Culture TEDTalks

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change: Brené Brown at TED2012

Posted by: Helen Walters

Photos: James Duncan Davidson

Brené Brown is an expert on vulnerability who starts off her talk by describing the extraordinary impact of giving a talk in 2010 at TEDxHouston: The Power of Vulnerability. For starters, she says, the day after giving the talk, she woke up in a state of depression that she’d shared details of her own breakdown in front of 500 people, and freaking out about what might happen if, say, 1,000 people watched the video when it was uploaded on YouTube. So far, the talk has been seen by 3.2 million people. It’s been quite a ride. She finds herself being accosted by fans in local stores. She’ s been asked to speak all over the country. And while many of the invitations she’s received have asked her to focus on innovation, creativity and change but perhaps hold off on that vulnerability or shame stuff, Brown wants to talk about it. After all, she says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Yet the experience also pointed out a harder truth to Brown; it helped her learn a difficult lesson about herself: “As much as I would be frustrated about not getting my work out into the world, there was a part of me trying very hard to engineer staying small,” she confesses. “I was staying right under the radar.” Post TEDx, that was no longer an option.

Brown has continued her work on vulnerability and she shares a few insights now. Firstly, that it is not a weakness. This, she says, is a profoundly dangerous and pervasive myth. Secondly, that in order to understand the relationship between vulnerability and courage, we need to talk about shame. Jungian analysts call shame the “swampland of soul,” a lyrical construct that helps illuminate why it’s important to spend time on the topic, hardly one most of us care to dwell on. But, she says, in order to have a compelling conversation around race, we need to talk about privilege, which is all wrapped up in shame. In order to have a compelling conversation around healthcare, we need to understand that surgeons’ self-worth is stitched up in being all-powerful. All-powerful people don’t need checklists or make mistakes. We need to recognize and understand deep-rooted shame at the heart of any broken system if we are ever to change it.

We also need to accept and embrace the concept of failure, not because failure is a good thing but because it’s a natural part of the path of progress. If you’re failing, at least that means you’re trying — not remaining on the outside of the arena, looking in. And we need to learn to deal with our inner critics, who are so adept at shutting us down when we dare to try.

“Shame is an epidemic in our culture,” she says. “To get out from underneath it, to find out a way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us, the way we parent, the way we look at each other.” We need to learn to understand what’s going on — and we need to hone our skills with shame’s antidote: empathy. For if the three factors that foster shame the fastest are secrecy, silence and judgment, it cannot survive being doused with empathy. “It can’t survive the two most powerful words to hear when we’re in struggle: ‘me too.’”

So while it might seem like a nice comfortable idea to stand outside the arena, to wait just a little bit longer, until we’re bulletproof or perfect, we need to accept that there’s no time like the present. “Even if you got as perfect as you could, when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in, we want to be with you and across from you. We just want for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with to dare greatly.”

Comments (36)

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  • Mark Daniels commented on May 31 2012

    shame to me is not one in which I made a mistake that becomes shame if only someone else knows I did it, but like Brown says it means I’m bad, which can be generated from the guilt of making a mistake. For example, I have done stuff in my life I’m not proud of, no one saw it and yet it shames me to think I did do that. Therefore, it is a more extreme form of guilt, which I can easily assuage by knowing that I’m not perfect. As an Adlerian therapist I have come to conclude that it is the courage to fail that inspires people, not the actually expectation of success. I have long gotten over myself that I need to BE perfect, as it’s been shown to me many times in the past that that simply would be delusional at best.

    I liked her take on the gender differences of shame, and that to men, the shame generated by women about their man is one of the most strong of fears. Unfortunately today, probably due to media, including marketing and advertising, women way too often fault men for not being “manly man ” enough, whatever that really means. That causes a great deal of discomfort and stress because they are encouraged to do this via our culture, where it apppears that an image of a man is the most important, much like the image of a woman is, and that men’s pursuit is ALWAYS preferred, expressed by both men and women, which then turns real women into 2nd class citizens by default. sad.

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  • commented on Mar 8 2012

    When is this talk going to go live?! I can’t wait to see it!!!

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  • James Piecowye commented on Mar 3 2012

    What a powerful presentation. What made this talk work was the honesty. We DO have an issue here that we need to address. Are we listening? I am not sure.

  • Brant Scheifler commented on Mar 3 2012

    Her talk was such a great one. I think that when someone (such as Brene) breaks the silence about a personal struggle it immediately changes the cultural atmosphere of those listening. In a sense, the protections we all uphold to affect others’ view of us are laid down when permission is granted to just be real. I commend her for her courage to do this on such a large platform.

    • Greg Apodaca commented on Mar 4 2012

      I agree, her talk was powerful. It resonated with my own struggle to be vulnerable, gain the trust of others by doing so, and eventually relate to people such that they would want to join or follow me in making my community a better place. She is right on when she said,”vulnerability is no weakness, it is pure courage,” and “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” KUDOS to Brene for illuminating these points so others might better understand, and act differently.

  • commented on Mar 3 2012

    I’m not so sure that shame is an epidemic. There seems a great deal of shameless behaviour that is far more deleterious to society. Also shame has a very salutory effect where it prevents a professional doing wrong. In otherwords where it is an internal imagination feeling shame at the very thought of a wrong action. However, when loss of face is the key driver and there is no primary shame, then there is no prevention. The thing called shame after the fact, is just embarrassment.
    Ultimately ethical behaviour relies on good concept of moral, not trading off love for being right, not acting just to look good, but admitting wrongs in the first instance, and cleaning up any mess. All this means being vulnerable. If you feel shame about something, speak up.

    • commented on Mar 5 2012

      Yes, shameless behaviour is a problem, but isn’t shame of victims the very thing that allows the shameless to remain without self-blame? If people who are the victims of wrongdoing are made to feel ashamed by the actions of the shameless, then they stay silent. Silence allows wrongdoers to continue their actions without taking the blame and therefore without feeling shame. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. We see shame and shamelessness functioning in this way in the dynamics of abuse, especially in abuse perpetuated by those in authority or who hold a great deal of power over the victim, such as within incest, domestic violence, medical violence. Unless victims confront their shame, how can they stand up to abusers and stop the abuse?

      • XUHUI FENG commented on Jun 14 2012

        I think, for a man with bright heart, he will not perform violent, in movie “Schindler’s List”, that Nazi officer who take charge of concentration camp, who first accept schindler’s advice, show more mercy to the prisoner. as schindler told him, forgiveness is a kind of power, like a king. as brene brown said, we must consider the murder is a victim of shame. They can not got enough confidence from their work or social relationship. that’s why they became so fierce.

        • XUHUI FENG commented on Jun 14 2012

          shameless is coming from deeply shame. just like courage is coming from deeply vulnerability, that’s what i want to say.