Note: I recently re-read several books that were published a while ago. For example, this book that continues to generate significant controversy.
According to Phil Rosenzweig, “The central idea in this book is that our thinking about business is shaped by a number of delusions…the ones that distort our understanding of company performance, that make it difficult to know why one company succeeds and another fails. These errors of thinking pervade much that we read about business, whether in leading magazines or scholarly journals or management bestsellers. They cloud our ability to think clearly and critically about the nature of business.” When our minds play tricks on is, the result is an illusion. “But if you think you can lace up a pair of Nikes, grab a basketball, and be like Mike [i.e. Michael Jordan], that’s a delusion. You’re kidding yourself.” Rosenzweig identifies nine separate but somewhat related delusions, the first being the Halo Effect: “The tendency to look at a company’s performance and make attributions about its culture, leadership, values, and more. In fact, many things we commonly claim drive company performance are simply attributions based on prior performance.
For example, he calls into question the validity research conducted for several of the most successful business books of recent years, notably In Search of Excellence co-authored by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman (1982) and Jim Collins’ Good to Great (2001). “According to Peters and Waterman, America’s best companies do not only a few of the eight exemplary practices, they do them all together. “In Search of Excellence was nothing less than an affirmation of basic principles of good management…How good was their research? Peters admitted in 2001 that the quantitative data analysis came after they had reached their findings…’I confess, we faked the data.’….Peters and Waterman went searching for excellence, but they found a handful of Halos.”
“Collins claimed to explain why some companies made the leap [from good to great] while others didn’t, but in fact he did nothing of the kind. Good to Great documented what was written and said about the companies that had made the leap versus those that had not – which is completely different.” More specifically, Rosenzweig explains, “If you start by selecting companies based on outcome, and then gather data by conducting retrospective interviews and collecting articles from the business press, you’re not likely to discover what led some companies to become Great. You’ll mainly catch the glow from the Halo Effect.”
Rosenzweig seems to have no quarrel whatsoever with any of the basic principles of good management that Peters and Waterman, Collins, and other prominent business book authors affirm. If I understand his ultimate objective (and I may not), it is to eliminate any delusions his reader may have about what leads to high performance in business. What then really works? “Nothing! At least not all the time.” Rosenzweig concludes his book with observations that include these:
“Success rarely lasts as long as we like – for the most part, long-term success is a delusion based on selection after the fact.”
“Company performance is relative, not absolute. A company can get better and fall further behind at the same time.”
“Execution, too, is uncertain – what works in one company with one workforce may have different results elsewhere.”
“Chance often plays a greater role than we think, or than successful managers usually think.”
“The link between inputs and outcomes is tenuous. Bad outcomes don’t always mean that managers made mistakes; and good outcomes don’t always mean they acted brilliantly.”
Rosenzweig’s rigorous analysis of the nine delusions will help a reflective manager to challenge the assumptions and premises of conventional wisdom and thereby “separate the nuggets from the nonsense.” That is precisely what Phil Rosenzweig did and then he wrote this book to share what he learned.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Athena Vongalis-Macrow and Andrea Gallant for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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Women’s leadership programs are charged with imagining a new type of woman leader for whom leadership is an attainable aspiration. But effective leadership education for women is still a haven for bad practices that send mixed messages to aspiring leaders. There are two types of practices that work to stereotype women in leadership:
First, programs rely on bringing out the superwoman as a model of leadership. On the final day of our leadership program, a woman was invited to present her tips for getting ahead to a group of aspirational young female leaders. She was in her mid-forties, a professor and dean of a business faculty, and had just given birth to twins through IVF. She was immaculately put together, on stilettos all day. Can we do all that? Why do so many women’s leadership programs send out this unrealistic and exhausting message? There is a lack of women leaders as role models, but sustaining stereotypes of the superwoman is no solution. For role models to be effective, they need to be both inspirational and motivational. Consider the context of aspiring women leaders, who dismiss the idea that work is your entire life and a woman needs to go it alone and to have it all. The superwoman is not affirming of choices and balance. She continues to perpetuate the traditional notion that doing leadership about getting control, dominance, and power, at all costs. Instead, leadership programs need to increase the repertoire of role models so leadership is feasible, flexible, and appealing at all stages of a career. Such role models could be better fostered from our networks and our exemplary peers, rather than from exaggerated tokens of women’s leadership.
Second, programs focus on the common narratives about the woes of women in leadership. Glass ceilings, the double binds of family and work, and discriminatory nature of organizations reinforce ideas that women are vulnerable and need fixing. Women need a better way to use the language of self-promotion and accountability. We know that language creates the reality of how individuals see themselves. So, while leadership language for women still focuses on barriers and struggles, this practice maintains the backlash avoidance model of success, which suggests that women fear negative repercussions from self-promotion and standing out. It is no wonder that women can often negotiate a better deal for others than they can for themselves. Compare this language context to that of male leadership programs which are littered with the narratives of success. Males learn to take charge, tackle challenges, develop talent, driving innovation and guide change. Disrupting the stereotypical use of language should be a focus of women’s leadership programs.
Women’s leadership programs are necessary to accelerate women’s leadership aspirations. But just having a women’s leadership program isn’t enough. If it’s not done right, women can’t move forward. Effective programs for tomorrow’s leaders should disrupt stereotyping.
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Athena Vongalis-Macrow and Andrea Gallant are academic researchers working in education and leadership at Deakin University, Melbourne Australia. Presently they are writing a book, Glass Wall Barriers.
They can be contacted at email@example.com.
Those who have read Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (2008) already know that Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams favor the “open” organizational model based on three basic principles: transparency, inclusiveness, and collaboration. Refinements of that model can (and often do) reflect the influence of Charles Darwin (e.g. the concept of a process of natural selection) and Joseph Schumpeter (e.g. the concept of creative destruction). Those who wish to learn more about the model itself are urged to check out two books by Henry Chesbrough, Open Innovation and Open Business Models.
What differentiates this book from its predecessor? Tapscott and Williams have extended their scope, as indicated in this passage when they observe that “a powerful new form of economic and social innovation” is sweeping across all sectors and, indeed, all continents, “one where people with drive, passion, and expertise take advantage of new Web-based tools to get more involved in making the world more prosperous, just, and sustainable.” In a phrase, “global wikinomics.” That is to say, Tapscott and Williams have extended the scope and depth of mass collaboration to include any/all social networks worldwide that wish to be connected and interactive.
I agree with them that there is indeed an “historic opportunity to marshal human skill, ingenuity, and intelligence on a mass scale to reevaluate and reposition many of our institutions for the coming decades and for future generations.” This will require massive and – here’s the greatest challenge – simultaneous collaborative transformation of all traditional institutions (e.g. social, political, educational, and financial). I also agree with French president Nicholas Sarkozy’s assertion, “This is not just a global financial crisis, it is a crisis of globalization.”
Here are three of several reasons why I hold this book in such high regards:
1. It makes a strong case for understanding problems that exist today and will almost certainly become worse.
2. It also makes a strong case for understanding how to solve those problems with resources that did not exist or were insufficient until recently (e.g. technologies that support social networks).
3. It provides the authors’ passionate and compelling affirmation of their faith that the “new future” can be forged.
Tapscott and Williams conclude, “Three hundred years ago Martin Luther called the printing press ‘God’s highest act of grace.’ With today’s communications breakthroughs we have an historic occasion to reboot business and the world using wikinomics principles as our guide. Because each of us can participate in this new renaissance, it is surely an amazing time to be alive. Hopefully we will have the collective wisdom to seize the time.”
I include this last passage to indicate that this book is not at operations manual; rather, it is a manifesto. Tapscott and Williams are pilgrims on a mission and they invite their reader to join them.