20 Must-See Business TED Talks

Every year, today’s greatest thinkers gather at various TED (Technology Entertainment and Design) conferences around the world. Their talks, which you can find on TED’s website, are often insightful, educational, and fascinating.

As a TED junkie, I decided to compile 20 of the best business talks in the conference’s history. Each talk offers insights either into a business leader’s mind, or into concepts that will change the way you think about business and the economy. (If you have any favorites not included on this list, please mention them in the comments below.)

20. Chip Conley: Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile

Hotel owner Chip Conley talks about adapting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to a business model based on happiness. He shares what he learned on the way.

19. Jeff Bezos on the Next Web Innovation

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos offers a fun, visual lesson on how people behaved during the gold rush, and how the dot-com story almost exactly reflected that behavior. He uses excellent stories, clips, and pictures to make his case, which puts a chapter of our economic behavior in historical context.

18. Chris Anderson: The 4 Key Stages of Technology

Author and WIRED editor-in-chief Chris Anderson talks about the four stages that a technology needs to go through to become viable. It’s a valuable look at what a thought leader has to say about technology trends. The talk, while more intellectual than entertaining, is full of useful tips, including how to think about technology and how to time an innovation.

17. Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice

Too many products and services in our society lead to too much choice, according to psychologist Barry Schwartz. Even our identity is a matter of choice: We invent and reinvent ourselves whenever we want. He goes over positive and negative effects of this choice in people, including the levels of satisfaction people experience with products, how products affect them, and how regret plays into the equation. It’s a unique look into today’s consumer society.

16. Sergey Brin and Larry Page on Google

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page talk about their company, search patterns, and Google.org. A fascinating talk if you’re interested in inner workings of Google.

15. Richard Branson’s Life at 30,000 feet

Virgin emperor Richard Branson shares interesting parts of his life story, including making it big with Virgin and selling Virgin Records to start an airline. This talk, with TED curator Chris Anderson, gives you a rare peek inside Branson’s head.

14. Jan Chipchase on Our Mobile Phones

Head Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase explores engaging questions on mobile technology. What do mobile phones really mean to us? How would someone who can’t read use a mobile phone? How would impoverished people in developing countries use one? Chipchase gets you thinking about mobile technology in a completely new way.

13. John Doerr: Salvation and Profit in Greentech

Legendary Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr gives a serious talk on climate change. Claiming “we’ve reached the time…when panic is the appropriate result,” Doerr talks about how to fight climate change, eminent VC-style. This fascinating talk shares Doerr’s valuable perspective on battling a big problem, not to mention a number of interesting company stories.

12. Cameron Herold: Let’s raise Kids to be Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur Cameron Herold shares his own stories of school to help us revisit the way we see success in children—and in ourselves.

11. Ray Anderson on the Business Logic of Sustainability

Ray Anderson, head of the Flor carpet company, says business can lead us out of our sustainability mess. Anderson, whom Fortune has called “America’s greenest CEO,” calls himself a recovering blunderer. His talks about alternatives to businesses that are “stealing our children’s future,” using the greening of his carpet company as an example.

10. Yochai Benkler: The New Open-Source Economics

For the first time since the Industrial Revolution, communications, computation capacity, and other building blocks of the economy are in the hands of the crowds. 70% of critical Web applications are produced open-source, in direct competition with big corporations, notably Microsoft. Thought leader Yochai Benkler explains what this means for jobs, corporations and the economy at large.

9. Charles Leadbeater on Innovation

What is creativity, and where does it come from? Think tank researcher Charles Leadbeater explains why you don’t need an organization to innovate. Innovation, rather, has always been interactive and collaborative. Today, consumers are often ahead of producers in terms of ideas. Leadbeater shares why this is, and how our world of innovation actually works today.

8. Dean Kamen: The Emotion Behind Invention

Prolific inventor Dean Kamen, best know for creating the Segway, describes his work designing a new kind of prosthetic arm for soldiers who lost limbs while serving. He describes not only his own thought process, but the people who motivated him to make it work. This is an excellent look inside the mind of one of today’s greatest inventors, not to mention the stories of the vets who inspired him.

7. Bill Gates on Energy: Innovating to Zero!

Uber-philanthropist Bill Gates shares where he’s putting his money in order to help lower carbon emissions to zero by 2050. An interesting talk by one of today’s leading philanthropists and ex-CEOs.

6. John Gerzema: The Post-Crisis Consumer

Trend expert John Gerzema talks about how consumers are behaving now, and the four cultural shifts that drove them to their current habits. He provides a thought-provoking model of where consumers are. Importantly, he also describes how businesses can connect with today’s consumers.

5. Dan Ariely: Are We In Control of Our Own Decisions?

We make many mistakes, but don’t have an easy way to see them, thanks to cognitive illusion. This excellent talk by Predictably Irrational author and behavioral economist Dan Ariely gives us insight into how we make decisions.

4. Steve Jobs: How to Live Before You Die

This is a recording of Steve Jobs’ 2005 speech at a Stanford commencement. He talks about his health, his dreams, his attitude on life, and, naturally, Apple.

3. Seth Godin: Not Business as Usual

Author and blogger extraordinaire Seth Godin delivers a compelling talk on the merits of bad or bizarre ideas in marketing. In characteristic contrarian fashion, he emphasizes that normal will not get you noticed. He uses fascinating examples to make his points on ideas and marketing.

2. Malcom Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

Author and thought leader Malcolm Gladwell makes points about companies’ market behavior and human nature by telling market researcher Howard Moskowitz’s story. Moskowitz, charged with figuring out how to make Campbell’s Prego pasta sauce more desirable, discovered that in general, people only liked three kinds of sauce, including one niche–chunky–that no sauce manufacturer had touched before. Gladwell’s story offers insight into product segmenting, the food industry, and how people behave in market surveys.

1. Rory Sutherland: Life Lessons from an Ad Man

Ad man and compelling speaker Rory Sutherland gets inside the consumer mind by comparing real with perceived value. This is a talk not to be missed, by one of TED’s most entertaining business speakers.

Written by Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.