Of TED, Horses, and Lifelong Learning

Nancy Lowery delivers her TEDx Talk in 2016

On cold dark evenings, I’ve spent hours listening and watching TED Talks. I love scrolling through the range of topics; it’s world of information available to all, in 18-minutes nuggets.

My fascination soon became an obsession. I wanted to do a TEDTalk.

TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment & Design converged. The mission was simple: “to spread ideas.” From that first conference sprang a foundation, scholarship programs, and global network of thousands of TED and TEDx Talks.

What the heck do I know that is interesting?

I spend a lot of time by myself and frankly much of what I think or say isn’t particularly fascinating.

Fortunately, I met an amazing person who had delivered a TEDxTalk here in Calgary. Her enthusiasm and questions inspired me to put down some of my ideas. Many drafts and edits and versions later, I walked on stage in front of 1,200 people at TEDxYYC.

It was the most terrifying and exhilarating experience of my life. (And I have started quite a few colts!)

It was the experience of starting one horse that brought the idea together: overcoming adversity. The Hero’s Journey, as they like to call it. To a non-horse owning audience, I brought the idea of what anyone can learn about themselves from horses.

I read a fair bit. Books of fiction, leadership, and horsemanship line much of my bookshelves. Some confirm what I already know. Some offer a new idea that fits a chink in the armor of what I believe.

Since that TEDxTalk, “Learning To Be Present,” I have delivered other short talks, and later this month I head onstage to deliver a keynote address: 45 minutes of What The Heck Do I Know!

What I know:

  • Horses teach us how we respond and react.
  • Horses teach us about ourselves.

Over a century ago, they were relegated to the back burner of the workplace. Now, horses are receiving new recognition. Horses have become part of leadership learning in a variety of organizations. Read more about the idea of Beasts of Being here.

For the past four years, my company, The Natural Leader, has had the distinct pleasure and honor of facilitating learning for 1,000 leaders of an Alberta bank. As I ask others to step out of their comfort zone, I’ve been learning, too. I’ve learned to ask better questions. To ask ‘why?’ more than ‘what?’

People often want me to tell them what to do to fix the horse. My job is to help them to see why they need to do something differently, to see the change in the horse they are seeking. Even more importantly, how does what’s happening between them and the horses relate to the workplace?

I use a lot of cowboy wisdom. Putting a big idea into a few words sure goes a long way. As I help others, I’ve also become more aware of my own interactions with my horses. Am I doing what I say?

Less is More

In Through the Corral Fence, Tom Dorrance suggested to one guy who thought he wasn’t doing much: “Do half as much and if that didn’t work, do half as much again.”

I, too, have started to see how much less I need to do with a horse.

What has a horse taught you about yourself that relates to others? That is a learning worth sharing.

Before I walk out on to that stage, I know all I have to do is:

  • Breathe.
  • Understand that everything I do means something.
  • Relax.

I will be talking about something I know well, it just happens to be without a lead rope in my hand.

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