We are lucky to be living in a time when ideas are free-flowing, collaboration is open and discussions are lively. As an aspiring entrepreneur, if you have an idea you think is worth pursuing, there is so much information available on the internet. Experts and mentors are just a click away, and inspiration, too, isn’t that far. One such platform that inspires people from all walks of life is the TED. Founded in 1984 as a one-off event and started as an annual conference in 1990, TED talks cover topics ranging from science to business, health, psychology and global issues in more than 110 languages. These talks, not longer than 18 minutes each, introduce us to some of the most interesting people from around the world who speak about their passions. There are stories of courage, failure, fear and shame that inspire us, make us want to introspect and motivate us to innovate.
Ideas worth spreading – this is TED’s tagline. Here are seven such ideas that every woman entrepreneur can hold on to and use in her life. Dealing with topics ranging from crazy innovations to leadership mantras and sometimes even simple life lessons, we assure you that these talks will leave you feeling enlightened and enriched.
Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley is many things rolled into one, as she tells us right at the beginning of her talk. A child refugee who fled Nazi Germany, she grew up to start a software company in the 1960s that initially employed only women who had taken career breaks owing to marriage and childbirth. She is also the mother of an autistic child and a philanthropist who supports many autism-related charities. Stephanie explains how her generation of women fought battles for women’s right to work and right to equal pay. Case in point being that she had to sign her business letters ‘Steve’ so as to get past the initial gender bias. The funniest point in her talk is when she explains why all ambitious women have flat heads. “It is because of being patted patronisingly,” she says. Her advice is simple: keep the people you like close to you and be very careful while choosing your partner. Understand that tomorrow is neither like today nor like yesterday, so we need to keep moving on whatever happens and embrace change.
Achenyo Idachaba was one among the many computer engineers who left her country, Nigeria, to pursue a corporate career in the US. It was in 2009, on returning home after bidding goodbye to her overseas job, that she discovered the water hyacinth. She saw an image of fishing boats that had been hemmed in by dense mats of water hyacinths and an idea sparked. Why not clear it out of the way for free navigation of the fishermen and use it instead for the economic benefit of the community? Achenyo shares the story of how she helps Nigeria’s riverine communities to transform their adversity to prosperity. She teaches them how to weave these water hyacinths into handmade purses, tableware and tissue boxes. Her story is unique and urges us to look for inspiration in the unlikeliest of places and be open to taking up challenges and learning new things.
At one point in her talk, UPS’s human resource manager Regina Hartley asks the audience to consider a resume. This is of a man whose parents gave him up for adoption; he is a college dropout; he has hopped between many jobs, and to top it all off, he is dyslexic. “Would you hire this guy?” she asks. “His name is Steve Jobs.” With such examples Regina explains to us why a perfect resume is not the criteria to hire the right person for a job. As an entrepreneur, you must look out for resumes that tell a story. She divides potential candidates into two groups – the silverspoons and the scrappers – and tells us why we need to consider the latter. From both personal and professional experience, she tries to convince us to give the underestimated scrappers a chance because their secret weapons are passion and purpose.
A former CEO of five businesses, Margaret Heffernan explains why we need to encourage constructive conflict. As entrepreneurs, many of those around us are going to tell us why we are wrong. Heffernan asks us to listen to them if they have a point. She illustrates with examples why we need to see out and work with people who are different from ourselves. Although it might mean spending more time and energy reconciling differences in opinion, it leads to wonderful results. She asks us to dare to disagree, dare to debate and raise our concerns and dare to face conflicts head on. Only this will ensure the emergence of creative ways to solve problems.
Playwright and activist Eve Ensler tells us to never be shy in admitting and embracing what she calls the ‘girl cell’ in you. Calling it an embodiment of compassion, empathy, passion, vulnerability and openness, she explains how we – both men and women – are brought up not to be a girl. Being a girl is perceived as being less powerful, and she urges us to change that. As entrepreneurs and women, what we need to do is accept ourselves and work with our strengths to move forward. Eve says exactly that when she says being an emotional creature makes her stronger as she feels connected to everything and everyone. Do not let anyone ask you not to cry, to calm down, not to be so extreme or to be reasonable, she says. It’s the way you are and wear it with pride.
Bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love fame Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how stressful it is to follow up on a huge unexpected success. After her first book became a bestseller and got made into a movie, Elizabeth said she even considered quitting as a writer because she was sure her second book would definitely disappoint both her fans and detractors. In the talk, she explains about why you need find out where your ‘home’ is – the one thing to which you can dedicate all your energies to with singular devotion that the results that emerge out of it becomes inconsequential. And, why we need to go on with such passion even if we know there is a chance of failure. The talk inspires us to follow our dreams and to enjoy the process of creation without paying as much attention to the results.
Model, activist and sportswoman Aimee Mullins was born without fibular bones and had both her legs amputated below the knee at one. But she learned to walk and run on prosthetics and is a record-holding international Paralympic sprinter. In this powerful talk, Aimee talks about how she worked around her disability and used it to her advantage. She jokes about how she can change her pair of legs to suit the occasion or adjust her height depending on her mood. Underlining on the importance of creating your own identity and uncovering your potential, Aimee tells us to celebrate both our strengths and disabilities.
Been inspired by another TED talk you would want to recommend to women entrepreneurs? Let us know in the comments below.