Woz's TED talk on the early days


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I'm a fan of TED talks: the 18-minute presentations by experts in technology, entertainment, and design are both entertaining and educational, giving us opportunities to learn from industry leaders for free.

While participating in or attending official TED talks is an exclusive affair, smaller TEDx talks are more accessible, being hosted throughout the country and allowing community members to share their ideas. TEDxBerkeley held an event this past February, for which they invited one of their distinguished alumni to present: Rocky Clark, aka Steve Wozniak.

Woz shared his familiar formula for happiness, one seemingly inspired by a McDonald's commercial: Food + Fun + Friends. But his earlier iteration on this equation was even simpler: Happiness = Smiles – Frowns. It's a theory echoed by another TED talk by Jane McGonigal: "If you can manage to experience three positive emotions for every one negative emotion over the course of an hour, a day, a week, you dramatically improve your health and your ability to successfully tackle any problem you're facing. This is called the three-to-one positive emotion ratio."

I've heard Woz speak many times, including as at KansasFest 2003, but this TED talk was the first opportunity I've had to listen to him in the year or two that I've started performing at Moth StorySLAMs. One of the rules for a Moth story it that it must have a beginning, middle, and end. TED recommends a similar structure: in the TEDx Speaker Guide, they suggest outlining an introduction, body, and conclusion. Given the Moth and TEDx frameworks, I've finally realized that these storytelling qualities are something Woz lacks: his presentations usually consist of discrete anecdotes that aren't strung together into a cohesive whole. They might have a connective theme, as his TEDx talk did about his time at Berkeley and pranks he pulled there, but they don't build to a conclusion that ties it all together. Remove any one of his anecdotes, and you don't end up with a weaker thesis, just a shorter presentation.

Woz is a genius who applies technology to making the world a better place; he's in it for the philanthropy, not the profit. He's a hero to geeks and should be an example for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who are too often focused on getting the customer's money instead of giving the customer an experience. If Woz had the same genius for storytelling that he does with computers, I think he could be a powerful and visible role model not just for engineers, but for businessmen as well.

(Hat tip to Southgate Amateur Radio News)