A brilliant examination of a Hall of Fame career and of an “exceptional, tumultuous, and epic American life – an immortal life.”
I am among the 200 reviewers (thus far) who have rated this book highly but there are others (and there always are) who complain about something: its length, abundance of historical material, too much coverage of this/not enough of that, etc. I have read a number of biographies in recent years, including those of John Cheever (Bailey), Steve Jobs (Isaacson), Barbara Stanwyck (Wilson), Johnny Carson (Bushkin), John Wayne (Eyman), Michael Jordan (Lazenby), Woodrow Wilson (Berg), and John Updike (Begley) as well as Leigh Montville’s biography of Ted Williams (2005). In my opinion, none is a greater achievement than what Ben Bradlee, Jr. offers in The Kid, his examination of the “immortal life” of Ted Williams (1918-2002). His sense of nuance is impeccable.
As Charles McGrath points out in his review of the book for The New York Times, “What distinguishes Bradlee’s The Kid from the rest of Williams lit is, its size and the depth of its reporting. Bradlee seemingly talked to everyone, not just baseball people but William’s fishing buddies, old girlfriends, his two surviving wives and both of his daughters, and he had unparalleled access to Williams family archives. His account does not materially alter our picture of Williams the player, but fills it in with much greater detail and nuance…Bradlee’s expansiveness enables his book to transcend the familiar limits of the sports bio and to become instead a hard-to-put-down account of a fascinating American life. It’s a story about athletic greatness but also about the perils of fame and celebrity, the corrosiveness of money, and the way the cycle of familial resentment and disappointment plays itself out generation after generation.”
Bradlee devotes seven pages of Acknowledgments of hundreds of sources (including Montville) to which he is “deeply indebted.” He also includes 155 pages of Notes and in Appendix II (Pages 787-800) he lists everyone he interviewed. This is a research-driven book, to be sure, and probably the definitive account of the life of one of the most colorful – and controversial – public figures during the second half of the last century. Bradlee allows the sources to speak for themselves and provides a more balanced view than does Richard Ben Cramer, for example, in his biography of Joe DiMaggio and two of Williams. Perhaps most striking is Bradlee’s impeccable sense of nuance.
There is much in Williams and his life to admire, notably his skills as a hitter of baseballs and his two periods of service as a Marine pilot (during WW 2 and then Korea) as well as his active support of the Jimmy Fund. He was very uncomfortable when praised for that support. Here is a brief portion of the information provided by the Fund’s website: “Ted Williams was a hero in the ballpark, on the battlefield, and in the hearts of millions of children suffering from cancer. Famous for his extraordinary batting record during his decades-long career with the Red Sox, Ted also displayed heroism as a fighter pilot in two wars, and his tireless efforts on behalf of the Jimmy Fund. Ted went everywhere to support the cause: American Legion banquets, temples and churches, Little League games, drive-in theaters, department stores for autograph sessions. Most memorably, he made countless visits to the bedsides of sick children at the Jimmy Fund Clinic. As a kid, Ted dreamed of being a sports hero, but as an adult, he dreamed of beating cancer. His efforts over the years contributed to remarkable progress in the treatment of childhood cancers.”
These are among the dozens of other dimensions of his life and career that are of greatest interest to me:
o His childhood in San Diego and early promise as a baseball player
o His minor league years (1936-1938) and the friendships he developed (e.g. with Dom DiMaggio and Bobby Doerr)
o Being identified as “The Kid” by Red Sox equipment manager, Johnny Orlando
o The first season in MLB, after which Babe Ruth designated him “Rookie of the Year”
o The 1941 season: Williams batted .406, hit 37 home runs, and had 120 RBIs, finishing second to Joe DiMaggio for MVP
o First active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps as a fighter pilot, World War 2 (1943-1945)
Note: According to Johnny Pesky, a Red Sox teammate who was also involved with Williams in the aviation training program, “He mastered intricate problems in fifteen minutes which took the average cadet an hour, and half of the other cadets there were college grads.” Pesky again described Williams’ acumen in the advance training, for which Pesky personally did not qualify: “I heard Ted literally tore the sleeve target to shreds with his angle dives. He’d shoot from wingovers, zooms, and barrel rolls, and after a few passes the sleeve was ribbons. At any rate, I know he broke the all-time record for hits.”
o Second active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, Korea (1952–1953)
Note: During the second tour of duty, Williams served in the same Marine Corps unit with John Glenn who described him as one of the best pilots he knew.
o Why he disliked the sports media so intensely, especially in Boston
o When and why he retired
o The significance of his relationship with Sears Roebuck
o His brief career as a manager of the Washington Senators/Texas Rangers franchise from 1969 to 1972
o His inadequacies as a husband and as a father
o The ambiguities of John Henry Williams
o Questions that remain unanswered concerning what happened after Ted Williams’ death on July 5, 2002 (aged 83)
o Key lifetime statistics: BA .344; HRs 521; 2,654 hits; and 1,839 RBIs
Bradlee thoroughly explores these and countless other subjects and related issues, perhaps with more details and to a greater extent than many readers prefer. He celebrates Williams’ several significant strengths and virtues but refuses to ignore or even neglect his prominent inadequacies in most of his personal relationships. I appreciate the fact that Bradlee does not presume to explain what drove him other than a need to become the greatest baseball hitter who ever lived (I agree with Bradlee and countless others that he was) and by his determination to have total control of his personal life, especially the news media.
As Bradlee explains in his Author’s Note, “Researching and writing this book took more than a decade. After six-hundred-odd reviews, uncounted hours of research in archives and among the private papers given to me and by the Williams family, after looking closely at that signed baseball more than a few times [one Bradlee received in his youth] and thinking hard about the man I’d briefly met as a boy and the man I was meeting now, I felt ready to let go of this Ted Williams tale, the story of an exceptional, tumultuous, and epic American life – an immortal life.”
This is by far the best biography of Williams that I have read thus far, indeed it is among the best biographies of athletes I have ever read. I am deeply grateful for learning what I did not previously know about “The Kid,” of course, but also for the meticulous care with which Ben Bradlee, Jr. presents all of the material, helping his readers to gain a better understanding and a greater appreciation of one of the most complicated human beings any of us will ever know. Bravo!
How societal pressures (morals, reputation, laws, and security systems) can minimize betrayals of trust
I have just read and will soon review Bruce Schneier‘s latest book, Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive.
Almost all of the in formation, insights, and counsel he provides can help almost anyone earn and then sustain the trust of family members, friends, associates in the workplace, and others. This is especially today in a hyper-connected society in which almost anyone, anywhere, can interact with almost anyone else, anywhere.
What makes people trustworthy?
Schneier: “That’s the key question the book tackles. Most people are naturally trustworthy, but some are not. There are hotel clerks who will steal your credit card information. There are ATMs that have been hacked by criminals. Some restaurant kitchens serve tainted food. There was even an airline pilot who deliberately crashed his Boeing 767 into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999. Given that there are people who are naturally inclined to be untrustworthy, how does society keep their damage to a minimum? We use what I call societal pressures: morals and reputation are two, laws are another, and security systems are a fourth. Basically, it’s all coercion. We coerce people into behaving in a trustworthy manner because society will fall apart if they don’t.”
It may also help to keep in mind this African aphorism: “Trust but verify.” Also some street smarts: “First time you betray my trust, shame on you. Next time, shame on me.”
To learn more about Bruce, please click here.
Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World, Bruce Schneier, How societal pressures can minimize betrayals of trust, Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive, Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World
Here is another brief, remarkably thoughtful article written by Marshall Goldsmith for Talent Management magazine. He suggests and I agree that mentors — and especially supervisors — should ask questions that probe for understanding to create a more insightful dialogue. To check out other resources and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and/or Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.
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If there were a Mentors Hall of Fame, Socrates would be an instant inductee.
Above all, he understood the secret of mentoring: questioning brings insight, which fuels curiosity, which cultivates wisdom.
Quality questions have a multiplier effect on learning. Ask an information-seeking question and you get only an answer or a fact. Ask an understanding-seeking question and you unleash a more powerful chain of events.
The human brain is often compared to a computer, but it’s very different. Most computers are information-storage devices. Ask an information-seeking question, and the computer goes into a retrieval mode.
Ask an understanding-seeking question, however, and the mind has to make up an answer. Computers cannot make up answers. An understanding-seeking question stimulates mental activity that creates insight. As the mind turns to respond to an understanding-seeking question, special new synapses are activated, triggering an insight experience.
The more the mind experiences creative discovery, the more it hunts another insight. This pursuit of insight or discovery is “curiosity.” To the mind, curiosity is its own reward. The byproduct of perpetual curiosity is wisdom.
How can mentors start this insight-curiosity-wisdom chain?
One major starter is the understanding-seeking question. Here are important elements that produce insight.
Sociability: Watch out for too much silence. If the protégé does not answer in 10 seconds, he or she may need you to redirect the question. Know that eye contact can be important in conveying an interest in the protégé’s answers.
Beware of not giving the protégé an opportunity to answer. Silence can be golden. Pause after asking a question. If you’re susceptible to this trap, count to 10 after asking a question and before asking another. Assume that the protégé heard and understood and is simply contemplating an answer.
Dominance: Think before you ask. Consider your goal and focus. Determine what you seek to learn, and then choose questions that will take you there.
You may have a tendency to craft questions that give you the answer you like to hear. Leading the protégé is just as ineffective as leading a witness. Soften your tone. Make sure your approach does not make the protégé feel as though he or she is on trial.
Openness: Avoid keeping your questions too much on the surface. While invading privacy is not the goal, your aim is to foster in-depth thinking. Be willing to allow a bit of controversy; conflict is nothing more than a symptom of tension. When you accurately interpret and work through conflict by your candor and openness, interpersonal closeness and valuable creativity will be the likely byproducts.
You may often find yourself wanting to answer for the protégé. Back off and give the person a chance to communicate his or her thoughts. It is also important to avoiding getting too personal too quickly. While you may be more than ready to foster closeness, the protégé may need more time.
Other specific techniques include:
Start with a setup statement: Questions can be more powerful if the sender and receiver are on the same wavelength. Starting with a setup statement establishes identification and context.
Ask questions that require higher-level thinking: The goal is to create insight, not to share information. The main objective is to nurture understanding and growth, not just exchange facts. Construct questions that require the protégé to dig deep.
Avoid questions that begin with “why”: In most cultures, a question that begins with the word “why” is perceived as judgmental. Body language can play a role in how such questions are perceived, but even with perfect body language, our antennae go up as soon as we hear a “why” question.
Use curiosity to stimulate curiosity: Socrates did more than ask good questions. He demonstrated enthusiasm for the learning process. Attitude is as much a part of the Socratic method as technique.
Ultimately, great mentors are not only curious; they are excited to stimulate curiosity. They are open about their excitement and verbally communicate pleasure when the protégé’s “Aha!” finally comes.
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Here’s a direct link to the complete article.
Marshall Goldsmith is an authority in helping leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. He is the author or co-editor of 32 books, including Managers as Mentors, with co-author Chip Bell. He can be reached at his firm, the Marshall Goldsmith Group.
o First-Person Plural Pronouns: Everyone thinks in terms of “serving our customers,” “what we can accomplish working together, ” and “how all of us can help each other to improve what we do and how we do it.” Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno: One for all, all for one. Communication, cooperation, and collaboration thrive in a healthy company.
o Problem Ownership: Whoever discovers a problem owns it. If a customer tells you about a problem, you own it. Whenever someone asks you to help solve a problem, you become a co-owner of that problem. In a healthy company, problem finders as well as problem solvers are strongly encouraged and generously rewarded.
o Going the Extra Mile: According to the results of Napoleon Hill’s three-year study of the world’s greatest performers in business throughout the world, the only thing they had in common is a commitment to always “go the extra mile”…to do whatever it takes to achieve success. This is embedded in a healthy company’s DNA.
o The Crisis Paradox: The Chinese character for “crisis” has two meanings: peril and opportunity. Healthy companies thrive when facing a crisis. They “show their stuff” and “are at their best.”
It is no coincidence that the companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry segment.
Now please re-read that last sentence.
I urge those in need of more information about organizational health to check out these titles:
Freedom, Inc.: Free Your Employees and Let Them Lead Your Business to Higher Productivity, Profits, and Growth
Brian M. Carney and Isaac Getz
Beyond Performance Management: Why, When, and How to Use 40 Tools and Best Practices for Superior Business Performance
Jeremy Hope and Steve Player
Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition
Enterprise Architecture As Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution
Jeanne Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson
Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success
Dean R. Spitzer
A global best-selling author, Carmine Gallo is also a former reporter and anchor for CNN and CBS. He has sat down with many of the most dynamic and respected business leaders of our time. In these interviews, Carmine gained insight into what makes a great leader. Great leaders are also great communicators. He formed Gallo Communications with the mission of helping business leaders discover and apply the untapped power of effective communications. Communications comprise a multi-faceted art form. From internal relationships to press conferences, from rallying investors to counseling employees, from inspiring greatness to managing crisis, managers need to educate, motivate, and persuade much more effectively than many (most?) of them do now. Gallo Communications prepares business leaders for these make it-or-break it challenges.
His published books include The Apple Experience: Secrets to building insanely great customer loyalty, The Power of foursquare: 7 Innovative Ways to Get Your Customers to Check In Wherever They Are, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, Fire Them Up! 7 Simple Secrets to Inspire Colleagues, Customers, and Clients, and 10 Simple Secrets of the World’s Greatest Business Communicators: How you too can learn the presentation secrets behind today’s greatest CEOs. His latest book is Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, published by St. Martin’s Press (March 2014).
Here is an excerpt from my third interview of Carmen. To read the complete interview, please cklick here.
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Morris: When and why did you decide to write Talk Like TED?
Gallo: After the success of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, I was looking for another communicator to profile. It was very difficult to find one person—well known around the world—who had the complete package of presentation and business communication skills. I expanded my thinking and realized that TED, the famous conference that’s become a hit around the world, is popular because it showcases the world’s best speakers and communicators. I’ve also been asked to work with people who have given TED talks and so it wasn’t much of a stretch. The fun part was studying the neuroscience behind persuasion and discovering why 18-minute TED talks work so well.
Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.
Gallo: There are many revelations. For example, 18 minutes is quite possibly the ideal amount of time to deliver a presentation. Through trial and error the TED organizers discovered early on that 18 minutes is long enough to have a serious discussion and short enough to keep people’s attention. Now think about all of the great speeches that have moved us a nation — they’re all under 18 minutes: Steve Jobs commencement speech at Stanford, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream,” and JFK’s inaugural. Also, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched a national movement to Lean In with a TED talk that lasted 15 minutes. A lot can happen in under 18 minutes!
Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?
Gallo: It’s more inspiring than I thought it would be. I set out to do a tactical book on how to deliver better presentations. The content of the presentations was so inspiring, however, the content also made me a better person and a better leader. The book took on a new life as I focused on inspiring my readers as well as giving them strategies and techniques they could use. Today most of the feedback I receive indicates that readers really are inspired by the book to lead better lives and to fulfill their potential. It’s very gratifying.
Morris: How do you explain TED‘s success since it was founded by Richard Saul Wurman in 1984?
Gallo: 18 minutes! Seriously, people want to be inspired and to learn something valuable in a short amount of time. That’s a big part of it. Of course, the year 2006 is also very important to TED‘s popularity. That’s when TED began to post its videos for free to share the insights. It became a global hit and today TED videos have been viewed 2 billion times. Humans are natural explorers. We’re curious. We crave learning new things — that’s why one of the book’s sections is called “novelty.” People cannot ignore something new and novel. Teach people something stunning in 18 minutes and put it online for free — that’s a winning formula.
Morris: The title of the book’s Introduction suggests that “Ideas Are the Currency of the Twenty-First Century.” What specifically does that mean?
Gallo: In the information age, the knowledge economy, we are only as successful as the ideas we have to share. If I can’t package my ideas in a way that grabs your attention and inspires you to take action on those ideas, then what does it matter? My ideas are my currency, a form of trade. I trade you my ideas for a salary, an investment, etc. I benefit monetarily from the exchange of my ideas.
Morris: What are some of the most common misconceptions about what great public speaking is…and isn’t.
Gallo: Public speaking is more than just grand oratory giving a speech in a front of a lot of people. Delivering an effective PowerPoint to a potential customer is “public speaking,” as is a job interview or a business pitch over coffee at Starbucks. We all need to improve at public speaking whether or not we ever give a formal “speech.”
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Carmine cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
His website link
Gallo Communications link
How to develop “robust talent pipelines and same-day succession plans”
I agree with Bill Conaty and Ram Charan that Steve Jobs is the archetypical “talent master.” Few others possess his combination of intelligence, temperament, energy, and determination (indeed tenacity) when the objective is to sustain generation of what Jobs characterizes as “insanely great ideas,” then dominate markets with the products those ideas suggest.
However, all of us can be “more like Steve” if we are willing to become more astute in terms of (a) identifying a person’s talent more precisely than can most other people by observing and listening; (b) strengthen our abilities through constant and intense practice; (c) make better judgments by mastering what Roger Martin characterizes as integrative thinking: “the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas” in his head and then “without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other” to “produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea”; and (d) master, also, their people skills when involved in various social processes and interactions.
Whereas Steve Jobs is the archetypical “talent master,” General Electric is the archetypical “talent master” organization. “When a valued leader does leave the fold – even one who may seem indispensable at the moment – the people in charge know what to do. They understand the business, know the candidates’ strengths and development needs [not weaknesses], and are well prepared to fill the slot with the right match quickly – even in a matter of hours. The goal is clear: no pause, no time for people to commiserate, no laxity in decision making, and no opportunity for the competition to poach talent.”
Conaty and Charan provide an excellent example. “When Larry Johnston resigned [to become CEO of Albertson's], GE set itself a new record for speed, naming his successor and three others down the line in half a day and announcing the changes before the day was over. That performance has been the model to shoot for ever since. GE does not allow a top leadership vacuum to exist, even for a day.” The institutional response to Johnston’s unexpected resignation was possible only because GE had (and continues to have) “robust talent pipelines and same-day succession plans” in place and operational. The rapid response also demonstrates “the strength and power of the GE system of talent mastery, one centered on the Session C system.
Robust talent pipelines, C Sessions, and same-day succession plans are worthless without people who know how to make the most effective use of them. The development of talent therefore requires the mastery of skills needed to sustain that development. The ever-practical Conaty and Charan identify five specific organizational How-To’s:
1. Get all senior leaders centrally engaged in talent recognition and selection
2. Hire for demonstrated leadership, not just for credentials
3. Learn as much as possible about values and behavior before hiring
4. Be humble enough to hire “outsiders” but ensure cultural assimilation
5. Be totally honest about who has greatest leadership potential
They also identify five specific How-To’s for the individual:
1. Make talent development an obsession
2. Drill down deep to the specifics of each person’s talents and potentiality
3. Give frequent, honest, and specific feedback
4. Make talent development a core competency with strict accountability
5. Provide intellectual challenges and opportunities for continuous personal growth and professional development
I presume to suggest that an extended metaphor, “gardening,” is instructive in this context: establish a culture of rich “soil” that has sufficient sunlight and moisture; plant the best “seeds” and then nourish them; prune, relocate, or remove one or more, if necessary; and meanwhile protect the garden as “plant” growth continues.
Talent is a resource, an asset, not a title or position. Most knowledge transfers in any workplace occur informally during interactions between and among those involved. To varying degree, each person should be both a “teacher” and a “student.” That is why this book can be immensely valuable to those who have supervisory responsibilities as well as to those entrusted to their care.
Michael Nanfito is the executive director at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE). Mr. Nanfito sets the vision and strategic direction for NITLE, working closely the member community. He has a background in networked information resources and technology-related entrepreneurial activity, ranging from the development of large data-driven web environments to consulting for small academic libraries.
Nanfito has worked in networked information resources since the late 1980s, at that time developing databases in the library database industry. In the 1990s, Nanfito served as a consultant to the Microsoft Corporate Library to identify information needs across the organization and to develop a strategy to implement web-based library portals. He subsequently worked as an entrepreneur and consultant in a variety of capacities in the Seattle area, including developing large data-driven web environments and consulting services to bring small libraries up to speed on emerging online library resources. Before joining NITLE in 2006, he served as director of instructional technology at the University of Puget Sound. One of his primary interests and efforts while at the University was the development of a digital asset management program to digitize, organize, and provide access to academic resources housed in departmental collections. A 2002 Frye Fellow, Nanfito holds the M.L.I.S. and a B.A. in history (San Jose State University).
His book, MOOCs: Opportunities,Impacts, and Challenges: Massive Open Online Courses in Colleges and Universities, was published by CreateSpace/An Amazon Company (December 2013).
Here id an excerpt from my review of Michael. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Nanfito: I “discovered” the Internet, quite by accident in 1991. At the time I had enrolled in the library and information science program at San Jose State University and was working with an advisor on a research project. Initially the project was to center on “information equity” issues but changed when she asked me why I had enrolled in the program. I responded that I was interested in the impact that information services have on the process of global democratization. The attempted coup in the (then) Soviet Union had just occurred. She decided my question was more interesting and re-wrote the grant to reflect the shift.
As I looked into the coup I discovered that a California State University professor of computer science, Dr. Larry Press, had just returned from Moscow immediately prior to the coup attempt. He had been working with some start up groups (this was the time of perestroika and glasnost) to get budding “commercial” software development services going.
(Not coincidentally, in 1989, the US Department of Commerce had allowed TCP/IP Internet services to be accessible in the Soviet Union and eastern bloc countries so academic institutions in each of the soviets had internet access at the time of the coup.)
I learned that resistance to the coup was aided by communications from academic institutions in each of the soviets, made possible by the use of something called the “internet.” As I investigated farther I learned that in addition to the “internet” the resistance made use of another murky service called “BITNET.” BITNET (the Because It’s Time Network) was exclusive to academic institutions (read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BITNET). I realized that I was at an academic institution and that I could probably get on this thing, whatever it was. I asked at the campus computing center and they gave me an account, pointed me to some things called “listserves” to learn more about using the “BITNET” thing.
I was brand new to both computing and online services. In point of fact I knew nothing about either and was an admitted technophobe – if not an actual luddite. When I had initially expressed my interest in learning how information services were influencing democratization, I was clear that I meant print services. I had just recently purchased an IBM 286 (clone) computer with the help of a friend and he had had something called a “modem” installed when they built the machine. I had no use for the modem – until I got my BITNET account. All of a sudden I was tooling around computers out there somewhere in a green-screen mode using TELNET, Archie, and FTP. It was all sort of fun but the content on these computers I was visiting was mostly about, well, computers and computing. Nothing that really applied to my query. That is, until I found Project Hermes.
One Saturday morning I was stumbling around the BITNET/Internet thing using my new 286 PC and modem, looking at files via TELNET and FTP. Then I saw a TELNET reference to Project Hermes, an experimental online repository of Supreme Court decisions. I picked a case at random (involving then Governor Clinton of Arkansas). The record I had stumbled on was not merely a bibliographic citation of the case, it was the full text. I recognized that this BITNET/Internet thing had utility. Then it got better, I discovered I could “download” the record. To my home computer. And print it. So I did. I timed it. It took less than five minutes to search for the record, download it, and print it off. I got so excited I had to go outside and walk around for a while. I realized that this would change everything. Citizens would be able to gain access to information of value and make use of it. Libraries would never be the same. My own graduate program suddenly seemed ridiculously antique.
The light bulb had gone off for me and I have been working with online resources ever since. And for me it is still about how to help people make sense of and use this extensible resource in the service of making the best decisions for themselves and their organizations.
A long answer to your question but it truly was an epiphany.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?
Nanfito: Attending educational institutions provided context for my real learning to happen. In both my undergraduate and graduate programs I made extensive use of special studies, the maximum allowed in both cases. This freed me to do some real work. I enjoyed most of the lectures I attended but I felt pretty disengaged overall. I was energized by the narrative I was developing for myself.
Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Nanfito: (Formal) credentials are not the only measure of ability and don’t (necessarily) mean as much as we wish they did. I wasted a lot of time believing I had to wait until I had received external authorization to really contribute. I no longer believe that and I don’t really look at people’s credentials much when hiring. I want to know about the person, what they are excited about, and whether they want to change the world or not. Transcripts and degrees don’t tell me any of that.
Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.
Nanfito: Moneyball leaps to mind. In our consulting work we emphasize the need and the value of taking the time to really identify the real problem at hand. Too often we leap to (comfortable) solutions before we have accurately identified the problem to solve. For me, Moneyball was in part about rejecting an old business model and asking better questions in order to understand an actual problem facing the organization and work at a solution for that problem, not the one we are comfortable with.
Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.
Nanfito: East of Eden: “Thou mayest not sin.”
We have choices. The more common – and apparently inaccurate, at least according to Steinbeck’s character in the book – representation of that edict is “Thou shall not sin.” It is a command, a directive that is absent choice. The former version requires choice. In business, we have choices and we should cultivate curiosity and a culture of experimentation. Directives and excessive structure make it easy to abdicate our responsibility to make choices and decisions. Active involvement in the organization requires that we take chances, do our best, and take responsibility for our decisions.
Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao Tse’s Tao Te Ching:
“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”
Nanfito: In our collaboration consulting work for higher ed we emphasize the need for shared leadership. Hierarchy – which is firmly entrenched in education – is a tool. When it becomes the program, real sustained, programmatic collaboration is impossible and we are less than we can be.
Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”
Nanfito: Programs are best when they are about the substance and not the personality. Work to help others own your best ideas, make them their own, and thus help them build something useful.
Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”
Nanfito: Convention is comfortable and comfort is a trap. Real change requires real change (there’s a cliché for you). Foster choice, risk-taking, and participatory decision-making. Work to make your innovation tomorrow’s boring cliché. That may be a measure of success. If everything I do is always “innovative” where is it’s utility?
Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but ‘That’s odd….’”
Nanfito: I learned a long time ago that once I believe I know something I stop asking questions about it. Curiosity about the given ubject or object is blunted. I stop learning. The real fun lies in the questions, not in the answers.
Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Nanfito: Someone advised me a long time ago not to “make problems that don’t exist.” Focus. Understand the real issues at hand and address them with discipline and humility. Avoid working on (or worse, inventing) questions to demonstrate your ability to answer them. Leave that to the trial lawyers.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Michael cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
His website link
The NITLE link
The Academic Commons link