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13 TED Talks that Will Make You Better at Business

Esme Mazzeo
Based on the TED founding principle, there is one qualification to being a speaker at a conference: having an idea worth spreading. The company was founded in 1984, but has seen a surge of popularity in recent years.

TED talks are free to distribute and pretty short (about 12 minutes on average), which is key to their popularity in the digital age. The following videos are essential for anyone in the business world, and will help you to think differently about critical topics such as workplace happiness, communication, and motivation.

#1: Ricardo Semler: How to Run a Company with (Almost) No Rules

Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler talks about what happened when his company broke free from many of the traditional “rules” of work. There are many systems that we keep in place solely because that is the established norm; however, by continually asking ourselves “What am I doing this for?” we can strip away a lot of this external governing. From the interview process to managing vacation days to setting salaries and making board-level decisions, Semler challenges the way that we think about both corporate culture and the existing education system.

Watch Ricardo Semler’s TED Talk here

#2: Simon Sinek: How Great Leaders Inspire Action

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. This is the main idea behind Simon Sinek’s 2009 talk. He’s a leadership expert and the author of “Start with Why.” He says that the reason Apple, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright Brothers were so successful in their respective pursuits was that they started with “why” and let that drive them.

When it comes to marketing, companies will largely focus on the “what,” but it is the “why” that resonates with individuals on a deeper level. No matter what industry you are in, this talk will ask you to think about what it is that motivates your company, and give you a new perspective on how to reach and inspire customers. 

Watch Simon Sinek’s TED Talk here

#3: Bel Pesce: 5 Ways to Kill Your Dreams

Brazilian motivational speaker and MIT graduate Bel Pesce gives a short but essential talk on why you shouldn’t follow your dreams. Due to the fact that dreams tend to be idealistic, they give us unrealistic expectations and a lack of responsibility. By avoiding these “tips,” you will be able to overcome the hurdles in front of you, and achieve more in your business and personal life than ever before.

Watch Bel Pesce’s TED Talk here

#4: Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius

Elizabeth Gilbert, New York Times bestselling author of “Eat, Pray, Love” talks about our mistaken notion of “creative genius” in this 2009 presentation. She discusses how putting the responsibility of “genius” on a person is harmful, and can perpetuate the term of “tormented artist.” If we change the way we think about creativity, she says, we can change the way we work. As humans, our job is to show up to work, and genius can show up if it wants to, but if it doesn’t, we just keep doing our work.

Almost ten years after this talk, Gilbert has expanded this idea into a book called “Big Magic.” But all you need is 20 minutes to absorb the idea. Whether you are in an artistic field or not, it’s essential to any company’s productivity and idea flow. Learn how to do the work without the pressure.

Watch Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk here

#5: Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your Friend

Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist, and she wants to change our relationship to stress. She cites scientific studies that show how people who believe stress is bad for them often experience harmful effects on their health; however, those who view stress as a positive, have little to no ill effect. 

McGonigal explains the body’s biological response to stress, why it is helpful, and how it can promote human connection. This fascinating 2013 talk will change the way you view stress at work, and might even inspire you to alter the way you problem solve within your business.

Watch Kelly McGonigal’s TED Talk here

#6: Margaret Heffernan: Why It’s Time to Forget the Pecking Order at Work

Businesswoman Margaret Heffernan discusses why the “superchicken model,” or the idea that the strongest and most aggressive employees are those that will help a company succeed, can actually have a negative effect on productivity. Through our lives—and particularly in the business world—there is a general understanding that the way to get ahead is through competition. Heffernan argues that instead of pitting employees against one another, we should be focusing on developing teams that promote empathy, diversity, and equal contribution. Through increased socialization at work, we can create a general culture of problem-solving together, and ultimately increase overall performance.

Watch Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk here

#7: Susan Colantuono: The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get

Every woman should watch this video. CEO and founder of Leading Women, Susan Colantuono, talks about why the highest percentage of women are stuck in middle management. She states that there is conventional advice that is given to professional women, typically around helping them build confidence, but this varies from the “criteria for advancement” that is needed to break into senior management. Understanding a company’s business, strategic, and financial acumen is the door to professional advancement, and is directly tied to the gender gap that we see in many companies today. Watch this video to ensure that all employees are given the tools they need to advance their careers and best contribute to the success of your company.

Watch Susan Colantuono’s TED Talk here

#8: Dan Ariely: Are We in Control of Our Own Decisions?

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely uses optical illusions as a way to discuss decision making and explain why we are not as in control of our decisions as we think may think. His funny, insightful talk proves that the way information is presented is perhaps the most important factor in business. Particularly when there are decisions in front of us that are complex and difficult, we will often look to external factors to help us make them; when we don’t know what to do, we will take the road of least resistance and “choose” the direction that is presented to us at the start. This is a fascinating and essential speech for anyone in the business of communication and looking to influence consumer behavior.

Watch Dan Ariely’s TED Talk here

#9: Daniel Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation

Career analyst (and Al Gore’s former speechwriter) discusses the puzzle of motivation. Daniel Pink points to scientific experiences to prove that higher incentives do not always increase performance; in fact, a larger reward can actually lead to poorer performance. Pink states that businesses instead need to look for areas of intrinsic motivation, as individuals are more likely to do things because they believe that they matter and are important. The ideas he presents will change the way you run your business and manage your teams, promoting growth that he believes can change the world.

Watch Daniel Pink’s TED Talk here

#10: Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work

Shawn Achor is a positive psychologist and the CEO of Good Think Inc. In his 2011 talk, he proposes that happiness causes success, rather than the common societal belief that success causes happiness. If you are happy in your present moment, you will be more productive, get better results and be more successful overall.

Changing the lens through which you view happiness and the world around you can improve productivity within your business, and spread to your employees and coworkers. A simple happiness shift could potentially lead your business to grow in directions you hadn’t allowed yourself to think of before.

Watch Shawn Achor’s TED Talk here

#11: Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce

Writer Malcolm Gladwell tells the story about what the search for the perfect spaghetti sauce revealed about human happiness. So often businesses seek to find out what consumers want by simply asking them. However, not only do many people not necessarily know what it is that they want, but this assumes that there is a universal answer or product for everyone. In fact, companies need to understand variability between consumers, and the importance of segmentation. By doing so, you’ll be able to better understand and communicate with your audiences, and increase their overall satisfaction with your offerings. This talk will change the way you think about choice within your business, no matter what you sell.

Watch Malcolm Gladwell’s TED Talk here

#12: Seth Godin: How to Get Your Ideas to Spread

Marketing expert and blogger Seth Godin has a really simple but effective theory behind increasing sales and spreading ideas: sell your ideas to the people who love your product, and let them tell their friends. Another way to say this is…be remarkable. Make something worth noticing, and the people who want to notice will, and will go on to help you sell your product. This is a different approach than the status quo of “selling to the masses.” While the concept is simple, it can be incredibly powerful when effectively employed.

Watch Seth Godin’s TED Talk here

#13: Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts

Susan Cain is a writer, lecturer, and champion for the introvert, as is evidenced by her 2012 TED talk. In 2015 she co-founded Quiet Revolution, whose mission is to make schools, workplaces, and the world easier for introverts.

In this speech, Cain makes a case for the introvert, starting with why introversion is looked down upon, and then explaining why the idea that introverts cannot be leaders and innovators is incorrect. To create a more balanced workplace, increase collaboration and communication, and to help you understand the potential of introverts on your team, watch this talk.

Watch Susan Cain’s TED Talk here

The Power of TED

Every business owner and professional should leverage TED Talks as a valuable resource. Each talk mentioned in this list has the potential to enhance your capabilities and knowledge, offering fresh insights and a wealth of inspiration. You can gain expertise from professionals spanning diverse fields, ultimately fortifying and advancing your business.

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