Lunch Trays Do Not Inspire Brilliance (So Stop Looking For Them)

OK here’s what happened: A woman emailed me recently and said she wanted help creating a TEDx talk. I said sure.

In fact, I could do her one better—I invited her to join me for the Pop-Up Story Salon in Manhattan that week. This would give her the chance to roll up her sleeves and start creating the talk right then and there, find a flow around what she wanted to say. Great way to start the ball rolling.

Her response? Nah.

She didn’t think she needed that. What she really needed, she said, was the format for a TEDx talk.


Format is another word for fill in the blanks. It’s “give me what it should look like and I’ll color inside the lines.” Problem is, that isn’t how you find, tap, or express brilliance.

You can totally google “TEDx talk format.” (Go ahead.) While you’re at it, go ahead and google “how to do a website” and “how to write a sales page.” Or, “how to give a toast at a wedding.” You’ll find tons of templates you can use.

I can also give you a cafeteria tray, and you can spoon every single one of your future meals into those little compartments.

Why does none of this sound fun? Because it’s not.

Your most genius ideas won’t be paint by numbers. And your best meals will not be served on a lunch tray. God willing.

Templates can be helpful. Of course. But they are not a shortcut to brilliant and unique ideas.

There are plenty of people who will give (or sell) you templates to fill in, no matter what you’re trying to create. And I could hand you, right now, a format for a TEDx talk. Then you’d have it. But it would bring you no closer to having a killer talk.

It’s not just this one woman, who I’m sure is a very nice, smart woman. But there are lots of nice, smart people who think that all you need to do to make something worthwhile is a recipe.

Recipes works for cupcakes. But not for creative ideas.

Formats have their place. Especially when you’re ready to finalize a thing. But not when you’re coming up with it.

That lady passed on the Pop Up Story Salon. But 11 other people showed up—and they blew each other away.

They came from a range of backgrounds (management consultants, financial pros, creative copywriters, fine artists, marketing execs).

They weren’t given a template; they were given time and space in which to write something unexpected. And they flat-out surprised themselves.

They shared their work and discovered its power, not its problems. They experienced, in real-time, how their work inspired and affected people in that room—most of whom they’d never met before.

I’m curious whatever happened to that woman though—if she’s still googling recipes, wondering why she’s still hungry.


Does the idea of digging into your most important stories and ideas to propel your brand and business with a smart, small group sound like fun? Because it is fun. And it’ll also change how you come up with and express your most creative ideas.

I loved that Pop Up so much I turned around and immediately planned several more all over the country for 2020. The events run 9-5p and attendance is limited to 12.

You can read more about the Pop-Up and see upcoming salons right here.

Stay tuned into for more cool events (online and in-person) coming up in 2020, too. Find me over on Insta or LinkedIn or Facebook to hear about them. Or get on my list (scroll down just a little) for very first word of all things 2020.