TED Conversations

Anita Doron

filmmaker - curator of magic unrealism,

TEDCRED 500+

This conversation is closed. Start a new conversation
or join one »

Wealth and power have been our conventional measures of success. What definition will better sustain us now and how can we move into it?

The other day, my mother mentioned that she hasn't accomplished anything in her life. (She's a forest and machine engineer who hasn't found a suitable job since immigrating from the Soviet Union 20 years ago) It broke my heart to hear this. We live in a world that makes people value themselves more and more singularly by their career highs and financial prowess.

The conventional model of success has proven to be destructive, separating and pitting us against each other in competition.

What would be a better definition of accomplishment for us and how could we collectively shift toward embracing this?

+15
Share:
progress indicator
  • Apr 25 2011: To me, success is like happiness.
    To me, happiness is like meditation.
    To me, meditation isn't something that I do.
    It is something that happens. When I am mindful of what I am doing, or, I guess, in the now,
    I find time doesn't exist. There seems to be enough of what I need; space? moments? Not sure.
    There also seems to be less worry and stress but even more awareness. Strange, or maybe it's
    more like magical, surprising, clear, and one other very important piece, for me.
    I'm not important, because when I become important, I become afraid and I don't want to be.
    Then, I become unreal and cover up who I am at that time. But, when I can really let go and let it
    happen, it has many times in my life, happened so effortlessly that I knew I was only enjoying and
    experiencing the magic, watching it unfold as well, while seemingly in it and a part of it.
    And those who happened to see what was going on, told me how impressed they were
    with me and what they had seen me do. But, I couldn't get them to see,
    accept or believe, that it wasn't me doing it. It was just happening because in some way, I had allowed
    the space for it to be, the magic to unfold. I have seen more than once in my life, order just come out
    of chaos. Very small forms of it for sure, but real order, spontaneously poofed right before my eyes. Life, is like
    the last three letters of the word life. It's iffy It seems like a maze and it is. It's ama-zing.

    One of the hardest things for me is to keep my hands open and supple. The natural position of the human
    hand, open to let go and ready to receive.

    I don't know what success is on any level that humans have used or use today in the world. When I feel joy, I cry and when I do, I know that somewhere, sometime, I must have been successful in some way. I can't take that to the bank. I can't buy anything with it. I can't even give it away. Oh, and I can't seem to keep it either. I can only let it happen, when it does and it does, when I'm not important
  • thumb
    Apr 19 2011: Hi Anita,
    It is sad that we live in a world that is increasingly measuring success by the amount of pay that one takes home and is most obscenely played out in the bloated CEO salaries that are eclipsing previous records on Wall Street and elsewhere. The frightening downward spiral of the American middle and working class has accelerated to the point that the everyday people who make our society work and prosper - teachers, factory workers, fire fighters, etc - are being vilified as the reason that the economy is in trouble when it is the rampant greed of the top 1% who are to blame for the system-wide meltdown we are being told we are on the cusp of every day.
    The psychological impact and unconscious message that is being sent is that we are worth nothing more than the bonus we take home and that our CEOs are valued hundreds, even thousands of times more than the average worker. The underclass of unemployed, seniors, whomever, have no value and are 'leeches' on the economy. I shake my head when I listen to this rhetoric spouted daily as 'fact' on cable news networks and by conservative politicians who serve their corporate benefactors.
    What has happened to democracy in the west, especially American democracy, is sickening.
    I believe that no one, be they Hollywood actor, CEO or star athlete, is worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation while teachers are losing their collective bargaining rights and having their modest salaries rolled back. Is this the great decline of the west and a return to something dark and repulsive, in the vein of the Czars? Some days it sure seems that way but we are all frogs in the proverbial pan of water and day in and day out it is hard to see the larger picture when the average person is two paychecks from living on the street -- and many families already are, thanks to the mortgage meltdown.
    We need to start valuing our fellow citizens in ways other than what they drive or how many square feet they inhabit.
    • Apr 20 2011: Good post. I absolutely agree with you.

      Ironically, I am currently unemployed and, as an arguably non-productive and useless member of society, I struggle on a daily basis with reconciling the need for a income with the inevitable consequences of buying into the capitalistic circus. Saying "no" to a job makes one appear lazy, but should one really say "yes" to being underpaid and mistreated just to be able to fuel a society based on exorbitantly wasteful and self-indulgent consumption habits? In preparation for a job interview I recently found out that the CEO makes $6M/year (not counting the plethora of other gratuitous perks). Through friends and various online reviews I also found out about a number of ethically questionable practices that, while technically legal, clearly are in place simply to increase profit at the expense of wages, health benefits and job satisfaction. In addition to that, the company recently agreed to a $130k out-of-court settlement for pollution violations. This was just one settlement in a long line of similar settlements (a.k.a. business calculations) where it is "cheaper to pollute than progress" and where the environment is considered to be an expendable variable in the relentless pursuit of corporate profit. It has simply become "the cost of doing business."

      Yet, in light of all this, I am the one considered to be leeching on society.

      It's not that I don't want to work. I actually like working and work quite hard when employed. But I hate working for the simple end of generating a profit. Nor will I settle for working for a company that creates more problems than it solves. I believe we have to reclaim our value systems, which currently have been completely hijacked by industry and corporate interests. Few are willing to accept that capitalism, the economic system responsible for our immense wealth, simultaneously also is responsible for the majority of our global problems including war, famine, pollution, and corruption.
  • Apr 29 2011: As a student graduating from high school this year and about to pursue a degree in something, this question couldn't have been more relevant. Throughout the application process it seems to me that the definition of success is still focused around ones wealth, power, material possessions and because of this their social status. I have felt influenced to study something that would make me more "successful" by todays standards, but perhaps something that I don't enjoy. For instance, I could go to medical school, become wealthy, gain social status, own fancy cars, have a large house, etc, etc... Or, I could study what I am passionate about, perhaps have less wealth, less social status, maybe own a used car, rent an apartment, yet I would consider myself to be successful.

    It seems like this view of success is influencing myself, and other students like myself to choose a career path that may not bring them the most happiness or they may not be completely interested in, but will bring them the most wealth.

    To me, this is the complete opposite of what I view success to be. To be successful, I think what really matters is for one to be happy with their decisions and actions in their life. This could be different for everyone. One person could consider themselves to be successful if they complete a 5km run, some may consider themselves to be successful if they quit their job and travel the world. It could be as simple as teaching oneself to cook something new. Success should NOT, be measured in ones material possessions, job hierarchy, wealth, and social status. Sure, they may be "successful", defined by the current culture, but in the end are actually satisfied with what they are doing?

    Pardon my poor eloquence; this is my first post here on TED and I'm trying to keep up with the amazing linguistic skills that other posters have.
    • thumb
      May 18 2011: You are oh-so-right, Mr. De Paoli. I myself went to college and studied something I loved, history. And then, to placate my father, I went to law school and became a lawyer. I hated it all. Some ten years after law school I had an opportunity to become a family mediator, which I took. For the following 35 years, until I retired, that's how I made a living for myself and my family. I devoted my life to helping other people towards mutual understanding and respect, a thing I loved to do. I earned far less money than I would have as a practising lawyer, but I did something that made me feel good about myself and all those around me. To tell you the truth, I don't know that studying a "practical" subject in college would do you any harm. It will perhaps make it a little easier for you to start out in the world of work. It frequently takes people quite a while to feel themselves out and discover what they "really" want to do. I've known many people who have changed not only jobs, but entire careers and specialities within their first fifteen years out of high school. English majors and accountants turning into doctors or nurses. Architects becoming lawyers. Lawyers becoming novelists. Doctors becoming financial advisers. But it's quite true, things were easier for younger job hunters in my time. These days it may well (I do not know this for sure) be best to study something practical in college, something that might even slightly improve your ability to get that critical first job afterwards. You will always, but always, have the opportunity to change in the future. In fact, if you're really meant for something other than what you're then doing for a living, I think it's quite doubtful that you'll be able to resist the change.
      • thumb
        May 31 2011: Bravo unto you Senor Jaffe. Bravo that you have the courage to follow your own truth and path of what has been right for you.
        Esu
  • thumb
    Apr 10 2011: Your premise that wealth and power are flawed measures of success is powerful and an idea that I have championed for years. Although it can be applied to a myriad of ideas that have been conceived, born, and flourished since the industrial revolution, there is one that seems to be particularly relevant to your introduction. Feminism, while in essence is the struggle for equality between the sexes, is doomed to partial failure because of this uncompromising criterion. In its original paradigms feminism sought to give females equal opportunity for wealth and power in stead of changing the measure of success to include lateral relationships and interpersonal influence. Though given the terrible unbalance of power in this male dominated world it was probably the only way to start the process of rebalancing, we might just be at the point in history to re-examine the questions of criteria of success to include characteristics that modern psychology, neuroscience, and other fields have now found to be more gendered than previously thought.
  • thumb
    Jun 26 2011: 'To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.'
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • thumb
    May 22 2011: I would think of success as the weather of the mind, maybe even the soul. And just like you wake up different every day, the weather is different every day. What is a perfect day for some, maybe lacking some fine funny clouds for the other. Success maybe as simple as enjoying your walk inside you even if it rains or snows. Just find those tiny bits that are different from yesterday and love them or learn from them. Until you can enjoy and learn from all your weathers, you have success in you. Until you have your mindset-boots or flipflops to walk in any weather in you, you have success. It maybe just that you glimpse a balancing raindrop on a railing on a lousy weather day in you. Success is that you took notice, that you could see the beauty of it. I think. Ejoying being you, no matter what.
    • May 23 2011: Yes, I truly agree that Success or Freedom can be truly defined as "Enjoying being you, no matter what.". but I am confused when beeing you can hurt some people around you. Its difficult being you all the time. You have to consider your family and loved ones too and at times Success is defined for you by these people.
  • Apr 22 2011: When I was 16 years old I measured success and happiness by friends and school. Then I met the girl of my dreams and my measure of happiness and success was our life together and then my job because it directly affected the comfort of our life together. By age 35 it was our sons, our life together and then my job. And then at fifty+ I lost my job. I still had my life (wife, sons, friends) but a big part of my life for 30+ years was gone.

    Now, several years later, I still have my wife, our sons, and many good friends (even more than before). It took several bad jobs before I found a good one and now the financial aspects of our lives are back on track.

    Sorry for this long winded rambling, but I guess I am just trying to say (in my opinion) that true happiness and success require perspective. And that only comes from living your life in the best way possible. In that way you earn your perspective and can adequately judge your success in life.

    So, my suggestion to everyone reading, is that they live each day to the fullest and take at least a few minutes each and everyday to put that day into prespective (family? friends? learning? good deeds? accomplishments?). Take care.
    • Apr 22 2011: John: One of the worst days of my life was when I had to lay off a man who was just under 50. I knew exactly what he was going to go through and I am sure his experience paralleled yours. I don't think I slept for three nights, even though I had to do what I did -- and he knew it as well as I did.

      I bumped into him a few months ago. Like you, he had once again found his way into a good job. He told me that he hated me for laying him off but had always appreciated the way I did it without making him feel worthless. Backhanded praise, maybe, but now I think we both feel better!
    • thumb
      Apr 23 2011: It sure sound like you are a successful man to me, John. I bet your wife and kids would agree.
  • thumb
    Feb 17 2011: I love the question, Anita, because it is aspirational at it's core. I read it a couple times yesterday and came up blank. Then, late yesterday I learned that a childhood friend had passed away - what I saw from others crystallized (for me) the answer: Success is measured by the number of lives you touched while on this Earth. As for how we can move into it; we could start by being present in every interaction and letting our hearts lead.
  • Jun 1 2011: There is no us, and there is no big picture. There is the individual (meaning oneself) and the details in the day to day, work on changing those and you will have your wealth and power. Many things of great value are often overlooked in an attempt to look for the "greater good" that we cannot prove we will find or achieve. In this search for big results the details are overlooked and sometimes the greater good just becomes the less obvious evil. Value life. All life.
    • thumb
      Jun 2 2011: Excellent post Gabriel.
      I actually can't comment on your post, just wholeheartedly agree.
      We need to seek ways to crate a Value exchange (Wealth?) that reduces friction for personal trade.
      Wealth seems as good as any so far, for getting folks to easily trade with each other, and the more efficient we become (better factory, innovated process, something that someone really value) the more wealth the individual can accumulate. Seems a pretty good system to get individuals to collaborate and innovate, making us all (not that there is an "us") better off.
  • May 17 2011: earl nightingale (an early pioneer of personal development) defined success as the progressive realisation of a worthy goal. If we take this as being an acceptable definition of success, then this leads to the question of what constitutes a worthy goal. Well i think this depends on whether a person allows their goals to be defined by society, or has the courage to decide their own. Therefore success will only be defined to be money & power if an individual believes this to be the case. So each individual should define success.
  • thumb
    May 17 2011: Someone once said that I was the "richest poor person" that they knew. It was the biggest compliment I've ever received in my life. The idea of success is all in one's attitude - about life. Success is a concept. It's definition is what ever idea you buy into. Each individual defines their own success. Success has nothing to do with money and everything to do with how one lives their life. The way to recognize this and change this thought pattern in society is to consciously and constantly start conversations like the one you did by asking your question.

    When I was really young, I thought that by the age I am now my life would be so completely different than it is. By that metric, I am completely unsuccessful and an utter failure. Instead, my life has been full of experiences that I could not have imagined. And in that I have been successful.
  • Apr 30 2011: Hey! I'm really sorry to hear what your mother said to you. It's truly the saddest thing to hear. I think your mother has achieved quite a lot and isn't seeing her achievements. For example yourself! Aren't you one of your mothers achievements? How can she say something like that to you? It's so selfish.

    To me achievement is only measured by the quality of the relationship you share with your loved ones and close ones. All the rest is just a lie.
    • thumb
      May 18 2011: Absolutely agree. On all points save one. I wouldn't characterize Ms. Doron's mother's comment as "selfish." It just seems to me to be misguided and overly harsh on herself. I'm sure that if Ms. Doron and her mother talked this over at length (as they may well have done - later), her mother would be able to recognize the worth and value of her contribution to other people's happiness and the general good of society. One can be a clerk in a convenience store and be a good and valuable person and member of society. As the French say: "il n'ya pas de sot metier." Having the "right" job, or having an enormous amount of money will by no means guarantee you happiness or fulfillment. Just in this past year there was a study, blazoned across all the major news outlets, which found that at and above an income of sixty thousand dollars (U.S.) a year, the rate of personal happiness is the same for all.
  • thumb
    Apr 29 2011: Many of my family members say they're "filthy rich with love." Personal connections are so easily forgotten in this cyber-existence of ours, but at the end of the day (or life), people seem to most value the connections they've made with others.
  • thumb
    Apr 25 2011: Dear Anita,

    Wealth and power are merely short lived, external ways of defining sucess. Our whole attitude about life is money-oriented. And money is one of the most uncreative things one can become interested in. Our whole approach is power-oriented and power is destructive, not creative. At the end of the day, we entered this world with nothing and will leave this world with nothing. In my view, there is only one true sucess and that is conquering yourself. If we cannot simply be and enjoy the moment, we have not lived or accomplished much at all. Society moulds us into thinking a rich, powerful life is a happy one, infact, I have found the ones who have the least are the most content (succesful). Tell your mum she has more sucess than most of forbes rich list.
  • Apr 21 2011: Perhaps we could redefine the common ideas of what wealth and power are. If wealth refers to spiritual wealth, wealth of experience and the connected range and depth of emotion (therefore not just happiness but all emotional experience)... generally the 'richness' in life.... and then look at power more as a martial artist might look at power, in terms of flexibility and flow, self discipline (therefore self knowledge, to not be ruled by one's unchallenged beliefs but to have power over ones attitude) self mastery rather than the mastery of others....then do wealth and power become more useful concepts? I think so.
    • thumb
      Apr 23 2011: Yes I agree - true wealth is good health, integrity and an optimistic spirit that focusses on what you can do for the world, rather than what it can do for you. By living that life you have power because you respect your self and others and this attribute makes you strong and unable to be reached by people with selfish intentions
  • thumb
    Apr 19 2011: how cool would it be if everybody woke up tomorrow and realized money means nothing and the major commodity were emotions - love being the most worth-ful. just a thought. peace and love to you from me :)
  • Apr 19 2011: Hi Anita.. This is so sad on many levels: it illustrates the values that society places on position, authority and wealth-creation and it tells us that your mother measures herself against these values, while at the same time disregarding the skills she takes for granted and devalues - parenting skills, the ability to move to a different country, to speak a new language and to enable you to be a well-adjusted and thoughtful person. I believe that the old models of business that you describe are being rightfully challenged by the inter-connectedness brought about by social media where honesty, openness, sharing and helping one another without expectation of self-gain are the new values. Please go to Linkedin if you would like to read more about my views.
    • Apr 20 2011: "I believe that the old models of business that you describe are being rightfully challenged by the inter-connectedness brought about by social media where honesty, openness, sharing and helping one another without expectation of self-gain are the new values"

      well said!
  • thumb
    Apr 15 2011: When we look at the measures of success, another conundrum arises beside it. What is success anyway? Is it merely the opposite of failure, a condition of being "done" as opposed to "not done" ? Because of the subjective way in which success is defined, its measurement is equally as subjective. The traditional standards of wealth and power have been so long ingrained in society that a change in paradigm would be difficult. Even so, I believe a change in paradigm is still possible. From wealth and power, I think we should shift to the standards of personal development, character and individual happiness. Still, due to the highly subjective nature of what it means to become "developed" or what it means to have "happiness", we find ourselves asking whether there is even one unified concept with regard to the emotions we associate with the act of succeeding. Despite this subjectivity, the universality of concepts such as kindness, compassion and fellowship may be used to measure the degree of personal development one has achieved, on basis of the plurality of these positive emotions and states, as they exist within the individual. Therefore, pronouncing the verdict that one is "developed" can then open up a discussion on happiness. Once a certain degree of personal development is felt, perhaps happiness can then be quantified. Quantifying happiness and personal development can then allow the individual to measure his or her own success, depending on a subjective self-evaluation.

    Furthermore, a collective shift in the measures of success, from wealth and power to personal development, might best be achieved by encouraging the self to be honest in its evaluation. A culture of honest evaluation is, I believe, the beginning of a new paradigm in success, one measured by the self and concretized by other people's opinions. Still, subjectivity is present in all forms of emotional evaluation, so I advise careful contemplation before passing judgment on success.
  • thumb
    Apr 14 2011: Anita, thanks for raising this conversation.

    There are many voices I agree with here. The cultivation of character is a better definition of accomplishment in my opinion. Elsewhere on this thread it has been called adaptability, but it is more than that. In addition to timely reflection and response to the environment, the ways in which we enrich the world must be accounted for. The novel idea of life credits (LCs) is a playful game concept to incentivize such behavior.

    Seriously, though, for this conversation, the Eastern view on "luck" comes to mind. It has been said there are two kinds of luck: one kind is what happens to you; the second is what you do with your experiences. We can't change the first, but we do have control over the second of luck, which is character. And so success becomes relative. My friends who escaped genocide in Sudan, bearing witness to the absolute worst humanity can be and who are the most generous and kind souls, are exemplars of success to me. Ultimately, our ability to perform conflict resolution in beautiful ways is true human success in my opinion.
  • thumb
    Apr 14 2011: I stumbled across an interesting quote today, and it reminded me of this conversation, so here you go:

    "I don't have a problem with someone using their talents to become successful, I just don't think the highest calling is success. Things like freedom and the expansion of knowledge are beyond success, beyond the personal. Personal success is not wrong, but it is limited in importance, and once you have enough of it it is a shame to keep striving for that, instead of for truth, beauty, or justice." - Richard Stallman

    So maybe it's in the pursuit of a vision or an ideal greater than ourselves that we achieve greatness, and possibly, find meaning and satisfaction as well. And maybe that's real "success."
  • Comment deleted

    • Apr 14 2011: I agree with you very much, yes it's the pursuit that gives us pleasure
    • thumb
      Apr 14 2011: I agree also - and would add: it is our responsibility as parents to teach our children the danger of mono-criteria, especially wealth. because: where do you take the power to built wealth out of less, even out of hopelessness after wars, death of dears or catastrophies of nature?
      More out of less: that is in fact the standard situation. building wealth out of wealth is a boring privilege to 1% of the world population.
      I believe the ground for happiness is indeed an inner AND social balance.
  • Apr 11 2011: Hi Anita, I really loved the TED talk and books of Alain de Button.In his talk he eloquently presents an alternative definition of success.
    http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success.html
    What i feel is that our society is becoming more of neglecting ends and one that sacrilizes the means. We needed progress for spreading eudomonia but now we are laying more emphasis on progress and less on happiness and contentment. In developed world life quality and life expectancy have risen, but level of happiness has not. I read somewhere that contentment of person in materialistic world can be thought of ratio of "things one posesses" to "things one aspires for". The materialistic world has surely increased the things one posesses but the aspiration level of people has also increased expontential so the ratio is now even smaller than in past. We need to come out of this vicious cycle and find some consolation in philosophy.
    • Apr 21 2011: I agree. Alain de Botton provides a really interesting historical account of happiness, status and the evolution of our Western society in his book Status Anxiety (which also has been made into a documentary film). I encourage everyone to check it out since it, just as in the speech linked above, he delves deeper into the contradictory fundamanent of "the pursuit of happiness" and its governing principles. It opened my mind to the hypocrisy of capitalism and materialism a few years back.
  • thumb
    Feb 16 2011: There's no static, definite answer to this question. As times change, the demands of the people change as well.

    I think, however, that there IS one general principle (measure) for success in human life, both social and individual. Very simple one, but profound in its implications. It is the achievement of well-being and happiness. It's the message of the Buddhist tradition, and of Dalai Lama's philosophy in particular, that happiness is the basic need of human being. There are other people who claimed this, of course, notably Abraham Maslow, although he talked more of self-actualization and peak experience, it's similar.

    The question is then, what increase our happiness nowadays? Definitely, not financial success; capitalism proved itself to be against human nature. Gross National Happiness (GNH) index is a good move towards a new definition of progress. I'm happy to see how it draws attention of Western countries, such as Canada, Italy, France, etc.
    • Apr 7 2011: Have you checked out happyplanetindex.org?
    • Apr 21 2011: I see one huge problem with the endless pursuit of happiness. In order to stay happy, one would be inclined to avoid, ignore, or trivialize matters that are upsetting and disturbing. This may sound like an exception to the rule but I believe it is quite the opposite. This phenomenon - ignoring matters that are uncomfortable - is pervasive, especially in the context of global conflicts and international problems (i.e. famine, human rights violations, etc.). When we see images on TV of the starving childlen in a refugee camp in Sudan we simply switch channels because it makes us uneasy and puts us in a solemn mood or somewhat depressed mind state.

      I truly believe that the relentless pursuit of happiness can lead to a dangerous indifference towards great injustices and wrong-doings in the world. I see it everyday. When people are in willful pursuit of happines they seem reluctant to listen to information that will bring them down from this self-indulgent emotional state. There are an enormous amount of human rights abuses, genocide, oppression, murder, rape, raiding, censoring, unlawful incarcerating, and other forms of deprivation of liberty, life, speech, or property that take place everyday. In fact, many of these are conducted, supported, or condoned by the U.S. (ironically self-titled "defender of democracy") in order to secure the natural resources (primarily oil) necessary to maintain our unsustainable modern Western lifestyles.

      In many cases I actually find the relentless pursuit of happiness to be socially irresponsible. I realize that a large portion of the population is unaware of the actual state of affairs in the world due to a very sophisticated propaganda machine but even given the option to find out the truth, how many would actually be willing to surrender their idea of "comfortable living" for the idea that it all comes at a terrible price?
      • thumb
        Apr 23 2011: In many Buddhist traditions—like that of the Dalai Lama—happiness is a function of compassion, so the pursuit of happiness is positively correlated to our concern for the suffering, rather than the traditional western materialistic version against which you seem to be arguing.
      • Apr 23 2011: Sustainable happiness. As always, this kinda thing is implied, but worth restating. No one (in the context of these discussions) talks about seeking happiness for just the moment. So to solve for big issues in society, how do we achieve as much happiness for society as possible, while making it last for as long as possible?

        And the answer that emerges from that should be a complex, multi-faceted response which solves for many problems and concerns.

        The pursuit of happiness that you seem to describe sounds more like a strawman hedonistic society than a society that really desires long term, sustainable happiness.

        So how does one achieve long term happiness for a society?

        Engage in action and behaviour that encourages compassion, stability, fairness, understanding, respect for the freedoms and rights, as well as access to opportunity.
  • thumb
    Jun 6 2011: Broadly speaking people think of success as either about achievement of external goals (extrinsic) or internal satisfactions (intrinsic). So for example - financial success is an extrinsic goal, but love is intrinsic. Beauty, body image, celebrity, fame - values held very dear by our societies these days are all extrinsic - and this is before we get to winning and money ... Generally intrinsic goals are more a more fruitful way to happiness and fulfillment but obviously extrinsic ones bring us status ... this tension between external status and internal happiness (contentment - fulfilment) is surely externally with us - it must have given us genetic advantages over the millenium ...
    BUT it would seem that our public definitions of success are exceptionally biased towards the extrinsic - to the neglect of the intrinsic ... the way our economies are geared - we are all in service of the profit motive - often at a disregard for our own well-being and that of the customers/clients (and indeed supply chains - who are after all just other people) ... there is nothing 'wrong' with extrinsic goals - it is the over-emphasis - the crowding out - the ignoring- of the intrinsic ones that is the problem (in my opinion of course!) ... and this creates other problems - such as huge inequalities (as we collectively lose sight of the 3 billion people living on less than $2.5 a day and the homeless [very often mentally ill] people living on our streets ... as a society - a global society - we are simply not taking care of our less fortunate brothers and sisters ... and this is before we think about other species and climate change (!)
    I think our narrow view of success as being finanical is hugely problematic and is at the root of so many personal and planetary issues ... success should be a balanced scorecard -yes some extrinsic goals but many intrinsic ones ...
  • thumb
    Jun 4 2011: Thanks Anita for this topic.

    New definitions are arriving. In the new world of technology, social-networks and self-initiated media platforms, the notion of success is no more bound to wealth and power. The feeling of being successful is now the feeling of how well-received you are in your network and beyond. I think it is more about the reception, love of people and one's overall popularity in the communities they belong to, on the web and in the physical world. These stuffs neither require money nor power, they require knowledge, intelligence, originality, responsiveness, engagement and humility.

    If you count money, I am sure I am one of the poorest men ever attended TED Conferences; so far 5 times, either as a Fellow or a volunteer guest or as a Senior Fellow. I earn more or less 170 USD per month.
    And power? I think I have some LOL! It is the byproduct of my design works, literary works, networking, community and voluntary activities, like there's a big bunch of young folks who love to listen to me, and I got some so-called 'powerful' connections locally and internationally (generally those are of no good). You may call these as 'power', I don't know!

    And I don't count myself among 'successful', but I got some experiences and success stories those are somewhat beyond the imagination of the folks of similar ages in my community.

    None of these are achieved by wealth or power, and none of these literally brought me wealth or power, yet I am well-received, loved by people and I find that love far more valuable than typical success of wealth or power.

    So the new equation of success is ideas+actions+humility. And people are learning to accept that, TED itself is a big example. And I hope these new definitions will sustain and soon they are going take over mere money and power as the measuring scale of success.
  • Jun 1 2011: What is wealth if it is at the expense of others? What is power if it is power over people instead of the power to do things together?
  • thumb
    May 30 2011: SKILLS You Can Contribute To Society :D
  • thumb
    May 25 2011: Ive personally struggled with this. I fell into the same trap that most fall into, thinking that money and business success are indicative of what most think is the pinnacle of life. American society, and now sadly other cultures put this at the top of their list. And it is ingrained into our minds by media, and other "successful" people. I became this stereotypical definition of success, and found out real quick that I was almost a complete failure at everything else in my life. Tough pill to swallow, but broke it up into pieces and used lots of water. Funny but Ive found that there is a simple solution to this question. Balance. Balance in life is success. Why? Because its harder to attain than anything else and you never really totally have it. Its easy to become rich, just work harder than the next guy, but be wealthy, socially responsible, a good husband, lover, parent, athlete, happy,sad, etc. all at the same time... That's hard, and a continually challenging thing that makes you a better person by the minute. Only the lazy define success as one tangible thing, such as wealth, or business acumen. They use this definition as an excuse to hide behind the usually large gaping holes in the rest of their life, and never really attain true happiness. Balance is key. Balance is life.
  • thumb
    May 25 2011: Wealth and Power probably still cut it as the measures of success. But, HOW you achieve your Wealth and your Power is fast changing.

    How Wealth is created and accumulated has changed dramatically from feudal times through the industrial revolution and then through the 20th Century. Let's be simplistic, and say that in the past to become Wealthy, you have to play, er..tough. Well, maybe that's not true in the 21st Century. Doing the right thing, having an amazing idea, having a pitch that being good guys is good business might make you rich now. Wealth rewards Innovation and new ideas that make us all better off. Wealth seems like a pretty good way of judging success.

    How do you achieve Power (must be a TED talk on this!!)? Well, isn't it about getting people to follow you, to do what you want them to, to exert influence? Power of course can come from the accumulation of Wealth, and if we think the folks making our lives better are now those getting Wealthy, than it's great that these folks are now the Powerful. Hey, I'm optimistic. I think the good guys are going to be the Powerful guys!
    • thumb
      May 25 2011: "Wealth and Power probably still cut it as the measures of success." Maybe for you...
      • thumb
        Jun 1 2011: Johnny hi there
        What about if I phrased it as Wealth and Power probably still cut it as the Rewards for your successful contribution to the economy?
        Innovation, creativity etc are what have driven progress in Western economies since the industrial revolution. Does Mark Zuckerberg deserve to be as rich as he is because he created something as amazing as Facebook? Or Bills Gates, Microsoft?
        You might think that system of behaviour and rewards is less relevant post-industrial-revolition now in 2011, but I would be intrigued to know your point of view on a. what actions do we want to encourage to make us ALL wealthier, healthier and happier, b. what Rewards system can work (if not money) to promote these behaviours?
        • thumb
          Jun 1 2011: Our gauge of wealth has to change from money to planetary health. The trouble is that we are big trainable monkeys and our trainers have convinced us that it is all about wealth. I would argue that innovation and creativity have driven progress. In the current monetary based system all this does is create more destructive practices.
          I suggest looking into alternate monetary systems like a demmurage currency. It is a currency that devalues over time and is only valid for a short period (like 5 years). It would not allow hoarding or accumulation by individuals and would become a working currency. Look for a book called "On Human Wealth, Beyond Scarcity and Greed".
        • thumb
          Jun 5 2011: Quote: "What about if I phrased it as Wealth and Power probably still cut it as the Rewards for your successful contribution to the economy?"

          Not always. The list of people who made significant contributions to the economy and died penniless and powerless is pretty long (Goodyear et al).

          And others exert great power through influence not through commerce. They may have power but not wealth (Gandhi and friends.)

          Aligning "success" with anything external is problematic: we do hold up exceptional accomplishment in any field as a measure of success. We idolize the great in many fields.

          One of my heroes is Alice Owino Oketch from Nairobi, Kenya. She was a baker in a local bakery. This is a truncated version of a few years in her life:

          Her husband died, leaving her with four children. One of her sons died. Another went mad (and died.) A third got a bone infection in his leg that she could not afford to have treated. (When I found out, I paid for an operation.) She lived in a small "flat" that was about four meters by four meters. There was no electricity or running water. She got up at three in the morning so she could walk the 45 minutes it took her to get to the closest bus station so she could take the hour-long bus ride into work. Work she was paid about $30 a month to do ... until she was fired so that her employers would not have to pay her the benefits she had become entitled to. (They rehired her the next day for less money.)

          There's more but you get the idea.

          Do you know what Alice Owino Oketch did in her "spare time?"

          She wrote love songs. Songs of gratitude. Songs of appreciation for her life.

          Who would you count as a "success" some VC who contributes to wealth generation but is miserable or Alice Owino Oketch who, in the face of circumstance that would crush me (and most of the people I know), expresses joy for the life she has?

          Regardless of what else we "do," if we are not feeling what she feels, I doubt we should be called truly successful.
        • thumb
          Jun 18 2011: Sorry for such a late reply...surf was up in Hanalei! a. what actions do we want to encourage to make us ALL wealthier, healthier and happier? I believe that your question is the problem. Success is and should be highly personal. There is not (and shouldnt be) a definition for all, just your own personal definition. There are some that define it in similar ways such as monetary wealth, and thats ok....for them. For me personally its balance. b. what Rewards system can work (if not money) to promote these behaviours? Depends on what behaviors you consider good. Again, people are different and value different things. Its what makes humans wonderful. I personally believe in simple values such as balance, integrity, love, etc. And I try to exhibit them everyday. My reward for this is just as simple...happiness. I think if people exhibit behaviors such as hate, deception, etc. They will never be (no matter how much money they make or awards they receive) happy. I feel sad for them.... Great talkin with ya!
    • thumb
      Jun 1 2011: Mr. Walker,

      I don't agree with you that wealth is a good way to judge success. This presumes non-wealthy people or groups don't qualify for success. But to engage what I think you are trying to say: How one achieves wealth might be a robust way to measure success.

      In, my mind, this goes beyond great ideas and innovation, and includes emotional intelligence. Such relation-based power is most remarkable when it less about about getting people to do what you want them to do, than it is about engaging with people to reach their highest potentials while working with you.

      Think Henry Ford. A "good guy" leader from the brutal Industrial Era. He built his success not by seeking followers, but by engaging them to work with him to build cars (which in turn built his wealth and power). His employees "followed" his lead because he engaged and abetted their abilities in humane ways. For example, he insisted all Ford's employees wages were ample enough that each--from assembly line worker to administrative executive--could afford to buy the cars they built.

      Ford possessed a global view and pioneered "welfare capitalism." He raised wages, which improved the welfare and productivity of his employees. To compete, Ford's competitors were forced to raise wages, too. He wasn't frivolous, he was pragmatic. To balance out the costs of his progressive policies, Ford simply didn't offer as many different colors of cars.

      I agree there are similar good girls and guys out there these days. And, like you, I'm an optimist. But I think they a silent majority, at best. To convince our cultures they are making our lives better, the wealthy have a lot more work to do.

      They might start by following Ford's model for success a bit more while decreasing their fancy-car fleets to a bit fewer. Especially, perhaps, the negative-impact big muscle models. Which don't imply kind, common-cause sincerity.

      Andrea
      • thumb
        Jun 1 2011: Andrea, Bravo!
      • thumb
        Jun 1 2011: Yes! Ford wanted not only the wealthy, but everybody in the city to be able to drive in the weekend to the countryside! And Mr 'Glassfactory' (forgot his name) wanted the average person be able to drink from a glass, rather than an iron cup. And Steve Jobs wants to put a ding in the universe!

        And coca cola wants 'a bottle of coke within everybody's arms reach. And is a self-proclaimed development worker to introduce economics in poor regions with their loyalty systems. Don't know if it is good to have a coke everywhere, though I sure feel good and fresh after a bottle ;)

        So we need more of this for the common good. If more people have a non-financial mission embedded in their material wealth goals, we might get somewhere.
      • thumb
        Jun 2 2011: Andrea, er..... Hang on, are you seriously saying that we in 2011 would be better off if Henry Ford had not invented mass production on industrial lines; had not transformed manufacturing in the United Sates?
        Thomas Edison is famous for his inventions, but he was a brutal businessman - one of the reasons the movie industry fled from New York to LA was to escape Edison's thugs operating a protection racket over what equipment was used. But hey, he invented the lightbulb.
        I don't approve of many of the modus operandi of Ford or Edison, or for that matter Jobs or Gates... but that is Irrelevance. They transformed our lives, and they were rewarded for that.
        Separate question, were/are they nice people, did they break the law, will they go heaven etc etc? But that is irrelevant to why we have "Wealth" as part of a Rewards Systems to say thank you to what these folks have done for us.
        On the other hand... tell me if you would prefer to live in a World where Edison, Ford, Gates etc had never existed, and we still had horse and carts, gas lamps and abacuses?
        • Jun 2 2011: On the other hand, I am happy to live in a world where Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin - one of the truly world-changing discoveries of the 20th Century, and he generated nothing like the wealth of Ford - does this mean that he was less successful?
        • thumb
          Jun 2 2011: James,

          I think you misread my comment. First, some background: I co-founded a satellite tracking and wireless communications company in 1993. We used the then-nascent internet to deliver data to customers. It's when I began appreciate the "Henry Ford" way.

          Ford was a pragmatic leader, whose lead is worth following. My larger point was that good leaders of today could learn from Ford's leadership model, by engaging the well-being of their stakeholders. Indeed, as I said, many do.

          The challenge is when their success depletes the success of others. I think it is naive to term "thug" behaviors used in the pursuit of wealth irrelevant to society's measurement of success.

          The leaders' intent behind these is of most salience.

          For example, as Paul notes: Ford wanted all citizens to share the "common" wealth of the countryside. Without vehicles, bottom of the pay scale workers wouldn't be able to commute to work if they lived in the countryside, nor could they visit the countryside for productivity-boosting rest and rejuvenation if they lived in the city.

          Fast forward to today. Ford might see his full vision of happy commutes to work and countryside haven't succeeded. Line employees struggle to pay for fuel to commute. The countryside is ever farther to commute to, in part due to vehicle-abbetted suburban sprawl. Vehicles produce pollution, which has negative impacts on employees' health, which in turn costs employers more in healthcare costs, lost productivity, etc.

          Lost financial wealth, thus likely.

          Could Ford have fully anticipated these unintended consequence? Likely not. Could good guy/girl leaders today anticipate their efforts might have such unintended consequences? Likely much more than Ford could. Because (your point!) of innovations.

          My point is about good girl/guy leaders intentionality engaging the best of, for and with stakeholders -- clearly modeling the power of this method. And avoiding "intent-depleting" behaviors.

          Andrea
      • thumb
        Jun 2 2011: Mike, haha! excellent point!
        Well, sort of... actually, I'm sorry to say that Alexander Fleming was in fact rather unsuccessful, and he deserved to be. Sure, he stumbled upon Penicillin, but it was never produced, manufactured at scale, or ever commercialised under his purlieu. For that, we have to thank the 2nd Wold War and good friends in Big Pharma (Merck, Pfizer, Squibb) in the United States.
        The issue of Patents in ethical-pharma is a really interesting topic. Ie: are patents good as an incentive to innovation. I think, on balance, we have to say patents are good, and the commercialisation of medicines leads to more investment in R&D and amazing drugs. Fleming might not have made Wealth from Penicillin, but the folks that deserve (those who made it possible to mass produce it at scale, and made it accessible to us all) certainty did. There was a big fight in the 1940s over patent rights for Penicillin, but without commercialisation and scale production, the "discovery of Penicillin, would have been totally irrelevant. So, kinda fair really that Fleming was indeed "unsuccessful"....
        • Jun 2 2011: I suppose we make the same point, but perhaps from different perspectives. I would describe him as successful for making the creative step of the discovery (however inadvertent it may have been). You would describe him as unsuccessful as he did not personally commercialise it - so others built their success on his discovery.

          He was however very highly honoured for his discovery, including a Nobel Prize and a Knighthood - are these not other measures of success?

          Maybe we'll just have to agree to differ ;-)
      • thumb
        Jun 2 2011: Mike hi
        Don't mean to sound viscous, but my point is he was not successful (by any meaning of our word), and was in fact a failure. We don't have Penicillin because of Fleming (he never actually made the stuff) but thanks to Merck etc. He actually failed to develop a production process. Thus, is was a "failure", and didn't deserve Wealth and Power as his rewards for "success".
        But Yeah, a shared Nobel Prize is certainly one more than I have won!! :)
      • thumb
        Jun 3 2011: Hey Andrea, I like you!! I've found someone on TED who isn't just ranting!
        Now I see: You're talking more about "externalities" - railroads damage the countryside etc.
        Externalities are a fascinating part of economics, but I think they're more about Rights really. Simply, your freedom "to" versus someone else's freedom "from". Do I have the freedom to drive my noisy and polluting Sportscar through the countryside upsetting the residents, for example. The problem is, that externalities are very nuanced and very hard to adjudicate "freedom to" versus "freedom from". You'd need to have some kind of Externalities Adjudicator, passing judgement. Or, you'd have to have a completely planned economy, where Ford would ask permission to invent the motorcar and then it would go some committee who would figure out that in 100 years cars might be bad for the countryside? I don't care for that kind of "planned economy", and nor do the folks who tired it for a few years in Russia!!!
        Secondly, I think you're making a value statement that is very arbitrary that we make value damage to the county-side more than the freedom that the motorcar gives us. I think I disagree with you actually! Henry Ford made cheap cars so now we all commute to work from spacess villas in the suburbs rather than take the bus from our pokey apartments next to the factory. This is great, no? These evaluations of externalities are always very subjective.
        Final thought on the countryside: I live in the UK, and our countryside is entire fake and manmade. Forests have being cleared, swamps drained. There is nothing left that is original countryside, so building motorways for cars and suburbs for people is just another extension of what's being happening for centuries. Do we wish that Elizabeth 1 had saved the Oak Forests by building fewer warships? Er no, because then I'd be speaking Spanish! So, tough to figure out the long term consequences of anything we do.
        • thumb
          Jun 3 2011: James,

          Agreed, it's tough forecasting long-term consequences. Still: imagine businesses that didn't do regression analysis or projections? Few (including funders) would perceive hope for their success.

          Ford didn't need an externalities adjudicator. His emotional intelligence and understandings of his interdependence with others was his 'internal adjudicator." This was his "secret sauce" for success -- higher-order humane thinking: what separates the "doers to" from the "engaging with" others model of success. It has to do with empathy--seeing others interests as equally valuable as one's self-interests. Which in turn, requires insight -- the ability to reflect on and question ones own values and behaviors.

          For example: Ford published anti-Semite writings. When Jews shed light on them, Ford apologized. Though the apology was triggered by a defamation lawsuit, the apology was not legally required. Nor were his later efforts to halt international distribution of the publication. Again, there was no government policy or rule that required Ford halt the publishing. In fact, due to copy-write complications, Ford had to fight policy to give Jewish people "freedom from" the effects of his earlier behaviors.

          Which, I would argue, gets at an answer to the conundrum you elucidate. No need for externally enforced values or "permission," (nor even, economic threat) to engage one's big-picture emotional intelligence. And consequences could be quite rich, for self and others.

          World Bank's Vijayendra Rao explains how this lays out in current contexts. Rao addresses the diverse externalities, variables and relativity of cultural nuances you speak of, from an economist's view.

          An aside: related to your gratitude to Elizabeth i for protecting you from speaking Spanish. I suppose it is, as you point out, all relative: Rao, who speaks English, is from India which was colonized by the British (supported by economic interests of East Indian Company.)

          Andrea
      • thumb
        Jun 4 2011: Funnily enough Andrea, I am an econometrician, and regression analysis is my thing!
        And that's why I think it is a pretty useless forecasting tool - ok for looking back for looking back.
        As I like to say, "using regression to run your business is a bit like driving your car always looking in the rear view mirror. Ok to do that on a straight highway, but less successful on a twisty Swiss mountain pass!"
        I do think this gets to the heart of the matter - it is very hard to see the future consequences of our actions, and so we can't plan for them. We do what we want to do, that's God's gift to man. Yep figuring out consequences is funny!!!
        - Elizabeth 1 chopped down all the trees, but hey, saved me from speaking Spanish and eating paella. But, we probably would have played better soccer ;)
        - We colonised India, and it was a pretty good run. But OMG, now they all speak English, and I'm moving all our IT from Macclesfield to Bangalore and we're created a monster that's going to be an economic powerhouse. (Isn't Rao a Keralan name, so would have been colonised by the Portuguese actually not the Brits? Odd thing, most folks don't know, is that in WW2, Keralla was a Portuguese colony and was freely used by the Germans, a mere matter of metres from the allies).
        • thumb
          Jun 5 2011: James,

          Your TED profile notes that you fund orphans and self-sustaining farming projects in Third-Wprld countries. Where traversing twisty roads requires forging paths through undeveloped terrain, literally and figuratively. Not for the risk averse. But, good global guys and girls are brave.

          So, some Qs:

          1. Why do you invest in these efforts?
          2. Do you forecast a ROI?
          2. And, how do you measure success?

          Regards Germany: Do you ever wish Churchill would have gone just a hair easier on them during WW2, given their history against Brits in soccer since? :-).

          As for me, I'm glad the U.S. has made peace with England. It helped my soccer-playing, be that (humble by global standards) as it was.

          One of your Macclesfield neighbors, Manchester United's Alan Merrick brought the sport to my state during the mid-70s as founder and player for the Minnesota Kicks. And volunteered his time to coach me (as he has many).

          Of course, we Americans still can't hold a candle to you Brits, our football-forebearers. But it is most definitely not for lack of sports-focused funding. And we kick India's butt in one big, but dubious category: obesity. In fact, we are world-leaders in childhood obesity.

          Which brings me back to our Q regards how to measure success. If economic wealth is how we motivate and measure success, how is it that the more money we spend on health, the less physically fit wealthy nations are?

          Yes, it would be silly (and dang dull!) to correlate fast and fun car rides on quiet country roads to childhood obesity. But stop-light impeded commutes to fast-food outlets on the way to soccer practice have been among the many twisty-turned variables experts accurately predicted during the US suburban sprawl 70s and 80s.

          Notably, economic implications were downplayed due to denial abetted, in part, by profit-driven interests lobbying against them. So here's a Q, to engage your econometrician expertise: were their well-funded efforts a success?

          Andrea
      • thumb
        Jun 5 2011: It wasn't really "Henry Ford" who introduced the $5 work day although he ultimately had to approve of it. It was "Ford Motor Company."

        I believe it was James J. Couzens who came up with the idea. Ford resisted the idea quite vigourously.

        I'll see if I can confirm whether it was Couzens or someone else and let you know for sure.

        Henry Ford nearly ruined the company. He would have if he hadn't died when he did.

        Being the founder, Ford is often given quite a bit of credit for other people's ideas.

        Edit: That didn't take long: It was Couzens and you can reference it in several of the works by Peter Drucker.
        • thumb
          Jun 5 2011: Thomas, hi there,
          Just thinking about your comments at the top about Alice.
          Sure. In my personal life as I have travelled, and tried to do 'my bit' I have encountered many amazing people, who have truly awful lives, but have found the time and energy to help others and make a difference to people around them.
          I've known men and women save lives, rescue the godforsaken, and ask for nothing.
          But.... these folk (who I love, and have inspired me) have touched the lives of a few dozen people. They have not has the scale impact of Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates. As we create a rewards system for the World we want, Wealth works pretty well at encouraging Innovation and Creativity: the things that have driven the West forward so that Real GDP doubles every generation. Alice is amazing, but if she'd invented Facebook, her village probably would have been better off. I think we need to ask/answer two questions:
          - What are the behaviours we want to encourage to build the World we want (new technologies, efficiency, innovation, freedom etc etc) to see
          - What is the "Rewards System" that rewards folks for doing these thing?
        • thumb
          Jun 6 2011: Thomas,

          Many thanks for the information on James J. Couzen. It fills in a larger picture of how Ford was influenced and benefited from others quite different from himself. And how public perceptions of success often miss the larger picture.

          Andrea
      • thumb
        Jun 5 2011: I like you Andrea, you're funny and you write beautifully :)
        I prefer to keep my personal life away from TED - so don't really want to get drawn on my work, or the social causes, orphanages etc. But, I'll just confess that pretty much everything I do in life I do for deeply instinctive reasons, and my Conscious being (ie: thoughtful) is very different from my Instinctive being (ie: I love that girl; i am hungry; oh my god those kids are dying..).
        At the personal level, let alone for corporations or Governments, it's hard to figure out the unintended consequences or long term effect of our actions and I certainly don't...
        - If I pay for my kids to go to college rather than they take loans, does that dent their self reliance and ambition?
        - If we stop the orphans being left to die in Malawi, does that mean the villagers are locked into a circle of dependency?
        I just think long term outcomes are hard to predict, and short term if the kids are dying in Malawi or shooting each other over drugs in Manchester, then hey I'll help now, and figure out the long term consequences later.
        So to come back to your point, creating a system that valued "externalities" or long term plan that takes account of possible outcomes is hard. I just think it's easier to leave to fair trade, and the markets will clear. Either pay the farmer for the crops we destroy from sparks from the roadroads, or we'll fit fireboxes, whichever is cheaper.