8 of the best TED talks on collaboration

In a TED-inspired dismissal of the status quo, I’m foregoing the obligatory lengthy introduction and getting right down to business with this list!

Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity

“If we want to build organizations that can innovate time and again, we must unlearn our conventional notions of leadership,” says Harvard professor Linda Hill. “…Innovation is not about solo genius, it’s about collective genius.”

In this talk, Professor Hill draws on her observations of Pixar, Google and other innovative companies to find the common threads.

Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team

I am personally deeply skeptical about team-building exercises, but we’ve heard about some team-building exercises that actually work, and we can add the marshmallow tower to the list. Tom Wujec covers the lessons he’s learned from watching dozens of tower-building teams in action. Why are kindergarten classes better at collaborating than many C-suites?

Margaret Heffernan: Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work

We write a fair bit about the smashing of departmental silos and the flattening of org charts. In this talk, Margaret Heffernan considers what we’ve learned from the actual masters of the pecking order: the chickens. What do chickens have to do with social capital in the modern workplace? Plenty.

“Helpfulness sounds really anemic, but it’s absolutely core to successful teams, and it routinely outperforms individual intelligence,” she says. “Helpfulness means I don’t have to know everything, I just have to work among people who are good at getting and giving help.”

Susan Cain: The power of introverts

Introverts don’t get a fair shake; even on this very blog, when you search “introvert,” two of the prominent results are about not collaborators, but collabohaters. Susan Cain talks about how workplaces are designed to satisfy an extrovert’s constant desire for stimulation and interaction, and how collaborative cultures can benefit by catering to a blend of personality types. Smarter collaboration does not (or should not) equate to less privacy and autonomy.

Seth Godin: The tribes we lead

Confession: I kind of wanted to NOT put Seth Godin on this list because I feel like Seth Godin is always on these lists (feel free to send a link to your favorite TED talk on being a contrarian). But this talk, its late stretch in particular, offers words of wisdom for collaboration champions and anyone looking to shepherd a group through a period of change, technological or otherwise.

“If you’re not upsetting anyone, you’re not changing the status quo,” he says. “…[Leaders] build a culture. A secret language, a seven-second handshake, a way of knowing that you’re in or out. They have curiosity. Curiosity about people in the tribe, curiosity about outsiders. They’re asking questions. They connect people to one another.”

Stefan Sagmeister: The power of time off

Stefan Sagmeister is a tremendously successful designer who closes shop every seven years and takes a sabbatical. He explains how his idea got off to a rough start, but wound up becoming work-generating lifeblood for his business. While this model may not be feasible for your own work, Sagmeister also notes other more conventional businesses (like 3M and Google) that make it a priority to give their brightest minds time to decompress from the daily grind and to explore passion projects.

David Grady: How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings

“Every day, we allow our coworkers, who are otherwise very, very nice people, to steal from us,” says David Grady, explaining what he calls MAS, or Mindless Accept Syndrome; the symptoms include accepting every meeting request that comes your way. Grady imagines a utopian collaborative future in which no one arranges a 12-person conference call to do a status check that easily could have been completed via email or one’s email-conquering collaborative tool of choice (ahem).

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

“Everybody talks about happiness these days,” Daniel Kahneman says at the very beginning of this talk. “I had somebody count the number of books with ‘happiness’ in the title published in the last five years and they gave up after about 40, and there were many more.” Of course, it’s not just books; there are more than a few popular TED talks and blog posts about the “secrets” of happiness. They are usually stuffed with nonsense.

Here, Kahneman suggests that happiness isn’t even a useful goal. He digs into the differences between how we experience things and how we remember them, and illustrates the difference between happiness and well-being. None of this is directly about collaboration, per se, but the better we understand ourselves, the better we understand how we relate to one another.

What did we miss? Do you have a favorite talk on collaboration?

Adam McKibbin
Post by Adam McKibbin

Adam McKibbin is the content marketing manager for iMeet Central. His writing has been featured in Adweek, the Chicago Tribune and The Nation, and he’s produced content for some of the leading tech brands on the Fortune 500.

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