12 inspiring TED talks for business owners

12 ted talks to inspire small business owners

Get a daily dose of motivation by listening to these inspiring TED talks for business owners.

There’s something magical about listening to the experiences of others; it’s probably one of the most passive yet most accessible ways to glean gems of wisdom from people who know more about something than you or I do.

For years I’ve been finding knowledge, wisdom and even comfort in the the TED talks of people who know more than I do about creating, starting and running a small business online.

You can read books like Carmen Gallo's "Talk like TED" to go deep into the anatomy of a great talk but for me the best TED talks for business owners use a simple means of communication that people have been using for ever: storytelling.

The Magic of Stories

stories to inspire

The best talks impart information in the form of compelling stories.

Like Barry Schwartz explaining how too much choice is confusing.

Or like Ken Robinson's hilarious yet poignant plea for education reform.

And like Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s Stroke of insight.

Shorter stories interwoven into an overarching topic are what make these some of the most entertaining TED talks ever.

My list of inspiring TED talks for business owners from the TED archives might not all be as well known as the classics mentioned above but they can be an invaluable source of inspiration and motivation to any small business owner. Indeed, they should inspire anyone seeking to improve either themselves or their business.

There’s a good mixture of the academic and the practical in here.  Most of the talks are relatively old and deliver messages that might seem quaint or even cliched to us today.  But I think we all know how important it is to review and master the fundamentals of any area we want to improve in and typically these fundamentals change little over time.

Some of them are delightfully short and thanks to TED making the videos available for download you can watch and/or listen to most of them on the go.

Click the image to watch; each link will open in a new browser tab.

Shawn Achor The happy secret to better work

shawn achor ted talk

This has to be one of my favourite TED talks ever.  Like most of my favourites, it's full of storytelling and humour.

Achor is one of a relatively new breed of psychologists studying positive psychology. He taught the most popular class at Harvard - a class on happiness. His book "The Happiness Advantage" is definitely worth a read.

You’ll feel better just for watching this fast-paced 12-minute talk. A talk on happiness has to one of the most inspiring TED talks for any business owner.

Lasting Ideas

  • If I ask "How fast can a child read in the classroom?", scientists change the answer to "How fast does the average child read in the classroom."
  • ​We're creating the cult of the average with science

​If I ask "How fast can a child read?", scientists change the answer to "How fast does the AVERAGE child read."

Click to Tweet

Gary Vaynerchuk Do What You Love (No Excuses!)

gary vaynerchuck ted talk

The now-familiar advice of "find your passion" as delivered in GaryVee's inimitable style.

I used to love listening to Gary until his message - and his delivery - got repetitive (for me).   By the time I finally got to see him live on stage it seemed to be so much more of the same old stuff that I walked out. Twice.  On the same day.

But, if you’ve never listened to one of his rants before then this really is worth a watch.  As the TED intro promises, this is “a shot in the arm” to anyone with self-doubt, i.e. most of us.

Lasting idea

  • “Your great-great-great grandchildren are gonna see every thing you’ve ever done.”

J.J. Abrams The Mystery Box

jj abrams ted talk

The incredible imagination of J.J. Abrams has been responsible for huge TV & Film hits such as Lost, Star Trek, Armageddon, Cloverfield, Mission: Impossible III and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (the third highest-grossing film of all time, no less) and has earned him two Emmy Awards.

See if you can relate to his explanation of why he has never opened that Magic Box.  For him every story is its own mystery box.

What’s this got to do with small business?  I think it serves as a good reminder of what should go into good copy.​


Seth Godin The Tribes We Lead

seth godin ted talk

I’ve never been sure if the now-familiar notion of Tribes, in the modern sense, was more of a gimmick or just the latest rephrasing and repackaging of an old concept.

In this ancient talk by TED standards, Seth gives a good introduction that again reminds us of the power all of us have nowadays thanks to the instant global communication that is already mostly taken for granted.

Lasting Ideas

  • "Don’t be a sheep-walker"
  • Upset, Connect and Lead



Seth' talk is NOT available as an MP3 audio file on the TED site.  

Get  this bonus file to learn how I easily create an MP3 audio file from any video file. 

Tim Leberecht 3 ways to (usefully) lose control of your brand

tim leberecht ted talk

Marketer, Tim Leberecht is an influential writer and speaker on leadership, strategy, technology and culture.

Another quick talk at just 6 minutes, it's peppered with good examples from brands like Interflora, Patagonia and Microsoft.

If you believe Alexis Ohanian’s view (further down this page) that you no longer control the message and that your brand is what others say about you (it is) then Lieberecht's talk tells how you can actually design your business to take advantage of it all.

Regina Hartley Why the best hire might not have the perfect resume

regina hartley ted talk

Regina is the HR manager for UPS and in this talk she suggests that maybe the people with passion and purpose can do a better job than those with the perfect qualifications.

Useful if you're planning to hire or collaborate with people to now or in the future.

Bel Pesce 5 Ways to Kill YourDreams

bel pesce ted talk

She might be controversial but you can’t deny her ability to get big things done. Having entered MIT at 17 and interned at Microsoft and Google, Bel is currently is growing her school FazINOVA - dedicated to helping students of all ages pursue their dreams - at a terrific rate.

She is also an author, prolific speaker, one of Forbes "30 under 30" and voted one the "100 most influential people of Brazil".

This talk - another short one - is a look at success from the other side - what NOT to do for success.

Lasting Ideas

To kill your dreams, believe these myths​

  • There is overnight success.  There isn't; most success comes from long, hard work
  • Someone else has the answers.  They don't; you usually need to work it out yourself.
  • It's okay to relax when the going is good.  It's not; you need to work harder than ever.
  • It's someone else's fault.  It's not, it's yours.
  • The dream is all that matters.  It's not, the journey is what matters.

If you have dreams, it’s your responsibility to make them happen -- Bel Pesce

Click to Tweet

Bill Gross The single biggest reason why startups succeed

bill gross ted talk

An entrepreneur since his teens, Bill Gross is the founder of many startups.  His current company Idealab has helped 150+ startups and has compiled data on many companies to distil their success to the one trait revealed in this talk.

That reason is not what you might think ...

Lasting Idea​

  • Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face (via Mike Tyson)

Alexis Ohanian​ How to make a splash in social media

alexis ahanian ted talk


Ohanian is co-founder and currently executive chairman of the hugely popular social news site reddit and an outspoken proponent of an Open Internet and Net Neutrality.

Maybe it’s nothing new a few years later but his funny 4-minute talk is basically a reminder that

  1. The internet allows everyone’s voice to be heard (assuming net neutrality exists)
  2. Publishing content is cheap and fast
  3. You shouldn't take yourself too seriously because you no longer control the message



Alexis' talk is NOT available as an MP3 audio file on the TED site.  

Get  this bonus file to learn how I easily create an MP3 audio file from any video file. 

Navi Radjou Creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits

navi radjou ted talk

Navi Radjou A fellow at Cambridge University and a member of the World Economic Forums Global Agenda on Design Innovation.  (Sounds good but if you've no idea what it means either find out on this page.

Ever hear of jugaad?  Neither had I until I came across Navi’s talk (it’s Hindi for improvised solutions).

Full of fascinating examples of ingenuity across the globe, this talk is about how we can all do much more with the resources we already have right now.  What business owner doesn't want to know that!?

His three principles for HOW to do this:

  1. Keep it simple.  Don’t do things to impress.
  2. Do not reinvent the wheel. Leverage existing resources.
  3. Think and act horizontally.  To be agile, scale distribution outwards, not upwards.

Lasting Idea

  • Take what is most abundant to deal with what is scarce​

Take what is most abundant to deal with what is scarce -- Navi Radjou

Click to Tweet

Simon Sinek How great leaders inspire action

simon sinek ted talk

It almost seems like everyone has seen this talk.

A marketing consultant, Sinek is nowadays better known as a motivational speaker focusing in particular on identifying the driving reason behind doing what you do.

This is another of the most watched TED talks of all time and introduces us to Sinek's “Starting With Why” idea.

(After 5 minutes the sound improves greatly with a mic change)

Lasting Quote

  • People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it
  • We've all heard it by now: People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it - Simon Sinek

    Click to Tweet

Linda Hill How to Manage for CollectiveCreativity

linda hill ted talk

A professor at Harvard, Linda Hill is an author and an expert on leadership.  This talk introduces her tactics to keeping creativity flowing among groups of people.

Not the most entertaining talk in this list, perhaps, but some interesting ideas on how to stimulate creativity.

Lasting Idea

Her most controversial statement has to be

  • Leading innovation is not about creating a vision and inspiring others to execute it

Bonus #13 Richard St. John The 8 Secrets of Success

richard st john ted talk

You would think a man who spent ten years doing over 500 face-to-face interviews with many of the world’s most successful people, including Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Google’s founders, Rupert Murdoch, and so on would have something to say about what makes them successful.  He analyzed every word they said, sorted, organized and correlated every comment and created one of the world’s largest and most organized databases on success.

Sounds like he should be worth a listen ...

His book "The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common: 8 To Be Great" is a sort of modern-day “Think and Grow Rich” without the money focus.

Here are his 8 tips in one of the most popular - and shortest - TED talks ever.

Lasting Ideas​

  • They aren't workaholics, they're worka-frolics​
  • It's not always easy to push yourself and that's why they invented mothers
  • You've got to persist through C.R.A.P.
    1. Critiscicm
    2. Rejection
    3. Assholes
    4. Pressure

It's not always easy to push yourself and that's why they invented mothers

Click to Tweet


There’s a lot of watching to do there so don’t get sidetracked for a few hours watching. Thanks to TED’s generosity many of these files can be downloaded and listened to on the go.  And you can even extract the audio track with my bonus below.

If there’s one thing to take away it’s that there’s no one secret to success.

One person has three principles of doing something, another has eight.  One person identifies seven habits to achieve something, another might have seventeen.

Everyone has their own conclusion and often they even contradict someone else's conclusion on the same subject.

And that’s a good thing. Why?

Because it means you can do things your own way.

Over to you

Have you seen any of these already?

Do you have other favourite TED talks for business owners that might be useful to the rest of us?

Share them with us below in the comments.


Some of the talks above are NOT available as MP3 audio files on the TED site.  

Learn from the TED talks even when away from your computer.
Download this bonus file to learn how I easily create an MP3 audio file from any video file. 

  • by Seán
  • |
  • March 22, 2017
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