7 TED Talks That Inspire the Future of Work
Inspiration for finding that elusive work-life balance, boosting productivity, and reaching your goals
Today’s networked world continues to transform the modern workplace every day. As company budgets squeeze and global connectivity grows, we see workers breaking out of the office.
We’re seeing technology radically transform where, how, and when we work. Work doesn’t necessarily happen in an office, or from 9 to 5. The digital nomad lifestyle is now a viable career option rather than just a pipe dream. Today’s workforce works smarter, not harder.
Watch these seven TED Talks that inspire the modern workplace to embrace the changes we see happening before our eyes (or screens). Whether backed by science or a lifetime of experience, each speaker’s offers a unique take on how to manage your productivity and work-life balance.
1. Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work | Jason Fried
According to Basecamp co-founder and Remote: Office Not Required author Jason Fried, spending your entire workday in an office is counterproductive. Traditional office settings are minefields of distraction masked as so-called work. Our workdays are shredded into work moments because we’re constantly interrupted—so much so that we rarely get any meaningful work done.
And what’s to blame? Fried calls the two biggest culprits the “M&Ms,” or managers and meetings. The result is that people tend to have their best ideas or most productive work time outside the office—where there’s no M&Ms to interrupt. Even though Fried is a remote work evangelist, here he offers three tips for more productive work time in the office, including “No-Talk Thursdays,” more asynchronous communication, and (of course) fewer meetings.
2. The Art of Doing Twice as Much in Half the Time | Jeff Sutherland
While Scrum has been widely adopted in the software industry worldwide, Sutherland has adapted this agile framework for other industries, including finance, healthcare, and telecom.
In the talk, he shares some examples of agile leadership in settings and groups as diverse as French car factories, a Dutch grammar school, and among American fighter pilots.
3. How to Make Work-Life Balance Work | Nigel Marsh
Author Nigel Marsh is known for his sardonically humorous view of the modern rat race. His books, such as Fat, Forty, and Fired, take hilarious yet poignant stabs at the unbalanced ways people seek validation.
Here, he highlights the importance taking work-life balance into your own hands—striking the right balance between family time, personal time, and productivity. Because, as Marsh points out in his talk, “If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance.”
4. The Happy Secret to Better Work | Shawn Achor
This fast-moving, funny talk delivers some serious food for thought about the connection between happiness and productivity. Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor has made a career out of studying happiness, and through his work with Fortune 100 companies, pro sports teams, schools, government agencies, and other organizations, he’s convinced that “every single business outcome improves” when you’re happy.
He goes on to debunk the common societal assumption that hard work will lead to success, and success to happiness. He argues that this formula is backwards:
“Our brains work in the opposite order. If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral, or stressed.”
5. If You Want to Achieve Your Goals, Don’t Focus on Them | Reggie Rivers
Former Denver Broncos running back Reggie Rivers offers some against-the-grain advice about reaching your goals. He argues that single-minded focus isn’t enough to achieve your goals—because most goals are, to a large extent, out of our control. They involve the participation of other people, their decisions, their actions.
What is in your complete control? Your behaviors. When you stop fixating on the idea of your goal and start doing things position yourself to achieve your goal, you’re actively setting yourself up for success.
Rivers recommends tackling goals in terms of short-term behaviors that you’re more likely to stick to:
“So, when I set a goal, I say, ‘What can I do today that is going to help me to get closer to that goal?’
‘What can I do tomorrow that is going to help me to get closer to that goal?’
‘And what can I do this week that is going to get me closer to that goal?’
Today, tomorrow, and this week. . . . If you want to achieve your goals, you have to focus on the behaviors that are the building blocks that get you to your goals.”
6. How the Power of Attention Changes Everything | Jeff Klein
As CEO of Working For Good, the late Jeff Klein was known for leading successful marketing and business development campaigns powered by altruism. In his experience, all good business begins with connection, and the root of connection is attention.
“It’s about the way we work together. Business is people who come together to do something together, to create value for themselves, for a company, for each other.”
Klein cites companies, like JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, The Container Store, Costco, and Whole Foods as examples of businesses that choose to run things differently. For example, The Container Store’s headquarters has “We love our employees” painted on its roof. He adds that it’s no coincidence that each of these companies crushes their competitors.
“Through conscious capitalism, countless companies are transforming the way we think about business,” he said. “They begin with treating people with trust, care, respect, and even love. They respect, and even restore, natural ecosystems. They connect.”
Attention and connection begin with your relationship with yourself. That relationship, of course, comes into your workplace. Pay attention to yourself and your needs. Listen to your co-workers and theirs. Be honest with yourself and how you work. Carve out long, uninterrupted spans of time to do your best work. The attention you invest will be the success you and your business reap in the end.
7. Attention, Distraction, and the War in Our Brain | Jean-Philippe Lachaux
French neuroscientist Dr. Lachaux has dedicated more than 20 years of research to solving the mysteries of the brain. His research focuses on the interaction between neural processes and cognitive tasks, including attention, memory, and reading.
Because the brain pays attention to what it interprets as relevant, Lauchaux proposes that paying full attention to each intention or task you have throughout the day will reduce the time you spend on each one by more than half.
He outlines the three systems that constantly battle for attention in our brains:
1. The Habit System: hardwired circuitry that orients attention to fixed rules, some of which are learned from years of repeated behaviors
2. The Rewards System: orients attention to what we like and don’t like
3. The Executive System: the most flexible system, which orients attention to voluntary goals, planning, and problem-solving
When the battle is on, we feel stressed. We feel distracted and inefficient. Lachaux suggests that simply being aware of the systems at battle can help you integrate them and create a state of “effortless attention.” We can all quiet the internal attention battle in our brains and get to a place of deeper focus and higher efficiency (with much more free time left over to enjoy our lives).
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