As I have written before, I do not read many novels (I jokingly say that I average one a decade. It may be a slightly higher number than that – but not much higher!). Well, I am currently immersed in the whopping best-seller, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. (I’m nearly one third through the novel).
As always with a good novel, we can find quotes that speak to the issues of the age. Here’s one, about the main character, financial journalist Carl Mikael Blomkvist, who at the beginning of the book has just been convicted of libeling a financier and is facing a fine and three months in jail. Read it, and think about the financial reporting (and, really, most “journalism”) in this country over the last two-three years…
Blomkvist did not mince words. In the last twenty years, Swedish financial journalists had developed into a group of incompetent lackeys who were puffed up with self-importance and who had no record of thinking critically. He drew this conclusion because time after time, without the least objection, so many financial reporters seemed content to regurgitate the statements issued by CEOs and stock market speculators – even when this information was plainly misleading or wrong. These reporters were thus either so naïve and gullible that they ought to be packed off to other assignments, or they were people who quite consciously betrayed their journalistic function. Blomkvist claimed that he had often been ashamed to be called a financial reporter, since then he would risk being lumped together with people whom he did not rate as reporters at all…
He painted a picture of the outcry that would result if a legal correspondent began uncritically reproducing the prosecutor’s case as gospel in a murder trial, without consulting the defence arguments or interviewing the victim’s family before forming an opinion of what was likely or unlikely.
To listen to a terrific discussion of this book, in one of her “Reader’s Review” hours on the Diane Rehm program, go here.
Robert I. Sutton has one of the most interesting blogsites, Work Matters. I urge you to check it out by clicking here.
It happened in on October 3, 2002. I was at a Harvard Business School Press conference in Cupertino, California, where Clay Christensen of Innovator’s Dilemma fame [and HBSP editor Walter Kiechel were] interviewing Intel’s former CEO and Chairman Andy Grove. As I point in The No Asshole Rule, I’ve always admired Grove because – although he is tough and argues over ideas (and I don’t even agree with a lot of his ideas) — he argues because he cares about testing and developing ever-improving ideas, not to put people down. Grove is the poster boy for Intel’s constructive confrontation, which I talk about in this edited excerpt from Weird Ideas That Work [click here]. To me, Grove demonstrates how it is possible to be a tough and effective leader without being an asshole – in part because he is one of the most honest executives around, about both his own errors and those made by others.
Grove’s quote that day was so compelling to me because it conveys so much about the primary dilemmas that leaders face, and what skilled leaders can do to salvage even most seemingly impossible situations. [Note that quote comes from a transcript of the talk that the folks at Harvard gave me. I have edited out a few lines, in part, because Grove made some comments about the Sopranos TV show that were funny, but distract from the main point].
Grove said: “None of us have a real understanding of where we are heading. I don’t. I have senses about it…But decisions don’t wait, investment decisions or personal decisions and prioritization don’t wait for that picture to be clarified. You have to make them when you have to make them. So you take your shots and clean up the bad ones later.
“And try not to get too depressed in the part of the journey, because there’s a professional responsibility. If you are depressed, you can’t motivate your staff to extraordinary measures. So you have to keep your own spirits up even though you well understand that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Then, Clay Christensen asked, “So how do you work on that part about keeping good spirits or managing emotional response, leading your team?”
Grove answered: “Well, part of it is self-discipline and part of it is deception. And the deception becomes reality — deception in the sense that you pump yourself up and put a better face on things than you start off feeling. After a while, if you act confident, you become more confident. So the deception becomes less of a deception. But I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.”
Grove’s words provide a compact summary of at least four of the core ideas in Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management, especially our chapter that asks, “Are Great Leaders in Control of their Companies?”
Can a person really change? Can a diminisher become a multiplier?
I know of no question more difficult than this one. And, to quote again from Cecil Eager, the owner of The Gruene Mansion Inn in New Braunfels, “you can teach someone how to check someone in – but you can’t teach friendly.” If a person is not friendly to begin with, you can’t teach friendly, and such a person seldom becomes “friendly.”
I keep thinking about this as I read business books. So many books describe the way the world could be/should be. But to actually move from here to there is one tough assignment.
At the moment, I am reading through Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman. (Read Bob Morris’ review of this book, on our blog, here). The book has this great narrative about the difference between a leader who is a diminisher, (thus, in reality, not a leader at all), and a leader who is a multiplier. It is a graphic depiction, a really clear image; one that makes sense. A person in a leadership position either has the ability to help people become more than they would be without such a leader, or they can diminish someone, literally de-motivating people, squeezing life right out of them. This is the very essence of leadership
Liz Wiseman quotes Bono at that the beginning of her book:
“It has been said that after meeting with the great British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, you left feeling he was the smartest person in the world, but after meeting with his rival Benjamin Disraeli, you left thinking you were the smartest person.”
Wiseman defines a leader who is a multiplier:
Some leaders make us better and smarter. They bring out our intelligence. This book is about those leaders, who access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around then. We call them Multipliers.
The Multiplier is the exact opposite of the diminisher. From her opening story, about an Israeli Tank Commander candidate who flourished under one leader, but was practically paralyzed by a leader who was a diminisher, we get the clear impression that leaders really do fall into one of these two categories. I think I agree.
But here is the question: can a true “diminisher” become a true “multiplier?” Though she has a final chapter tilted “Becoming a Multiplier,” and though this chapter provides some encouragement on this question, I’m just not sure. Maybe I would say it this way – if someone wants to become a “multiplier,” that is a signal that there’s a good chance that they already have that spark in them to begin with. But I’m not sure a true diminisher can ever become a full-blown multiplier. I’m just not sure people can really change.
But, I hope I’m wrong.
By the way, the real mystery from reading this book is this: how do some of these diminishers ever get promoted to leadership positions to begin with? Maybe the fastest way to fix this problem is this approach:
#1 — don’t promote any diminishers.
#2 – find those with a spark of multiplier ability, and nurture/cultivate/train/encourage such a spark in the people who have the best chance of becoming multipliers.
It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.
I wrote about this in a comment on my post, “What Three Books Should I Load On My Kindle For My Cruise?,” but let me add to that comment.
I think that it is inevitable that e-books will drastically impact the sale of physical books. But, for now, I think that maybe there are simply more total books being sold overall because of e-books.
The article that has generated this round of conversation is this one, from the N Y Times, E-Books Top Hardcovers at Amazon by Claire Cain Miller:
Book lovers mourning the demise of hardcover books with their heft and their musty smell need a reality check, said Mike Shatzkin, founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, which advises book publishers on digital change. “This was a day that was going to come, a day that had to come,” he said. He predicts that within a decade, fewer than 25 percent of all books sold will be print versions.
The shift at Amazon is “astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months,” the chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, said in a statement.
Still, the hardcover book is far from extinct. Industrywide sales are up 22 percent this year, according to the American Publishers Association.
Amazon is being helped by an explosion in e-book sales across the board. According to the Association of American Publishers, e-book sales have quadrupled this year through May.
The numbers are undeniable. The sale of e-books are rising faster than many could have expected. Notice that key phrase: Still, the hardcover book is far from extinct. Industry wide sales are up 22 percent this year… It appears that e-books are booming, but physical book sales are also quite healthy at the moment.
So what will happen? Remembering Yogi Berra’s warning (see above), here’s my two cents worth: physical books will be around a long while, maybe forever. But ultimately, the overall sales will significantly tilt toward the e-books. I think it is inevitable. And the accelerated pace is evidence that such sales are ramping up very, very quickly.
Here is a recent post (June 23, 2010) by Nicholas Carr at his blog, Rough Type. I urge you to check out his articles so that you can explore the dimensions and (especially) the nooks and the crannies of his brain, one that reminds me of a Swiss Army Knife. Please click here.
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James Sturm, the cartoonist who has taken a four-month sabbatical from the Internet, continues to write (and draw) about his experience as one of The Disconnected. Here’s a bit from the “halftime report” [click here] he recently issued, after having been offline for two months:
“Whether it’s a sports score, a book I want to get my hands on, or tuning into Fresh Air anytime of day, I can no longer search online and find immediate satisfaction. I wait for the morning paper, a trip to the library, or, when I can’t be at my radio at 3 p.m., just do without. I thought this would drive me crazy, but it hasn’t. Anticipation itself is enjoyable and perhaps even mitigates disappointing results. I don’t seem to mind as much when the Mets don’t win (often) or Dave Davies is subbing for Terry Gross and is interviewing an obscure jazz producer.
“In the two months since I’ve been unplugged, I have been experiencing more and more moments of synchronicity—coincidental events that seem to be meaningfully related. … I know this type of magical thinking is easily dismissed, but I keep having moments like this. So how do I explain it? Are meaningful connections easier to recognize when the fog of the Internet is lifted? Does it have to do with the difference between searching and waiting? Searching (which is what you do a lot of online) seems like an act of individual will. When things come to you while you’re waiting it feels more like fate. Instant gratification feels unearned. That random song, perfectly attuned to your mood, seems more profound when heard on a car radio than if you had called up the same tune via YouTube.”
Sturm is onto something deep here. The Net – and it’s not just search – does seem to encourage the willful arrangement of experience, moment by moment. As he has rediscovered, sometimes it’s best to let the world have its way with you.
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Nicholas Carr writes on the social, economic, and business implications of technology. He is the author of the 2008 Wall Street Journal bestseller The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google. His earlier book, Does IT Matter?, published in 2004, “lays out the simple truths of the economics of information technology in a lucid way, with cogent examples and clear analysis,” said the New York Times. His new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, was recently published in 2010. Carr’s books have been translated into more than a dozen languages. He has written for many periodicals, including The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, The Financial Times, Die Zeit, The Futurist, and Advertising Age, and has been a columnist for The Guardian and The Industry Standard. His much-discussed essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” which appeared as the cover story of the Atlantic Monthly‘s Ideas issue in the summer of 2008, has been collected in three popular anthologies: The Best American Science and Nature Writing, The Best Technology Writing, and The Best Spiritual Writing. Carr has written a personal blog, Rough Type, since 2005. He is a member of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s editorial board of advisors and is on the steering board of the World Economic Forum’s cloud computing project. He holds a B.A. from Dartmouth College and an M.A., in English and American literature and language, from Harvard University.