Five of the Best Ted Talks for HR & L&D

TED talks have been around for quite a long time now – since 1984. Just in case any of you don’t know or are hazy about what TED talks are and what their purpose is, here’s a quick summary.

They are short talks (18 minutes or less) given by expert speakers on any number of topics. Originally, they covered Technology, Entertainment and Design (hence the acronym), but now they encompass pretty much all topics worth talking about. The main purpose is that they are ‘ideas worth spreading’. As well as TED talks, we also now have independent, spin-off TEDx talks.

The result is that there are many interesting and thought-provoking TED and TEDx talks out there, talks that can give you a fresh perspective as an HR or L&D professional. They help you to take a step out of the day to day and refresh your thinking about your professional practice and career. However, there are a lot to choose from. That’s why we have come up with what we think are some of the top ones. Below are five really good TED talks for HR and L&D professionals. We hope you enjoy them.

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work


Work-life balance – now there’s a topic that crops up time and time again in the workplace and Nigel Marsh has a lot to say about it. The author (of books such as ‘Fat, Forty and Fired’ and ‘Fit, Fifty and Fired-Up’) and marketer makes some good and amusing points about how Western society often approaches work-life balance in the wrong way – such as “It’s my contention that going to work on Friday in jeans and a t-shirt isn’t really getting to the nub of the issue”. Instead, Marsh advises that people think seriously and realistically about how to have a better work life balance. It’s certainly something that HR professionals need to be thinking about on behalf of employees, employers and of course, yourselves.

Susan Cain: The power of introverts


Susan Cain, author of the book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking’, sounds a note of caution to employers about organising workplaces around the needs and working preferences of extroverts. The current emphasis is on open plans offices, on constant collaboration and communication, whereas introverts need more quiet time and chunks of uninterrupted thinking time. Cain says that we, as a society, lose out if we neglect the needs of introverts.

Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation


Pink spends a lot of time thinking, writing and talking about what motivates people. He has written books such as ‘Drive’ and ‘To Sell is Human’. He has also given a well-known TED talk on the issue, during which he says there is a huge mismatch between how businesses approach human motivation and what sciences tells us actually works. “If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right? Bonuses, commissions, their own reality show. Incentivize them. That’s how business works.” So says Pink. He then goes on to say that these ways of incentivizing people has completely the wrong effect – it dulls thinking and blocks creativity.

Instead, Pink says businesses need to work on intrinsic motivation based around three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are


This TED talk is, as you would expect, all about body language. However, it’s not just about how other people perceive you as a result of your body language – it’s also about how you perceive yourself as a result of your body language. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy talks about ‘power posing’, when people demonstrate powerful non-verbal language that makes them appear more powerful, both to others and themselves. According to research conducted by Cuddy and two other experts (although one of those experts has since disassociated herself from the findings of the research, see http://fortune.com/2016/10/02/power-poses-research-false/ ), adopting body language associated with dominance for 120 seconds leads to a 20% increase in testosterone. The research says it also leads to a 25% reduction in the stress hormone cortisol.

Margaret Heffernan: Forget the pecking order at work


In her TED talk, Margaret Heffernan starts off talking about chickens and ‘superchickens’. And the problem is, she says, that organisations are expending all their energy and resources on ‘superchickens’, those people with the highest IQ, who are expected to yield the best results. Those ‘superchickens’ are nurtured, empowered and promoted. “We’ve thought that success is achieved by picking the superstars, the brightest men – or occasionally women – in the room and giving them all the resources and all the power,” says Heffernan.

And that’s where Herffernan thinks companies are going wrong. What does she base this assertion on? Research carried out by an evolutionary biologist into actual chickens, research that found that selective breeding (having a flock of ‘superchickens’) led to negative results, six generations of chickens down the line. Not only were the ‘superchickens’ producing fewer eggs than the standard flock of average chickens, but there were only three left of them. “They’d pecked the rest to death”, says Heffernan. The average flock, however were still in good numbers and egg production was going strong.

Similarly, Heffernan says we need workplaces where we don’t just celebrate and nurture a few to the detriment of the rest. We need to say goodbye to the pecking order and instead enable all employees to achieve their best, on an individual and collective level.