First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

How Long It Takes to Form a New Habit

Making HabitsHere is an excerpt from Maria Popova‘s discussion of Jeremy Dean’s recently published book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick, featured at her website, Brain Pickings. To read the complete article, check out others, please click here.

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“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle proclaimed. “Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state,” William James wrote. But how, exactly, do we rewire our habits once they have congealed into daily routines? We already know that it takes more than “willpower.”

When he became interested in how long it takes for us to form or change a habit, psychologist Jeremy Dean found himself bombarded with the same magic answer from popular psychology websites and advice columns: 21 days. And yet, strangely – or perhaps predictably, for the internet – this one-size-fits-all number was being applied to everything from starting a running regimen to keeping a diary, but wasn’t backed by any concrete data. In Making Habits, Breaking Habits (DeCapo Press/Member of Perseus Books Group (2013) – which also gave us this fascinating read on the psychology of self-control – Dean, whose training is in research, explores the actual science of habits through the existing empirical evidence on habit-formation. He cites one influential study that gives a more concrete answer to the elusive question of how long it takes for a new habit to take root:

“In a study carried out at University College London, 96 participants were asked to choose an everyday behavior that they wanted to turn into a habit. They all chose something they didn’t already do that could be repeated every day; many were health-related: people chose things like “eating a piece of fruit with lunch” and “running for 15 minutes after dinner.” Each of the 84 days of the study, they logged into a website and reported whether or not they’d carried out the behavior, as well as how automatic the behavior had felt.”

This notion of acting without thinking – known in science as “automaticity” – turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a central driver of habits. And it helps illuminate the real question at the heart of this inquiry: How long did it actually take for people to form a habit? Dean writes:

“The simple answer is that, on average, across the participants who provided enough data, it took 66 days until a habit was formed. As you might imagine, there was considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proved most tricky with “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” still not a habit after 84 days for one participant. “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast,” though, was turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant.

What’s more, when researchers plotted the results, they found a curved relationship between habit and automaticity – meaning that the earlier repetitions were most beneficial for establishing a habit, and gains gradually dwindled over time.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

To learn more about Maria Popova and Brain Pickings, please click here.

 

Sunday, January 12, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Craving: A book review by Bob Morris

CravingCraving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough
Omar Manejwala, M.D.
Hazelden® (2013)

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Aristotle

Other reviewers have addressed most of Omar Manejwala’s points while sharing their reasons why they admire his book. Here’s my take:

1. Aristotle was correct and his insight also applies to bad habits that are, at least for me, much easier to develop and then sustain than good ones are.

2. Emotions have much greater influence on decisions than many (most?) people realize.

3. The same can be said of the subconscious mind.

4. Rational decisions are based on logic and/or evidence whereas emotional decisions are often made [begin italics] despite [end italics] them.

5. “Craving” can take so many different forms that the word almost (not quite) defies definition. The same is true of other words such as “aspiring” and “yearning.”

6. Positive craving helps to identify self-fulfilling objectives whereas negative craving can result in self-defeating consequences.

7. The values and behavior of the happiest, most successful people indicate a balance of reason, emotion, and intuition.

I am grateful to Omar Manejwala for increasing my understanding of these and other dimensions of human nature. One result is that I now feel much better prepared to recognize cravings and, hopefully, manage them more effectively than I have thus far.

Monday, July 8, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leadership Sustainability: A book review by Bob Morris

Leadership SustainabilityLeadership Sustainability: Seven Disciplines to Achieve the Changes Great Leaders Know They Must Make
Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood
McGraw-Hill (2013)

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

I was wondering when someone would address the issue of leadership sustainability and thus was delighted to see that Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood have. Those who have read one or more of their previous collaborations (Results-Based Leadership, Leadership Brand, and The Leadership Code) are already familiar with the quality of their thinking as well as the scope and depth of their erudition. They are anthropologists who continue to explore an ever-expanding, ever-accelerating, and ever-changing global business world. As the subtitle of this latest book reveals, their focus is on “seven disciplines to achieve changes great leaders know they must make.” As for the list of seven, they seem less like disciplines than they do as areas of engagement within which discipline is absolutely essential. That is, essential in each.

Ulrich and Smallwood became convinced decades ago that leaders are important but leadership is even more important. One of their missions in life is to help as many organizations as possible to establish and then sustain a program that develops leadership at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. So, the program must be sustained but so must the effectiveness of those it develops. How? Constant and continuous improvement.

More specifically, leaders must ensure that (in Albert Einstein’s words) “everything is as simple as possible but no simpler”); manage time as the most precious of resources; accept and insist that others accept personal accountability for behavior; manage other resources (especially those that are renewable, such as energy and enthusiasm) with rigor as well as prudence; measure everything and everyone that are essential to achieving and then sustaining excellence (however defined); nourish a culture within which there is a shared commitment to answering questions, solving problems, meeting obligations and achieving goals; and finally, meanwhile, achieve leadership sustainability with initiatives based on the seven disciplines and 31 principles that are examined in this book.

These are among the dozens of passages of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Ulrich and Smallwood’s coverage.

o Leadership Sustainability (Pages 6-7)
o How Leaders Sustain Their Desired Improvements (16-21)
o Building Simplicity 27-28
o Prioritize, and, Filter and Frame (31-39)
o Tell Stories, Create a Narrative (39-45)
o Mastery of Time (55-77)
o Take Personal Accountability (84-89)
o Hold Others Accountable (96-103)
o Coaching, and, Expectations of a Coach (112-1115 and 123-124)
o Tracking in the Workplace (138-139)
o Tie [Decisions, Behavior, etc.] to Consequences (151-157)
o Self-Reflection, Improvisation, Resilience (173-186)
o Connect Change with Personal Values, and, Connect Change with Organizational Purpose (201-207)
o Celebrate Success (211-213)
o Diagnosing Your Leadership Sustainability (216-220)
o Responsibility for Building Leadership Sustainability (236-243)

Now more than at any prior time than I can remember organizations have several compelling needs and daunting challenges. For example, developing leadership and management skills at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise; involving most valuable people in the recruiting, interviewing, candidate evaluation, and onboarding process; and establishing and then nourishing a workplace culture within which innovative thinking thrives. The information, insights, and wisdom provided in this book can help leaders in any to address needs and respond effectively challenges such as these.

Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood end their book with a challenge and a promise: “We challenge you to not just read but also ponder, internalize, and apply these seven disciplines. We promise that if you do so, your leadership will move from rhetoric to results. Your personal brand will be about getting things done, and your desires will be realized. We encourage you to spread your wings and use the ideas here (and online) and share your experiences with us.” I presume to offer my own best wishes, adding that most self-limits are self-imposed.

What are you waiting for? The sky is yours.

Monday, June 17, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smart Thinking: A book review by Bob Morris

Smart ThinkingSmart Thinking: Three Essential Keys to Solve Problems, Innovate, and Get Things Done
Art Markman
A Perigee Book/Penguin Group (2012)

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker

I cite the Drucker observation because it correctly suggests that misdirected efficiency is worse than no effort at all. Why? The problem to be solved is certain to become even worse, if neglected. As I began to read Art Markman’s book, I was reminded of a passage from Judgment, a book co-authored by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis. In the first chapter, they assert that what really matters “is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right.” They go on to suggest that effective leaders “not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”

Whatever its size and nature may be, every organization needs what Markman characterizes as “Smart Thinking” at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. That is, develop a culture within which everyone involved is prepared to solve new (i.e. unfamiliar) problems using the knowledge they possess including knowledge of where and how to obtain the additional information they may need. Decades ago, when responding to complaints about tuition increase at Harvard, Derek Bok observed, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” I agree, presuming to add that not knowing what you think you know but, in fact, don’t is perhaps the most damaging form of ignorance. According to Markman, “Smart Thinking is like chess. Even though it may seem like Smart Thinking must be some kind of talent, it is really a skill” and almost anyone can master it.

o James Dyson: How did he come up with the idea for his vacuum? (Pages 8-13)
o The Formula for Smart Habits (33-41)
o Changing [Bad] Habits (44-54)
o Seeing Less Thank You Expect to See (60-71)
o Help Others Use the Role of 3 (81-98)
Note: This refers to “three simple steps”: Prepare Pay Attention, and Review
o Fixing the Illusion of Explanatory Depth through Specific Thinking (110-118)
o Applying Your Knowledge (123-133)
o How Memory Works (159-162)
o A Language for Smart Thinking (174-177)
o Recommendations for Good Practice (186-192)
o Find New Solutions (195-198)
Note: In my opinion, this is one of the most insightful passages in the book. Re-read Drucker quote.
o Your Social Network and a Culture of Smart (207-210)
o Ten suggestions to create a “Culture of Smart” (210-229)

As Markman stresses at several points throughout his lively as well as informative narrative, Smart Thinking and intelligence are not the same. Whereas intelligence is defined as an inborn ability that determines how well you are going to be able to think, “Smart Thinking is really about the content of what you know and how you use it.” As quoted earlier, “Smart Thinking is like chess. Even though it may seem like Smart Thinking must be some kind of talent, it is really a skill” and almost anyone can master it.

Markman wrote this book so he could share whatever information, insights, and counsel anyone may need to become and then continue to be a Smart Thinker, feeding the brain with new knowledge of a very high quality. As I read it, I was again reminded of an observation by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This is what Markman has in mind in Chapter Two when explaining how and why creating Smart habits will change both attitude and behavior. He notes two aspects of habits that promote Smart Thinking: The behaviors you perform habitually do not take up your precious cognitive resources” and “You do not have to create habits intentionally. They develop whenever there is a consistent mapping between your mental and physical environment and the behavior you want to carry out.”

Becoming a Smart Thinker is essential to personal growth and professional development, to be sure, but it is also essential to developing a Culture of Smart. Before concluding his book, Art Markman provides and discusses ten specific initiatives that will help to establish and then enrich such a culture. All great leaders are Smart Thinkers who seem to have a “green thumb” for “growing” those with whom they are associated. That is the challenge and (yes) the privilege that they eagerly embrace.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quotations of Timeless Relevance

imageso “Enjoy the little things in life, for someday you will realize that they were the big things.” – Source Unknown

o “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” – Douglas Adams

o “The will to power, as the modern age from Hobbes to Nietzsche understood it, far from being a characteristic of the strong, is, like envy and greed, among the vices of the weak, and possibly even their most dangerous one. Power corrupts indeed when the weak band together in order to ruin the strong, but not before.” – Hannah Arendt

o “Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power – that is not easy.” – Aristotle

o “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” – P.T. Barnum

o “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

o “In my experience, people who are truly compassionate rarely use the word ‘compassion.’ Those who do talk compassion generally intend to be compassionate with your money, not their own. It’s wrong for someone to confiscate your money, give it to someone else, and call that ‘compassion’.” – Harry Browne

o “There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there.” – Indira Gandhi

o “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.” – Alexander Hamilton

o “Pessimist by policy, optimist by temperament– it is possible to be both. How? By never taking an unnecessary chance and by minimizing the risks you can’t avoid. This permits you to play out the game untroubled by the certainty of the outcome.” – Robert A. Heinlein

o “When the only tool you own is a hammer, every problem begins to resemble a nail” – Abraham Maslow

o “For every human problem there is a solution that is simple, neat…and wrong.” – H.L. Mencken

o “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” – Thomas Paine

o “Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” – Plato

o “If you ignore the rules, people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so they don’t apply to you.” – Terry Pratchett

o “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” – Theodore Roosevelt

o “Many people would rather die than think; in fact, most do.” – Bertrand Russell

o “I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success… Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.” – Nikola Tesla

o “Wait by the river long enough and the body of your enemy will float by you.” – Sun Tsu

o “Man is the only animal that blushes – or needs to.” – Mark Twain

o “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, January 15, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, with the Presentation Tutorial of the Day

Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Bryan Cranston, and Vince Gilligan (the creator of the series)

I’ve never watched Breaking Bad.  Barely heard of it (though, I have heard the lead actor interviewed twice in recent days).  But here is an article about how it nearly did not ever get off the ground, by the creator, Vince Gilligan: I Almost Broke Bad:  The creator of the award-winning Breaking Bad explains how his show almost didn’t happen.

Here’s how Vince Gilligan described what he had to do in front of the executives, the small and select audience (in fact, an audience of two:  Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, the co-heads of Sony Television) who would decide yes or no on his idea.  I’ve bolded the key lines, for those of us in the communication business, those of us who have to communicate our ideas – and, don’t we all?!

I spent several more weeks expanding my 15-minute thumbnail into a full-fledged, 30-minute rundown of the first episode. This is called a “pilot pitch,” and it’s something you do verbally, acting it out for various stone-faced executives. There’s an art to it: Maintain eye contact, exude boundless enthusiasm, and never, ever refer to your notes. Have the entire thing memorized backward and forward so that you can toss it off with the aplomb of David Niven on The Dick Cavett Show. For me, that’s one tall order. But I gave it the old college try.

So, here’s your presentation tutorial for the day:

#1 — Maintain eye contact.  Look your audience members in the eye – eyeball to eyeball.  In order to persuade anyone of anything, you have to connect.  A failure to maintain eye contact is a sure fire way to fail to connect.

#2 – Exude boundless enthusiasm.  This is not what you would call new advice.  Aristotle referred to pathos, what speech teachers commonly call “the emotional appeal,” as one of the three primary means of persuasion.  (The other two, from Aristotle, are logosthe logical appeal, and ethosthe ethical appeal, referring to the character, and especially the credibility of the speaker).  Others added mythosthe narrative appeal to the ancient formula).  It boils down to this:  if you’re not enthusiastic – very! enthusiastic —  about what you are proposing, how can you expect your audience to be enthusiastic?

#3 — Have the entire thing memorized backward and forward…   In other words, know your material so well, so thoroughly, that it’s beyond second nature.  It is practically “first nature.”  This message is actually you! – you in a message, presenting a presentation coming from the depths of what is deep inside of you.  This is you speaking — the real you , the “authentic” you.  If you are just “presenting a presentation” rather than speaking from the depths of the inside of you, it will come across as a “job,” a job to present “this presentation.”  And such a “job, presenting a presentation,” comes across as a distant second to the person who is able to speak from the depths of his or her very being.

Oh, and by the way, did you notice?:  Vince Gilligan did not mention PowerPoint at all.  It was him:  his body, his words, in front of a very interested audience.  Nothing else.  If you insist on Powerpoint, make sure that it is just an aid.  You – yes, you yourself – are the presentation!

Quite a challenge — and quite a tutorial, don’t you think?

Sunday, July 15, 2012 Posted by | Randy's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The four most common forms of really dumb thinking

Opinions vary about which forms are the most common and many of those opinions offer excellent examples of dumb thinking. The opinions I now share are those of several thinkers whom I personally admire. They include Plato, Aristotle, St. Paul, Marcus Aurelius, Isaac Newton, John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, William James, Albert Einstein, and Richard Feynman. If you have any complaints, take it up with them.

1. Zero-Sum: Movies or radio, radio or television, bound volumes or electronic reading devices, profitability or community service…you get the idea. With rare exception (e.g. a moral crisis), it is not a matter of either/or; rather, both…but with (perhaps) different proportionality.

2. “They say….”: This involves relying on a source (or sources) that cannot be verified. It is especially common among those who have little (if any) faith in their own opinions and/or launch the opinion of an unidentified source as a trial balloon and/or never express an opinion about anything until after they have obtained a near-unanimous consensus among several sources, such as a shared assumption that  “The earth is definitely flat.”

3. “If you build it, they will come.” That may have been true of a cornfield in Iowa but most of the time, thinking and doing anything within an information vacuum will result in serious errors of judgment. There are countless examples but here are two in retailing: websites that are created at great cost and “go live” online and retail stores located in high-traffic malls (leased, staffed, and stocked at great cost) that fail to attract more than a few dozen visitors each day, if that. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “Build what people really want even if they don’t know it yet, build it better than anyone else does, and people will buy it.”

4. Doing something the same way again and again, then expecting different results: This is Einstein’s definition of insanity. James O’Toole characterizes it as evidence of “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Charles Duhigg has much of value to say about repetitive thinking and behavior in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. However, I think more than habit is involved. Denial, for example, and delusion. Perhaps some narcissism. This form of dumb thinking — probably more than any other — helps to explain why most human wounds are self-inflicted.

What to do? One good starting point would be to check out Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management in which Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton propose six specific strategies for producing, evaluating, selling, and applying business knowledge:

o  Stop treating old ideas as if they were brand new.
o  Be suspicious of ”breakthrough” ideas and studies.
o  Celebrate and develop collective brilliance.
o  Emphasize drawbacks as well as virtues.
o  Use success (and failure) stories to illustrate sound practices, but not in place of valid research method.
o   Adopt a neutral stance toward ideologies and theories.

Thursday, April 12, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Management Ideas Matter

Here is a brief excerpt from a brilliant article by posted by Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer. It is featured at the Thinkers50 website. To read the complete article and check out the wealth of resources, please click here.

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Who is the most influential living management thinker?

That is the question that the Thinkers50, the biennial global ranking of management thinkers, seeks to answer. But does the ranking or the ideas it celebrates really matter?

It’s a fair question.  In an age of awards overkill, it is tempting to see the ranking as just another example of hubris in the business world. All the more galling when many businesses are struggling.

But, celebrating the very best new thinking in management matters for three reasons.

First, ideas are important. They have the power to change the world.  Think of Copernicus, Socrates, Aristotle, Newton, Galileo, or Einstein. Think of Charles Darwin, the ultimate disruptive innovator.   Ideas define our humanity. They shape the way we think and see our place in the universe.

Equally, in the business world, too, ideas matter — from Steve Jobs to Tim Berners-Lee; and Google to Facebook — new thinkers and new ideas challenge and redefine how we work and live.  An idea can change an entire industry and ideas, from kaizen to the balanced scorecard, continually transform the way we work and lead our businesses.

Second, management matters. It has become fashionable in some places to mock management. Ask someone in the UK what is wrong with the National Health Service, for example, and you are likely to be told that there are too many managers and management consultants and not enough doctors and nurses.  Managers are the fall guys, the scapegoats for organizational excesses, failures and inefficiencies.

Yet, the reality is that management gets things done. The moment you move beyond one or two people working together then some form of management is required. There is nothing new in this. From Alexander the Great to the modern day, the elements of management – from organizational behavior to supply chain management — have made the difference between success and failure.

Just because management has always been with us, it is easy, too, to dismiss the progress that has been made in the last century. Management is often seen as a poor man’s science. (Not so long ago economics suffered a similar fate.) Critics lampoon the latest management buzzwords, labeling them as pretentious and shallow. In truth, though, management has made big strides.

A hundred years ago, we were in the thrall of scientific management. Had there been a Thinkers50 in the early twentieth century, it would have been dominated by one name — Frederick Winslow Taylor. We have moved on since then. One of the achievements of management in the last 20 years is the recognition that management is a fundamentally human activity. It is as much an art as a science.

It is easy to underestimate the influence of management ideas in that process. Notions such as empowerment, championed in the 1980s, and emotional intelligence in the 1990s seem self-evident now. But we have come a long way from Scientific Management and using a stopwatch to manage performance.  Ideas like Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory laid the foundations for that.

Or consider the influence of Clayton Christensen, who tops the Thinkers50 ranking. Christensen’s influence on the business world has been profound. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, he looked at why companies struggle to deal with radical innovation in their markets. The book introduced the idea of disruptive technologies and disruptive innovation to a generation of managers.

Some ideas make us reappraise what we thought we already knew. Until very recently, for example, most managers were (and many still are) convinced that fear and greed were the two primary levers for motivating people.  But Dan Pink’s recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us tackles the perennial subject of motivation, and argues that we need to abandon the ineffectual carrot and stick approach, and the importance of doing something we love for a career.

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Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer ( http://www.crainerdearlove.com/) are the founders and directors of the Thinkers50. They are adjunct professors at IE Business School. Stuart is editor of Business Strategy Review. Des is an associate fellow of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.


Thursday, April 12, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Expect the Unexpected (or You Won’t Find It): A book review by Bob Morris

Expect the Unexpected (or You Won’t Find It): A Creativity Tool Based on the Ancient Wisdom of Heraclitus

Roger von Oech
Berrett-Koehler Publishers (2002)

The fact that von Oech draws heavily upon the “ancient wisdom of Heraclitus” in this book correctly suggests what a creative mind such as von Oech’s can accomplish when seeing direct and useful correlations between an ancient Greek philosopher (other than Plato and Aristotle) and intellectual challenges in the 21st century. Von Oech describes Heraclitus as “the world’s first creative teacher.” He recalls being “infected” (happily) with the Heraclitean “bug” while studying in Germany 30 years ago. Now von Oech has written a book in which he brilliantly and entertainingly examines concepts such as symbol, paradox, and ambiguity in relation to creative thought. He offers 30 “Creative Insights” of Heraclitus which include, for example, these five:

#2. “Expect the unexpected or you won’t find it.”
#4 “You can’t step into the same river twice.”
#12 “Many fail to grasp what’s right in the palm of their hand.”
#26 “Donkeys prefer garbage to gold.”
#29 “Your character is your destiny.”

Individually and even when clustered with the other 25, these “Creative Insights” may incorrectly seem unworthy of careful consideration. In fact, von Oech provides a brief but insightful analysis of each which effectively demonstrates the wisdom of #12. Truly creative thinkers are always alert to what I call “the invisibility of the obvious.” They are not threatened by or even uncomfortable with symbol, paradox, and ambiguity. On the contrary, their minds are stimulated by them.

Throughout his book, von Oech inserts a number of brief puzzles for the reader to solve. (The correct answers are included and explained within the “Final Thoughts” section.) These puzzles are fun to grapple with, of course, and presumably most readers will solve them of them. My point is, the answers to the unsolved puzzles are no less obvious than the answers to the others, no matter which specific puzzles the reader is unable to solve.

Frankly, when I began to read this book, I really did not know what to expect. What of value could I possibly learn from a relatively obscure Greek philosopher? However, von Oech had already convinced me of the value of an occasional “whack on the side of the head” and “kick in the seat of the pants” so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. (See #12.) As always, von Oech is immensely entertaining. He has superb writing skills. And of course, he is an immensely creative thinker in his own right. I strongly recommend this little (in length) book to literally anyone who wants to put white caps on her or his gray matter. Those who share my high regard for this book are strongly urged to read all of von Oech’s previous books as well as those written by Guy Claxton, Edward de Bono, Lynne Levesque, and Michael Michalko.

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Roger von Oech is the founder and president of Creative Think, a California-based consulting firm that specializes in stimulating creativity and innovation. He has given seminars and presentations to corporations worldwide, including Coca-Cola, GE, Disney, Intel, MTV, Microsoft, NASA, Apple, Citigroup, and the United States Olympic Committee. He is the author of two previous creative-thinking books, A Whack on the Side of the Head and A Kick in the Seat of the Pants, as well as the popular Creative Whack Pack card deck. He lives with his wife and children in Atherton, California.

Saturday, September 3, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Executive’s Compass: A book review by Bob Morris

The Executive’s Compass: Business and the Good Society
James O’Toole
Oxford University Press (1995)

“The Great Conversation Across the Centuries”

More than 50 years ago, Walter Paepcke founded the Aspen Institute and entrusted to Mortimer Adler the responsibility for devising a program of inquiry that became known as the Executive Seminar. Initially and for several decades to follow, groups of executives would gather together for two weeks under Adler’s leadership to discuss the Great Ideas…what Adler once described as “the great conversation across the centuries.” Along the way, O’Toole became involved and today conducts Leading Change seminars. (You are urged to read his book which bears that title.) In the Foreword to this book, Lodwrick M. Cook explains O’Toole’s use of the central metaphor: “The beauty of the compass is that it provides a framework for the executive to create order out of the growing chaos of cultural diversity and conflict of values. Like a real compass, [O'Toole's `value compass'] helps us to find where we are, where others are, where we want to go, and how to get there. Like the Aspen experience itself, O’Toole’s compass is aimed at developing executive judgment by expanding our understanding of the interrelationships of fundamental values.” Whose values? They range from those of ancient Greece (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Sophocles) through those of the Enlightenment (Locke, Hobbes, Rousseau, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison) and then those more contemporary within intellectual history (Emerson, Thoreau, Marx, Mill, Freud, Hayek, Schumpeter, Friedman, Postman, and Berlin). One way or another, directly or indirectly, each of the Great Ideas can help each of us in our own quest for “the good society.” Hence the importance of the compass. I wish it were possible to recreate it graphically in combination with this brief commentary. It has four points (Liberty, Efficiency, Equality, and Community) and the tensions between and among them create what James MacGregor Burns has described as “the deadlock of democracy.”

I can personally attest, the Executive Seminar is an exceptionally rigorous intellectual experience. Groups of approximately 20 persons spend a week together, with group discussions led by two carefully selected co-moderators. As O’Toole explains in the Introduction, his intention when writing this book was to assist executives in five roles they play. “One, as managers engaged in making `purely business’ decisions: by recognizing and properly addressing the broad social implications of such decisions, they can bring out more effective organizational performance. Two, as managers whose internal policies turn out to affect outside constituencies. Three, as managers who are participants and partners in government….Four, as citizens who vote and volunteer in political organizations. Finally, five, as individuals who choose to examine their own lives and their own personal legacies to society.” It would be a serious mistake to view Great Ideas as being impractical or somehow irrelevant to everyday human experience. On the contrary, as O’Toole brilliantly explains, they can (indeed should) invest that experience with meaning, direction, and ultimate value.

To whom specifically do I recommend this book? First, to organizational executives who believe in vales-driven leadership and wish to participate in (and be nourished by) what Adler characterizes as “the great conversation across the centuries” with those who generated or refined Great Ideas throughout the past 2,500 years. Second, to those recently embarked on a business career who need a “values compass” as they encounter what O’Toole has described (in Leading Change) as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Finally, to those who wish to gain at least a sense of what the nature of discourse would be, were they to participate in one of the Executive Seminars sponsored by the Aspen Institute.

 

Friday, June 24, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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