TED Talks have always had a strong IT influence, as the first word of the acronym that makes its name suggests. The conference converging Technology, Entertainment and Design under the slogan of "ideas worth spreading" has been the stage for thousands of talks which have been viewed online more than a billion times in total.

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The array of speakers at the two annual events and the glut of independently organised TEDx conferences held since the first TED conference in 1984 vary in quality, but there are some genuine insights behind the imperious gestures and headset microphones. CIO UK delved into the TED archives to separate the innovative thinkers from the pretentious charlatans.

Best TED Talks for CIOs: The puzzle of motivation by Dan Pink

Dan Pink graduated from law school, but was a self-admittedly poor student who never practiced law. In his TED talk, he dusts off what's left of his legal skills to make an evidence-based case for rethinking how to run businesses. His proposal is based on overcoming functional fixedness to solve problems.

Financial rewards can be effective incentives to promote better performance for tasks with a narrow focus, he says, but they can actually have a negative impact on more creative challenges requiring cognitive skill. Instead of the carrot and stock, he suggests a different approach, made up of three separate prongs: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Best TED Talks for CIOs: Want to innovate? Become a 'now-ist' by Joi Ito

Joi Ito's family were in Japan when the 2011 earthquake struck. He was at a panicking MIT Media Lab, and went online to learn more. Together with others searching for information, he formed a group called Safecast that aimed to measure the radiation and disseminate the data.

The declining cost of innovation is making such citizen-led schemes more possible, and more bottom-up, democratic strategies led by amateurs keep emerging as evidence. Its advice is to prioritise the compass over the map. Preparation is crucial, but plans cannot predict the future.

Best TED Talks for CIOs: Technology disruption meets the change monster...who wins? by Patrick Forth

Development expert Patrick Forth believes success will increasingly be drive by an organisation's ability to change. He notes academic research that suggests we won't even recognise three-quarters of today's Fortune 500 by 2020 will be names we’ve never heard of. Forth gives his advice on how large companies can embrace disruption and avoid being consumed by the 'change monster'.

He says companies need to challenge the mindset of unconscious learning and add digitally-native executives to the leadership team, and that change must occur on an industrial scale. Disruption may be best served by developing away from the heart of the business, but within that core it is also essential to shift from the traditional to the digital. 

Best TED Talks for CIOs: How data will transform business by Philip Evans

Technology is challenging some fundamental business ideas. Philip Evans says two long-standing theories of strategy are no longer fit for purpose: concentrating mass against weakness, and the concept of the value chain, which argues that what holds a business together is transaction costs.

One of these is about processing information, while the other is about communication. Each has been transformed since they were formulated, rendering the historical premises of business strategy obsolete. Evans explains how data has created new ways to analyse how businesses are structured.

Best TED Talks for CIOs: Business model innovation — beating yourself at your own game by Stefan Gross-Selbeck

Startups have a reputation for driving innovation in a way that large established companies often struggle to replicate. Whether it's Uber with taxis or Airbnb with hotels, industries of every type are being transformed by disruption. Business transformation expert Stefan Gross-Selbeck explains how they do it, and what legacy companies can learn from their successes.

Startups don't have a business model, they're in the process of discovering one. Big companies execute ideas, but can struggle to discover them. Netflix is one of the few that has done both. They disrupted the video rental business by replacing stores with mail order, and then turned disruption onto the successful business that was produced by distributing streaming video media. Gross-Selbeck explains how companies can replicate the startup mindset and join the exclusive list of organisations that both innovate and implement.

Best TED Talks for CIOs: How great leaders inspire action by Simon Sinek


Simon Sinek has discovered one of the secrets of success. The endless innovation emerging from Apple, the revolutionary leadership of Martin Luther King Junior and the first powered flight by the Wright brothers were all achieved despite each of the trio having similar resources to their competition. His explanation lies in a "golden circle" with the question "Why?" at its centre.

Every leader knows what they do and many of them how, but only the most successful of them can truly answer why. This isn't just a question of products and profits, he says, it's the deeper motivation that makes people care. Apple, for example, promotes a belief in thinking differently and a desire to challenge the status quo. Sinek explains the biological basis of his theory and how leaders can use it to inspire cooperation, trust and change.

Best TED Talks for CIOs: 5 ways to lead in an era of constant change by Jim Hemerling


Change often instils fear in this era of "always-on" transformation. It can also create excitement, as is obvious when watching people embark on plans to make their personal lives better. Organisational change expert Jim Hemerling has a plan to make change energising instead of exhausting.

His strategy consists of first putting people first to give them purpose and going all in to fundamentally reshape and develop. They then need the capabilities to support sustained, and support by the promotion of a culture of continuous learning. For leaders, he offers a further tip: have a vision marked with milestones and hold people accountable for results.