As TED 2013 Takes Place, Here Are 10 TED Talks To Help You Re-imagine Your Business

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It’s happening right now.

Thousands of very lucky individuals are seated in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center as you are reading this and they’re having their minds blown by business leaders, scientists, innovators, agitators, inventors, designers and artists at TED 2013. TED (which stands for Technology Entertainment Design) has become a brand name in the past few years as they have uploaded their archive of 18-minute presentations from their highly exclusive annual event which started in 1984 as a one-off, but became an annual ritual in 1990 to Originally available only online, the speeches are now distributed and broadcasted on TV, radio, podcasts and even on Netflix. I have been fortunate to have attended the annual conference since 2008. Pushing the brand further, TED is now a global community of people with the same interests as the foundation’s tagline: "ideas worth spreading." Independent organizers are encouraged to run their own events (called TEDx), there is an annual TED Global event, a TED Prize for individuals with a vision to change the world for the better, TED Fellows and more extensions of the brand than you could imagine for an organization of this nature. What people don’t seem to understand is that the famed TED Talks, while inspiring and informative, wind up being only a fraction of what the true TED experience is all about. From the hallway conversations, to coffee breaks, dinners, parties and even the people you run into in the hotel gym, TED is an experience that helps businesspeople unlock a new way to think about the work that they do, where they are going as leaders and our collective role in the evolution of the world. In the spirit of TED 2013 – which is happening this week – here are 10 amazing TED Talks that will get you thinking differently about what your business could be, how to be a better leader and how to become a better global citizen:

  • Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability. There is a reason this talk by researcher Brene Brown has been seen close to eight million times. Are characteristics like empathy and love a key ingredient in the making of a successful leader? Her latest book is called, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead and her area of study includes vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Her presentation will get you to think differently about what it means to be a true leader.

  • Julie Burstein: 4 lessons in creativity. When we think of creativity, we often think of art, but creativity permeates everything. Julie Burstein started to define and uncover what creativity is and how it affects our culture through the creation of Public Radio International‘s Studio 360 radio program (which was hosted by novelist Kurt Anderson). She published her first book, Spark: How Creativity Works in 2011 and now hosts her own podcast, Pursuit of Spark! Watch this TED talk to inspire more creativity in your work and personal life.

  • Susan Cain: The power of introverts. Like to read? Like private time to do your work on your own? Do you think that collaboration is over-rated? Would you rather spend time alone than out at a party? According to Susan Cain and her incredibly popular book from last year, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, you may not be alone… and if you are, there’s nothing wrong with it. It turns out that some of our best thinkers and innovators are introverted. This TED talk will get you thinking differently about the work space that you create, the people that you hire and how you motivate them.

  • Seth Godin: The tribes we lead. Leading business and marketing practitioner, Seth Godin, imagines a world where the mass market dies. A world where mediocrity holds no economic value and he creates a vision for the world that is led by the brands that can develop, nurture and build a tribe of followers. While much of Godin’s thinking has come to bear true in our social media-induced world, this TED Talk will get you thinking differently about where you spend your marketing dollars… and who you spend them on.

  • James Kunstler: How bad architecture wrecked cities. James Kunstler has a problem with urban sprawl. In fact, he calls it, "the greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known." People look at Tony Hsieh (Zappos‘ CEO) and think his investment of over $300 million to rejuvenate downtown Las Vegas is crazy. What Kunstler and Hsieh know is this: with each passing year, more and more human beings move to cities. As this continues to intensify (and it is), do we just create boring and depressing spaces or do we wake up and turn urban planning into the art form that it deserves to become? Kunstler’s presentation will make you laugh at how horrific we have been about planning our living spaces. Watching this will get you thinking differently about the physical spaces you occupy in your work and play.

  • John Maeda: Designing for simplicity. If you’re looking for a TED Talks that engenders every pillar of the word "TED" – technology, entertainment and design, this would be the talk. John Maeda is the President of the Rhode Island School of Design and author of the bestselling book, Laws of Simplicity. The book was published in 2006 right before this TED Talk took place. Too many business leaders fail to understand the profound power that a culture of design can instill in an organization. Steve Jobs at Apple may have been one of a few who did understand the merits of being so insanely occupied with strong design. Watch this presentation if you’re struggling to understand the merits of what great design can do to move a brand from good to great.

  • Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world. Are you worried about your kids because they’re spending too much time on their Xbox or iPad playing video games? Jane McGonigal  wants you to pay attention to what she has to say. The author of Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World and Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future is not only on a mission ensure that a game developer wins a Nobel Peace Prize, but a mission to help all of us understand the power and value that comes from a world where people are playing more games. Don’t think this is critical to your business’ future? Think about the power of gamification in some of the world’s biggest brands – from Twitter and Facebook to Google and Apple. All of these companies use gamification in both their products and in motivating their employees for maximum success. Watch this presentation so that you can start figuring out how to add more games to your work. 

  • Clay Shirky: Institutions vs. collaboration. When it comes to understanding media and technology (and where it is all going), there are few smarter than Clay Shirky. In this 2005 TED Talk, Shirky uncovers what we have since come to know as truth: that the more the Internet opens up and connect us all, the more powerful we become. We have moved from a world of scarcity to one of abundance in how we share, create and collaborate with information. If your business struggles with the notions of openness and transparency, this should get you thinking differently. It’s amazing to think that this presentation took places years before the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements.

  • Derek Sivers: How to start a movement. If you really want your business to succeed, you need to start a movement. How many people does it take to start a movement? In this three minute presentation, Derek Sivers (the founder of CD Baby) dissects it all for you while a popular YouTube video plays in the background. It’s a fascinating examination into what it takes to get people to follow and believe in you. Hint: it’s not that complicated and it doesn’t take that much.

  • Don Tapscott: Four principles for the open world. Don Tapscott is one of the few people who has seen the future coming… on multiple occasions. The bestselling author, researcher and futurist will open your business eyes to the body of a world that has so fundamentally changed… and few businesses are truly understanding this change and capitalizing on it. These aren’t even big ideas like how connected we are and the pace of change in business, but rather how our connected culture is reshaping the very world we live in. This one will open your eyes and, if your eyes are already open, prepare for them to open even wider.

Which TED Talks have inspired you to think differently about your business? Please share them below in the comments section…

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for the Harvard Business Review. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:

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