10 Must-Watch TED Talks for Business Owners

If you're a business owner, you may need some inspiration or advice at times. Let's face it, we all do! TED Talks bring amazing minds together to present their thoughts and ideas on a variety of topics - and there are a lot of ideas out there! To save you going through all of them, we've picked our top 10 for business owners.

1. The greatest TED Talk ever sold – Morgan Spurlock

You probably know Morgan Spurlock from his documentary, “Supersize Me” but in this video, Spurlock explains the background to his latest project and the challenges he faced to get funding for it.

The project centers around product placement - but in this video, Spurlock explains how important branding is to a business. The word “brand” gets thrown around in most businesses but this video does an excellent job of explaining what it really means.

2. Larry Page on where Google is going next

Okay, so you may not be Google but there’s still a lot you can learn and apply to your business from the CEO of Google in this video. The crux of this video is about stripping things back and asking “what are we really trying to achieve here?”. Most of what Page explains is prefaced by a question or a brief mission statement.

If your business is thinking about where it’s going next, this is the video for you.

3. How one tweet can ruin your life – Jon Ronson

Author of “The Men Who Stare at Goats” and “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” explains the story of Justine Sacco, who found her reputation and life turned upside down when a flippant tweet she sent was misinterpreted and she found herself the target of bullying online.

In the world of business, Twitter and indeed social media in general, now play a huge part. It’s common sense to give the advice “be careful what you say on social media” but in this video, Ronson gives a thoughtful outlook on just why social media can be both blessing and curse.

4. The surprising thing I learned sailing solo around the world – Dame Ellen MacArthur

If every you needed a bit of inspiration or encouragement in the face of adversity, you could do a whole lot worse than Dame Ellen MacArthur. However, her trials and tribulations at sea are only a small part of what she has to say in this talk. She tells of how her time at sea taught her that resources are finite. On the boat that meant things like toilet paper, food and water but in every day life and in relation to the economy, this means natural resources.  

Dame Ellen speaks at length and with great verve about a circular economy striving to eradicate waste. Whilst this may seem like a broader ecological message, you can also think about how this approach work for your business. Take a look around you – What are you wasting? Is there anything you’ve used which you could put back into your business? And then there’s the nature of business itself. If you make a profit, you may choose to put that money back into the business – again, a cyclical or circular process.  

5. What do the jobs of the future look like? – Andrew McAfee

Economist, Andrew McAfee looks at the way machines and technology are becoming more prevalent in our businesses and the impact this has on jobs and businesses. You might think that more robots and more technology mean fewer jobs for humans but McAfee argues that actually, having more machines in business and production allows us greater freedom to innovate in other ways and that it encourages entrepreneurship.  

McAfee wouldn’t be able to call himself an economist without including a certain amount of doom and gloom in his talk but he does also suggest that there are ways to achieve things like closing the wealth gap by simple economic and sociological policies.  

6. Success, failure and the drive to keep creating – Elizabeth Gilbert

Bear with me on this one. I almost switched this off after the first couple of minutes as it seemed a little bit like a self help seminar but actually, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love” does have an interesting take on the “dust yourself off and try again” message.  

In many ways, Gilbert – like Larry Page from Google (see above) – strips things back to basics and asks, “what do you love more than your self?” and with the proviso that that thing is worthy, that’s what you should stick to doing irrespective of past successes OR failures. There’s another message of determination in here too. There’s a popular phrase which goes something like, “If you throw enough *ahem* stuff at the wall, some of it is bound to stick”. Gilbert says it in a far more eloquent way – but that’s why she’s a published author and I’m not.  

7. Nilofer Merchant: Got a meeting? Take a walk

If you’ve got a busy day, this is the TED Talk for you. It’s short and sweet at just over three minutes long and it might just help you combine two things in your day – exercise and meetings.  

Merchant suggests that if you conduct business meetings out in the open rather than in artificially lit rooms or coffee houses, you become more open minded and creative as well as burning a few calories. Could be a little tough in the wet British weather but a neat idea if you can do it.  

8. How to speak so people want to listen – Julian Treasure

If you are a leader or even if you simply have to give presentations on a regular basis, you should really know how to address people so that you’re listened to, respected and an effective speaker.  

Treasure goes through how to speak, in terms of the way you use your voice, but he also runs through a few things you should not speak about in order to keep your work place/home/life a place of positivity.

See also: Five ways to listen better

9. Go with your gut feeling – Magnus Walker

This could probably have a different title like “Keep your eyes open for opportunities” or, “When opportunity knocks, make sure you open the door”. I say that because Walker’s tale does involve a certain amount of being in the right place at the right time. Plus, he takes a few punts over the years and in the real world those kind of punts don’t always end well.  

That said, Walker’s tale is an interesting one and, if nothing else, reminds us that entrepreneurship can come from the most unlikely places (and people) and snowball into huge success. Walker has followed numerous passions and made successes of them. He’s largely done it his way too which I’m sure is pretty rare these days.  

10. Larry Smith: Why you will fail to have a great career

This economist shares a name with the head of our commercial vehicle insurance department but unlike our very own Larry Smith, this Larry Smith has a very jaded and gritty view of the world.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, “how is this going to inspire me?” but in identifying what holds people back from greatness, Smith makes those traps easier to avoid. Watch this one right the way through to the end – I promise you’ll come away entertained and enlightened.

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