The 5 Best TED Talks for CFOs

March 5, 2019

By Justin Biel(opens in new tab), trends editor at Grow Wire

The role of a CFO(opens in new tab) is undergoing a big-time transformation, becoming more complex than ever before. Lately, CFOs find themselves tasked not only with driving shareholder value and reaching for business efficiencies but also with driving strategy and encouraging adoption of new technologies.

A new and overwhelming amount of data may be making the CFO’s job tougher, but it’s also granting access to a treasure trove of information and analysis about what makes great leaders(opens in new tab). And what better to distill data with than a TED Talk?

The five TED Talks below--presented by some of the best business minds on the planet--surface skills and ideas that will help CFOs drive more value in the digital age. 


1. “How the Blockchain is Changing Money and Business(opens in new tab)"

TED Talk by Don Tapscott in June 2016

Blockchain technology and its applications to business(opens in new tab), especially in terms of asset management and allocation, make this talk especially intriguing for CFOs. 

Don Tapscott is the executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute and an expert in the study of business and technology. In his talk, Tapscott provides an overview of blockchain’s origins and functionality (aka answers the question, “What is blockchain?!”) and explains the profound impact it could have on business over the next few decades. He also makes a strong case for the technology’s potential to reduce inefficiencies at large organizations by decentralizing the exchange of assets.


2. “How to Build a Company Where The Best Ideas Win(opens in new tab)” 

TED Talk by Ray Dalio in April 2017

Many CFOs benefit from studying the practices of Ray Dalio, a financial titan who combined objective reasoning and computer algorithms to build the most successful hedge fund ever. In his TED Talk, Dalio explains how the use of data, computers and algorithms form the basis of his continued wins at Bridgewater Associates. He runs through other core Dalio-isms such as building an "idea meritocracy," collective decision-making and the idea that assumptions must be dismissed in place of objective reasoning.


3. “A Data Translation Toolkit Anyone Can Use(opens in new tab)” 

TED Talk by Jonathan Koch in November 2017

As the world consistently turns to big data for answers, Jonathan Koch gives CFOs a toolkit with which to sift through mountains of information and make informed decisions from them. 

Koch is a data translator(opens in new tab) who applies his skills to the retail industry at PVH Corp., one of the world’s largest apparel companies. In his talk, Koch lays out a “translation toolkit,” including three steps for analyzing a set of data: First, set a clear definition of the data and determine the period over which said data should be measured. Second, find context by establishing a benchmark and discovering relevant data to compare. Third, solve the problem of averages by breaking down data into smaller segments. The clean breakdown and concrete action plan is a CFO’s dream.

4. “What it Takes to Be a Great Leader(opens in new tab)

TED Talk by Roseline Torres in October 2013

As the world consistently turns to big data for answers, Jonathan Koch gives CFOs a toolkit with which to sift through mountains of information and make informed decisions from them. 

Today’s CFOs need courage--for lack of a better word--in the face of constant change. Roselinde Torres is a leadership expert at Boston Consulting Group who has spent over 25 years studying what makes leaders great(opens in new tab). In her talk, she explains the “21st century leadership gap” and why it’s getting wider. She says leaders can overcome this gap by asking three questions: Where am I looking to anticipate the next change? What is the diversity measure of my network? Am I courageous enough to abandon a practice that made me successful in the past? It’s a must-listen for any CFO grappling with the new demands of their role. 


5. “Business Model Innovation: Beating Yourself at Your Own Game(opens in new tab)” 

TED Talk by Stefan Gross-Selbeck in October 2014

CFOs in the digital age are required to be forward-thinking and adaptable, as they’re tasked with improving systems almost constantly. In this talk, Stefan Gross-Selbeck explores the mindset necessary to win in this setting.

Gross-Selbeck is a tech executive with decades of experience operating and consulting in the digital industry. In the talk, he explains that digital-age leaders must be able to both execute a business model and innovate at the same time. Big companies, he says, would benefit from adopting a startup mindset when it comes to business innovation. Finally, Gross-Selbeck discusses three mindsets for CFOs (or any leader!) to try on: an attacker mindset, an agile mindset and the “failure is okay” mindset.


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