In his latest book, Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation published by Riverhead
Books/Penguin (2010), Steven Johnson examines the origin and development of what is quite literally one of history’s coolest ideas: the air conditioner.
Based in Brooklyn, the Sackett-Wilhelm Lithography Company housed “the first working version of a machine that would do more to transform the settlement patterns of human beings than any other twentieth-century invention, with the possible exception of the automobile.” After two summers of extreme heat, the Sackett-Wilhelm owners contacted the New York City office of the Buffalo Forge Company and inquired, if its experts could make air warmer, could they also make it cooler? One of those experts was Willis Carrier.
Here is Johnson’s account of what happened after two years of research and development under Carrier’s supervision:
“The Sackett-Wilhelm system [to control humidity] had been a success, but the steel coils were prone to rust after regular use. One night, waiting for a train in Philadelphia, watching a heavy fog roll across the platform, [Carrier] had a sudden flash of insight. His air conditioning system could be a miniature fog machine: by drawing air across a fine spray if water inside the device, he could use the water itself as a condensing surface. Thanks to those tenacious hydrogen bonds, the molecules of water vapor in the spray would pull the moisture out if the air, regulating the humidity and eliminating the rust problem.
“As Carrier put it in his autobiography, ‘Water won’t rust.’ Carrier applied for a patent for his ‘Apparatus for Treating Air’ in September of 1904. On the second of 1906, the patent was granted. Before long, Carrier and a band of entrepreneurial engineers from Buffalo Forge and formed the Carrier Engineering Corporation, exclusively devoted to the manufacture of air-conditioning systems.”
This is but one of several dozen examples that Johnson cites of breakthrough innovations. What do all share in common?
1. Collaborative efforts addressed a specific need or problem.
2. Eventual success was achieved only after a series of failures.
3. Those involved were provided with — or created — a “generative platform” (i.e. an open environment within which all kinds of values, perspectives, insights, and hunches could “collide and recombine”)
If you share my keen interest in the origins of transformational devices (be they creations or innovations), you will enjoy reading these books:
Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries: All the Milestones in Ingenuity From the Discovery of Fire to the Invention of the Microwave Oven
Rodney Carlisle and Scientific American
The Fire of Invention: Civil Society and the Future of the Corporation
The Birth of Plenty: How the Prosperity of the Modern World was Created
The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention
Where Will The Jobs Be? – The College Educated Are Taking The Jobs That Used To Be Filled By The Non-College Educated
Where will the jobs Be? The College-Educated are taking the jobs that used to be filled by the non-college educated. This is a problem for both groups — the college educated, and the non-college educated. Consider this:
Over 317,000 waiters and waitresses have college degrees (over 8,000 of them have doctoral or professional degrees), along with over 80,000 bartenders, and over 18,000 parking lot attendants. All told, some 17,000,000 Americans with college degrees are doing jobs that the BLS says require less than the skill levels associated with a bachelor’s degree.
As more and more try to attend colleges, either college degrees will be watered down (something already happening I suspect) or drop-out rates will rise.
The article, Why Did 17 Million Students Go to College? by Richard Vetter, comes with a chart that spells it out.
If the college educated are talking these jobs, they will assuredly have trouble reaching the goals they aspired to, that they thought they could attain, with their college degrees. And, because they settle for “less,” they displace the people who used to fill these jobs, leaving them to find jobs…where?
As I have written before (A Jobless Recovery and a Slip Down Maslow’s Hierarchy; and other posts), “where will the jobs be?” strikes me as the most urgent question of this era.
Adrian Gostick is the author of several bestselling books on corporate culture, including The New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Carrot Principle, co-authored with Chester Elton. Gostick also wrote the bestsellers The Integrity Advantage (co-authored with Dana Telford) and The 24-Carrot Manager (co-authored with Elton). His latest book, also co-authored with Elton, is The New York Times bestseller The Orange Revolution: How One Great Team Can Transform an Entire Organization. His research on employee engagement has been called a “must read for modern-day managers” by Larry King of CNN, “fascinating,” by Fortune magazine and “admirable and startling” by the Wall Street Journal.
Gostick’s books have been translated into 20 languages and are sold in more than 50 countries around the world. As a leadership expert, he has appeared on numerous national television programs including NBC’s Today Show and has been quoted in dozens of business publications and magazines. He is vice president of the training and publishing arm of the O.C. Tanner Recognition Company. Gostick earned a master’s degree in strategic communication and leadership from Seton Hall University, where he is a guest lecturer on organizational culture.
Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, whatever we call the current economic period (e.g. recession, depression, disruption, reset), the fact remains that most people are struggling to survive financially. That said, do you think that the importance of monetary rewards is more than, less than, or about the same as it was (let’s say) five years ago?
Gostick: Just so we are clear: In this economy, as in any really, you pay people absolutely as much as you can afford. The trouble is, we only have so much money to go around. So, with the absence of huge amounts of cash to hand out to our people, what do we do? That’s where we must get creative in engaging our people, helping them feel part of something important, giving them opportunities to grow, letting them know we care about them as individuals.
Morris: Is there an incentive that is even more important to workers than a monetary award? If so, why? And what is the significance of that?
Gostick: What the research shows is that monetary awards are not as motivating as tangible awards. I know that’s counterintuitive, but here’s what the research says. People use small amounts of cash—in fact anything less than $1,000—on paying their bills. Nothing very memorable about paying the gas bill. But it’s amazing how hard people will work to get a new set of golf clubs, jewelry, a trip, or some other tangible award. Psychologists will tell you that people will always say “give me the money. I don’t care if it’s 5 bucks, I want the cash.” But in reality we are not motivated by small amounts. We are motivated by seeing ourselves playing with that new set of clubs, wearing that jewelry or taking the trip.
Morris: Recent research conducted by highly reputable firms such as Gallup and Towers Watson (formerly Towers Perrin) indicates that workers rank “feeling appreciated” among the two or three attributes most important to them. Moreover, a high percentage of highly valued employees indicate, during exit interviews, one of the major reasons to accepting a position elsewhere is that they do not feel appreciated. Here’s my question. Why do so many workers feel under-valued, if valued at all?
Gostick: Why? Because we as managers are so bad at appreciating great work. We are. First, we get so wrapped up in our own work, meeting customer requests, doing what our bosses want, that we forget our primary role is to motivate and engage our team. The ten people we manage can get a lot more done than we can if we only would appreciate more. Second, we think we are pretty good at recognition already. Our research found that 67% of managers believe they are above average at appreciating great work, but only 23% of employees agreed that their boss’s were good at this. That’s a huge gap in perception!
Morris: To what extent (if any) do the most prestigious business schools at major universities (such as Harvard, Northwestern, Michigan, Dartmouth, MIT, and Pennsylvania) prepare executives to provide the recognition and appreciation that all workers crave and few receive?
Gostick: We’ve been asked to speak at several large business schools lately because more educators are realizing this is a gap in their curriculum. However, with that said, few business schools really teach the new generation of MBAs how to serve their people, how to be compassionate, how to communicate effectively. I hear more and more that these newly minted MBAs come out very smart, able to balance a ledger, but with little idea how to motivate a team.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Carrot Principle. What promoted you and Chet Elton to write it?
Gostick: We’d been working with some of the world’s best organizations for almost twenty years, putting in place employee engagement and recognition programs. We knew anecdotally that recognition done well could impact a company’s bottom line, but we didn’t have the statistical proof. We conducted a 200,000-person study for that book, and what we found was that once we had the stats, leaders were much more willing to listen to our ideas.
Morris: Since its publication, has the percentage of leaders worldwide who practice recognition with their employees increased, decreased, or remained about the same? Why
Gostick: The book has sold more than half a million copies worldwide and has been adopted by some very large organizations as a Bible of how to treat their people, so I certainly hope we’ve helped. Every year we host a “Carrot Summit” during which business leaders share their success stories of using these ideas, and it’s wonderful to hear how real businesses have shaped their programs from the words we wrote.
Morris: In the Introduction to the second edition (published in 2009), you identify four types of executives: Positives, Fearful, Controllers, and Negatives. Here’s a two-part question: What are the dominant characteristics of each, and, what was each category’s percentage of the total number of people who participated.
Gostick: Here’s what we found from the managers in the survey. Only 26% of leaders are Positive on recognition. They practice this with their employees whether or not they’ve been giving permission and tools from their HR group. The next set of managers (22%) are Fearful of recognition. They want to recognize, but haven’t been given permission from senior leadership to spend any money or do anything out of the norm so they are paralyzed by fear. The next group (20%) are what we call Controllers. They are worried about the human elements of recognition—the jealousies that might occur if they recognize Bob and not Sue, so they do nothing. The last group (a whopping 32% of managers) are Negative on recognition. They add such pearls of wisdom to the leadership lexicon such as “they get recognition every two weeks in their paychecks, don’t they?” This group of managers was by far the least productive.
Morris: What is an “accelerator” and why is one needed?
Gostick: We found that recognition couldn’t make these lousy managers better. They were simply distrusted. However, we found that good managers could use recognition to make everything they were doing better. Recognition in the research was shown to increase the perception of open communication, trust, goal-setting, accountability, teamwork, etc. Appreciating great work accelerated performance. It just makes sense, and now we have the research to statistically prove it.
Morris: Three-part question. First, what are the “Basic Four” foundational building blocks of effective leadership and management? Which seems to be the most difficult to develop? Why?
Gostick: When we did correlation studies on great teams, we found managers received high marks for recognition, but also for four other leadership characteristics: goal-setting, communication, trust and accountability. We came to call them the Basic Four of Leadership because they are so foundational to success. Each is hard to master in its own way: It’s easy to set goals, but hard to provide clarity around goals. It’s easy to communicate, but hard to be open and honest and consistent. Trust is hard to build and maintain, but it is essential in every business relationship. Accountability is also difficult, because we typically see it as a negative.
One employee put it this way: when I make a mistake I’m recognized 100 percent of the time, but when I do something great I’m not recognized 99 percent of the time. In the great teams we studied, managers turned that 1 percent recognition into 5 percent, 10 percent, 20 or higher.
Morris: As you know, Henry Chesbrough has much of value to share in two books, Open Innovation and Open Business Models, about organizational values such as clarity, accessibility, transparency, receptiveness, and trustworthiness. Are these not among the same principles that effective leaders and managers also follow?
Gostick: Absolutely! In fact they are captured in our research findings we call the Basic Four. You must provide clarity of goals. You must be accessible, transparent and receptive to new ideas if you want to build a strong communication culture. And you must be trustworthy.
Morris: Please explain the terms “Altruist” and “Expector.”
Gostick: This is kind of funny. We found a large group of managers who provided recognition to their employees with the “expectation” of something in return, typically harder work. Employees saw through this motivation. However, we found a group of managers who “altruistically” recognized their people for great work because it was the right thing to do. This group of managers saw much better results and had much higher employee engagement scores. So, it does pay to recognize, but you must have good motives.
Morris: To what does the acronym “SAIL” refer? Significance?
Gostick: We found great managers told stories when they recognized. They talked about the Situation they faced, or the problem. They mentioned the Action the employee took to resolve the situation. They talked about the Impact the employee made by taking ownership, being innovative, resolving the customer issue, etc. And finally, they Linked it to the core values of the organization. It’s a great way to make recognition meaningful.
Morris: You seem to agree with Thomas Edison that “vision without execution is hallucination.” In Appendix A, you provide a “Recognition Effectiveness Model.” How does it help to measure the total impact of recognition initiatives? Can it also measure the impact of each individual “carrot”?
Gostick: I love that quote from Edison! What we found in our research is that most company strategies are eerily familiar. We like to think we’ve all invented the iPod and we are markedly different from our competitors, but in truth most customers can’t tell our products apart. What differentiates us is our employees. If they are engaged they will execute on your plan. Anyone can have a plan or vision, but only the great companies sustain high-impact execution.
Note: I recently re-read several books that were published a while ago. For example, here is one that addresses many issues now in hot dispute.
During an interview of Roger Martin, I asked him about the title of this book, co-authored with Mihnea C. Moldoveanu. “We envision a world in which there will be a greater focus in business education on developing the thinking styles and capacities of MBAs rather than filling their heads with analytical tools. We see teaching them to think and act responsibly and responsively in the face of multiple, incommensurable and possibly conflicting models of oneself, the world and others. This in turn requires development of their thinking capacity along three dimensions. First is nimble-mindedness, which we see as the ability to understand apparently conflicting models, walk around them and internalize rather than reject the tensions among them. Second is big-mindedness, which we see as the ability to contain and behold the conflicting models while, in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ‘retaining the ability to function.’” Third is tough-mindedness, which we see as the capacity to utilize the tension among the existing models to forge a new model. This in turn requires the rigorous testing and discarding of potential solutions rather than fixating on the first one and hoping it is sound.”
In this volume, Moldoveanu and Martin respond to several critiques of the MBA as a program during discussions of “The Future of the MBA” during a conference co-hosted by the co-authors at the Rotman School of Management in 2006. They assert that many of the critiques do not recognize the selection value of the MBA. For example, the failure to appreciate the value of the selection value of the MBA. That is, “its value as a selection mechanism or filter that picks out individuals with high potential for management positions based on relatively powerful predictors of performance, such as general intelligence and conscientiousness.” They insist that, on the contrary, it does have “a significant, demonstrable, and robust value to prospective employers.” They share their vision of the high-value decision maker of the future whom they call an “integrator,” one who solves a problem through effective action what the narrow specialist can often not solve even in theory. Having shared their profile of the integrator, Moldoveanu and Martin argue that the selection metric of MBA programs be expanded and refined to include “measures of openness in combination with an executive function that allows the integrator to manage his or her affective and cognitive processes.” That is, to develop what the authors refer to as an “opposable” mind that, as Martin suggests in his response to the interview question, is “nimble,” “big,” and “tough.” Especially in today’s business world, executives must be able to function effectively, under control, despite what Moldoveanu and Martin describe as “an inherent and inherently irresolvable state of practical ambiguity.” The tools they require include generative reasoning capacity, assertive inquiry, and causal modeling.
They then pose this rhetorical question: “Can business academia deliver a development program more likely to cultivate the high-value decision maker of the future than is currently the case?” Of course it can. Moldoveanu and Martin suggest that, “although the value of the know-what imparted by business school may be in many cases low, the value of the know-how that business school academics can provide is undervalued and can be significantly increased by recognizing and amplifying powerful trends that have emerged in the field over the past 20 years.” I agree that relevant, valuable know-how can be successfully transferred through discursive interaction and mimetic imprinting; moreover, when redesigning the training experience of the MBA focused on the performative dimension of knowledge, it is highly desirable – as Moldoveanu and Martin recommend – to “bring the [real-world] and ontological dimensions of training together in the same elements of a training program.”
You may wish to check out my second interview of Roger Martin.