Five TED Talks on the Power of Purpose

Manda Kaye

In business, politics, social policy and in our personal lives, things rarely change until we hitch our wagons to aspirations and intentions – when we are driven by a genuine sense of purpose. In Australia, the Royal Commissions into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse and the Banking Industry have rocked our faith in powerful institutions, inaction on climate change has delivered us into a summer of extreme heat, floods and fires. Inequality is still on the rise, and, as we teeter towards the federal election, we long for leadership that is driven by a desire to make a meaningful difference to the world we live in.

Whether you aspire to lead, or just want to think carefully about who to follow, here’s five TED talks that call on us all to recognise the power of purpose, and ignite a fire in our bellies.


Dan Pink’s 2009 TedGlobal talk looks at the mismatch between what science knows about motivation and how the world of business seeks to motivate its leaders. Pink argues that the extrinsic motivators, those 20th century carrots and sticks, are much weaker at motivating people to be energised and creative thinkers, than intrinsic motivators. What powers companies like Australian tech giant, Atlassian, is a more scientific approach appropriate to the new millennium – an approach built on the understanding that we are motivated by a desire to get better and better at what we do in the service of something larger than our bank balance.



Leadership expert Simon Sinek’s TEDXPugetSound talkHow Great Leaders Inspire Action – is one of the most popular Ted Talks ever. Sinek examines the power of a sense of purpose in driving creativity, innovation and engagement in business. Contrasting the comprehensive 12-point plans of lacklustre contemporary politicians with Dr Martin Luther King and his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, Sinek’s talk is a blueprint for how a new generation of leaders might start with why they want to lead, and share a deeper purpose driving them than a desire for power and influence.



Why do we struggle to be purpose driven, anyway? Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson says it’s because schools kill creativity, squandering the talents of children by insisting that maths is more important than dance, or that science matters, but art doesn’t – not really. Sir Ken is driven by a desire to reform an education system that deprives so many young people of a sense of purpose, by jamming them into cookie-cutter courses that privilege academic subjects and ignore multiple types of intelligence. Sir Ken is a charming and engaging speaker, and his TED Talk feels as relevant today as it did when it was given in 2006.



At 2018’s TEDxSydney, writer and comedian Magda Szubanski revealed that she had never felt as brave as her Polish family, who risked their lives protecting Jews from the Nazi invaders. Growing up in homophobic 1970s Australia, Magda lacked the courage to come out, but she had the desire to be brave. By studying the way people overcame their fear, she nourished and cultivated her courage. In her inspiring TEDXSydney talk, Magda charts how, after she came out on television, her sense of purpose to be brave snowballed, and her desire and ability to do what is right grew stronger. Driven by purpose, Magda overcame her fears to become one of the best campaigners for Marriage Equality in Australia.



Writer and environmentalist Katherine Wilkinson works on Project Drawdown as part of a team that works with an urgent sense of purpose – to find a way for us to draw down carbon from the atmosphere to reverse global warming. In her 2108 TedWomen talk, she detailed an extraordinary finding – that the most effective way to stop climate change lies in creating equity for women in agriculture, education and family planning. These are achievable goals, and Wilkinson makes a passionate call to action that we might make them our collective purpose: ‘This earth, our home, is calling for us to be bold, reminding us we are all in this together – women, men, people of all gender identities, all beings. We are life force, one earth, one chance. Let’s seize it.’


It was in the same spirit of carpe diem that our very own TEDXSydney licensee, Remo Giuffre, addressed the TEDxSydney audience in 2018. Remo spoke about a useful Japanese concept that elaborates on what a sense of purpose might involve. Ikigai translates as something like ‘reason for being’. Your ikigai is that sweet spot between what you love to do and what you are good at, what the world actually needs and is willing to pay you for. (See Remo’s Venn diagram and post about ikigai here.) In Japanese culture it’s accepted that everyone has an ikigai, and that it’s important to devote yourself to finding it, because it’s the thing that will bring satisfaction and meaning to your life. How do we find our ikigai? Remo’s advice is simple: get started and then be a seeker. And I think he’d agree that TEDXSydney 2019 is a very fertile place to begin.

Join us on a unique and extraordinary journey to exciting initiatives that are shaping the future. Join us at the 10th Anniversary of TEDxSydney.

Photo credit: Sarb Johal

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