The Best TED Talks By B-School Professors

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Millions have viewed the TED talk by Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy

What makes for an absolutely awesome TED talk? A compelling speaker with fresh ideas, for sure. But someone with the flair, the subject matter and the self-confidence to truly captivate an audience. It helps, too, if a speaker leaves his or her viewers with actionable takeaways so that the words have meaning beyond the few minutes of a brilliant speech. These are the talks that go viral, racking up millions of views and changing how people view the world.

Sorry to say, business school professors who do TED talks rarely meet or exceed these guidelines. The bumbling, mild-mannered, somewhat eccentric professorial schtick in a classroom tends not to work all that well on an Internet video. Most professors are used to being around people who’ve bought into what they have to say on some level–people who are sucking up for a better grade, if nothing else.


And then, there’s the fact that many professors have done TEDx talks, which to our mind is the equivalent of an off-Broadway play. It can be thrilling and captivating, but it’s not the same as the big time, the talks that generate the most buzz and meet the substantial hurdles to get onto the big TED stage. We didn’t exclude them from consideration, but they had to be especially good to make this list of the best.

We’ve taken a critical look at dozens of TED talks by business school profs and selected the ones that will grab you by the throat, tease your brain, and inspire your soul. In short, you don’t want NOT to see and hear these professors and their leading edge ideas.

There’s also one very big surprise in the list. Some of the world’s most renown business school profs, superstar faculty such as Harvard’s Michael Porter, Wharton’s Jeremy Siegel, Stanford’s Jeffrey Pfeffer, or Columbia’s Bruce Greenwald, are completely absent from the list. Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University’s Fuqua School, does make the list. Author of Predictably Irrational, he is an often-quoted expert in the field of marketing. His TED talk on “Are We In Control Of Our Own Decisions,” has been viewed  2.3 million times.


Generally, though, the best TED talks by B-school faculty tend to be delivered by professors whose names are rarely mentioned outside their own schools. Ever hear of Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist who teaches at Harvard Business School? Her TED talk on body language has gone viral, seen by millions of viewers. Cuddy spent two years at Northwestern University’s School of Management before moving to Boston in 2008 to join the faculty at Harvard, where she teaches courses in negotiation and power and influence.

Or how about Larry Smith, a highly accomplished economics professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada. His TED talk on “Why You Will Fail To Have A Great Career” is both a marvel and a masterpiece of motivational career advice. Smith has been dazzling students for decades, teaching introductory microeconomics, macroeconomics and entrepreneurship courses. In March of last year, he taught his 30,000th student.

We’ve graded the best talks on several categories, from the highest score of a five to the lowest of a one.

Sit back, close your other tabs and enjoy.

  • gwong

    He is not a professor (as he is too busy practising & helping Ogilvy to make money & form industry/world opinions) but if he was, he would one of the best one…

    I would suggest to add this lecture by @RorySutherland The next revolution will be psychological not technological – YouTube

  • Santy

    OMG ! This is incredible 🙂 I kept power posing in restroom like without knowing what I did. It surely made me so comfortable and confident.

    Now I understand what I did ! Thank you Ted !

  • Jack McDaniel

    Unrelated but interesting video:

    Apparently, Stanford GSB applications went up to 7,200 this year to push the acceptance rate even lower…

  • Ralph Price

    I don’t think this is at all new so I would not agree with the 5. I attended a Tony Robbins event about 10 years ago and he was reworking the same ideas about using your physiology to change your behaviour. It is also a fundamental tennet of NLP and taught since at least the early 80’s. Very well presented here though.

  • OhDenny

    SOM Professor Keith Chen on language and its effects on economics.

  • wiztwas

    My list is … Dan Ariely – Amanda Palmer – Geoffrey Canada – Andrew Solomon – Raffaello DAndrea – Lesley Hazelton – Peter Attia – Gavin Pretor Pinney.

  • Danny

    John, Check out Peter Attia, MD on TED and TEDMED. Exceptional and moving talk. All best from New Jersey

  • Rakean Esfar Zakir

    John, There is a great lecture by Clay Christiensen from HBS. I think it’s titled “how to measure your life”. I think that will be a great addition here. Cheers from Toronto.

  • JohnAByrne

    We want you to contribute. If you have a favorite TED talk by a professor (perhaps one we missed?), tell us about it.