10/11/2013 01:18 pm ET Updated Dec 11, 2013

Lessons From the Boulevard and the Alley

Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.

In David Pogue's "10 Top Time-Saving Tech Tips" TEDTalk, he imparts clever insight into something we all know, but probably never really brought into our consciousness in quite the way he does it: "Everything risky requires a license -- driving, owning a gun and even marriage" (pause for laughter).

However, while he focuses on technology as the only license-free "risky business" and provides some simple tips to make our tech lives easier, I am putting forth yet another venture with no sure-fire "how-to" guide or basic course for success. It's called politics -- the literal Greek translation being "the art of practicing democracy."

Part of the great appeal of our democracy is the ability for almost anyone to run for public office. There are no documented requirements for education, income, background, or experience. It is a system designed to ideally level the proverbial playing field. Despite a sometimes slanted -- or slippery -- slope of opportunity in the "politics of politics," one thing is equal: once they are voted in, elected officials are thrown out of the comfort of the candidate's nest and into the often gargantuan responsibility of actually governing. Imagine that.

For most, they are learning as they go, day-by-day, and situation-by-situation. Even the tenured politicians -- though they may have more on-the-job experience -- still find themselves facing any number of "new" challenges at any given time.

But there are certain lessons that every politician should already know, and if they don't, should learn, to be more effective and productive for the citizens they serve -- and in the process, make all of our lives a little simpler.

The simplicity of these lessons belies their depth. But they are readily brought to mind for me as we listen to seemingly unending debates from our politicians about ideology, blame games and stalemates.

Lesson #1: Whether you put lipstick on a pig or a fedora on a 'gator, what it is remains the same. No matter how we paint the rhetoric, no amount of make-up can make a mess anything other than what it is. Case in point, threats of debt limit defaults and government shutdowns are injurious to the nation. They are a wretched commentary on the state of American politics, and no matter the rhetorical perfume one tries to spray on it, it reeks.

Lesson #2: Don't complicate the simple. Many times, politicians -- and regular folks alike -- overcomplicate issues by focusing more on political capital, or what they can gain, rather than political service, or what they can meaningfully do. They spin hollow talking points that are devoid of substance, yet filled with divisiveness. When the needs of the American people are really in the forefront, partnership tends to override partisanship.

Lesson #3: Don't snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Know when you're ahead and when it's best to stand still to stay ahead. I once argued a case and was winning, yet I continued to argue. An older attorney pulled me aside and said, "You're ahead. You can sit down now." In other words, recognize when you're winning before you talk or maneuver yourself into defeat.

Lesson #4: Know what you don't know. It's not important to always be the smartest person in the room. Sometimes you simply need to do your research and open your eyes and ears. Understand and accept that good ideas can come from anyone -- regardless of their "label."

Lesson #5: Confidence and humility go hand in hand. Sometimes excellence tolerates arrogance, but more often than not, it requires humility.

These lessons may have been articulated slightly differently or delivered in different packaging depending upon where we come from, but they are, regardless of our backgrounds, shared, timeless and invaluable. They are the simple life lessons that even the best schools can't teach. We first learn them growing up with our parents as the professors, and then if we're smart -- politicians or not -- we spend our remaining days studying and perfecting them.

Ideas are not set in stone. When exposed to thoughtful people, they morph and adapt into their most potent form. TEDWeekends will highlight some of today's most intriguing ideas and allow them to develop in real time through your voice! Tweet #TEDWeekends to share your perspective or email to learn about future weekend's ideas to contribute as a writer.

Sign up for our email.
Find out how much you really know about the state of the nation.