The subject matter is the health care debate. But the underlying premise is about a much, much bigger issue.
That issue: everyone’s opposition to change. The author of the article is James Surowiecki, and his book The Wisdom of Crowds was one of the most memorable books I ever read. He is thoughtful, thorough, and provocative. Any company or organization that wants to understand how to pull and pool the wisdom from your people — your workers, your colleagues, your customers, your entire “tribe” — should read The Wisdom of Crowds. (To take the next step, also check out Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams).
But in this article in the New Yorker, Status-Quo Anxiety, Surowiecki reminds us just how difficult it is to implement change. Here are a couple of key quotes:
• the public’s skittishness about overhauling the system also reflects something else: the deep-seated psychological biases that make people resistant to change.
• when we think about change we focus more on what we might lose rather than on what we might get.
He argues that we are intensely protective of the status quo; we love it, we cherish it, we protect it, we overvalue it. Even a culture that wants to change rallies to protect the status quo when change begins to look actually possible.
WE-DON’T-LIKE TO-CHANGE! WE-DON’T-WANT-TO CHANGE! AND-WE WILL-FIGHT-CHANGE-EVERY-STEP-OF-THE-WAY!
This is the message about change from Surowiecki, and it does not matter if the change is in the corporate world or in public policy.
I’ve posted before about the constant need to change. You might want to read my post, (The Woes of MySpace) The Future is Utterly Predictable – it is a Future of Constant Innovation. But Surowiecki reminds us just how hard it is build and sustain a culture of constant innovation.
Read the article by Surowiecki. Don’t think about the subject matter of the article (alone) – think about its implications for business, for innovation. It is enlightening.
And think about all the ways that you are resistant to change. I promise you, it is a long list. It is for me.
• You can order my synopses of both The Wisdom of Crowds and Wikinomics, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.
The Quarterly: As you think about your role as the leader—the CEO—of Cisco, what do you find to be the limiting factor?
John Chambers: I’m the roadblock. In command and control, the enabler is the CEO. Where the industry’s going, in every industry, will be about how do you change. How do you get outside your comfort zone? How do you basically catch your marks, transitions, and move on? Let’s use the current economic downturn. When you have an economic downturn of this challenge, 20 to 40 percent of the companies will never get back to where they were before. Never.
And the key is, how do you focus that opportunity in a way that not only allows you to return to where you were before but to continue to grow? And so, part of it is the ability to paint a picture of what’s possible. Part of it is also to manage inside our own minds and our hearts a combination of opportunity and [a sense of] if you don’t move, you will get left behind.
To read the complete interview and, if you wish, sign up for a free online subscription to The McKinsey Quarterly, please click on this link:
Cheryl observes: In Meryl Streep’s recent interview about her role as Julia Childs in the movie, “Julie and Julia” I found something she said very intriguing “…we’re all sustained by relationships. Sometimes it’s by marriages, great friendships, by a sustaining relationship to a parent. But that’s the glue of society; it’s very home-centered and very simple.” After I read this, I thought to myself, so true and not so simple to have the kinds of relationships at work that we could honestly classify them as fulfilling, energizing, and joyful. I can’t even count how many people I’ve heard lately lament how much they hate their jobs followed shortly by “but at least I have one.” In one of my favorite small and yet profoundly wise leadership books, Creating a Culture of Success, by Charles B. Dygert and Richard A. Jacobs, they write “It is not work that tires people out; it is frustration. And frustration is generally introduced by the boss, the system, the policies, or the work environment.” When I think what makes me crazy about work, I find these guys have nailed it! As the recession fades, my question for today’s leaders is “What’s the quality of the relationships in your environment?” After all, Meryl is right. We are all sustained by relationships.
Sara adds: I would push Cheryl’s questions a little further. “WHERE are your relationships?” Clint Swindall in Engaged Leadership talks about why employees are disengaged (those are some of the frustrated folk Cheryl referred to). “There may be several reasons, but perhaps the most significant is that most leaders are spending more time managing tasks and not nearly enough time leading people. If you don’t believe that observation, just spend one day without your cell phone, PDA or email. You’ll find out quickly how much of your “hectic day” is spent managing the business and putting out fires and not leading the people on your team.” So where are your relationships…with people or with spreadsheets? A leader has to focus on both – which get more of your time…managing the business or leading the people? And when the economy turns around and there are more jobs available, will your human assets stay or leave?
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
In this “leadership fable,” Lencioni focuses on “the rarity” of effective teamwork, noting that “teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.” Is teamwork therefore doomed to failure? No. According to Lencioni, productive collaboration can be achieved by certain behaviors that are “at once theoretically uncomplicated, but extremely difficult to put into practice day after day.” Moreover, the principles that guide and inform these behaviors “apply to more than just teamwork.
Here’s the fictional situation. A new CEO, 57 year-old Kathryn Petersen, has been hired by the board of DecisionTech to replace its co-founder and former CEO, 37-year-old Jeff Shanley, who continues to head the firm’s business development. He was (in effect) forced to step down primarily because, although DecisionTech’s 150 employees “seemed to like him well enough personally, they couldn’t deny that under his leadership the atmosphere within the company had become increasingly troubling. Backstabbing among the executives had become increasingly troubling.” Shanley proceeds through a difficult struggle to understand who he is (and isn’t) and eventually learns several valuable lessons that prepare him to….
As is his custom in each of the other volumes in the series of “leadership fables,” Lencioni then provides a “Model” section and supplementary material (Pages 185-224) whose value-added benefits will help his reader to make effective application of the lessons learned from the experiences shared by Kathryn and her DecisionTech associates.
Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing
Business Plus (1997)
This is one of the few books I have read that focuses almost entirely on the marketing and sales of services that are, paradoxically, both “invisible” and experiential. (Bernd Schmitt also has much of great value to say about this in Experiential Marketing as do B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore in The Experience Economy and Michael Wolf in The Entertainment Economy.) Beckwith shares an abundance of information and advice, duly acknowledging various sources from which he has obtained some of the material. I do not damn him with faint praise. His own contributions are first-rate. In “Summing Up”, he provides a brief but precise discussion of various sources that he commends to his reader. This has much greater value than does the standard bibliography. And there is a value-added benefit, his sense of humor, which is indicated by some of the section titles such as “Anchors, Warts, and American Express”, “Ugly Cats, Boat Shoes, and Overpriced Jewelry: Pricing,” and “Monogram Your Shirts, Not Your Company.” Throughout the book, he includes more than 100 of what I characterize as “business nuggets,” all of which are directly relevant (indeed illuminating) within the context in which he inserts them.
Beckwith reveals himself to be an astute observer of human nature. What he suggests can be of substantial value to any organization in which business relationships, including those that are internal, are less than desirable. Everything he suggests combines common sense with a sensitivity to others’ needs and interests. Indeed, almost everyone in almost any organization (regardless of size or nature) must constantly be “selling” various services to others within and beyond that organization. First, they must establish credibility, then trust, and finally obtain agreement to cooperate, if not collaborate. Almost all relationships succeed or fail because of intangibles. Beckwith examines them within a business context but, in process, suggests wide and deep implications relevant to all other areas of human experience. This is an immensely practical as well as thoughtful book.
In 1999, Thomas Huynh founded Sonshi.com, the Web’s most respected resource on Art of War and now consists of a network of authors, scholars, and readers around the world, attracted from various disciplines and joined together by a common interest in Sun Tzu’s classic study of strategy. He is a seasoned business executive and nonprofit board member who earned an MBA from Vanderbilt University. He was named in BusinessWeek magazine’s “Top 12 Most Engaged Reader-Contributors of 2008.” Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Huynh now resides with his wife and child in Atlanta, Georgia. As a war refugee, he seeks to put an end to warfare by affirming the practical ideals published in his book, The Art of War—Spirituality for Conflict.
Morris: Before discussing The Art of War, a few general questions. First, what prompted your interest in the relevance to the modern business world of what ancient thinkers such as Sunzi (Sun Tzu), Laozi (Lao Tzu), and Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) have to say about leadership, management, and strategy?
Huynh: One way to look at this is to consider the Holy Bible; some parts of the book are well over 2000 year old but countless people still refer to it every day. If you consider many of the Greek and Roman classics, you realize they discuss many of the societal, motivational, and leadership issues we have today. Our technology has evolved significantly, but, alas, the human brain and how it makes its decisions have not.
Also the fact that these ancient classics have survived after numerous generations is a testament and argument to their value and usefulness. For example, a high-ranking Chinese official went to his grave with it in circa 100 B.C. who fortunately gave us the oldest surviving Art of War copy ever found. Unlike many works that have since disappeared, even one that The Art of War itself cites, Sun Tzu’s book has never been lost or destroyed.
Morris: When and why did you found Sonshi.com?
Huynh: We founded Sonshi.com in 1999 because we wanted a central place to meet to discuss Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The Web was approaching its adolescent stage and we remember when Yahoo listed us on their directory — a manual process, reviewed by a real, live Yahoo editor — a sign at the time that you have “made it.” Now any site can “make it” thanks to Google.
Morris: To what does the word “Sonshi” refer?
Huynh: “Sonshi” is an English transliteration of Sun Tzu in Japanese. If you have read General Samuel Griffith’s Art of War book, you will see Sonshi mentioned many times since he researched how the Japanese were very much influenced by the work. Two very popular and highly successful Japanese strategists Minamoto Yoshitsune and Takeda Shingen made Sonshi Heiho (Sun Tzu Art of War) their text of choice.
The main reason why we chose “Sonshi” was that we wanted a word representative of the ideal reader, someone who takes the study of The Art of War seriously and diligently. Even though The Art of War was written in China, who eventually took the work to heart and promoted it were the Japanese leaders. Sonshi.com has similar enthusiasts (a few rather rabid) of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. I’m perhaps its most ardent advocate since I truly believe it is the greatest book ever written; it has the answer to end the worst, still pervasive human activity: war. Having been born in an environment where war dominated (Vietnam), I hope you understand why.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Huynh invites those who read this interview to check out the resources provided at this Web site:
Slate.com has an article by John Dickerson on the president’s summer reading list. It includes a great trip back through time, reminding us that John Kennedy liked Ian Fleming, (here’s a witty line from the article. President Obama is unlikely to choose Fleming, because “in the heat of this year’s health care debate, the president doesn’t dare read anything by anyone who once wrote a book called Dr. No.”), President George W. Bush read The Stranger by Camus, and President Bill Clinton read everything! (On one visit to a Martha’s Vineyard book store, President Clinton “walked the aisles pointing to books, saying, “Read that, read that, read that,” according to Susan Mercier, the manager”).
Here’s the reading list for President Obama (from the article):
• The Way Home by George Pelecanos, a crime thriller based in Washington, D.C.;
• Lush Life by Richard Price, a story of race and class set in New York’s Lower East Side;
• Tom Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, on the benefits to America of an environmental revolution;
• John Adams by David McCullough;
• Plainsong by Kent Haruf, a drama about the life of eight different characters living in a Colorado prairie community.
Notice that the list includes Thomas Friedman’s Hot, Flat, and Crowded, though, Dickerson writes, “I bet Obama doesn’t finish the Friedman. There’s no book on his list more like his evening briefing books.”
This is the second book that I have presented at the First Friday book Synopsis that has been on a reading list of Mr. Obama. Last summer, in the midst of the campaign, he was reading Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. (Here’s a photo of then candidate Obama with a copy The Post-American World).
Both books are worth reading. Here’s a key quote from each:
From Hot, Flat, and Crowded:
Green is the new red, white, and blue because it is a strategy that can help to ease global warming, biodiversity loss, energy poverty, petrodictatorship, and energy supply shortages – and make America stronger at the same time. We solve our own problems by helping the world solve its problems. We help the world solve its problems by solving our own problems.
If climate change is a hoax, it is the most wonderful hoax ever perpetrated on the United States of America. Because transforming our economy to clean power and energy efficiency to mitigate global warming and the other challenges of the Energy-Climate Era is the equivalent of training for the Olympic triathlon: If you make it to the Olympics, you have a better chance of winning because you’ve developed every muscle. If you don’t make it to the Olympics, you’re still healthier, stronger, fitter, and more likely to live longer and win every other race in life. And as with the triathlon, you don’t just improve one muscle or skill, but many, which become mutually reinforcing and improve the health of your whole system. (p. 173).
From The Post-American World:
This is a book not about the decline of America but rather about the rise of everyone else. It is about the great transformation taking place around the world, a transformation that, although often discussed, remains poorly understood… Though we talk about a new era, the world seems to be one with which we are familiar. But in fact, it is very different. (p. 1).
Look around. The tallest building in the world in now in Taipei, and it will soon be overtaken by one being built in Dubai. The world’s richest man is Mexican, and its largest publicly traded corporation is Chinese. The world’s biggest plane is built in Russia and Ukraine, its leading refinery is under construction in India, and its largest factories are all in China. London is becoming the leading financial center, and the United Arab Emirates is home to the most richly endowed investment fund. Once quintessentially American icons have been appropriated by foreigners. The world’s largest Ferris wheel is in Singapore. Its number one casino is not in Las Vegas but in Macao, which has also overtaken Vegas in annual gambling revenues. The biggest movie industry, in terms of both movies made and tickets sold, is Bollywood, not Hollywood. Even shopping, America’s greatest sporting activity, has gone global. Of the top ten malls in the world, only one is in the United States: the world’s biggest is in Beijing. Such lists are arbitrary, but it is striking that only ten years ago, American was at the top in many, if not most, of these categories. (pp. 2-3).
What’s on your reading list?