6 TED talks that will inspire you in the New Year

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Inspiration comes in many forms, but for many of us, there is one reliable source almost guaranteed to motivate: TED talks.

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TED talks take exactly 18 minutes, cover a wide range of topics and are amazingly profound. Yet, it can be hard to find the best presentations because there are so many of them and, in some cases, they apply only to a specific niche. As we enter 2016, consider watching these six talks that should be of interest to IT leaders.

1. Rethink the workplace 

You don’t need a psychologist to tell you there is life outside of work and that being too focused on your tasks can be stifling. Or maybe you do? This talk by Barry Schwartz offers just the right mix of information and inspiration to make you think about things differently in the workplace.

“Your actions bring about the realities,” says Robbin Itkin, the chair of the Business Solutions and Financial Restructuring Group at Liner. “If you create a work environment that stifles creativity and reinforces the role of the owner or boss as the sole creator, the employees will not be encouraged to freely think or be creative and the business will never grow or flourish.  The ‘only I can do it’ mentality is the death knell of a business.”

2. Drive innovation 

This must-watch dissertation about seeing problems and finding simple solutions is helpful for IT leaders. It’s always important to find solutions that can be implemented quickly and efficiently but that also solve the problem. This applies to more than just designing a gadget, although knowing that Tony Fadell worked at Apple and designed the Nest.

“The observational techniques that Tony is preaching is the first step to coming up with a disruptive idea -- that's what Silicon Valley is obsessed with, because it's taking a category everyone forgot about and make it exciting again. Dollar Shave Club is a great example as is Method Soap. Who would have thought two boring bathroom categories would become awesome new areas of growth and innovation?,” says Ian Wishingrad, the founder and creative director of the advertising company Big Eyed Wish. 

3. Give with heart 

This motivating sit-down chat seems like you had Bill and Melinda Gates over for dinner to pick their brains, then suddenly realized the two of them really do want to use their enormous wealth to help the world. It resonates with IT leaders, in particular, because many of the toughest problems in the world can be addressed by a more concerted effort. Bill Gates, in particular, makes the point that the data often reveals where the critical action items.

“Bill and Melinda Gates have decided to give their fortune to the world in an unrivaled act of generosity,” says Christopher Dukes, the president of Dukes Wealth Management. “The hope here is that this will have a ripple effect amongst the world’s wealthy to do the exact same thing. Warren Buffet was the first to promise his wealth to the foundation. There are significant tax benefits for donating money to a foundation. In broader terms, starting this philanthropic model or, what Bill calls the ‘giving pledge’ sets a wonderful precedent. Philanthropy is one of the only true ways to begin to change the world for the better.”

4. Inspire action 

The well-known author of the book Leaders Eat Last connects with its audience and explains leadership concepts in ways that don’t just make sense but seem actionable and practical as well. In this talk, he explains how to inspire your team into action.

“Leaders inspire action, especially with young team members, when they practice two behaviors. First, they share the ‘why’ before they tell the ‘what’. If you only tell someone what to do, you engage their head. When you tell them why, you engage their heart. Second, inspiring leaders actually equip their team members, not just expect something from them. They get more out of their people because they provide resources and ongoing training,” says Tim Elmore, a speaker, author and the president of Growing Leaders.

5. Love what you do 

Scott Dinsmore runs Live Your Legend, a career-finding platform. In his talk, he addresses a common problem in business. People tend to work in jobs they think will lead to a better job rather than finding a role that matches their interests and desires. It’s helpful for IT leaders to know because it’s a good way to lead. Tapping into the motivations of your staff and learning what makes them tick can help you direct their careers.

Of course, for some employees, it might be time to consider a career change. Roy Cohen, a well-known career coach, says the best way to do that is to develop your network so that, if the time comes, you can switch careers easily. “A good strategy is to join your industry trade association and become involved in a committee which will offer enhanced visibility,” says Cohen. “Alternatively, if you have neglected LinkedIn, now is the time to build your community online. Network with people in jobs they are unlikely to leave. These are the folks who are typically shortlisted by recruiters and who will refer you when they get the calls.”

6. Keep calm 

Stress happens at work. Daniel Levitin is here to help. The neuroscientist doesn’t offer vague concepts or impractical advice. His talk explains how the brain actually works. For example, if you find an area in your office for items you typically lose, you probably won’t lose them. That’s because the hippocampus region will store those items in your memory. Tips like that are invaluable because they teach you some simple coping skills.

“One of the ways to help calm your mind and relax is to practice a controlled breathing exercise. Take a seat and find a relaxed position. Place one hand on your stomach and breathe in through your nose, counting 1-2-3 slowly. Imagine a balloon in your stomach which inflates as you breathe in, and deflates as you let the air out. Let go of tension by saying the words ‘relax’ or ‘calm’ to yourself as you breathe out. Breathe in 1-2-3, breathe out 1-2-3 until you feel relaxed,” says Deirdre Robertson, a research psychologist and research coordinator at Galvanic, a company that makes a sensor to help you control stress called the PIP.

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