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 unclear about what TED Talks are and what their purpose is, here’s a quick summary:

TED Talks are short presentations (18 minutes or less) given by expert speakers on any number of topics from around the world. Originally, they covered Technology, Entertainment and Design (hence the acronym), but now they encompass pretty much all topics worth talking about or, rather, '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. They help you to take a step out of the day-to-day and refresh your thinking about your life and career. However, there are a lot to choose from, and that’s why we've come up with what we think are five of the best TED Talks if you're an HR or L&D professional.

We hope you enjoy them! 

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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 insightful and entertaining points about how Western society often approaches work-life balance in the wrong way – for example, “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, themselves. 

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 in the workplace is on open plans offices and constant collaboration and communication - which typically caters to extroverts - whereas introverts need more quiet time and chunks of uninterrupted thinking time to do their work effectively. During her TED Talk, Cain elaborates on how 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's 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 science 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 incentivizing people in these ways has the entirely wrong effect – it dulls thinking and blocks creativity.

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

Tom Wujec: Tell Me How You Make Toast

Tom Wujec is a gifted speaker and author, founder of a boutique consultancy, and a university professor. During his engaging TED Talk, Tom dives into the nitty-gritty of decision-making and problem-solving using... you guessed it - toast!

Wujec says that the point of diagramming toast is to show, at a fundamental level, the way that our minds typically decipher and communicate processes — through links and nodes. Backpacking on this theory, Tom explains how you and your team can visualize and move quickly through processes, procedures, and come up with effective solutions to seemingly difficult workplace problems. 

Margaret Heffernan: Forget the Pecking Order at Work

In her TED talk, Margaret Heffernan starts off talking about chickens and ‘super chickens. And the problem is, she says, that organisations are expending all their energy and resources on ‘super chickens, those people with the highest IQ, who are expected to yield the best results.

Those ‘super chickens are nurtured, empowered, and subsequently 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 Heffernan 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.

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