Sometimes it really is a choice between “positive thinking,” and “realistic thinking.” I don’t know about you, but I would want my doctor to be really good at realistic thinking. Atul Gawande goes a step further, and affirms the validity of and the power of “negative thinking.”
Excerpted from his New York Times article, The Power of Negative Thinking by Atul Gawande:
Whether one is fighting a cancer, an insurgency or just an unyielding problem at work, the prevailing wisdom is that thinking positive is the key – the Secret, even – to success. But the key, it seems to me, is actually negative thinking: looking for, and sometimes expecting, failure.
…you don’t want to constantly seek out the inadequacies of your children, your looks, your abilities as you age. But in running schools or businesses, in planning war, in caring for the sick and injured? Negative thinking may be exactly what we need.
I had a professor way back in my undergraduate days say this:
“if one expert says something, pay it some attention. But if every expert says it, pay a whole lot of attention.”
Well, I challenge you to find a single expert who says this:
“you don’t have to listen – to your colleagues, or your employees, or your customers.”
No, the evidence is clear. I’ve read enough business books to learn that business leaders, business authors, and everyone else believes that listening – developing really, really good listening skills – is seriously important. Here’s what Roger Martin says about it (in one specific context):
What is the best way to learn another language? (He is discussing the language of reliability and the language of validity in a business setting). It is to spend time with those who speak the language you wish to acquire, in their environment. Just listen, as if it is truly important and with empathy, and you will learn the language in no time.
Though I have not found listening listed on anyone’s list of core competencies, I think it should be added. And if you have not developed the ability to listen really, really well, you will definitely fall behind.
And here is a little hint about good listening skills: when someone else is talking, do not try to figure out what your response will be — just listen. And after that other person finishes talking, make sure you understood exactly what that person said. And then, and only then, should you figure out what you will say in response.
And, yes, I need to more fully develop this ability myself.
Many of those who have read few (if any) of Seth Godin’s books have presumably heard one or more of the terms that he has devised. Here are nine, most of which were introduced in a book of that title, with my take on them.
The Big Moo: Godin and 33 among his kindred spirits (collectively) respond to two questions in the book that bears this name.
1. If being remarkable is the only way to grow, how to become remarkable?
2. If the only barrier to being remarkable is one’s ability to persuade associates to make it happen, how to do that?
A large purple cow is much easier to see than a small one is. You get the idea.
The Big Red Fez: Godin: “One of the best ways to remind yourself about what’s really going on [when someone visits a Web site] is to think of a monkey in a big red fez…The best way to motivate the monkey [to take a desired action], of course, is to use a banana. Whenever a monkey walks into a new situation, all it wants to know is, ‘Where’s the banana?’ If the banana isn’t easy to see, easy to get and obvious, the monkey is going to lose interest. But if you can make it clear to the monkey what’s in it for him, odds are he’ll do what you want.” Obviously, the monkey is the Web site visitor and the banana is the incentive mechanism.
The Dip: Godin asserts that every effort to achieve success (however defined) encounters barriers (e.g. superior forces of resistance, poor luck, bad timing, loss of commitment) and reaches a low point (i.e. dip). Keep going, hang in there, etc. or stop, cut losses, live to fight another day, etc. In poker, for example, you need to “know when to hold‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” Godin: “Being the best in the world is underrated, but becoming the best is harder than it looks.” Expect resistance and complications but don’t feed hay to a dead horse.
Ideavirus: This term is almost inextricable from other terms such as BUZZ as well as word-of-mouth and viral marketing. The objective is to devise an idea that is so appealing that it spreads like the proverbial wildfire, like a virus, etc. Godin: “Ideas that spread, win.”
Linchpin: This is a person who is indispensable to others. Linchpins hold a team or organization or even a nation together. They ensure that troops hold their ground when under attack, they will not allow their teammates to lose hope of victory, they will not allow a people to surrender, they sustain morale and collaboration when a company struggles to survive. For obvious reasons, their value is incalculable. Godin: “The linchin is coming from a posture of generosity; she’s there to give a gift [no-strings support of your efforts to succeed]. If that’s your intent, the words almost don’t matter. What we’ll perceive are your wishes, not the script.”
Meatball Sundae: Just as companies should not have the same person responsible for both marketing and sales, it also makes no sense to try to combine traditional marketing with what is now required in the Digital Age. Godin: “Combining old marketing with new makes a mess. We’re living through an industrial revolution, [so] start acting that way…If you want to succeed online, you must change what you make! Making meatballs and trying to market them online just isn’t going to work.”
Purple Cow: After seeing one idyllic cow after another after another after another, none seems remarkable. However, a “purple cow”… that would certainly be different. The objective is to differentiate yourself in ways that are most important to those who buy what you and your competitors sell. Godin: “In order for your idea to spread, it better be worth talking about.” In a word, remarkable.
Tribes: Those who comprise human communities can and should be both active and interactive, connected and collaborative, leaders who follow and followers who lead. Godin: “The new, highly leveraged tools of the Net make it easier to create a movement, to make things happen, to get things done. All that’s missing is leadership… We need you to lead us, and leadership is the new marketing.”
The design thinker,
in the words of novelist Saul Bellow,
is “a first-class noticer.”
So, what is required of a leader to create and then sustain allophilia between and among different (perhaps antagonistic, even hostile) groups? I suggest three essentials:
1. Vision: Here is a quotation from George Bernard Shaw (frequently and incorrectly attributed to Robert Kennedy): ”You see things and say ‘Why?’; but I dream things that never were and I say ‘Why not?” That statement could also be attributed to all of those on any list of history’s greatest leaders, no matter who they are.
2. Character: As Bill George explains in True North, someone who is authentic, whose internal compass that guides her or him at the deepest level. “It is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track as a leader. Your True North is based on what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations, the sources of satisfaction in your life. Just as a compass points toward a magnetic field, your True North pulls you toward the purpose of your leadership.”
3. Judgment: As Roger Martin describes it in The Opposable Mind, someone who has “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas” in his head and then “without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other,” can “produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea.” That is, so someone who has mastered “integrative thinking.”
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Todd L. Pittinsky earned his A.B. in psychology from Yale University, M.A. in psychology from Harvard, and Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Harvard Business School. He is an Associate Professor of Public Policy, and serves as Research Director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership and is currently on leave.
What makes a Great Teacher (or business leader)? – this: you don’t get better, at much of anything, by accident
The Atlantic has an article entitled What Makes a Great Teacher? by Amanda Ripley. Based on a lengthy, multi-year study of a whole lot of data by Teach For America, some clear conclusions emerge. Here’s my summary of the conclusions:
“You don’t get better (at teaching, or much of anything else) without intentionally trying to get better – all the time.”
I read about the article on Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and he included this excerpt:
Great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness. For example, when Farr called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he’d get a similar response from all of them: “They’d say, ‘You’re welcome to come, but I have to warn you—I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it’s not working as well as it could.’ When you hear that over and over, and you don’t hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis.” Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing.
Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully—for the next day or the year ahead—by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls.
The parallels to business success are rather obvious. Perpetually evaluating what to do, always looking for ways to improve effectiveness; an intense focus; a very serious approach to the task of planning, working backward from the desired outcome; not letting outside circumstances dictate success or failure. Pretty good lessons here from the best teachers among us.
Business books, business book authors, and regular folks all agree – there is too much segregation in the workplace. I’m not talking about racial or ethnic segregation, but rather segregation between leaders and the people they need to be leading.
I have noticed this is at companies where we speak. If a company brings us in for a book synopsis presentation, it is frequently the case that people in key leadership positions seldom come to these book presentations. And these presentations are designed to facilitate conversation. And it is so very common for someone to say to me “I wish my boss/supervisor had heard this.”
Tom Peters was the first (that I remember) to say that we need more management by walking around. And Susan Scott says that companies need lots of purposeful, intentional, honest conversations.
Here is the obvious fact: there can be no such conversations in a segregated workplace. Here was the last point on my handout at the end of my presentation of Susan Scott’s Fierce Leadership:
No more work place segregation – for conversations to matter, you have to mingle up and down the hierarchy!
So, memo to the executive leadership team: Mix and Mingle and Listen to All of your Folks. Sit with them at lunch. Walk around and strike up conversations. Listen! A lot. Every week. Maybe some every day. You have to know your people to lead your people. And, to state the obvious, you have to spend time with your people to know your people.
Cheryl offers: This week at Take Your Brain to Lunch, Randy Mayeux delivered a synopsis of Susan Scott’s new book, Fierce Leadership. In his remarks, he included a few from her “Memo to Managers” which I loved as soon as I heard them. The one item that I was most excited to hear was “Do not, under any circumstances, tell a lie – of either commission or omission. Do not stretch the truth, exaggerate, or make __ up to get out of trouble or make yourself look good.” I love that! Scott has captured exactly what I believe is one of the most important aspects of leadership. Tell the truth, the whole truth. I recall conversations with my own teenagers on this very topic. I wasn’t trying to make them into leaders at the time; I just wanted them to learn the valuable lesson of telling the truth. If you bend or omit the “facts” in any manner, it’s manipulating the truth to suit a purpose, almost always one that benefits the storyteller. Since either telling or not telling leads to the same result: manipulation of the facts to benefit the teller, it’s the same egregious act: lying. The link I see from being transparent to being a leader is clear. We can’t legislate integrity, ever, no matter how many seemingly clever laws we pass. However, if a leader is honest and acts consistently in an honest manner, they will be of integrity. And they will likely be successful and admired. No laws necessary!
Back when I was in graduate school, a textbook on rhetoric and public address (it was too many years ago, the book is in storage – I remember what it looked like, but not the title or the author) argued that the best place to learn history was not the “important” speeches, but the every-day speeches and sermons of an era. I don’t disagree.
Howard Zinn is most famous for his book A People’s History of the United States, which told our history through the eyes of the “every-day” people, the forgotten, those not always heard… It generated fierce passions, much controversy. He said this in a 1998 interview:
“There’s no such thing as a whole story; every story is incomplete,” Professor Zinn said. “My idea was the orthodox viewpoint has already been done a thousand times.”
Zinn was an unabashed progressive, a vocal critic of war. But, this much is sure – his was a voice to pay attention to.
Here is a quote from an essay by Zinn, Changing Minds, One at a Time, from 2005, worth pondering:
This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.
Seth Godin’s new book, Linchpin, is making waves. He launched it with his own blogger assisted 2.0 media blitz (our own blogging team member Bob Morris was part of that – read this post, and this post), and he used the large megaphone of The Huffington Post with his own post, Is Control the Answer?, to provide a key concept of the book. It has to do with control – and control is simply not going to work in a world focused on ideas. Here’s part of what he wrote:
If you run a big factory, of course you need control. Control over when your workers come in, what they do, what they make, what happens to your inventory, where it’s sold, how it’s priced, everything. More control equals more profits, at least if the market is stable.
But if your business deals in ideas, control will stifle them.
Worse still, a rapidly changing competitive environment means that control is a losing strategy. Record companies tried to control technology and they lost. AT&T thought they could control how people used a telephone and they lost as well.
Is there any doubt that the world is going to go faster, not slower?
Now, power comes from connection and leadership and respect. The way you treat people (all of them, even those without apparent authority) comes back to you again and again, which means that our new leaders embrace dignity and respect instead of the traditional trappings of top down organizations.
Seth Godin has a great ability to take a key concept that is a perfect reflection of the era, and say – hey, pay attention to this. He grasped that the way people were connecting was creating Tribes. And now he grasps that that control is out, linchpins are in. I think he is right…
Think about this (from Godin):
Are you betting on tomorrow being more or less interesting than yesterday?