24 TED Talks for Project Managers

You may already be aware what a fantastic resource TED is. But what are the best TED talks for Project Managers?

This article goes out during the holiday period, so I  thought it would be fun to do something a little different. So, I have selflessly spent many hours watching TED talks looking for the best ones for Project Managers. It’s been tough!

Before we start properly though, we should avoid making assumptions. Not everybody will know what TED is…

What are TED Talks?

TED is a marvellous organization. Founded by Chris Anderson, it organizes conferences and events. And, at these these events, it invites pre-eminent speakers. They come from every conceivable branch of human endeavor.

24 TED Talks for Project ManagersTED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. This set out their oridinal span of interest. But now it is far wider. Their mission is simple: to spread ideas. On TED stages, you can find:

  • jugglers and philosophers
  • social reformers and scientists
  • managers and historians
  • chefs and educators

What they all have in common are two things:

  1. They are pre-eminent in their field
  2. They have a story to tell

And TED challenges them to tell their story in 22 minutes or less. And, while they are at it, to give the best talk of their lives. As a result, what TED creates is entertaining, informative, and a lesson in how to speak to an audience. Who cannot love that?

But they go further. TED records their talks. And then, it makes the videos available, on the internet, for free. They have created a vast archive of fantastic material. And smaller, spin-off TEDx events produce even more content. Some of it also makes it to the TED.com site. The rest is available on YouTube.

But there’s a problem…

A reason why, even now, I hesitate to advocate TED videos. You see, I am intellectually curious. I love new ideas and enjoy hearing about them presented in a clear, entertaining and succinct way.

And if you are the same, then telling you about TED carries a risk. It’s like introducing you to a drug. It’s very easy to become addicted to watching these wonderful videos.

So don’t spend time browsing the wonders of TED.com. Don’t let yourself get seduced by brilliant people who want to share their ideas and passions. It can too easily lead to hours of happy viewing. And then you’ll find yourself learning new ideas. These will only open your mind and stretch your thinking. Don’t do it!

TED Heaven

I often run senior management team events. Sometimes they are about learning, sometimes about thinking, and sometimes about doing. Often, I suggest a shortlist of TED Talks to watch, to stimulate thinking.

At one event , a participant referred to his preparation as an afternoon of ‘TED Heaven’. There are enough TED Talks here for one a week, to beyond the end of the year. So, you can either pace yourself and learn loads over the coming months. Or you can indulge yourself in a couple of afternons of TED Heaven.

24 TED Talks

Aziza Chaouni: How I brought a river, and my city, back to life

Transformative goal and stakeholder engagement

Elon Musk: The future we’re building – and boring

Not only is this longer than most TED talks, but it’s not a talk. It’s an interview between TED founder, Chris Anderson, and Elon Musk. Musk is an incredible thinker and a hugely energetic doer. His ambition is global and empowering.

Ben Saunders: Why did I ski to the North Pole?

A little bit of project management ad a big dose of Why the *** did he do that? Witty tales of derring do from the north pole.

Patrice Thompson: Closing the gap. A millennial proposal for a happy multigenerational workplace

Are Millennials self-centred, with a sense of entitlement? Are Gen X bosses too stuck in the past? Here’s how the generations rub along in the modern workplace. And how they can learn from each other.

Tom Wujek: Build a Tower, Build a Team

Agile or Traditional Project Management? What skills do you need to manage a process? And what process will work best in building a challenging structure? And a valuable insight into the nature of incentives. Oh-oh to ta-da.

Tom Wujec: Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast

Tom again – this time looking at how we think. Nodes and links should be familiar to Project Managers. But here are some lessons about how to communicate well. It will show you how to produce better models and solve problems better.

Richard St John: 8 Secrets of Success

8 words and 3 minutes, 7 years research and 500 interviews. How can you be successful as a Project Manager? These 8 answers are applicable to YOU.

Daniel Levitin: How to Stay Calm when You Know You’ll be Stressed

Stress is often a big issue for Project Managers. And the implications are bad. Are there systems you can put in place to to prevent those implications? It turns out there are.

Kelly McGonigal: How to Make Stress Your friend

McGonigal offers another approach to handling stress… by making it into a positive thing. This will also give a route to reduce your chance of dying early. Can you afford to ignore this? Especially if you’re choosing a stressful role.

Adam Grant: Are You a Giver or a Taker

I’ve talked about Grant’s research in my weekly email. This talk will give you new ideas about how to craft a project culture.

Yves Morieux: As Work gets more Complex, 6 Rules to Simplify

You are familiar with the two pillars of any change: hard and soft components. Morieux will tell you these are now obsolete. We have multi-dimensional matrices and huge interconnectivity. But instead, let’s start to simplify, and Morieux offers you six simple rules.

Navi Radjou: Creative Problem Solving in the Face of Extreme Limits

Invention and innovation do not need to build on the newest technology. They can harness simple, frugal principles. Three principles your projects can apply to do more with less. It’s the third one that struck me.

Rosalind Torres: What it Takes to be a Great Leader

This talk is aimed at CEOs, but to my mind it’s equally valuable for Project Leaders. Torres’ ideas of Adaptive Leadership are powerful and in this TED Talk, she highlights three thought provoking questions you should be asking… And looking for answers to.

Itay Talgam: Lead Like the Great Conductors

Talgam offers you different styles of leadership (or project leadership). And they are all suggested through the metaphor of orchestral conductors.

Adam Grant: The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

How do ‘Originals’ drive creativity and change in the world? And how do you recognze them? Perhaps more important, how can you become more like them?

Nilofer Merchant: Got a Meeting? Take a Walk

Project Managers spend a lot of time in meetings. We sit down or we stand up. In this short (3.5 minute) talk, Nilofer Merchant advocates we walk. When I was deep in my active project management career, I met another PM. He would ‘take people for a walk around the car park’ when he needed to have a in depth conversation with them. At first, I thought that was just a metaphor. But, on one rainy autumn morning, I arrived for a meeting. And there he was, with one of his team. They were soaking wet and deep in conversation!

David Grady: How to Save the World (or at least yourself) from Bad Meetings

Meetings are a symptom of unproductive projects. They are also a cause. This is one of the more polemical TED Talks. But it will make you laugh and think. Are you afflicted with MAS?

Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work

If you haven’t yet engaged with the ideas of Positive Psychology, here is a great place to start. Not only important ideas, but delivery like a top stand-up comic.  Don’t be ‘merely average’. Better still, move the average up.

Julia Galef: Why You Think You’re Right – Even if You’re Wrong

When I first heard this TED Talk, I though Galef’s ‘Scout Mindset’ metaphor was brilliant. And I still do. To me, this is a key to good Project management.

Ben Ambridge: 9 myths about psychology, debunked

I expect you’ve picked up a fair amount of psychology on your way to where you are. We all do. And being an effective Project Manager means knowing a fair bit about how people tick. The problem is that there are a lot of persistent myths about psychology, so watch this talk to see how many of them you thought were true… and aren’t.

Shubhendu Sharma: An engineer’s vision for tiny forests, everywhere

Uplifting? Yes. But also a guide to how you can take ideas from one domain and apply it to another, completely different one.

Ari Wallach: 3 Ways to Plan for the Very Long Term

As a Project Manager, you know the importance of planning. Yet short-termism pervades our lives. In this TED talk, Wallach offers reasons and tactics for long-term thinking. He’ll introduce you to his isea of Longpath.

Margaret Heffernan: Forget the Pecking Order at Work

Do your superchickens achieve their great results at the expense of the rest? Heffernan suggest that competition, status, and stars are toxic. But there’s an alternative… And you can apply this to your projects to get a higher achieving group.

Apollo Robbins: The Art of Misdirection

Okay. This has nothing to do with Project Management. But I keep re-watching this. It’s astonishing. But you need to see to the end to see the cleverest trick. And maybe it does have something to do with Project Management… It’s about where we put our attention.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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