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The 7 Best TED Talks for Professional Development

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With their ability to package and deliver complex information in engaging, thought-provoking ways, TED Talks have proven themselves to be an incredible, free online resource when it comes to professional development. 

If you’re considering where you can go next with your career but you’re finding it hard to figure out your next steps, watching a TED Talk can be a great way to get some inspiration.

We’ve selected 7 of the best TED Talks for professional development to help you find the inspiration to take your career to the next level. 

How to Make Hard Choices —  Ruth Chang


Being an adult is defined by having the ability to make choices. But for many of us making choices can be a tortuous process and one that we can find incredibly challenging. In this fascinating talk, philosopher Ruth Chang argues that we fundamentally misunderstand the opportunities that hard choices create. She explores the idea that choosing between hard choices helps us shape the people that we truly want to be. 

Chang argues that what makes a choice hard is how the choices relate. In reality, the subjectivity of values and the fact that there isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong choice, makes choosing between different options difficult. In her words, ‘There is no best alternative’.

She argues that ultimately, we create our own reasons for pursuing a particular course of action. And that this gives us the opportunity to put our agency behind it. 

For Chang, hard choices present us with a fantastic opportunity to create reasons for ourselves to become the people that we truly want to be. Rather than being something that should be feared or avoided, making hard choices gives us the ability to celebrate a vital aspect of the human condition: creating change that is suited to our needs. 

Best for: People who find it hard to make important decisions. 

The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get – Susan Colantuono

Look at the CEOs of 500 of the biggest revenue companies globally and you’ll find that a staggeringly small number are women.

For instance, in the latest edition of Fortune’s Global 500 list, a mere 5.8% of senior leaders at these companies were female, highlighting how gender representation and inequality in outcomes are still massive problems facing organisations across the economy.

Yet, at the same time, we have an overwhelming number of capable female leaders working in middle management roles. 

The question facing most experts is why is this still the case? Despite progress to demolish the gender disparities in the workplace, senior leadership seems to remain stubbornly impervious to change. Why are so many women stuck in the middle and what does it take to get them to the top? 

Susan Colantuono has a surprisingly simple answer: give them the same advice as men! Calantuono is convinced that vital advice about the skills, qualities and attributes needed in the top roles is not being shared with high potential female managers in the same way it is with their male counterparts. In effect, despite having all of the other relevant leadership qualities needed for a senior role, they are missing the final 33% of information needed to succeed in senior leadership.

In this detailed TEDTalk, Colantuono explores the missing 33% of information – and how women can get use it to advance their careers. 

Best for: Women in middle management roles looking to progress to senior positions. Women managers with a dream of achieving a senior leadership position. 

How Falling Behind Can Get You Ahead – David Epstein 

Most of us are familiar with a widely held belief that to become really good at anything you need to wrack up 10,000 hours of practice first. In other words, you need to specialise in a particular skill as early on as you can in order to develop exceptional abilities in it. 

As a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, David Epstein was used to reading about practice regimes like this but then he found something that surprised him. Scientists tracking the development of elite athletes found that some of the most successful delayed specialising in one particular skill until later in their career, instead learning more about their abilities and trying different specialisms out before they chose one to develop in full. 

In this talk, Epstein explores some of the lesser known stories of people who ended up taking their time and exploring several several options before settling into one course of action – and the incredible benefits that can come from taking this approach. 

Best for: Early stage career professionals who are yet to specialise in a particular field. 

How to Make Work-Life Balance Work – Nigel Marsh

Nigel Marsh is representative of a lot of hard working professionals. 

7 years ago, when he realised the extent to which his working life was impacting his domestic life and young family, he decided to take a year off and try to readdress the balance. The discoveries he made along the way have fundamentally changed his life, and his approach, to setting boundaries at work and inspired him to think more closely about our attitudes to work-life balance. 

In this talk, Marsh explores 4 key points that he argues need to be address in order to improve our quality of life overall. He argues that some jobs are fundamentally incompatible with family life as it stands and that we need an honest debate about this before things can change. According to him, governments and corporations won’t solve the issue

Perhaps the most striking point he makes is that we should never put the quality of our lives in the hands of profit-making corporations which are designed to extract as much labour from you as they can. He argues that we alone are responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want to see in our lives. 

For Marsh, it’s fundamentally our responsibility to take action. By doing so, he argues that we have the potential to radically change society’s approach to how we think about work. 

Best for: People who are feeling burned out in their current job. People who feel they work overly long hours and have a bad work-life balance. 

How to Get Your Brain to Focus – Chris Bailey 

We’ve all been in a situation where no matter how hard we try, it just seems that we can’t get our brain to focus. Our eyes drift to what’s happening outside the window. Our fingers drift to our smartphones. Our attention wanders somewhere else. 

For many researchers and authors the question of how technology influences our attention span and our ability to focus has been one that they’ve focused on for most of their professional lives.  

In this talk, author Chris Bailey shares the findings he’s gathered from his extensive experience examining the subject. 

For Chris Bailey, the answer isn’t necessarily that technology has shortened our attention spans. It’s that our brains are just overstimulated by the array of information that we’re presented with at all times. He argues that when we work in front of the computer, we focus on one thing for a mere 40 seconds before we focus on something else. 

Bailey argues that our brains fundamentally crave distraction and that, biologically, we get rewarded for being distracted: a phenomenon called novelty bias which causes the brain to release a dopamine hit. In effect, our brains reward us for seeking distraction in the first place. 

So, if we’re hard-wired to always be distracted, how can we stay focused? Bailey thinks that we should work with our brains, rather than against them, encouraging a ‘scatter-focus’ approach to staying focused. He argues that when we let our minds rest, our minds think about three things: the past, present and the future and this allows us to come up with our best ideas and plans come to us when we let our minds wander. As he puts it, what helps traffic move forward is how much space exists between cars in the first place. 

Best for: People who find it hard to focus at work. People who are easily distracted. 

Be an Opportunity Maker – Kare Anderson

When she was a child, Kare Anderson was diagnosed with severe shyness. Her shyness means that she often did a lot of people watching –  observing how others interact with one another. That started her lifelong fascination with how it is that people find and create their own opportunities.  

In this inspirational talk, Kare contends that every person is better at one particular thing than someone else. We all have talents: some of which we may have no idea about. The trick is finding out how to develop them. 

She came to the conclusion that opportunities rely on a ‘mutuality mindset’ to succeed – the idea that we are all greater opportunity makers when we work with others, rather than against them. In other words, it’s our capacity to connect with each other's better sides and bring out their full potential. These people are opportunity makers. 

For Anderson, opportunity makers seek out people that are different to them. Fascinated by differences, they keep honing their top strengths, seek out patterns and communicate to connect around shared points of interest. 

Best for: People who are feel like they lack opportunities. People who feel held back by shyness at work

The Secrets of People Who Love Their Jobs - Shane J. Lopez

Have you spent most of your professional life constantly seeking for that ‘perfect’ job: the one that combines your most deeply held passions and convictions with a great salary and amazing benefits? The one that leaves you going to bed at night feeling truly fulfilled and happy? Psychologist Shane J. Lopez argues that you might be searching for a while. 

He thinks that these jobs don’t exist in the wild. They are, in fact, created by the very people that do them, over a period of time – usually from jobs that weren’t particularly interesting or fulfilling in the first place. In this fascinating lecture, Lopez explores the idea that loving your job is essential when it comes to reducing the amount of pain and depression we experience in life. He argues that we all have the ability to turn a role that we simply tolerate into one that we really love and find fulfillment in. In this talk, he shares his 5 strategies for helping you do just that. 

Best for: People who don’t feel fulfilled in their current roles. 

Inspiration to power your career development

We hope you’ve found the TED Talks we’ve listed above inspiring and that they’ve helped to improve your mindset about career development. We wish you the best of luck in your career journey.

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