Six TED Talks that can change your career

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There’s nothing like the winter doldrums to make many of us seek a little inspiration, especially when it comes to making a career change. Should you sign up for certification class, brush up your resume, find a mentor, enter a hackathon?

All of those activities have merit, but if your motivation only takes you so far, you might start with a TED talk. Of the hundreds available online, many are geared toward helping people view life in a new way, which can reshape how they approach work.

We’ve collected a handful of talks that could help you approach your career in a new light.

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are (22.8 million views)

Amy Cuddy, professor, Harvard Business School

June 2012

Amy Cuddy

Amy Cuddy

If you have two minutes, you can change your life, according to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist. Cuddy offers a “life hack” that is so easy, there’s no excuse not to try it. Backed by research, Cuddy makes the case that nonverbal communication not only affects how others see us, but also how we see ourselves. She suggests using “power postures” to shape our mental posture – in other words, “fake it ‘til you make it.” Cuddy demonstrates a two-minute-long power-pose exercise that anyone can do before an important meeting or interaction and significantly change how it – and maybe their future -- unfolds. The talk is one of 14 recommended by Scott Dinsmore, a career change strategist, that cover the transition to doing work you love. Here are Dinsmore’s other recommendations.

How to Build Creative Confidence (2.8 million views)

David Kelley, IDEO co-founder, educator

March 2012

David kelley

David Kelley

Are you the creative type? According to David Kelley, the answer to that question should be “yes.” Kelley argues that the world is falsely divided into people who believe they are creative and those that don’t. To Kelley, however, creativity is not the domain of a chosen few. Unfortunately, many of us lose our identity as “a creative type” at a young age, he says, and the intimidation factor just gets worse when we become adults.

Kelley describes a “guided mastery” approach to gaining creative confidence, akin to a step-by-step process of small successes used to help people overcome phobias. Helping people regain their creative confidence is now a passion of Kelley’s. At the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, where he teaches, he has seen people transform from identifying only as analytical thinkers, to “being emotionally excited that they think of themselves as a creative person,” he says.

Why should you care whether you’re creative or not? With innovation and “user experience” a key focus for business today, a sure-fire approach to IT career advancement is to tap into your inner designer. “Design thinking,” as Kelley describes it, can also help people make better decisions overall. Begin your journey with this video, and see where it takes you.

The Key to Success? Grit (5.7 million views)

Angela Lee Duckworth, associate professor, University of Pennsylvania

April 2013

Angela duckworth

Angela Duckworth

Maybe you’ve got talent – but have you got grit? After leaving a management consulting job to work as a math teacher in the New York City public schools, Angela Lee Duckworth discovered something about successful students: The ones who excelled were not the smartest or most talented but students with the stamina to continuously work toward a goal, which she calls “grit.” Duckworth then went on to earn a degree in psychology, where she studied this phenomenon -- the ability to live life like a marathon, not a sprint – and determined that it’s the overarching key to success.

After testing out the theory at West Point and on students in the National Spelling Bee, her team administered a study at a school in Chicago. The finding: The ability to stay motivated for the long run was a higher determinant of a student’s likelihood to graduate -- stronger than family income, standardized test scores and how safe they felt at school.

The problem, Duckworth says, is how little we know about building a solid and long-lasting work ethic. Currently, she is leading an effort to learn more about how to instill grit in school-age children. But for IT professionals, who need to withstand constant change in their careers, her ideas on what it takes to succeed – working through failure and keeping an eye on your future goals – have never been more relevant.

The Puzzle of Motivation (12.4 million views)

Dan Pink, author, speaker

July 2009

Dan pink

Dan Pink

Before you start wondering about your next bonus or raise, consider Dan Pink’s argument that these traditional incentives aren’t always as effective as we think. For tasks that involve mechanical skills, he says, the promise of higher pay correlates with higher performance. However, for tasks that lack a clear set of rules or single solution – like most in the knowledge industry – offering a monetary reward for successful completion can even narrow our focus, dull our thinking and block our creativity.

But while social science has proved this theory in numerous studies, he says, business has yet to catch on that traditional “if/then” rewards simply don’t work. In fact, if a task involves even rudimentary cognitive skills, larger rewards lead to worse performance, he says.

To repair the mismatch, he says, businesses should ensure fair and adequate pay, and then offer rewards that encourage intrinsic motivation based on one or more of three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

As we move from the knowledge economy to what some call the “digital economy,” it seems high time to understand what really motivates us and optimizes our productivity. As far back as 2009, Pink called for businesses to lose what he calls the “lazy, dangerous ideology of the carrot and stick” – something to keep in mind when you consider your next job perk and whether it will really make you more productive at work.

The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get (1.8 million views)

Susan Colantuono

Susan Colantuono

Susan Colantuono, CEO, Leading Women

November 2013

You might think you know what it takes to be a high-potential employee. But if you’re frustrated with your progress in moving up the corporate ladder, take a few minutes with Susan Colantuono. Although Colantuono specializes in supporting women in business, her advice applies to anyone with leadership ambition.

To move up in any organization, Colantuono says, you need leadership skills, which she defines as the ability to use your own talents and abilities to help the organization achieve its strategic and financial goals by inspiring the best in others, both inside and outside the organization.

If you break this into three parts – personal greatness, business/financial/strategic acumen and engaging the greatness of others – one of the parts, she says, is often skipped when mentors, consultants and talent managers counsel ambitious professionals. Colantuono calls this “the missing 33%” – missing not because it’s unimportant or lacking but because it’s a given, which leads people to under-emphasize it. When Colantuono polls audiences, they agree that this “door-opener” has never been revealed to them.

What the missing 33% is may not be a big surprise to you, but by listening to Colantuono, you can find out why it’s lacking, and better yet, you may come away convinced that by emphasizing your own strength in this area, that doors will begin opening for you.

The Happy Secret to Better Work (9.3 million views)

Shawn Anchor, author, speaker, founder of GoodThink

May 2011

Shawn anchor

Shawn Anchor

“If I just get that new job, I’ll be happy.” “If I just learn that new skill, I’ll be happy.” “If I [fill in the blank] I’ll be happy.” If this is the way your brain works, check in with Shawn Anchor, proponent of positive psychology.

Anchor believes that our notions of happiness are backwards – that instead of working harder to be more successful and thus happy, we can increase our chances of success by first raising our level of positivity in the present. Happier brains, he says, perform better on many measures, including intelligence, energy, creativity, productivity and more. In his entertaining talk, Anchor offers a few ways to rewire your brain, including journaling, meditation and exercise.

So, the next time you find yourself grousing to colleagues or feeling stressed on your commute, remember that 90% of your long-term happiness can be predicted not by the particulars of your external world but on how your brain processes that world. And if you change the formula for happiness and success, you can change the way you affect reality.

Brandel is a freelance writer. She can be reached at


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