5 Non-Agile TED Talks About Agile

By: Resalin Gurka | Jul 07, 2016 |  Article

Ted Talks about Agile, without being "about Agile"It was 1984. Explorer, architect, and author Saul Wurman began to notice a convergence of multiple disciplines, and in an interview with Fast Company, Wurman noted that he saw what people in the groups did not.

‘They just didn’t see they were one group…they didn’t realize they were growing together.

He decided to bring representatives from the Technology, Entertainment, and Design circles together starting what would become one of the most celebrated conferences in the world, the TED conference.

Each TED talk taps into our curiosity by sharing the ideas of today’s thought leaders and innovators. The following TED talks cover the spectrum, from slime mould to storytelling via code. Not only is each talk brilliant and inspiring, they also discuss various Agile principles and show agility in action, without speaking of Agile outright.

This Is Your Brain On Communication


Did you know that the same story told in different languages or different ways elicit similar brain activity from the listener? Neuroscientist Uri Hasson discusses his research on human communication, alignment, and how we connect with another.

Why It’s Unexpectedly Agile:

You can spend millions of dollars and hire the best Agile coaches to support your team through an adoption and transformation with little effect if the organization is not aligned. Individuals may be producing work but they will be out of sync, similar to the five metronomes Hasson uses in the video.

“Our ability to communicate relies only on our ability to have common ground,” Hasson says during his presentation. When listeners are on common ground, they are neurally entrained. During his experiments, you see evidence of neural entrainment through similar brain patterns among subjects listening to the same story, even if the employed languages are different. The same is true for products–Agile or otherwise. What would happen if product vision was communicated to only some of the teams?


The Unexpected Benefit Of Celebrating Failure


To fail is a bad thing but it can also be a very good thing. The head of X (formerly Google X) discusses what it’s like to create an environment where people are encouraged to take risks and conduct experiments–all in the pursuit of finding solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

Why It’s Unexpectedly Agile:

Astro Teller describes the Moonshot Factory as a place where dreams and risks are celebrated and “coupled with strategies for making them real.” Teller says during his talk, “rather than avoid the mess, pretend it’s not there, we’ve tried to make that our strength. We spend most of our time breaking things and trying to prove that we’re wrong.” Some of their “messes” include vertical farming (they couldn’t get staple crops to grow) and variable-buoyancy cargo ships (too expensive to test).

Learning through failure is key to having an Agile and Lean mindset. So is experimentation. This is only possible when leaders give their team space and encourage risks. How do you do that?

Teller discusses the fear surrounding failure. Typically, when you fail at a job, you get fired. Teller helps to create a safe-to-fail environment by rewarding his team when data shows their big “audacious” ideas are failures. They are promoted, given bonuses, and praised.

“If there’s an Achilles’ heel in one our projects, we want to know it now, up front, not way down the road,” Teller says. What’s more Agile than that?


A Simple Way To Break A Bad Habit


Curiosity may have killed the cat but can it also kill bad habits? Addiction doctor Judson Brewer explores how mindfulness can be used to finally kick a bad habit.

Why It’s Unexpectedly Agile:

What are sprint retrospectives but a time set aside for team members to become mindful of how actions and processes affect output? Reflection and retrospective are key to improving, whether you’re trying to quit smoking or building software.


The Magic Ingredient That Brings Pixar Movies To Life


Pixar’s Director of Photography Danielle Feinberg discusses how she uses science, math, coding, and art to bring life to computer animated films.

Why It’s Unexpectedly Agile:

When you listen to Feinberg’s talk, you can tell how much she loves her job. She discusses how she moves icons around a 3D scene to tell the story, set the time of day, create the mood, and direct the eye. She shares how she uses the science behind light wavelengths and movement to create caustics, ribbons of light, sparkle, and currents, bringing life to the underwater scenes in “Finding Nemo.” A tremendous amount of detail is needed in her job. This is directly related to the Agile principle, “Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility.”


What Humans Can Learn From Intelligent Slime


Artist and biologist Heather Barnett discusses what she’s learned by observing physarum polycephalum, semi-intelligent slime mould. There’s a lot more to this creature than you would think.

Why It’s Unexpectedly Agile:

If you think of each eukaryote as a team member, and the “slime” as an Agile team, it’s easier to see the resemblance. In the talk, Barnett shows how these cells communicate with each other to self-organize (Agile!) and perform tasks. It doesn’t grow willy-nilly but will instead recognize itself and grow the other way. A slime mould will form a network with the shortest and most efficient routes to food resources.

While slime mould doesn’t have a brain, it can learn, remember, and solve problems. Instead of a brain, the slime mould learns about the environment through a pipe that carries nutrients and chemical information through the cell in oscillations. By communication and acting as a collective, this very simple organism has the ability to do complex things.


TED talks educate, inspire, and bring people together. What is originally a talk about art can lead to reflections on aging, disaster relief about purpose, and slime mould about Agile self-directing teams. Tune into TED talks for more correlations.

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