Here is a brief excerpt from my interview of Coyle. The complete interview is also available.
Morris: As a father of four and grandfather of ten (so far), I have a special interest in knowing your response to this question. What are the implications of the talent code insofar as pre-collegiate education (especially at grade levels K-4) concerned?
Coyle: The talent hotbeds I visited are proof of the importance of the early years, for two reasons. First, the moment of ignition – when someone falls in love with a task – happen at a surprisingly young age. The moments when our own identities become linked with those of the people around us – when we decide we want to become a great musician, or writer, or businessman – happen at a surprisingly young age. To be in a rich environment, full of role models (think of a child growing up in Florence during the Renaissance, or a kid playing baseball in the Caribbean today), is like a turbocharger.
That’s not to say it can’t happen later – it does all the time. But with youth comes opportunity.
The other implication, I think, has to do with the way we teach. In our culture we are taught (in books, in movies, in school) that talent is something you are born with. But the lesson of the talent hotbeds – indeed, of modern neurology – is vastly different. Schools like KIPP that teach that the brain is a muscle – that you have to stretch and reach and struggle and repeat in order to grow your skills – succeed because they are telling kids the truth about themselves.
For the last 150 years, our culture has been ruled by the idea of the gene. I hope for the next 150 years a new idea might take hold – that of the 100,000 miles of wiring contained inside each human mind. That 100,000 miles (enough to encircle the earth four times) is a true measure of human potential.
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If you wish to read the complete interview, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coyle invites you to visit http://www.thetalentcode.com.
That is the title of one of the volumes in the “Memo to the CEO” series published by Harvard Business Press. The purpose of each is to have a well-recognized expert on a major business subject provide a brief but insightful analysis of it. In this instance, the expert is Darrell Rigby, a partner in Bain & Company’s Boston office who heads the firm’s global Retail and Innovation practices. The subject is leading and managing effectively during a turbulent period, and Rigby shares a wealth of insights during a narrative of only 139 pages. Here are three brief excerpts from his narrative:
“When recessions do hit, recovery times vary dramatically. Following the 2001 recession, the S&P 500 stock index for construction staples bounced back to positive growth in only three months, while the computer index took nine months and the telecom index almost three years to return to positive growth.Another indicator of differential impact is the gap between an industry’s ten-year average growth rate and its growth during a recession year. For computers and electronics, the disparity in the 2001 recession was 25 percentage points. Fir broadcasting and telecommunications, the difference was only one point.” (Pages 5-6)
“Culture underpins the decisions an organization makes and executes. It defines ‘the way we do things around here.’ As one observer said, it determines how people act when no one is looking. But cultures can change over time and are particularly susceptible to change when the organization is in crisis. In an acute downtown, leaders need to take deliberate action to keep a string culture from deteriorating – or to transform a culture that gets in the way of good decisions.” (Page 57)
“When customers are wary of buying, sales managers face two critical challenges. One is to maximize the time reps can spend in front of customers, explaining the benefits of what they are selling. The other is to keep overall sales costs under tight control. Effective deployment of sales resources can help with both objectives. To maximize face time, check the heat map: the hot spots show the customers most likely to buy. That’s were you need your best reps – and you need them out there selling, not traveling or doing paperwork.” (Pages 105-106)
Click on http://www.bain.nl/bainweb/publications/publications_detail.asp?id=1421&menu_url=publications_results.asp and you can check out an especially valuable 40-page data-driven survey briefing provided by Bain & Company.
In Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today (published by Broadway Books in 2009), Susan Scott devotes a separate chapter to each of six “worst” best practices, juxtaposed with her recommended replacement (indicated in bold face). Here are three, accompanied by my own brief comments:
Worst “Best” Practice: 360-Degree Anonymous Feedback
Fierce Best Practice: 360-Degree Face-to-Face Feedback
Comment: In the “culture of candor” that Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, and James O’Toole describe in Transparency, 360-degree face-to-face feedback would be a common, everyday practice.
Worst “Best” Practice: Hiring for Smarts
Fierce Best Practice: Hiring for Smart + Heart
Comment: Cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence are not mutually-exclusive. As Warren Buffett once observed, “Somebody once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you. You think about it; it’s true. If you hire somebody without [integrity], you really want them to be dumb and lazy.”
Worst “Best” Practice: Holding People Accountable
Fierce Best Practice: Modeling Accountability and Hold People Able
Comment: I have observed in numerous organizations the problems that result when workers are either have no idea what the model is (if there is one) or have a model they do understand and do not respect it. During exit interviews of highly-valued employees, two of the complaints they most frequently mention are that (a) expectations for their performance were never made clear to them and (b) the criteria for measuring their performance were either unclear or applied unfairly and inconsistently.
I was recently asked, “what business book would you write?” Tough question – and one that I may never answer. I am a book reader, but will I ever write a business book? I don’t know about that, yet.
But here is an area that gets my attention, and I think needs a really good book or two. It was most recently prompted by the Texas Lottery debacle. A man named Willis Willis bought a winning lottery ticket – worth a one million dollar prize. The clerk told him he had won only $2.00, and then the clerk himself cashed in on the one million. That Willis actually bought the winning ticket is no longer in dispute. But he will not be getting the money. Here’s the key paragraph from the story Lottery: Grand Prairie man won’t get $1 million prize:
During a meeting on Monday, the Texas Lottery Commission told the 67-year-old Grand Prairie man that he is not the rightful winner of a $1 million prize – even though its own investigators have told police he bought the winning ticket. (bold added).
So – the Texas Lottery Commisision’s own investigators know that the man had his money stolen, from an agent of the Commission. (I assume any one who sells such tickets, and grants prizes, at retail outlets, is acting as an agent of the Lottery Commission). And yet, he won’t be getting the prize money. This-is-simply-not-right.
There is a flaw in the regulation of this industry.
I try to avoid political discussions on this blog. But there is a long on-ongoing debate about whether or not there needs to be more or less government regulation. In financial institutions. In companies in every industry. And business likes to argue that the less government regulation, the better. And it would be – if we could trust people to do the right thing.
But we can’t. And so we need laws, and regulation.
Of course, there is a difference between out and out criminals (Bernie Madoff), and people who just make mistakes, regardless of how big the mistakes and how dire the consequences. But—if we should have learned anything in the last few months, it is this – big mistakes can have devastating consequences.
When Alan Greenspan was being questioned by congress about a year ago, he gave this response (read the story here):
Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the committee: “Do you feel that your ideology pushed you to make decisions that you wish you had not made?”
Mr. Greenspan conceded: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.”
And that flaw was in trusting that people and institutions, out of their own self-interest, would protect all of those around them.
Here is Greenspan in his own words:
If you read business books, you know that business success is helped by good observers/coaches, who help us with deliberate practice. They watch, they critique, they correct, they encourage. Because we simply do not know enough, and cannot observe ourselves in action well enough, to produce the needed results.
There is a lesson here regarding regulation. Too few were watching – and the economy has paid a very, very steep price.
If the Texas Lottery Commission encourages us to buy tickets (and, for the record, it has been years since I bought a ticket – and I have never bought many), and then cannot guarantee the rightful purchaser the winnings, let’s shut the whole thing down until we get workable regulation in place.
And if we cannot protect the investments of hard-working people with the good intentions of people looking out for their own self interest, then we need to get some regulation that works in place.