How my Year of TED was a lot like the Wizard of Oz: A Q&A with Kylie Dunn

How my Year of TED was a lot like the Wizard of Oz: A Q&A with Kylie Dunn

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May
January 29, 2014 at 2:43 pm EST

image001-14 help of the scarecrow, tin man and lion. Illustration: Matthew Dunn

Kylie Dunn has come up with the perfect analogy for her Year of TED, a self-improvement project she dreamed up in 2011 to infuse ideas from TED Talks into her everyday life. She says that the experience was akin to the Wizard of Oz, with herself playing each of the main characters.

Dunn was recently invited to give a talk about her experience at TEDxHobart in Tasmania, Australia. “I’d been watching TED Talks for years. I’d been hoarding this inspiration in my head and heart, and I decided it was time to do something with it,” she says in her TEDx talk. “There was a great analogy for the process I was going through—the journey to find my authentic self and to honor that. I may not have been following the Yellow Brick Road, but it’s a great way to explain the experience and the lessons from it … And yes, I did feel like I battled more than one Wicked Witch and an army of flying monkeys in the process.”

Below, watch Dunn’s talk for much more about what it was like to journey toward the Emerald City. And after watching, read a Q&A with Dunn about what it was like to, after years of watching, give a talk herself. Her thoughts on the process of writing a talk are truly insightful.

How did you first discover TED?

I was stumbled into the TED world back in 2007 or 2008. And I mean by that: I found TED through StumbleUpon. I’m pretty sure Jill Bolte-Taylor’s was the first TED Talk I ever watched although, having watched around 400 talks now, it is hard to remember.

Having watched a ton of talks over the years, how did you go about writing your own?

With some difficulty! I’ve watched so many amazing and inspiring talks that the bar in my mind was set pretty high. So, of course, I looked to the wisdom of a TED Talk — I watched Nancy Duarte’s “The secret structure of great talks.” It’s interesting because the talk I ended up giving wasn’t my initial plan. The original talk was more focused on the construct of the Year of TED and how it gave me accountability. I still touch on in the talk, but overall if felt too dry and it didn’t get into enough of the nitty gritty about the activities. So I went back to the Nancy Duarte talk, and started again with what I had wanted to achieve from this project. I got the idea to group the talks instead of give a laundry list and, once I did that, everything started to fall into place.

The rehearsals with the organizing team and other speakers were a valuable part of the process for me. Since they didn’t know the story, they could point out the things that didn’t make sense, the areas where I needed to explain more or remove something. That helped me make the talk a lot tighter, and a lot more personal in many ways. For some reason, they really wanted to know about the parts where I failed and struggled. You know, the bits that are so easy to stand up and talk about.

How did you start to recognize the parallels between your Year of TED and theWizard of Oz?

That idea came to me in the fifth month of the Year of TED. It started with a comment I made about feeling like I’d gone down the rabbit hole. That’s about the only parallel toAlice in Wonderland, but it started me thinking whether there was some analogy that worked – some story of a transformative journey that focused on finding yourself. It wasn’t much of a leap from there to the Wizard of Oz. The parallels just leapt out at me. With the lead characters wanting a brain, a heart, courage and to get home, it occurred to me that — when you broke everything down — this was the core of what I was doing. I love how that’s come together for me as a way of explaining some of the core lessons from the project. Last January, I wrote a blog post about it, but the analogy has taken on a life of its own in the last few months. Which is why I wanted to include it in the talk.

How did you handle the stage fright of giving a talk?

Does anyone handle it? I feel like I just pushed through because I wanted it so much. It was weird for me because this isn’t the first time I’ve presented to an audience — I’ve done that a few times in my life. It’s not even the first time I’ve spoken about My Year of TED — I presented to a smaller group last year. But this was something altogether different because it was at a TEDx event, and I knew it would be recorded and therefore very discoverable. It also meant no notes, so part of the coping process was rehearsing at least five times a day in the week leading up to the event. This included giving the talk in the shower or when I was driving the car. Sometimes, I think I was even doing it in my sleep.

The thing that was great was being able to rehearse in the space the day before the event. It gave my brain a calmness of, “Oh I’ve done this already, so I can do it again.” That helped me sleep, actually, which was very beneficial. Since I spoke last at the event, I had many hours of watching other speakers to work the stress levels back up. But once I walked onto the red dot and the spotlights went on, I sort of went into auto-pilot. It was quite surreal. I felt calmer than I appear to be on camera.

What surprised you most about the experience of giving a talk?

Just how difficult it was to verbalize some of my experiences. I felt that since I had been quite fearless in writing about my faults and failings on the blog, that talking about them wouldn’t be too daunting. But I found that saying out loud how broken you are increases the vulnerability ten-fold. The first time I read out the talk, I was teary and my voice cracked — and that was just to my incredibly supportive partner, Derek. The rehearsals with the organizers and other speakers were a little easier, but still hard. I was worried about breaking down into a blubbering mess on stage. The speaker coaches were great, though, and along with the curator, they encouraged me to be even braver with what I was willing to include.

The other surprise was how much I needed visual feedback from the audience. I couldn’t see the audience for the most part, and it’s very daunting to stand in a darkened room and bare your soul to a room of strangers. It helps that the people at the event were very supportive and engaged with all of the speakers, so I felt safe in the room. That made a huge difference.

If could only recommend one single TED Talk to the people you love from now on, which one would it be?

Mine, of course. But seriously… I knew that you were going to ask me a question like this. After the number of talks I’ve watched, it’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child – it depends on the day and the mood we’re all in.

A large part of me wants to say Susan Cain’s “The power of introverts,” because it’s so universal. If you are an introvert it helps you get that there is nothing wrong with you, and if you aren’t an introvert it should help you understand that you need to stop trying to fix us. But then there are Brené Brown’s talks, which are great for helping people understand that shame and vulnerability are universal, and learning to overcome the hurdles of perfection is the only way to live. And of course, I want the people I love to be happy. Neil Pasricha’s “The 3 A’s of Awesome” was fantastic at improving my general happiness.

If I have to pick one though, my choice is Philip Zimbardo’s “The psychology of time.” It’s nice and short, so that would work well for a lot of the people I love. But mostly, I’d chose it because the activity that I did around this talk had such a profound effect on me. I would also hope that because it is such a sharp talk would inspire them to learn more — not only about that topic, but about TED as a whole.

That is a very unfair question to ask me though. If you asked me next week I’m sure I would give a different answer.

Check out Dunn’s e-book, 30 Days of Drive: A Practical Guide from my Year of TED. Or read more about her at her website.


My Year of TED: How 54 talks changed a life

Posted by: Tedblogguest
March 27, 2013 at 3:20 pm EST

By Kylie Dunn

What do you get when you cross a 39-year-old perfectionist with 54 TED Talks and far more honesty than any person probably needs to experience? You get my Year of TED.

I’ve been inspired by TED Talks for years, and felt the urge to do something noteworthy and challenging to ring in my fortieth year on the planet. daysInspiration struck when I watched Matt Cutts’ talk, “Try something new for 30 days.” Something in this talk reminded me of A.J. Jacobs’ “My Year of Living Biblically” — and the seed was sown. I decided to develop a list of new-to-me activities based on TED Talks, and to try each one of them in my life for 30 days.

How did it work? On the 1st of the month, I’d start one new activity, and then roll out another on the 15th — so at any given time I was doing two activities that were new to me.  Some activities were practical (30 days with less meat), others more philosophical (30 days of vulnerability). To plan out a year’s slate of 23 activities, I listened (or re-listened) to around 200 TED Talks. The whole list took a couple of months to plan out, and I left a few gaps in case there were any new talks during the year I really wanted to include. I pledged to blog the full experience, being completely vulnerable as I wrote.

I also decided to contact each of the speakers whose talks inspired my activities, to let them know just how much their talk resonated with me. Many of them wrote back — I cannot tell you how it feels to open your inbox and find emails from Seth GodinAlain de BottonBarry SchwartzJD SchrammSusan CainDerek Sivers and Richard St. John. Their words were powerful, and many were generous with support and encouragement, too.  Carl Honoré and Sheena Iyengar tweeted about the project, which gave the blog a massive boost; David Loganhad a lengthy email chat with me about leadership.

On November 1, 2011, I started the year-long challenge. My first activity was 30 days of fashion, inspired by Jessi Arrington’s talk “Wear Nothing New.” I thought this would be a fun, easy way to start the project — to break free from my standard black, white and gray wardrobe and do some strategic shopping at secondhand clothing stores to make my appearance more colorful. But by the end of day two, I was feeling incredibly exposed to the world. When it comes to clothing, my subconscious mantra had always been  ”just don’t stand out.” Not caring whether people thought I was a little odd for dressing a certain way? It felt like a big change.

I realised that this entire project would be harder than I ever imagined.

By Activity 4, in mid-December, I had a pretty good routine down: think through the activity, then set up practical steps to put it into action. And by Activity 9, I was pleasantly surprised to find that 30 days of less meat was an easy challenge. For the month of February, I became a weekday vegetarian, as suggested in Graham Hill’s talk. Not only was this activity inspiring, but I liked the change in my diet … and in my weekly grocery bill. I’ve kept it up ever since.

As I got into the second half of the year, my Year of TED became a struggle. The last six activities were all so introspective that I’m surprised I made it to the end of October. Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice30 days of choice was based on three talks — Barry Schwartz’s “The paradox of choice,” Sheena Iyengar’s “The art of choosing” and Alain de Botton’s “A kinder, gentler philosophy of success.” This activity involved putting a magnifying glass on my choices — being aware of what was driving my choices, setting boundaries to limit my choices when I could, and recognizing that there is no such thing as a perfect choice. I also took time to think about what success means to me — writing this out helped me understand myself better and gave me vital information to help inform future choices. That said, who enjoys looking at themselves on paper in the third person? I wasn’t always proud of how I dealt with past choices.

Speaking of being unprepared, the 30 days of time activity brought a revelation that helped me understand some of my not-so-good perceptions of myself. Based on the talk “The psychology of time” by Philip Zimbardo, I took a careful inventory of how I think about the past, present and future. I found that what Zimbardo calls “past negative” weighs heavily on my mind. I thought hard about what I needed to do to shift my focus.

My complete list of activities, in order: fashionthanks, praise and mindfulnessbetter listeningliving the 3 A’san Asian dietdriveslowing downsimplicityless meatmore happinesspreconceptionslettersstarting a movement;choicebeing wrongvulnerabilitytimecompassion; andbalance.

By the end of October 2012, I had completed 21 activities and one project — the development of the Do-Pad, a notepad for people who like to doodle, based on Sunni Brown’s “Doodlers, unite!” I learned so much about my strengths, my weaknesses, my hopes and, most of all, what I really want in this world. I am extremely proud that I finished the full year.

These activities were emotional, particularly since they coincided with the stresses and demands of day-to-day life. At times, they helped me get through hard times — I’m so glad that I was working on “more happiness” when we visited my father-in-law for the last time. At other times, these challenges made my life so much more difficult. I spent way too much time on “choice” and “being wrong” when I was far too busy with work.

Overall, here are the main lessons that I’ve taken away from this project:

You never really know what you are capable of until you try. I’m stronger than I thought I was — certainly more so than I ever thought I could be.

Being open about imperfections is important. It has deepened my connections with so many others.

There is a power in simply doing something. Really, don’t underestimate it.

Sometimes you can be too introspective, to the point that it is not good for your mental health.

If you are going to try something like this, you need to build in time to be kind to yourself.

In the end, I’ve developed a new appreciation for my capacity to be courageous. I’ve always known that I am a survivor, and that I usually come out the other side of life challenges as a better person – if not a little more scarred and cynical. I always thought of strength and courage as things I wanted in my life, but wasn’t quite sure how to harness them. Now I see that this is already inside of me. It’s just one of the realisations this project allowed me to discover, and which I’m still trying to process.

I’d like to thank TED for providing me with such a fantastic source of inspiration. And I’d love to thank the speakers who inspired me to take action and think differently. Most important, though, I couldn’t have done this without the love and support of my partner, my family (particularly my wonderful brother for his artwork, featured above) and my close friends. Hopefully it wasn’t too onerous.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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