar points of views; just different takes on them. Both speakers talked about how separated the government and businesses are removed from what really matters.

Sutherland specifically spoke on how big businesses with big budgets want to solve simple problems with complex, expensive solutions; ignoring the simple, less expensive one that is in our face. The reason, according to Sutherland, for this is because the government creates solutions that they think the people want, rather than what they really want; thus them being removed from what really matters. The government and businesses are missing what really matter to people and are developing their own solutions to it.

Pink focused his speech around rewards. Saying that companies believe that rewards make people work better because they are being incentivized, when the converse is actually true. Pink had a few incentive tests performed by groups of students from MIT, London School of Economics, and a couple of top performing schools, where students were given a task to complete, each with a certain level of reward for each level of task. So there was an easy task with a simple reward, a medium level task with a medium sized incentive, and a harder task with a greater reward. As the student approached the higher level task with the higher reward, the worse the student’s performance. Pink stated that rewards work best for simple solutions where the focus is narrowed.

For the more complex problem, rewards narrow our focus so much that we can’t see the solution, because we are looking in a silo when the solution is outside of that narrow focus. Companies are removed from what really matter because they think that rewards matters most to employees in order to get them to perform better. Pink said that if employers want engagement, then self-direction is better. He suggested that companies take money off the table and be autonomous. He gave examples of Google and an Australian company that believes in this practice – google calls it 20 percent of the time and the Australian company calls it FedEx days. Both companies give their engineers a day to work on an idea that is completely irrelevant to their day-to-day duties. He went on to say that some of the best ideas have come from these autonomous days/ time that they give their employees.

For companies and governments around the world, look at what really matters. Stop thinking you know what works best without talking to the people that you are about to make decisions for; they know best. Keep solutions simple, even if you have big budgets; some of the best solutions are simple. And keep your employees creative and engaged by letting them do tasks via autonomy; your best ideas may come from these days. What do you have to lose?

Happiness As A Global Marketing Metric

At the Ted Event, an American hotelier named Chip Conley spoke about the well-known concept of “Joie de Vivre”. Conley argues that all types of leaders should apply the concept of joie de vivre by prioritizing the intangible thing called happiness over the very tangible thing like the bottom line. I happen to agree with him.

Too often businesses are only primarily focused on the bottom line and in the process of pursuing what’s going to make that bottom line the best, they forget about the happiness of the people whose lives they affect, whether those people be employees, customers, or the general public.Conley recounted the following story:

In 1987, he purchased his first hotel and there was a maid named Vivian already in employment there. Conley notice that she always seemed extremely happy with her lot in life and with her job—she had a certain joie de vivre. He wondered why someone would enjoy cleaning toilets. But, later he found that it wasn’t that Vivian enjoyed cleaning toilets—rather, she enjoyed her role in the lives of the hotel guests…what gave her inspiration and meaning (that joie de vivre)was the fact that she was taking care of people who were far away from home.

Vivian had an emotional connection to her job, to the company. This is the same joie de vivre that companies should aim to inspire within their employees and customers around the world. We are all humans and happiness is an emotion that we all seek. That is the beauty of companies aiming to inspire this intangible feeling, this joie de vivre—happiness is appreciated by everyone no matter what country you are operating in—and will be welcomed by customers and employees alike. Ultimately, this is what will keep them contributing to the bottom line as a customer or an employee.

Start counting happiness today!