7 TED Talks Every IT Leader Should Watch (includes action points)

TED Talks changed my life, so many of my ideas are inspired by them.

TED talks are the best way for me to consume information as it gets difficult for me to focus my attention on anything for more than 20 minutes (Yes, I switch between multiple Netflix shows and end up watching nothing fully).

I’ve watched a lot of TED talks over time and I thought I will put together a few talks that will benefit IT leaders around the world.

During a rainy weekend where I was stuck at home (I don’t do much on sunny weekends either), I decided to binge watch TED talks for this blog. After watching over 10 hours of TED talks, I write this blog from my couch on a Sunday evening.

Hope you find this list useful.

I’ve also included a set of next steps for IT leaders. I’m not a big fan of blog posts that don’t give you actionable information and so I will try to make mine as actionable as possible.

Why 7? Because 7 is the most powerfully magical number.

#1 How great leaders inspire action (18 minutes)

If I had a dollar for every time I watched this TED Talk, I could easily afford the new iPhone XR. This one is my go-to video whenever I need motivation. In this talk, Simon Sinek explains the importance of communicating why you do something than just what & how.

I feel this talk will benefit IT leaders who want to inspire not just their teams but also the organization. I’ve always felt that IT leaders approach problems logically than emotionally. Simon Sinek’s advice will help them communicate why they do what they do and it should also drive home the importance of an IT vision.

After watching this TED talk, you should:

1. Put together a vision for your IT Org that clearly communicates why you exist
2. Modify your next management presentation to focus on the why
3. Develop a habit of talking about why the IT org exist continuously until it seeps into everyone’s minds

#2 Secret structure of great talks (18 minutes)

Nancy Durate believes that everyone has the power to change the world if they learn how to communicate effectively. I believe that every IT leader has the power to transform their organization through technology if they can communicate their ideas effectively. There are many great IT ideas that can propel the entire business to greatness but they need to be bought into by the entire organization.
Nancy breaks down famous talks in history to observe a pattern and give you a framework to structure your talks. It’s pretty simple and you should watch the TED talk to see how she does it. 

After watching this TED talk, you should:

  1. Apply this secret structure in your most important presentations
  2. Coach your next level managers on delivering great talks
  3. Talk more about the problem and how a world would look like if your solution isn’t applied

#3 Why the best hire might not have the perfect resume (10 minutes)

I firmly believe in this – if you want to build a world-class team, you should be in control of hiring and training. Out of these two, the former is difficult for IT leaders up the organizational chart. There’s a good chance that you only get set up interviews after they go through a certain level of filtering

In this 10 minute talk, Regina Hartley talks about two kinds of people – silver spoons and the scrappers. While the silver spoons may look good on paper, you’ll learn why you should give scrappers a chance after watching this talk. I can vouch for it, being a scrapper myself.

If you want to build a world-class team, you should be in control of hiring and training Click To Tweet

After watching this TED talk, you should:

1. Get involved in hiring at a much lower level (If you don’t have time to go through all resumes, go through ones at random)
2. Set proper filtering criteria for your team that extends beyond credentials on the resume

#4 Why work doesn’t happen at work (15 minutes)

This is the TED talk I send people when I try to explain why an open office model doesn’t work well for everyone. Jason Fried explains how people always prefer to work anywhere but the office and how we’re constantly interrupting our workforce through managers and meetings.

I’ve seen a lot of IT people in my life to say that IT would exchange their most expensive gadget for just 2 hours of uninterrupted time. IT professionals are very hands on – you’ll constantly see them hacking something together. They derive joy out of solving problems, not talking about them. This talk will help you understand why IT leaders should create a conducive environment for them to operate.

After watching this TED talk, you should:

1. Carefully consider every meeting you call for. Keep it as short as possible, include only those who need to be there
2. Set up “No Disruption Hours” twice a week for everyone to focus on solving problems. That means no meetings, no tapping on the shoulder and no “follow-ups”.
3. Allow your teammates to work from home or a cafe if they need to be in that uninterrupted zone. (Personal Plug: Work Vacations – Secret ingredient to catalyze creative solutions?)

#5 The beauty of data visualization (18 minutes)

This talk will really help you see the change in perspective when data is visually represented. David takes a few example data sets and represents them in unconventional ways. As an IT leader, you’re up in front of stakeholders explaining the proceedings through data. If you are hoping for a decision to come your way and you’re using data to make it happen, maybe you need to look beyond typical charts and graphs.

After watching this TED talk, you should:

1. Consider including new visual representation methods for your data in your presentations

#6 Are you a giver or a taker?  (13 minutes)

Adam beautifully explains the different types of people we encounter at our workplace. After this talk, I’m able to classify everyone I work within one of these 3 buckets – givers, takers or matchers. It may not necessarily be a good thing but I’m able to work with them very easily knowing their type.

When you’re an individual contributor, you can easily get away by just happily working on your machine by yourself. When you grow as a leader, it’s important to also account for people’s motivation as you’ll not be able to deliver a lot on your own.

After watching this TED talk, you should:

1. Place yourself in one of the three buckets – giver, taker or matcher
2. Identify the givers in your team and make sure they feel supported

If you like this talk, you should also listen to Adam’s podcast – WorkLife with Adam Grant

#7 Why do we sleep? (20 minutes)

Russell clearly explains how the perception of sleep changed over the years. In the modern world, we view sleep as a weakness. The surrounding environment subtly encourages the employees to work late into the night and that’s seen as a mark of a successful person.

If not worse, it is no different in the IT world. Technology doesn’t need to sleep so it can afford to do the 24 x 7 shifts. People who support technology, cannot. As Russell explains, lack of sleep also affects the ability to solve problems. Without a proper sleep cycle, your team can only stare at their monitors without solving anything meaningfully.

After watching this TED talk, you should:

1. Discourage anyone sacrificing their sleep in the name of work.
2. Avoid employees working during the nights. It’s hard to avoid if you’re a global company but you should explore hiring people in different timezones
3. Not keep anyone working the graveyard shift for more than 6 months, it’s the next best thing if you can’t avoid it altogether.

Thank you so much for reading through this blog.

If you think your network could benefit from this, please share them with your network!

I just watched these awesome TED talks. If you're an IT leader, you should watch them too Click To Tweet

This blog ends here…unless you want to watch more TED talks!

These are the TED talks that I think every IT leader should watch. However, I couldn’t finish this article without a few other talks that influenced my life, personally.

Here are a few more TED talks. Consider these a bonus!

The Power of Introverts

What explains the rise of humans?

Gamification to improve our world

The power of vulnerability

The way we think about charity is dead wrong

Thank you so much for making it till the end! I would love to hear your experiences of watching these TED talks.

Cover Illustration by Srinivasan Dhotre