Richard St. John: Secrets of success in 8 words.

This is really a 2 hour presentation I give to high school students cut down to 3 minutes. And it all started one day, on a plane, on my way to TED, 7 years ago. And in the seat next to me was a high school student, a teenager, and she came from a really poor family and she wanted to make something of her life. And she asked me a simple little question.
She said: “What leads to success?”

And I felt really badly because I couldn’t give her a good answer. So I get off the plane and I come to TED. And I think, Jesus, I’m in the middle of a room with successful people. So, why don’t I ask them - what helped them succeed and pass it onto kids.


7 years of research
500 interviews

So, here we are, 7 years, 500 interviews later, and I’m going to tell you what really leads to success and makes TED just tick.

And the first thing is


Freeman Thomas (car designer, Daimler Chrysler) says: “I’m driven by my passion“. Tedsters do it for love, they don’t do it for money.

Carol Coletta (radio producer, Smart City) says: “I would pay someone to do what I do.” The interesting thing is if you do it for love, the money comes anyway.


Rupert Murdoch (big cheese CEO) said to me: “It’s all hard work. Nothing comes easily. But I have a lot of fun.” Did he say fun? Rupert? Yes!

Tedsters do have fun working and they work hard. I figured out they are not workaholics, they are workafrolics.


Alex Garden (game developer) says: “To be successful put your nose down in something and get damn good at it.“ There is no magic. It’s

And it’s

Norman Jewison (filmmaker) said to me: “I think it all has to do with focusing yourself on one thing.”


David Gallo (marine scientist) says: “Push yourself. Physically, mentally, you’ve got to push, push, push.“ You’ve got to push through shyness and self-doubt.

Goldie Hawn (actor) says: “I always had self-doubts. I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t think I’d make it.” Now, it’s not always easy to push yourself, and that’s why they invented mothers.

Frank Gehry (architect) , Frank Gehry said to me: “My mother pushed me.”


Sherwin Nuland (professor of surgery, Yale) said, “It was a privilege to serve as a doctor”. Now, a lot of kids tell me they want to be millionaires. Millionaires serve others something of value.

And the first thing I say to them is: “Ok. Well, you can’t serve yourself, you’ve got to serve others something of value, because that’s the way people really get rich.”


Tedster Bill Gates (software guy) says: “I had an idea - founding the first micro-computer software company…” I’d say it was a pretty good idea. And there is no magic to creativity and coming up with ideas, it’s just doing some very simple things.
  • Listen

  • Observe

  • Be Curious

  • Ask Questions

  • Problem Solve

  • Make Connections

And I give lots of evidence.


Joe Kraus (co-founder, Excite) says: “Persistence is the number one reason for our success.” You’ve got to persist through failure, you’ve got to persist through CRAP, which, of course means
  • Criticism

  • Rejection

  • Assholes

  • Pressure

So, at the big end… The answer to this question is simple: Pay 4000 bucks and come to TED… Or, failing that, do the 8 things, and trust me - these are the big 8 things that lead to success.
Thank you, tedsters, for all your...

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