Talking TEDs

I recently wrote about what online resources are available for those looking for a little intellectual stimulation. One website that I failed to mention, much to my own negligence, would be the TED Talks located at TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) describes itself as a “small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading”—a noble enterprise endeavored by inviting the most engaging and innovative thinkers, movers, and shakers to contribute their accumulated knowledge—generally in the form of eighteen minute time slots. Since the emphases of the project are stated as Technology, Entertainment, and Design, many of the themes and topics are applicable to those looking for new ideas and energies to provide a boost to their business.

One of the Ted Talks I gave a listen to while preparing my dinner was delivered by Jason Fried, the co-founder 37signals, and bore the intriguing title “Why work doesn’t happen at work” ( The causes for non-productivity serve as the premise of the lecture and can be most simply reduced to M & Ms: meetings and managers. According to Fried, the places where people do their most effective work are wherever they can avoid distractions; whether it is on the porch or at a desk at home, at a coffee shop or library, on a plane or on a train, or even at a certain time, say, in the morning; all of these places have in common that they are free of potential distracting outside invasions. Just as a  a good night’s sleep depends on an interruption-free environment, so does a good day’s work. Counterintuitively, Fried suggests, the office which signifies work on the one hand and a host of bureaucratic interferences on the other, has been so constructed that disruptions are an integral feature of the working day that cannot be avoided: manager check-ins, pop-ins, alerts and announcements, and even breaks. What distinguishes these disruptions from those that managers worry most about, such as Twitter, Facebook, TV, and smoke breaks, are that they can be chosen on the workers’ own terms. You cannot ignore your boss asking for an update in the same way you can choose to avoid going to your Facebook account when you find yourself in a rhythm making forward progress.

Fried makes three suggestions for transforming an office into a more productive work environment. He first proposes to initiate “No Talk Thursdays” every once in a while which would entail at least four hours of uninterrupted work time and provides the worker with the best day possible. Secondly Fried suggests relying on passive models of communication such as email and instant messengers to check-in because these will allow the worker to respond on her own time and not in the middle of his workflow. The third suggestion offered is to cancel meetings—all together. They will quickly become unnecessary.

Whether or not you find that Fried’s ideas are worth spreading, some of the ideas expounded on TED should be worth ruminating on for those looking to see the world and their enterprise in a wholly new way.

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