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11 TED Talks Every Project Manager Should Watch
every project manager should watch 2

11 TED Talks Every Project Manager Should Watch

By Ling Wong

TED talks are great resources for fresh thinking and innovative ideas. How can project managers make the most out of these fresh perspectives and apply them to leading and managing a team?

Project managers often have to wear many hats and be skilled in different areas including leadership, motivation, problem-solving, organization, team building, decision making, time management, productivity and more.

Your actions and decisions not only affect your own output, but also the results for the entire team.

Here are 11 TED talks to give you insights into different aspects of project management and change how you lead and manage your team:

1. Daniel Levitin: How to stay calm when you know you’ll be stressed [12:20]

Dr. Daniel Levitin is a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, dean at Minerva Schools in San Francisco and a musician. His research focuses on pattern processing in the brain and he incorporates findings from neuroscience into everyday life.

In this TED talk, he shares how we can mitigate negative outcome of stressful situations by practicing “pre-mortem.”

When things go wrong in a project and situations get stressful, team members look to the project manager for direction. They take cue from your reactions so it’s imperative that you stay as calm and collected as possible.

If you can think ahead, identify “weak links” and have options to mitigate a variety of situations, you can be in a much better position to lead your team effectively.

2. Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation [18:32]

Dan Pink, after his last “real job” as Al Gore’s speechwriter, went freelance to spark a right-brain revolution in the career marketplace.

In this TED talk, he looks at intrinsic motivators vs. extrinsic motivators, and how most corporations are using the “carrot and stick” model that no longer works for 21st-century tasks that require right brain, conceptual thinking abilities.

In fact, he argues that rewards based on extrinsic motivators can narrow focus and limit possibilities.

It’s time for team leaders and project managers to rethink how we motivate our team to devise creative solutions.

3. Itay Talgam: Lead Like the Great Conductors [20:44]

Itay Talgam is the author of The Ignorant Maestro. After a decade-long conducting career in his native Israel, he reinvented himself as a “conductor of people” — in government, academia, business, and education.

Very much like a conductor, a project manager needs to make sure everyone involved in a project – from internal team members to clients and vendors –work together in harmony to create successful outcomes.

In this TED talk, Talgam explores the conducting styles of six great 20th-century conductors and applies them to business and organizational leadership.

4. Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend [14:25]

Psychologist Kelly McGonigal explores how stress should be your friend, not your enemy in one of the most famous TEDTalks of all time. She admits that her old approach to stress as an adversary is incorrect and how dealing with it as a positive propels people to great successes.

An outstanding project manager needs to not only perform well under stress but also lead her team to excel when the stakes are high.

This talk will show you how to empower and lead a winning team by under stress.

5. Yves Morieux: As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify [11:58]

Yves Morieux is a senior partner at BCG. He researches how corporations can adapt to a modern and complex business landscape.

In this TED talk, he explores how to deal with the complexity of business without becoming complicated.

The “Smart Simplicity” approach requires that we go beyond the surface and understand the “real work,” remove rules and layers to get closer to the action, increase total quality of power so people move out of isolation, expose team members to consequences of their actions by creating feedback loop, increase reciprocity and reward those who cooperate.

As project managers, we need to take into account everyone who works in the process to avoid making them feel disengaged. By bringing team members closer to the action and empowering them through meaningful feedback loops, you can build a more efficient team.

6. David Allen: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity [22:15]

Productivity guru and coach David Allen created Getting Things Done®, a work-life management system that has helped individuals and organizations bring order to chaos.

A project manager often needs to tackle multiple tasks while fostering creativity within the team without letting the process spiral into chaos.

In this TEDx talk, Allen talks about how “appropriate engagement” can help us overcome the sense of overwhelm and confusion, which are common challenges as everything and everyone seems to demand our attention “right now.”

He encourages the audience to free up creative energy by setting up system.

He explores how to exert a balance of control and focus in order to effectively manage a project and be able to handle surprises that come your way.

7. Navi Radjou: Creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits [16:25]

Navi Radjou helps businesses with limited resources discover unexpected ways to succeed by drawing inspiration from frugal innovators in emerging markets.

In this TED talk, he explored “frugal innovation” – the creation of more value using fewer resources. It’s not about making do, but making things better.

In today’s business environment, project managers need to respond to fast-changing requirements by bringing an innovative entrepreneurial mindset to the table when leading and managing a team.

Conventional processes have their place, however, we also need to creatively deploy our resources to solve problems cost-efficiently – to deliver quality at lower cost.

It pays to look around us and find examples of nimble thinking to support creative problem solving.

8. David Grady: How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings [6:40]

David Grady is on a mission to help his audience take back their calendars.

In this pithy and witty TED talk, he talks about how our mindless acceptance of meeting invites is creating time management and productivity challenge for many.

As project managers, we have the responsibility to make sure that team members are not wasting their time and energy attending meetings that are not productive.

We can devise innovative ways to communicate, and help team members be more productive by involving them in relevant conversations instead of having meetings for meeting’s sake.

Don’t forget to include an agenda when you set up meetings, and make sure everyone comes prepared to get the most out during that time.

9. Tom Wujec: Build a tower, build a team [6:44]

Tom Wujec, a Fellow at Autodesk, is an innovative practitioner of business visualization — using design and technology to help groups solve problems and understand ideas.

In this TED talk, he reveals the nature of teamwork and collaborative success through the “marshmallow challenge.”

He talks about the importance of combining facilitation skill and specialized skills, while identifying hidden assumptions so we can apply the best of our thinking, feeling and doing.

As project managers, we can implement iterative processes and provide instant feedback, encouraging teams to build successive prototypes that eventually lead to optimal solutions.

10. What It Takes to Be a Great Leader by Roselinde Torres [9:15]


The world is full of leadership programs, but the best way to learn how to lead might be right under your nose. In this clear, candid talk, Roselinde Torres describes 25 years observing truly great leaders at work, and shares the three simple but crucial questions would-be company chiefs need to ask to thrive in the future.

Roselinde’s 10 minute TEDTalk on leadership challenges your view on how to become a great leader. It seems obvious, but there are more leadership development resources than ever before, but none have gotten them right. Why is that?

As a project manager you know there may be several ways to get projects to the finish line. Similarly, there are many different ways to become a leader. Challenge yourself as Roselinde is asking and see how far you can go.

11. Julia Galef: Why you think you’re right — even if you’re wrong [11:37]

Julia Galef explores “Scout Mindset”, the ability to see through bias and be objective when analyzing problems. Project managers can learn a lot from this talk because it challenges your view on the way projects should be done. Why should the project be done a certain way? Because it is your idea? Because it came from someone you like?

Learn how to be intrigued when your way of doings things are challenged, not defensive. Use her techniques and viewpoint to become a better project manager by listening to others and challenging yourself.


It’s no question that today’s project managers need to be skilled in leadership motivation, problem-solving, organization, team building, decision making, time management, productivity and more.

We hope these videos have given you some fresh perspectives on approaching these topics and integrate them into your project management skills.

What is the most valuable lesson you learned from these talks? Leave a comment below and share your insights:

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