8 more TED talks for business leaders

| April 15, 2018

TED began in 1984 as a conference discussing the interactions between Technology, Entertainment and Design. Popularised by the internet, the format now covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 110 languages. After the popularity of our previous post on 8 TED talks for mid-sized business leaders, here are 8 more thought provoking ideas on ways every firm can offer better leadership and foster greater creativity.

David Logan: “Tribal Leadership

While most of humanity left the hunter-gather lifestyle behind millennia ago, we still live in ‘tribes’ of different kinds. Logan explains that ‘the tribe’ is a naturally occurring group of between 20 to 150 people which develop in any situation and from which societies develop.

Logan believes that tribes exist in five unique stages, but almost half of humanity in ‘working tribes’ sit at stage 3 – the “I’m great, and you’re not” level. Unfortunately this exclusionary attitude prevents such tribes being as productive as they could be.

Logan argues that the biggest challenge of leadership is to move teams from stage three to stage four, where the “we’re great” sentiment is shared without demonising outsiders. Stage four tribes at work allow employees to come together and celebrate creativity by “being a little bit weird.” Once that is achieved, Logan says leaders must push forward to stage five, where “life is great” for all involved.

Barry Schwartz: “The way we think about work is broken

Schwartz agrees with Dan Pink in making the case against money as the primary motivation for doing good work. The Swarthmore College psychologist and author of “Why We Work” asks why society forces most people to spend their lives doing “monotonous, meaningless, and soul-deadening” activities which barely scrape at their potential.

150 years after the industrial revolution, most people don’t operate as mere cogs in the chain of production, with their only reward a paycheck at the end of the week. However many workplaces still operate on 19th century lines, giving people financial incentives for hitting their goals rather than tapping intrinsic motivation.

As a result, Schwartz says, people lose motivation, appear lazy and are tagged as poor performers. He argues managers should leverage people’s deep seated desire for meaning to become dedicated and more productive performers.

Tony Robbins: “Why We Do What We Do

The highly successful ‘life coach’ Tony Robbins argues that emotion, rather than mere self-interest, is life’s driving force. Only when business leaders understand these elemental human needs can they appreciate their workers and what shapes their ability to contribute.

Robbins believes that although the ‘science of achievement’ is well understood, the more subtle art of fulfillment is undervalued. Robbins therefore suggests that the many excuses produced for failing at any particular task are futile, and urges the cultivation of resourcefulness as the underlying factor for success. He urges leaders to make decisions based on a well chosen focus to give tasks more meaning and therefore generate an emotion that inspires action from all.

Jason Fried: “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work

If you’ve ever left the office after a full day of toil and realized on the way home that you achieved nothing, you can probably identify with Fried’s argument.

Fried is the CEO of Basecamp, a ‘virtual’ company where everyone is allowed to work remotely, and he argues that modern offices are not only expensive and outdated but reduce productivity by creating endless distractions. No matter how much people want to get their job done, they’re hampered by their boss checking in, pointless phone calls, emails and meetings and coworkers with ‘urgent’ requests.

“You don’t have a work day anymore, you have work moments. It’s like the front door of the office is like a Cuisinart, and you walk in and your day is shredded to bits, because you have 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there.” says Fried.

To remedy this problem, Fried suggests that organizations arrange half-days – or more – of complete silence, during which employees can work undisturbed. Moreover, he recommends abolishing most meetings entirely to give people more time to think or work productively, rather than waste an hour waiting for their moment to speak.

Shawn Achor: “The Happy Secret to Better Work.”

Being happy at work isn’t just a perk, argues psychologist Shawn Achor, it’s a vital ingredient to business success as happiness fuels productivity. ‘If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral, or stressed,’ he says. ‘Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we’ve found is that every single business outcome improves.’

Achor urges the study of outliers to increase average productivity across the board and calls on managers to shift their focus from struggles and complaints towards change and opportunity. Achor’s light hearted address offers insight on how leaders can leverage the “happiness advantage” to boost creativity and productivity and create more satisfied workers and profitable firms.

Adam Grant: “The surprising thinking of original leaders

Most managers would identify employees who day dream or procrastinate rather than engage with the task at hand as ripe for admonishment or dismissal. However Grant, a Wharton psychologist and the author of “Originals,” suggests a more enlightened long term view.

“Procrastinating is a vice when it comes to productivity, but it can be a virtue for creativity,” Grant argues, and allowing people more time to ponder a solution to a problem allows them to come up with more efficient and creative solutions, reducing costs and time spent on the task in the long term. He notes that many of the most successful tech companies are not first to market, but learn from the mistakes made by others to hone their later, more consumer friendly, offerings.

“Look at Facebook, waiting to build a social network until after Myspace and Friendster. Look at Google, waiting for years after Altavista and Yahoo. It’s much easier to improve on somebody else’s idea than it is to create something new from scratch. So the lesson I learned is that to be original you don’t have to be first. You just have to be different and better.”

Kelly McGonigal: “How to make stress your friend

While many books and column inches are expended on the dangers of ‘stress’ in modern life and offer techniques to reduce or avoid it, Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal tells her audience that its the belief that stress is harmful, rather than stress itself, which is the serious health risk.

She argues that stress should be embraced and used to advantage, rather than feared, as it’s a normal physical reaction to prepare one’s mind and body for action when faced with challenge or risk. McGonigal argues we should use the ‘flight or fight’ response to face and overcome difficult situations the help of a strong support group of loved ones.

Steve Jobs: “How to Live Before You Die

Jobs was lionised by many Apple fans, while critics remember his callous treatment of colleagues and relations over many years, however the success of the firm cannot be questioned. Many firms and would be business leaders mimic Apple’s approach in the hope the magic will rub off and while current moguls such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are aiming for the stars, rather than selling high priced gadgets to well heeled demographics, there will only ever be one Jobs.

Steve Job’s famous Stanford University commencement speech from 2005 addresses his formative years, including his adoption, and the events that led him to co-found and then return to lead one of the 21st century’s most successful tech companies.

Stanford has produced many of the brightest stars of the modern tech industry and Jobs uses his speech to urge graduates to ‘find what they love’, take a ‘leap of faith’ and pursue their goals through temporary setbacks. Long before the health problems which brought about his untimely demise, Jobs championed death itself as “ very likely the single best invention of life” because it is “life’s change agent.”