Face it, we all love a good TED Talk. While they’ve become somewhat of a cliche in the professional world, akin to motivational quotes from Richard Branson or Wolf of Wall Street memes, they continue to fascinate viewers (this author included).
TEDTalks span a variety of topics and disciplines, including science, psychology, technology, art, and business. The speakers are engaging and occasionally even stirring, and they can garner cult followings overnight. Human resources—and the broader subjects of work and leadership—have featured prominently in many of these talks.
Forget the Pecking Order at Work, Margaret Heffernan
Raise a flock of “super chickens,” and they’ll peck each other to death—not unlike a team of high performers or so-called “rock stars,” Margaret Heffernan argues. Conventional wisdom has always suggested that the secret to success was finding the best men and women for the job and letting them have at it. More often than not, however, this just leads to “aggression, disfunction, and waste.”
So if all-stars can’t work together or produce results, what kind of teams do? Heffernan identifies three key characteristics that define successful groups. We won’t spoil them here, but here’s the bottom line: characteristics like individual intelligence and ambition can’t hold a handle to the relationships and bonds that bind the best teams together.
Simply put, “What matters is the mortar, not just the bricks.”
The Way We Think about Work is Broken, Barry Schwartz
Barry Schwartz opens his talk with a straightforward question to the audience: “Why do we work? Why do we drag ourselves out of bed every morning?” Simply to “make a living” isn’t satisfying enough for Schwartz and shouldn’t be for anyone else.
It’s an answer most would struggle to provide. Schwartz traces the modern day condition to the industrial revolution and subsequent rise of the factory system, which he argues created an environment where the employee served as merely a cog, and not a meaningful beneficiary to their day’s work. Pay, Schwartz argues, isn’t enough to override the demeaning, “soulless” work the vast majority of the population is shouldered with.
In a stirring plea, Schwartz asks the audience to go back to their workplaces and turn the tide. “Just what kind of human nature do you want to help design?”
Why the Best Hire Might Not Have the Perfect Resume, Regina Hartley
According to Regina Hartley, today’s qualified job applicants fall into two camps: “silver spoons” and “scrappers.” The former camp consists of those who went to Ivy League schools, come with strong recommendations, and have a steady record of employment. The latter may have odd jobs on their resume, never graduated college, or have simply been out of work for a long time.
The scrapper, Hartley argues, deserves an interview. Why? Data reveals that sometimes dysfunction can lead to growth and transformation—a phenomenon that she identifies as “post-traumatic growth.” The personal and professional obstacles scrappers often face can harden their resolve and equip them for success in leadership in ways traditional experience can’t match.
That isn’t to say recruiters should dismiss silver spoons—but, as Hartley notes, “If your whole life has been engineered toward success, how will you handle the tough times?"
The Workforce Crisis of 2030—and How to Start Solving It Now, Rainer Strack
You think talent acquisition is competitive now? By 2030, the majority of today’s active workforce will retire—meaning there will be more open positions than workers available to fill them, Rainer Strack argues.
So what are these elusive “future workers” actually looking for? For talent acquisition professionals, it might be time to get personal. Citing contemporary studies, Strack points out that less tangible factors like appreciation, meaningful relationships with colleagues, and work-life balance ultimately win out over traditional criteria like compensation.
How to Run a Company with (Almost) No Rules, Ricardo Semler
Ricardo Semler is keenly aware of his mortality—though healthy, skin cancer runs in his family. That got him thinking about big questions in life. Why do people, when faced with death, only then decide to live their lives to the fullest? Inevitably, some of those same kind of questions spilled into his business.
Why does his staff need to know where employees are on any given day? Why can’t employees set their own schedules, or even their own salaries? Semler doesn’t just skirt preconceived notions about how the working world should be structured, he bulldozes through them. His talk’s scope goes far beyond just work—education, too, is included as part of his revolutionary model.
So where does HR fit into a working world that has no rules? Semler, jokingly, includes a not-so-subtle jab at his company’s HR department. Can you find it?