Note: As we all proceed further into the holiday season and struggle to select gifts, I will provide reviews of a few books that have limited but substantial appeal, such as this biography of one of early-television’s most important pioneers. For someone who fondly recalls what is now considered “The Golden Age of Television,” this would be an excellent choice.
The title of my review by no means damns Stephen Battaglio with faint praise. He has succeeded in bringing as much to life as a biography can a person who simultaneously attracted and invalidated labels such as “intellectual,” “hustler,” “humanitarian,” “tyrant,” “genius,” “dilettante,” and “womanizer.” I vividly recall so much of the work associated with David Susskind (1920-1987), especially the “Open End” talk show (later renamed “The David Susskind Show” 1967-1987) and his firm’s production of a sequence of remarkably varied programs such as television adaptations of Beyond This Place (1957), The Moon and Sixpence (1960), Ages of Man (1966), Death of a Salesman (also 1966), Look Homeward, Angel (1972), The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1958), The Glass Menagerie (1973), and Caesar and Cleopatra (1976).
As Battaglio’s lively and probing narrative suggests, Susskind was indeed a “fiery life force” in what he and his firm(s) achieved as well as in his complicated personal relationships with so many business associates, family members, and others with whom he came in contact. He also seems to be a thoughtful and considerate person. If I were a business associate of his, I would probably be upset by his leadership/management style and question several of his decisions but I would always admire the ambitious goals he set and his commitment to achieving them with style and grace.
In her review of this book for The New York Times, Caryn James observes, “Despite his progressive views about race, he could be a troglodyte about women, mocking feminists in the ’70s. He had married young, divorced and remarried, and never stopped playing around. Unlike most cave men, though, he didn’t penalize the female associates who spurned his advances, and actively promoted women in his company. Like so much about Susskind, his attitude toward women was, as a onetime female colleague puts it, ‘a strange paradox.’
“Perhaps because he had always turned in a flash from imperious to glib, it took a while to diagnose the bipolar disorder that marred his later years. And before he was persuaded to get help, his manic activity had cost him millions of dollars. He was on his way back up when he died of a heart attack at 66, but even then he was an old-fashioned guy struggling to fathom a new world.”
Those who wish to see a few of the surviving videos of Susskind’s television programs can check out several online. For example, his conversation with David Ogilvy, founder and CEO of Ogilvy and Mather. To watch it, please click here.
The following material is featured on the MIT SLoan Management Review website. I urge you to check out the wealth of resources by clicking here.
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Collaboration is all the rage in business these days – and for good reason, given the complex challenges businesses face today. But recently published research suggests that collaboration can exact heavy time costs if done inefficiently.
Consider this. In research published in MIT Sloan Management Review, Rob Cross of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce and four coauthors — Peter Gray, Shirley Cunningham, Mark Showers and Robert J. Thomas — analyzed employee networks in the IT functions of 12 large companies. Their aim: To better understand how to foster effective collaboration.
Some of the authors’ findings also shed light on the time costs of inefficient collaboration. For example, the authors write in an article in MIT Sloan Management Review that:
“At Monsanto the employees who interacted with the least efficient project managers and organizational leaders spent five times more time preparing for and engaging in those collaborations than did employees who interacted with the most efficient project managers and organizational leads….”
“Many individuals spent 25 to 35 hours per week preparing for and engaging in collaborations with others.”
Monsanto managers, according to the article, concluded that if they could help just 20 of their less-efficient project managers and leaders become average in collaborative efficiency, the approximately 400 individuals who routinely interacted with those project managers and leaders would save up to 1500 hours a week, collectively.
In general, the authors observe that:
“Although collaboration is often seen as a virtue, too much collaboration at too many organizational levels can be a negative. It is important to reduce network connectivity at points where collaboration fails to produce sufficient value.”
You can read more about the authors’ other findings – and how individuals and business units can collaborate more effectively — in the Fall 2010 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.
How about you? How much of your workweek do you spend collaborating or preparing to collaborate with others? (And how much time do you think people spend preparing to collaborate with you?) Could any of that collaboration be done more efficiently?
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Findings of special interest to me:
1. Executives should analyze employee collaboration networks to discover how high-performing individuals and teams connect.
2. Networks should be designed to optimize the flow of good ideas across function, distance and technical specialty.
3. Network analysis can show where too much connectivity slows decision making.
Here is an article written by Jessica Stillman about Tim Ferris for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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The blog of best-selling author Tim Ferriss features posts offering to teach an eclectic variety of skills — how to make money, lose weight, learn a language and travel the world — but this one features the most off-beat how-to yet. The instructional piece focuses on the persuasive abilities of super-charmers like Bill Clinton and Steve Jobs, people who have “a Reality Distortion Field” (RDF)—an aura of charisma, confidence, and persuasion, in which people report it almost impossible to avoid surrendering to the man and following his will when interacting face-to-face.”
While Clinton-style charisma is usually thought of as a fixed and innate trait, Ferriss argues that is actually possible to increase yours by implementing these three easy steps:
Practice Brief Eye Contact With Strangers. While you walk down the sidewalk (during daylight hours!) look at the eyes of every person walking towards you long enough to see their eye color. Less than a second. Then look away. This is the best technique I know for building solid eye contact skills quickly. In my experience, if the eye contact is brief enough, no one minds at all, and you get tons of practice in. You can also practice longer eye contact with waiters, salesclerks, cashiers, and other paid service staff, so long as you do it respectfully and in a friendly way. In all cases, keep a neutral facial expression and soft gaze. You don’t want anyone to think you’re trying to stare them down, rob them, or get them into the sack.
Learn the Art of Personal Space. You’ve probably experienced bosses or strangers “get up in your face,” and it feels very unpleasant. Bill Clinton and others with RDFs are experts at getting close to you while making you feel totally safe and comfortable. How do they do it? They have mastered the subtle art of personal space. Our sense of personal space is not a pure function of physical proximity; many other psychological factors influence it. In general, your sense of physical proximity with someone increases when they are: making direct eye contact with you; facing you directly; touching you; raising their voice; talking about you. If you learn to modulate these five factors, you can make your conversation partners feel safe and comfortable while at the same time feeling close and intimate with you.
Practice Being Present. Have you ever felt someone was making eye contact with you, but wasn’t taking in a thing you were saying? For one week, whenever you talk with someone, practice noticing whenever your mind drifting—to the laundry, your bills, you co-worker’s snide comment today. Then, when you notice this inevitable mental drifting, bring your attention back to whomever you’re talking with at the moment. They will truly appreciate it.
Should Ferriss’s formula prove effective, I imagine it would come in pretty handy for dating as well as sales. But what do you think, is this a plan that ends in charisma or creepiness? I can imagine that the “practicing eye contact” step, at least, could cause some pretty uncomfortable encounters, especially for those with more limited natural charm than Ferriss. If you’re intrigued, you can read much more about charisma in the complete post.
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Jessica Stillman is an alumna of the BNET editorial intern program, which taught her everything she knows about blogging. She now lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Jen-Hsun Huang who is president and C.E.O. of Nvidia, a maker of graphics chips in Santa Clara, Calif. He says restaurant work taught him how to deal with chaos.
To read the complete interview and Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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“I’m prepared for diversity. I waited tables.”
Bryant: What’s it like to work at Nvidia?
Jen-Hsun Huang: Let me tell you about the two elements that are our core values and that I most treasure and that I spent a lot of time nurturing. One is the tolerance to take risks and the ability to learn from failure. This ability to celebrate failure, if you will, needs to be an important part of any company that’s in a rapidly changing world. And the second core value is intellectual honesty — the ability to call a spade a spade, to as quickly as possible recognize that we’ve made a mistake, that we’ve gone the wrong way, and that we learn from it and quickly adjust.
These came about because, when Nvidia was founded, we were the first company of our kind, but we rapidly almost went out of business. It turned out the technology didn’t work at all. We raised all this money. We hired 100 people. We built the technology and it just didn’t work. I learned a lot about leadership during that time.
Bryant: What did you learn?
Jen-Hsun Huang: I learned that it was O.K. for a C.E.O. to say that the strategy didn’t work, that the technology didn’t work, that the product didn’t work, but we’re still going to be great and let me tell you why. I think that’s what’s thrilling about leadership — when you’re holding onto literally the worst possible hand on the planet and you know you’re still going to win. How are you still going to win? Because that’s when the character of the company really comes out.
It was during the time that we really cultivated and developed what I consider to be our core values today. I don’t think you can create culture and develop core values during great times. I think it’s when the company faces adversity of extraordinary proportions, when there’s no reason for the company to survive, when you’re looking at incredible odds — that’s when culture is developed, character is developed.
I think culture is a big word for corporate character. It’s the personality of the company, and now the personality of our company simply says this: If we think something is really worthwhile and we have a great idea, and it’s never been done before but we believe in it, it’s O.K. to take a chance. It’s O.K. to try, and if it doesn’t work, learn from it, adjust and keep failing forward. And if you just fail forward all the time — learn, fail, learn, fail, learn, fail — but every single time you’re making it better and better, before you know it you’re a great company.
Mistakes and failures are kind of the negative space around success, right? And if we could take enough shots at it, we’re going to figure out what success is going to look like.
Bryant: Talk more about the intellectual honesty part of it.
Jen-Hsun Huang: Without intellectual honesty, you can’t have a culture that’s willing to tolerate failure because people cling too much to an idea that likely will be bad or isn’t working and they feel like their reputation is tied up in it. They can’t admit failure. You end up putting too much into a bad idea and then you risk the entire enterprise.
Bryant: What were the most important leadership lessons over the course of your life?
Jen-Hsun Huang: Let me start with what I believe to be good leadership traits that resonate for me. I appreciate people who are authentic. They are just who they are. They don’t dress like a C.E.O. because they think that’s what C.E.O.’s dress like. They don’t talk like a C.E.O. because that’s the way they think C.E.O.’s talk. They don’t conduct their meetings and expect people to treat them like a C.E.O. because that’s the way they think C.E.O.’s are supposed to be treated. They are just who they are.
And I like people who are able to call a spade a spade. If something is right, something’s right. If something’s wrong, something’s wrong. And if something could be better, it could be better. I don’t want to be sold to all the time. And I also believe that you manage with your skills but you have to lead with your heart.
You can’t cause other people to fall in love with the work that you’re doing if you don’t love it yourself. And so I think you can manage for better performance but you can’t manage for greatness. You can’t manage your way into greatness. You’ve got to lead your way into greatness, and so you have to lead with your heart.
Bryant: What about when you were growing up?
Jen-Hsun Huang: When I was in high school, nothing gave me greater joy than computer games. It was part of how I grew up. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the video game era, but I’ve never beaten myself up about mistakes. When I try something and it doesn’t turn out, I go back and try it again.
Most of the time when you’re playing a game, you’re losing. You lose and lose and lose until you beat it. That’s kind of how the game works, right? It’s feedback. And then eventually you beat it.
As it turns out, the most fun parts of a game are when you’re losing. When you finally beat it there’s a moment of euphoria but then it’s over. Maybe it’s because I grew up in that generation, I have the ability to take chances, which leads to the ability to innovate and try new things. Those are important life lessons that came along.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. To contact him, please click here.