According to Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529), the term “sprezzatura” that he introduces in his classic work, The Book of the Courtier, is defined as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” He adds that it demonstrates the ability of the courtier to display “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them.”
Sprezzatura has also been described “as a form of defensive irony: the ability to disguise what one really desires, feels, thinks, and means or intends behind a mask of apparent reticence and nonchalance.” The word has entered the English language as the Oxford English Dictionary defines it: “studied carelessness.”
Those familiar with the research conducted by Anders Ericsson and his associates at Florida State University are already aware of what is now generally referred to as “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” Actually, it’s a guideline to superior performance during a process that requires (on average) 10,000 hours of rigorous iterative (some call it “deliberate” and “deep”) practice under expert and relentlessly demanding supervision.
The world already has too many do-nothing self-promoters whose only claim to fame is their ability to attract attention with inane observations and outrageous behavior.
The world needs more people who are willing and able to complete the demanding process that superior performance requires…and do so with style, grace, and élan. Not false modesty but genuine humility. We need the expertise they offer and will welcome their “easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions” without posturing, bluster, and bravado.
Yes indeed, the world needs more sprezzatura.
The set-up-to-fail syndrome “is self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing – it is the quintessential vicious circle…” High expectations or low expectations both influence other people’s performance. Only high expectations have a positive impact on actions and on feelings about oneself. Only high expectations can encourage the heart.
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others
We undermine so very much. We undermine ourselves; we undermine our people. I wonder, at times, if we undermine our country.
If we “set-up-to-fail,” then failure is an ever-greater possibility. If we set-up-to-succeed, then success is an ever-greater possibility.
Maybe it is this simple: we get what we aim for. But, “aiming for” requires specific actions; steps to follow.
And, there are steps we can take, steps we have to take, to set-up-to-succeed. We have to set the example, provide plenty of good training, and feedback, and encouragement (we have to “encourage the heart”). If we do not provide the training, the feedback, the encouragement – to ourselves; to others – we are setting-up-to-fail.
And if we set-up-to-fail, there is a pretty good possibility that we will fail.
So, here’s our new assignment – in every endeavor, in every new initiative, let’s get serious about setting-up-to-succeed.
Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) may well be the first person who formulated the four levels of discourse. At least I know of no sources that precede his Rhetoric and Poetics. They serve as the basis for many seminal works, such as Modern Rhetoric co-authored by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren; more recently, The Elements of Style (50th Anniversary Edition) co-authored by William Strrunck and E.B. White and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well (30th Anniversary Edition).
I still have my copy of Modern Rhetoric (regrettably, now out-of-print) and it serves as the basis for EDNA, an acronym I devised years ago when I began to teach English at Kent School in Connecticut and have since discussed in hundreds of workshops and seminars conducted for corporate clients:
Exposition explains (exposes, reveals) with information.
Description makes vivid with compelling details.
Narration explains a sequence or provides a plot.
Argumentation convinces with logic and/or evidence.
Exposition is arguably the most valuable and yet least appreciated of the four. If used correctly and effectively, it offers great power to whatever you need to explain. These are among its most frequently used applications:
Analysis: Separate components (e.g. organizational chart, competitive marketplace)
Cause & Effect: Next to discovery, the single most important skill during process improvement initiatives
Classification: Organize what belongs where (e.g. division of labor, allocation of resources)
Comparison: Identify similarities (e.g. what sports and business share in common)
Contrast: Identify differences (e.g. how war differs from business)
Definition: Determine unique and precise essence (e.g. authentic leadership, core business, customer profile)
Note: Expository description provides objective details; description can also make effective use of figurative language such as “My foot’s asleep and it feels like ginger ale.”
The key point is that Exposition offers a variety of useful applications so the first question to be answered is, “What specifically am I trying to accomplish with this explanation?”
Here is an article written by Geoffrey James 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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Why are there so many lousy bosses in this world? Simple. These six toxic beliefs have taken hold in the business world, and they’re turning otherwise sane individuals into raging management jackasses.
This post describes those 6 toxic beliefs so that you can protect yourself against them, primarily by avoiding those managers who hold them dear.
Be forewarned, though. If some of these beliefs make sense to you, you might very well be on the road to becoming a lousy boss yourself.
[Here are the first two of the six. To read the complete article, please click here.]
TOXIC BELIEF #1: “We are a meritocracy.”
You hear this all the time inside high tech firms, and it’s becoming increasingly common elsewhere, too. The idea is that management only awards promotions and salary increases as the result of proven performance. That’s the theory. But it’s total BS.
The idea of a “meritocracy” ignores that many other factors influence who gets what inside a corporation. For example, tall men and pretty women have an inside track that’s purely genetic and has nothing whatsoever to do with their actual contributions.
Similarly, many employees enter a company with pre-existing connections, both through colleagues and family members. A son with minimal talent takes over his father’s job. An executive comes in at the top and pulls a bunch of his cronies in with him. Somebody has an affair with the CFO and then becomes the chief auditor. (This actually happened to somebody I know). Deals are cut between drinking buddies. Talent has little or nothing to do with it.
Beyond that, the corporate world is full of toadies and lickspittles whose sole ability to survive and thrive is based upon an unerring sense of who in the corporate structure needs periodic sphincter osculations.
Even if those factors were absent from the corporate milieu (which they’re decidedly not), the Peter Principle still remains valid. As anyone who looks at any business carefully can tell you, people are FREQUENTLY promoted to their level of incompetence, where they remain for years.
The reason that this belief is so toxic? People who are lucky, connected, or oily use the “meritocracy” belief to justify the fact that they’ve gotten ahead. It makes them feel that they “deserve” their success, and therefore owe nothing to anybody else.
Back in the day when belonging to an aristocracy meant automatic advantages, they had a concept called noblesse oblige. Aristocrats knew that they didn’t really deserve their privileges, so they felt obligated to treat the hoi polloi with a modicum of kindness and restraint.
Not so the meritocrats. Once they get ahead, they rapidly become insufferable snobs who complain about government regulation and quote Ayn Rand.
TOXIC BELIEF #2: “I must control employees.”
The idea that the role of management is to control employee behavior is common, but that doesn’t make it right.
We’ve been told for so many years that managers are supposed to be “in charge” that any other definition of management seems absurd or naive. All too often, well-meaning managers try to control their way out of problems, control the behavior of the people who work with them, control events that are going to happen whether they like it or not.
But thinking of management as control misses the entire point (and real power) of management. Ideally, a manager should be a servant, coach and mentor to the people who work inside the group. The goal of the manager is to make everyone else in the group successful, and thereby make the group success. You can’t “control” that outcome. It’s just not possible
The reason this belief is ugly that it leads organization to concentrate power at the top. It causes the proliferation of complicated rules and regulations, the growth of bureaucracies, and the need for expensive reporting mechanisms to pass information up and down the management chain.
Even so, the need to control can be very seductive. The illusion that we can bend other people’s hearts and minds and get them to do exactly what we want is a comforting one in a world that’s admittedly chaotic. What’s most dangerous about “control” is that it works-at least for a while, but it eventually creates massive resentment.
The controlling person looks around the conference table one day and finds that he or she is surrounded by enemies-people who would stab the controlling manager in the back, if given half a chance. So the manager comes up with some new way to control or manipulate, while the employees continue to maneuver and posture to avoid the heavy hand of management.
And so the cycle continues.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Geoffrey James has sold and written hundreds of features, articles and columns for national publications including Wired, Men’s Health, Business 2.0, SellingPower, Brand World, Computer Gaming World, CIO, The New York Times and (of course) BNET. He is the author of seven books, including Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite (translated into seven languages and selected by four book clubs), and The Tao of Programming (widely quoted on the Web as a “canonical book of computer humor”.) He was also co-host of Funny Business, a program on New England’s largest all-talk radio station.