Pac Man: Eats into what someone says before they can finish what they wish to say.
Charlie Rose: Asks a question, then immediately suggests 3-5 possible answers before explaining why one of them is correct.
Over the Shoulder: You are at a social gathering and this person never makes eye contact, looking over your shoulder to see if there is anyone else in the room who is more important to be seen with.
The Redliner: You can almost hear the engine racing as this person impatiently awaits an opportunity to say something.
Smotherer: Seizes control of a conversation by increasing the volume and talking over everyone else.
Couldn’t Care Less: I’m asked, “How you doin’?” and I reply, “Just learned that I have Dutch Elm’s Disease.” First, the phony smile of delight, then “That’s GREAT! Glad to Hear It!” and slithers away.
How we do it: Three executives reflect on strategic decision making
Sir Martin Sorrell, Randy Komisar, and Anne Mulcahy describe how they balance the importance of timely action with the need for thorough, unbiased decision processes.
Also in this package
This article is the second in a new McKinsey Quarterly package on improving strategic decision making. Other features include the following:
The case for behavioral strategy
Left unchecked, subconscious biases will undermine strategic decision making. Here’s how to counter them and improve corporate performance. [includes interactive]
When can you trust your gut?
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and psychologist Gary Klein debate the power and perils of intuition for senior executives. (available late March)
Taking the bias out of meetings
The biases that undermine strategic decision making often operate in meetings. Learn how to manage them in a way that will mitigate the impact of those biases. (available early April)
To check out this material and sign up for a free subscription or to subscribe to the Premium version, please visit:
In this book, Pfeffer and Sutton examine what they call “the doing-knowing gap”: doing without knowing, or at least without knowing enough. “People kept telling us about the wonderful things they were doing to implement knowledge – but those things clashed with, and at times were the opposite of, what we knew about organizations and people. Upon probing, we soon discovered that many managers had been prompted by a seminar, book, or consultants to do things that were at odds with the best evidence about what works.” Pfeffer and Sutton identify some of the barriers to what they call “evidence-based management” and recommend specific steps that leaders can take to overcome those barriers. Of special interest to me is what they have to say about “half-truths that bedevil organizations.”
These are among the specific questions to which Pfeffer and Sutton respond and they do so brilliantly:
1. What exactly is “evidence-based management”?
2. Evidence of what? And how to verify it?
3. Why do all organizations need evidence-based management?
4. What are the most damaging half-truths about managing people and organizations?
5. When attempting to implement evidence-based management, what are the most formidable barriers to overcome?
6. How best to overcome each?
7. Which incentives are most important to individual performance?
8. To organizational performance?
9. What are the most valuable potential benefits of evidence-based management?
10. Which specific principles can guide and inform the collaborative efforts of those who are committed to doing whatever it takes to achieve such benefits?
In my opinion, hard facts are not enough. They must also be the right facts and there must be enough of them. Although I fully appreciate the importance of faith, trust, hope, empathy, and decency, the fact remains that what cannot be verified cannot be managed.
What about half-truths? I suggest that they be treated like cockroaches: Turn on bright lights and refuse to let them hide or escape. One of my favorite techniques, “fishboning,” involves saying “Why?” to each response until neither you nor anyone else can bear to continue. When subjected to such rigorous scrutiny, half-truths don’t have a chance. Fishboning worked well for Socrates and it will also work well for us.
With regard to “total nonsense,” it is amazing how durable it can be. The fact remains that some people are convinced that wet highways cause rain…and that’s that. For whatever reasons, it is very important to them to cling to such beliefs despite all evidence to the contrary. It seems a fool’s errand to waste time and energy trying to convince them of the merits of evidence-based management…or of anything else.
Why do you read books? (or blogs, or magazines, or anything else?)
We live in an ever-more utilitarian age. We read in order to do something. We read in order to implement. To put it in business terms, we read in order to “execute.” In fact, we read the book Execution in order to execute.
There is an irony here. Most people read, and then fail to execute. But that is another discussion.
I’m writing about something deeper. Has our execution-centered age lost something profound about the love of learning? Last Sunday night on 60 Minutes, Andy Rooney hinted at this. It was prompted by the problems of unemployment. He argued that we need more people “doing things.” But, if they do, what about their college educations? He ended his piece with these words:
Would it be a waste of education for someone who graduates from Yale for example, to become a plumber, an electrician or a bricklayer? We need people who can actually do things. We have too many bosses and too few workers.
More college graduates ought to become plumbers or electricians, then, go home at night and read Shakespeare.
I thought of all this as I read an excerpt of The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman, the Oxford-educated Rector of the Catholic University of Ireland from 1854 to 1858. (I read the excerpt in the volume The English Reader, selected by Michael Ravitch and Diane Ravitch). One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Newman: “To grow is to change, and to have changed often is to have grown much.”
In The Idea of a University, Newman wrote:
I am asked what is the end of University Education, and of the Liberal or Philosophical Knowledge which I conceive it to impart: I answer, that what I have already said has been sufficient to show that it has a very tangible, real, and sufficient end. Though the end cannot be divided from that knowledge itself. Knowledge is capable of being its own end. Such is the constitution of the human mind, that any kind of knowledge, if it be really such, is its own reward…
Now, when I say that Knowledge is, not merely a means to something beyond it, or the preliminary of certain arts into which it naturally resolves, but an end sufficient to rest in and to pursue for its own sake, surely I am uttering no paradox, for I am stating what is both intelligible in itself, and has ever been the common judgment of philosophers and the ordinary feeling of mankind.
…it is more correct to speak of a University as a place of education, than of instruction…
I think about our monthly event, the First Friday Book Synopsis. It is a wonderful collection of people who come for many reasons — great food, great networking. But I think that some (maybe most) of the folks who show up come for this simple reason – they want to learn. They enjoy learning. Not learn in order to do. Just learn for the sheer joy of learning. And, as I have often said, the more you know, the more you know.
Yes, it is true that learning might produce ripple effects that help in the utilitarian/execution arena. But learning, just learning, learning for the sake of learning, is a noble pursuit – one that should be admired and cultivated.
If you found this post worth pondering, you might want to also read this post: Dehumanized — A Cause for Alarm in Education, and in the World of Business Books.