March 19, 2023
13 min read
In Ipsita Dasgupta’s 3-minute TED talk, she presents a revolutionary concept to achieving success and greatness: finding a “co-conspirator.” Through three powerful examples, Dasgupta explains why you need someone to challenge the status quo. She emphasizes how surrounding yourself with like-minded people can help you achieve success.
We analyzed Dasgupta’s speech through Yoodli, a free AI speech coach. You can get started at http://www.yoodli.ai and view the speech here.
Using AI, the Yoodli speech coach platform provides this TED Talk “To challenge the status quo, find a ‘co-conspirator’” speech text:
"So I’ve been thinking about how to explain this concept to you, and I’ve decided I’m just going to start with something we all understand. To achieve great heights or change the world, no matter how smart we are, we all need people. And for conventional people, the universe seems to conspire to make them successful. For the unconventional, I think we need something that I like to call “co-conspirators.” Co-conspirators are different not because they’re different themselves, but because of the people who need them. They tend to be people who are willing to bend the rules — actually even break them sometimes — and challenge the status quo to stand beside someone who is going against societal norms. I’m actually going to describe an experience that I had that first crystallized the idea of co-conspirators in my mind.
In 2014, I was a corporate executive with an American multinational in India, and we were actually faced with an interesting problem: we didn’t have enough women in the workforce. And just to give you some context, 27 percent of women work in India. If you look at most of Asia, that number is around 48 percent. So we knew the numbers were deplorable, and it was manifesting itself in our own organization. So we decided — actually, I’ll just give you a quick example of a young engineer, a 25-year-old woman, who told us a great story about her daily life, to just exemplify it for us. She said, “As I walk out of the house in the morning, I am running around doing a bunch of chores, and my mother-in-law — I live with my in-laws — is starting to get a little bit irritated, because she’s going to be left with all the housework to do. And then, as I get back home in the evening, I’ve overshot the time I’m going to be home by an hour or two at least, and by then, two of my biggest champions, my father-in-law and my husband, are also starting to get a little bit irritated. And my mother-in-law is furious, because she’s taken care of everything that needs to be done. And through the middle of the day, I’m actually surrounded by men my age, and there’s only one expectation from them by society. It’s to achieve in their careers and provide for their families financially. How do you expect me to bring this same level of enthusiasm, excitement and passion to the workplace?”
And she was right. And I thought the women’s network volunteers came up with a great idea. They instituted a “bring your mother-in-law to work” day. So we heralded a group of mothers-in-law and a few mothers into the office, and we took them to our R and D labs. We took them to the medical equipment that their daughters-in-law were creating and building. And as we did, we described to them what their daughters-in-law actually did: They impacted maternal mortality rates and infant mortality rates. They brought them down. They identified complex diseases early enough to be able to prevent and cure them. And then we took them to lunch. We gave them a lavish lunch and thanked them for the role they played for freeing up a young woman to work shoulder to shoulder with us to literally change the world. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Every one of these women were grateful and proud. They were proud of who their daughters-in-law were, but they were grateful to be included as part of the conversation.
And I wondered at the time whether what we’d done was just a great touchy-feely moment and was cute but really wasn’t going to have long-term impact. And a couple of days later, one of my mentees swung by my office, and she was super excited. She said, “I went home from work yesterday, and I was bracing myself, because I was really late, and I was bracing myself for a lecture, and my mother-in-law turned to my husband and said, ‘Can you please get up and make her a cup of tea? She’s exhausted. She’s saving lives. You work at a bank.’” (Laughter)
And there you had it. You had the perfect co-conspirator, someone that we don’t always recognize or value, but was changing the way somebody else could challenge the status quo, by standing beside her and questioning the societal norms and making a difference. The next example I’m going to use will be closer to almost everyone in this room.
When I graduated from business school and started working in a company, a group of us, my peers and I, were asked to work on a strategy for a business that hadn’t been doing too well over the last decade and was being neglected. We put our hearts and souls into it, and we did a lot of analysis on our nights and weekends and put together what we thought was a good strategy. And after presenting it to a number of people that we were getting buy-in with, we were actually asked to present to the global CEO at his annual strategy meet that happened over a week. And we were both excited and apprehensive as we flew into headquarters. We were excited because this was an opportunity to show how much we had learned. But we were also nervous because, though a brilliant, dynamic man, he had a fiery temper and wasn’t really the easiest person to present to. Five or six hours before our presentation, a senior colleague pulled us aside and sat down and gave us a front-seat view of what had happened all week. We knew about people who had bombed their presentations. We knew about people who had almost been instantaneously promoted in the room. We knew what was keeping the CEO up at night and what he thought were tailwinds to the business. And when we walked into that presentation later in the day, we actually got buy-in with both the CEO and his senior staff. And it wasn’t just because of our analysis or our strategy. It was because we were prepped to be able to communicate in a way that the team could absorb.
Now, this senior colleague of ours didn’t pull us aside, because he wanted to gossip. He pulled us aside because he believed we were unconventional in the boardroom. That unconventionality was exactly why he wanted us to think about this new, fresh perspective and provide a view on where this business should go. But he also knew it was a distinct disadvantage for us, because we didn’t know how to present in that room, and we hadn’t done it before, and they weren’t used to receiving us. And that again is an example, in my mind, of somebody bending the rules. Because he decided to co-conspire with us, he not only changed the career trajectories of six young people in the organization who suddenly got all this visibility, but he actually changed the trajectory of a business that people were neglecting and didn’t have any fresh ideas for.
The last example I want to share with you is actually very far removed from the corporate world and somewhat personal. This is the story of my mother. In her early 20s, she lost her father. He had passed away in his late 40s, leaving behind six children, four younger siblings and one older sibling than her, and a widowed mother who had never worked. My mom and her older sister realized that they actually needed to start earning an income — they were both in grad school — to ensure the rest of the siblings could get through their schooling and start to work. So she shifted her law school classes to evening classes, and she started to work during the day as a schoolteacher to bring home an income. And every day, she would actually get off a bus at the end of her evening law school classes on the streets of Calcutta.
Now, mind you, this is a woman who wasn’t used to taking public transportation at all, let alone at night. And as she would get off the bus, she would take about a seven- to eight-minute walk to her home from the bus stop on a street that was largely deserted, because it was a residential street with some shops that closed around 8 p.m. or a little bit before that.
One day, a store owner was closing his store a little bit later than usual, because there was a customer who had actually left a little bit later. And he saw my mother get off the bus. He waited for her. He actually knew the family. The store had been in the neighborhood for more than 20 years, so he knew her since she was a baby. He watched her walk to the street that her house was on, turned off the lights, shut the store and went home. From the next day, he found that he waited for her every single day until he she made her way to her own house. Other store owners on that same street suddenly noticed this one store that was open longer, and suddenly started to see a bunch of end-of-day customers walk in to buy odds and ends that, from after their long day from work and their commute home, realized they hadn’t picked up for the next morning. Some people who came in the mornings also started to come the night before. A few of the storekeepers decided that actually what was happening was he was monopolizing a bunch of customers, and they started to keep their store lights on and keep their shop open till 9 o’clock.
From that time on, my mother had a lit street with plenty of activity on the street. I believe that that store owner was my mother’s co-conspirator. Because of him, a small change to what was conventional on that street at the time allowed for her and her family to do something that was completely unconventional. A woman her age from an upper-middle-class family actually got married at that age or studied in grad school with the protection of their family. Because of that store owner, all of my mother’s siblings went on to become engineers, lawyers, accountants and teachers, and my mother went on to become a lawyer.
The world needs co-conspirators. As we get into a complex environment where more and more complex problems exist and we need to find more solutions, we need unconventional people in our boardrooms and at the table. For that to happen, we need co-conspirators. In my own life, whether it’s because of my gender, my ethnicity or sometimes, as I’ve been living in this part of the world for over a decade, my accent, I’m often perceived to be unconventional. It’s my co-conspirators that have shown me the path forward, and actually, it’s my co-conspirators that keep me seeking out the unconventional paths to go down. So what I’d like to ask of all of you today is that you look around and find the people that inspire you to co-conspire. I promise you that your empathy and your courage will change someone’s life and may even change the world. Thank you.(Applause)"
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Dasgupta’s word choice analytics were nothing short of impressive. Only 1% of her speech contained filler words and 1% of her speech included repetition (when speakers repeat the same word in succession). In fact, Yoodli didn’t target any real issues with word choice, including non-inclusive language and weak word usage.
The delivery of Dasgupta’s speech is also pretty impressive. Her body language was great and her natural pauses allowed the audience to take a second to absorb the information.
However, there were a few things that Yoodli highlighted that Dasgupta could improve. Her speaking pace was a little fast at 180 words per minute; still, it was pretty close to a conversational speed of 170. The other potential areas of improvement Yoodli targeted were Dasgupta’s centering and her eye contact. Both of these metrics, however, could be due to the fact that she was speaking to a large audience, making eye contact with audience members as opposed to the camera, which explains why she wasn’t perfectly centered, either.
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