I’ve been a sucker for TED Talks for a while now. They’re like those late night conversations you have with a good friend about how to make the world a better place… except much easier on the liver and with well-constructed ideas that you may actually remember the next day.

Imagine my joy when I discovered that TED now creates books that continue the conversation with your favorite TED speakers. As TED says, “Long enough to explore a powerful idea but short enough to read in a single sitting…” Single sitting? Yes, please. Having recently made the leap from reading children’s books aloud back to actual adult reading, this is a great way to dip my toe back in the pool.

I stumbled across these new bite-sized books listening to Brian Little’s TED Talk entitled Who Are You, Really? The Puzzle Of Personality.

Brian Little is a professor, speaker and leading expert in the science of personality. We’ve come a long way in the realm of understanding self; from nature vs. nurture, to DNA and genomes, to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way. We now realize that in certain ways, we are like all other people. In others, we’re like some of the people. And then there are those ways in which we are like no other person, past, present or future. Professor Little helps us catch a glimpse of ourselves while admitting we are indeed all of these things under one, unique roof.

In Who Are You… he breaks it down for us into Biogenic (genes, baby, pure and simple), Sociogenic (family, friends, societal influences) and Idiogenic (did you just call me an idiot?).

While we teeter on the edge of being able to tweak even our genetic makeup, we already hold the power to change those traits that live in the other two columns. Although it may not be easy, we can alter and enhance our Socio and Idio traits to improve our lives and wellbeing. We can identify the Sociogenic traits that don’t serve us or the greater good, recognize where they came from, that they are a part of who we are – and change them. We can uncover and embrace our Idiogenic traits as what makes us singularly us, nurture the ones that make us happy and whole, bring the ones we’re proud of into the light and explore deeper the ones that may isolate us, hurt us or hold us back.

It is all part of understanding self, our role in our companies, our communities, our families. And understanding that there is a level of our personalities known as free traits.

You are free to choose them and free to change them. As important as they are for understanding who we are, they are an equally valuable peek into who others are.

What do the people around you choose at the idiosyncratic level? What are their projects and passions? What has been truly chosen, embraced and owned as a part of them, a true personality trait?

And while it can be fun to apply this science to others and try to pin point where (as Professor Little puts it) someone’s assholic qualities may come from, the real value of this science is the opportunity to look inward.

What do you love? Not because your dad does too, not because it’s what everyone on the block loves. What do you want to create or achieve? Not because you’ve read you should if you want to reach the next rung on that ladder. Not because you’ve been told it’s an achievement that proves your talent, your success, your worth. What secret desire do you harbor? For here lies the real you.

I’ll share something with you. I love shrines. I love seeing them, sitting with them, creating them, communing with them. I do not come from a background that explains this interest. I do not belong to a shrine creators club. I just love them. I even love the words associated with them – hallowed, altar, reliquary. The idea that tiny pieces, words, gifts, images join together to create something unique and sacred… I just love it. For me it is a way to recognize and celebrate what is truly important.

Ah… and there lies the real me.