Tom Adams is a advocate for self improvement and positivity. He is also a good friend. Learn more from TEDxNavesink and follow him on Twitter.
GB: Tom, thank you for doing this Q&A. I guess logically, the first question should be: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What's some background information worthy of noting?
TA: I appreciate the opportunity. This will be a new experience for me.
I graduated from Stockton College about three years ago and have since worked as a marketing representative for a local radiology group. Outside of the nine-to-five, I’m a volunteer organizer for TEDxNavesink, a locally organized ideas conference operating under license from the global TED Talks brand. I’m a staunch believer in both personal development and intentionally creating the life you want. I think approaching everyday situations and relationships from a perspective of “how can I be of service to others?” is a mutually beneficial worldview worth adopting.
GB: So this past year you helped organize and promote the recent TEDxNavesink event at Monmouth University. Can you describe some of your responsibilities and how they helped shape your understanding of the TEDx movement?
TA: My responsibilities are pretty diverse, which I like because it gives me a broad view of how all the organizational pieces fit together, so to speak. It allows me to look at situations a bit more creatively; in terms of how processes can be improved and how new ideas can be implemented.
Initially, I conducted “speaker outreach,” which gave an excuse to contact tons of really interesting people – from authors to scientists to CEOs – with something valuable to offer them: an invitation to apply to speak at a TED-sanctioned event. This alone was an awesome experience. I also work with the marketing team to develop strategic partnerships, reach new audiences, and generate content (blog posts, etc.). Finally, I manage sponsor relationships and expectations to ensure satisfaction with their involvement in the event.
All of these responsibilities have shown me how much work really goes into an event like this. This conference takes a tremendous amount of effort, and the organizers sacrifice countless hours to bring it all together. It’s amazing.
GB: In helping to organize the conference, what have you found most meaningful from the experience? From who (or with who) did these enlightenments occur?
TA: The most meaningful aspect of my involvement has been the constant collaboration with the people organizing this event. TEDxNavesink’s leadership is comprised of brilliant and accomplished individuals, so when you sit around the table with that kind of team you simply operate at a higher level. People say you become like the people you spend your time with. That’s why I’ve spent so much time with this group.
Of course there have also been very meaningful instances along the way. I made the initial contact with particle physicist Don Lincoln, who ended up flying in from Chicago to speak at the event. He conducts research at Fermilab and the Large Hadron Collider, and was on the research team that discovered the Higgs Boson. I also got the opportunity to conduct a Q&A with (and later meet) Audible, Inc. founder and CEO Don Katz. He is doing stellar work for the Newark, NJ community. That experience was equally incredible and was an honor in its own right.
GB: If you had to highlight some of the benefits of attending a TEDx event like TEDxNavesink, what would they be? Why do you think more people should plan to attend upcoming ones?
TA: There are several well-defined benefits like networking/making connections and learning new information, but the bottom line is that it’s impossible to know what the benefits will be until you attend. I certainly didn’t. Though if you can just recognize how much value there is in an event like this, then that should be all the convincing you need.
One attendee captured it well, saying “Even if none of the talks are specific to your life or your career, you will gain from them due to the synergistic effects of hearing and seeing what is happening in other fields. You need to attend to open your mind to new dimensions.”
We took amazing speakers, both national and international, and brought them to one central location right here in Monmouth County. This resulted in 25+ talks and performances by scientists, entrepreneurs, CEOs, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, and more. And because all TEDx events must adhere to extremely specific guidelines from the TED Talks organization, you know it’s a quality event.
GB: I understand you are currently working on a book about the power of reaching out to people and connecting on an introspective level. Can you tell us a little bit about the project? What are your goals and objectives? What is your message and what types of methodologies are you using to convey it?
TA: The book, tentatively titled “Reach Out,” is basically a result of two things. First, it’s an extension of my belief that there is power in learning from others. It’s why people read books, have mentors, or ask their friends and family for advice. You can save yourself time and hardship by learning from the wisdom (and mistakes) of others. Second, it’s about connecting with people in a sincere, thoughtful and constructive way.
Reach Out covers the how’s and why’s of getting in touch with people who you admire or respect in some way. When people mention someone they look up to, whether it’s an author, business leader or someone within their own organization, I always ask the same question: “Have you reached out to them?” The question is often met with a confused look, followed by a string of limiting beliefs, e.g. “Who am I to reach out to this person,” or, “I wouldn’t even know what to say,” or, “I’m sure they get so many emails, they probably wouldn’t even respond.” So before ever even reaching out to the person, they’ve already given themselves an excuse not to.
My goal is to poke holes in those self-limiting beliefs and convey the truth that you have nothing to lose by contacting someone you look up to. Do you admire an author’s style? Reach out and let them know. Did you enjoy a LinkedIn article by one of your favorite contributors? Reach out and tell them how it affected you. Is there a CEO or company executive whose work you admire? Reach out and ask them how they developed that skill, what books they’ve read, or how you can develop a similar style.
People are often more willing to help than we give them credit for. I’ve exchanged messages with Mark Cuban and had phone conversations with my favorite author simply because I reached out. My message is that anyone can do this – most people simply don’t.
GB: In the current light of the Digital Age, what are your perspectives of the Internet and its accessibility to a global audience? What are some of the most underrated and unused features of the tool?
TA: Entire areas of study can be devoted to this, so I won’t pretend to be a scholar here. I’ll just say that I think global connectedness has a net positive effect on humanity. The greater our capacity to be aware of and in tune with the struggles and achievements of the rest of humanity, the more harmonious our collective evolution will be. And as many countries change and develop, there is power in people’s ability to circumvent traditional media channels and share information in a more free and direct way.
It’s hard for me to make a case for any aspect of the Internet being underrated as I think that’s a fairly subjective question. What I might like to see more of is interaction for the sake of understanding; using virtual connectivity to meet and learn from people in other cultures. Any one of us, today if we wanted to, could connect with someone who lives in Africa, learn about their daily life, their family, their goals and their dreams. Imagine Chat Roulette with less…questionable material…and more empathetic interaction. For example, how differently might people think about war if they connected with someone in a “rival” country and listened to their perspective?
GB: The pursuit of knowledge is closely tied to the human instinct of curiosity. Do you believe this is something that is emphasized enough in popular culture? How might you see that changing in the future, both short and long-term?
TA: These are hard questions to answer. I’m tempted to find a semantic difference in “pursuit of knowledge” and “curiosity” by making a case that the former is more meaningful or long lasting than the latter, but it’s all a matter of your vantage point. Twitter trends may be a matter of trivial curiosity to many, but to a digital marketing firm they may be critical to their understanding of the digital landscape.
I’ll always think meaningful knowledge that truly enhances someone’s life in a positive way could use greater emphasis, but who can we expect to emphasize it? Mass culture is designed to meet the demands of the consumer, so until the average person changes their consumption habits, the content will remain. Unfortunately, it probably won’t change any time soon.
We live in an age of instant gratification, and knowledge as described above isn’t always easily attainable, nor can the value of it be immediately and tangibly realized. I think the best bet is to lead by example.
GB: Many of our recent conversations centered around the power of positivity. What are some things you believe people can do on a daily basis to better themselves as both individuals and as members of the ever-changing global community?
TA: I think the single most powerful thing anyone can do is realize that they are in total control of the rest of their life. Your position in life right now is not who you are; it’s who you have been up until this point. Your mindset, your priorities and your momentary choices from now on will dictate where your life goes from here. There’s power in that realization, both on an individual level and otherwise.
GB: You are a young intellectual with ambition to learn about anything and everything. That is one of the roots in your success. What is one piece of advice you can give to younger generations with similar aspirations?
TA: Well first, thank you, though let’s just call me “intellectually curious.”
I’m going to cheat and give two pieces of advice. First, learn from others. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice from someone who’s been through what you’re going through. Consult many sources for information. You don’t know what you don’t know, so gain new perspectives.
Second and finally, never lose faith in your own ability to achieve success, whatever that means to you. Success comes to those who diligently and intentionally work for it. You may be far from where you want to be in life, but never allow yourself to lose faith in the belief that you will achieve all you intend to. Internalizing that belief will keep you from settling for anything short of your full potential.