The 15 greatest TED Talks for design, leadership, and improving work


Want to learn a thing or two about creative design?  Have you been dying to know the secret of effective leadership? Or maybe you are looking for some helpful ideas to improve your work habits or your business’ work environment (spoiler – happiness is key).

Anybody in the startup or entrepreneurial line of work will find most – if not all – of these 15 TED talks enlightening, fun, interesting and potentially very valuable. With a wide range of backgrounds including a four-star General, a world-renowned philharmonic orchestra conductor, Al Gore’s past speech-writer and even the man who created the “I [heart] N Y” design, there are many ideas and lessons to take home from these inspirational individuals.

So here they are. The 15 Greatest TED talks for Design, Leadership, and Improving Work. Have at it!


Tony Fadell – The first secret of design is… noticing

Habituation – the process of creating habits – can be very useful for many things, like when learning to drive, but it can also desensitise us to the flaws and poor design of everyday objects or common processes. Tony explains why it’s so important to notice these little things – and then try to fix them.


Milton Glaser – Using design to make ideas new

The man behind the “I [heart] N Y” slogan talks about a few of the projects he worked on and discusses some ways of thinking that helped him create original and successful designs. From the idea of creating something new out of something old to the question of “Does this poster have to be square?”, Milton shares some very insightful ideas about creativity in design.


Margaret Gould Stewart – How giant websites design for you (and a billion other, too)

As Facebook’s director of product design, Margaret deals with design that affects billions of people. She explains the need for a combination of audacity and humility, as well as the three main aspects of designing for large scale audiences – the little things really matter, how to design with data and the necessity to tread carefully where change is involved.


John Maeda – My journey in design

From his beginnings in the family tofu factory, to completing his masters at MIT, all the way to being the President at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2008, John takes us step-by-step through his life and the decisions he made to get where he is and the critical moment when design and computers crossed paths.


Paula Scher – Great design is serious, not solemn

Work and play. Play and design. These things are definitely not mutually exclusive. Paula explains how her four most incredible designs all stemmed from “serious play” and everything else was simply “solemn play”. She talks about the difference between being serious and being solemn, and why it’s such an important distinction.



Roselinde Torres – What it takes to be a great leader

While the Hot Tub Time-Machine, the Tardis and the DeLorean all remain purely fictional, the ability of the world’s greatest leaders to not only adapt to change, but to predict the future and prepare for it, is very real. Roselinde has been studying what’s involved in generating world-class leaders professionally for 25 years and highlights what’s involved in becoming a leader as well as what’s wrong with our current system of leadership development.


Simon Sinek – Why good leaders make you feel safe

In this simple TED video, Simon reveals one of the most fundamental commonalities of good leaders – the ability to trust others and gain their trust in you. He explains how good leaders are able to make people feel secure and safe, by – wait for it – doing everything possible to take care of others around them and actually making them safe and secure. Simple right?


Itay Talgam – Lead like the great conductors

In this delightful music-filled talk, ex-conductor Itay has fun transposing (pun intended) some very clear ideas about leadership from the art of being a conductor, to being a leader in any other scenario, and walks us through various methods of conducting, stressing the importance of being in control – without being controlling.


Stanley McChrystal – Listen, learn… then lead

In much the same way that Simon Sinek talked about the importance of trust (two videos ago), four-star general Stanley McChrystal talks about the importance of building relationships on your ability to lead well. He shares some of his experiences and it becomes very evident that without listening to and learning from those you are meant to be leading, it is almost impossible to lead effectively.


Simon Sinek – How great leaders inspire action

It’s all about why you do what you do (and to make a profit is not a sufficient answer). This is the message Simon attempts to make clear in this compelling video. Using many high-profile examples like Apple and Martin Luther King, he explains that true leaders are able to convey why they are doing whatever it is they are doing, and how that is actually what inspires people to follow them passionately.


Improving Work

Shawn Achor – The happy secret to better work

Shawn believes that most of us view the relationship between success and happiness the wrong way around. Most of us probably believe that the more successful we are, the happier we’ll be. Wrong! Interestingly enough, all the stats and research say otherwise – that being happy and optimistic actually breeds success and the very first step in the right direction is positivity in all aspects of life.


Dan Pink – The puzzle of motivation

The current business model for motivation doesn’t work. The old idea of the carrot or the stick, in most instances, actually has the opposite effect. Dan suggests three much more powerful incentives: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. These should be the building blocks businesses use to create successful motivation.


Nigel Marsh – How to make work-life balance work

How many times a day do you think someone, somewhere in the world says “I wish I was young again!” or “I don’t have time, I have to work…”? With a small investment of time in the right places, Nigel explains how every one of us can dramatically improve relationships, health and happiness without a dramatic upheaval of our work lives.


Ricardo Semler – How to run a company with (almost) no rules

Moving fluidly from the previous video into this one is pretty easy. Ricardo takes the same principle idea of the work-life balance and expands on it, asking some interesting (and sometimes deep) questions like “Why can’t employees set their own salaries?”, “How do you redesign school for wisdom?” and “Why do we exist?”.


Yves Morieux – As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify

It’s so easy to get caught up in the complexities of work, where inter-departmental issues arise, communication gets muddled and you’re not entirely sure what all the implications of your various daily tasks are for the rest of the company. Yves sheds some light on what he believes to be the core issue, as well as several steps we can take to deal with it. Cooperation may have something to do with it…