Linda Hill //

5 Best Ted Talks for Learning & Development 

Jason Bacaj | 4 min read

Rather than just pull together a few motivational TED Talks, we wanted to arrange a handful that builds toward a cohesive whole. 

Something that you can scan through and glean some ideas or techniques to bring into your daily work as a learning and development professional.

One covers how to organize your thoughts in order to do higher level critical thinking; another covers techniques for managing creativity; there’s a dive into the elements of a great working environment; the value in falling just short of a goal. And, of course, a few tips for creating engaging training.

Pull them all together and you’d create the L&D equivalent of a perpetual motion machine. Alright, that probably won’t happen. But Sarah Lewis would say it’s worth a shot, because mastery and excellence grow from the willingness to try anyway.

Linda Hill is a professor at the Harvard Business School and chair of the HBS Leadership Initiative. Her talk from a TEDxCambridge event draws from her nearly decade-long study of leaders and innovation.

Her four-person team concluded that innovative organizations share at least three abilities: those of creative abrasion, creative agility, and creative resolution. Linda explains how these terms work through anecdotes from Pixar and Google.

Linda says creative abrasion comes when people in an organization embraces differences in ideas, and they learn to inquire and actively listen. Creative agility is, more or less, the decision-making process outlined above by Tom Wujec. And creative resolution is the ability to synthesize different ideas, even seemingly contradictory ones, into a new solution or path forward.

Like many TED speakers, Tom Wujec has a lengthy and varied work history: speaker, author, founder of a boutique consultancy, and an early professor at Singularity University.

In this talk, Tom delves into the nuts and bolts of decision making and problem solving. The point of diagramming toast is to show, at a basic level, the way that our minds instinctively breakdown and communicate processes — through links and nodes. Step One leads to Step Two, and so on and so forth.

Using movable nodes — say, Post-It notes — Tom explains how you and your team can visualize and move quickly through iterations. All that leads to greater clarity as you address particularly vexing or seemingly intractable problems.

Vishen Lakihiani founded one of the largest companies in Malaysia. The company, Mindvalley, is something of a publishing company that focuses on education. His talk covers the five concepts he used when crafting company culture at Mindvalley.

The five keys to being the greatest workplace in the world, Vishen says, are: happiness, a noble mission, quests, personal growth, and tribal dynamics.

All the pieces come together, in Vishen’s vision, to create a workplace dynamic where people are not only engaged, but excited to come to work and move the company closer toward its various goals. You’ll have to watch to hear him go in-depth about how he implemented these five principles as an entrepreneur.

Sarah Lewis is an author, art historian, and assistant professor at Harvard, among her many other notable accomplishments. Her talk analyzes the subtle differences between success and mastery.

The main narrative in Sarah’s talk stems from a time she watched an archery team practice. She details how success is hitting the bullseye, but “mastery is knowing that it means nothing if you can’t do it again and again.”

At its core, Sarah says, mastery is in the reaching, rather than the arriving. Near wins are essential propulsive experiences that drive people toward mastery, she says. This is an important note to keep in mind as you design courses or try out new technologies — the result will never be perfect, but you can perfect your approach.

Ramsey Musallam, 3 Rules to Spark Learning

Ramsey Musallam is a high school chemistry teacher, and his presentation has all the requisite explosions and experiments you’d expect from one. His talk aims at the core of teaching and learning: sparking curiosity.

At the time of the talk, Ramsey had taught for 13 years. The first 10 he more or less regurgitated lesson plans and directed questions at his pupils. Then a life-threatening illness triggered an epiphany for Ramsey. He came to realize that perhaps the most effective way to teach is to consider yourself a cultivator “of curiosity and inquiry.”

L&D professionals can’t necessarily grab everyone’s attention with controlled chemical explosions or Bunsen burner tricks. But it seems like a good idea to try packaging content that piques your learners’ curiosity.

Wisetail LMS content creator, Jason Bacaj.


Jason is a content creator with Wisetail. Through research and interviews, he works to help L&D pros grow the breadth of their knowledge. He’s a recovering journalist fascinated with learning.