- Here is an excerpt from an article written by Thomas Davenport for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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(Larry Prusak, Brook Manville, and I are at work on a book on judgment and how to cultivate it as an organizational, not just individual, strength. Over the next few months, we’ll each be authoring posts in this blog to test-drive ideas and invite input as the research progresses.)
I’ve been mulling over a column by The Wall Street Journal‘s Peggy Noonan since it came out last month. Entitled “Youth Has Outlived Its Usefulness,” it was about good judgment, and who has it. The premise of the piece, ever so gently chiding our current President, was that our nation is in bad need of wise policy, and isn’t likely to get it from youthful politicians.
What is needed, Ms. Noonan suggests, is more “adult supervision,” a phrase she uses jokingly and yet with deep conviction. She worries that the Obama administration lacks for experienced, elder counselors — or, in her words, “old and august … wise and weathered … bruised and battered veterans of life who’ve absorbed its facts and lived to tell the tale.”
The article’s nostalgic yearnings for the likes of a Harold MacMillan (the wizened Prime Minister who guided the young Jack Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis) aren’t limited to the political sphere. Noonan goes on to lament the lack of grey hair in the ranks of hospital administrators, publishing enterprises, and other important public and commercial institutions.
As someone who spends some of his professional time providing executive coaching for younger men and women, I have no interest in denying the value that an old hand can provide to a less experienced leader. And I don’t worry about the concern sometimes expressed that a young leader might become overly reliant on a Rasputin-like elder — too callow or lazy to exercise independent thought. But I wonder if by casting the critical feature of a “trusted advisor” as age, or even long experience, we run the danger of mistaking what truly valuable advisors bring to the table.
Even Noonan acknowledges that older, more experienced men in advisory roles haven’t always resulted in good judgment. In the Vietnam era, the United States was led into one disastrous military and political decision after another by such counselors (as chronicled in the film The Fog of War [click here], Noonan, gracefully backpedalling in mid-argument, notes that while it is wrong to conclude that we should “Never listen to wise men,” we should have learned: “Wise men can be wrong, listen close and weigh all data.”
Building good judgment in an organization is not as simple as giving our youngest leaders silver-haired counselors. It’s the result of drawing on a much broader base of learning for all decisions — from people up, down, and sideways in the organization; from people outside the organization, including customers, competitors, rivals, and partners; and from other sources of data. And therefore, it’s a question of developing cultures and processes that enable that kind of multi-dimensional learning and allow collective wisdom to emerge.
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Tom Davenport holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College. His most recent books are Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning and Analytics at Work.
Brook Manville consults to socially-minded enterprises on matters of strategy and organizational development. He is author (with Josiah Ober) of A Company of Citizens: What the World’s First Democracy Teaches Leaders About Creating Great Organizations.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Tom Davenport for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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I’m writing a new book with Larry Prusak and Brook Manville. If we had to name it today, we’d call it Judgment Days: How Great Organizations Make Great Decisions. It’s about how organizations — rather than individuals — build their capacity for good judgment and decision making. We’re going to try to show how individual decisions, made on particular “judgment days,” were shaped and succeeded by activities to improve organizational judgment. We hope to describe a variety of organizations — from companies to schools to hospitals to foundations — that make consistently great decisions over time. In order to surface some of the ideas and get feedback from readers, I’m going to start blogging about the book and plan to get Larry and Brook involved in that activity.
We think that organizations with good judgment have a number of typical attributes. One is that they involve a number of different people in making important decisions. Their senior executives keep in mind that they don’t have a monopoly on knowledge and judgment and therefore involve multiple people in decision processes.
Let me give you an example. Pixar (btw, I really enjoyed Toy Story 3) has a phenomenal track record for making great animated movies. (Ed Catmull, the studio’s president and co-founder, recently wrote an article for HBR called, “How Pixar Fosters Collective Creativity.” Click here.) We don’t have access — at least yet — to details of the particular decisions made at Pixar, though some must have been difficult: for instance, the decision to make the movie Up about a 78-year old man who loses his wife and rides his balloon-floated house to South America.
How did Pixar make that and other good decisions? There seem to be several factors going on:
Its managers give its directors a lot of autonomy. The studio prides itself on being “director led” and gives them a high degree of autonomy. “Managers like to be in control,” but Pixar fights it, according to an interview with Catmull at an event The Economist put on in March. [Click here.]
Even though directors have autonomy, they get feedback from others. “Dailies,” or movies in progress, are shown for feedback to the entire animation crew. In The Economist interview, Catmull also describes a more extensive periodic peer review process:
“We have a structure so they get their feedback from their peers…. Every two or three months they present the film to the other filmmakers…and they will go through, and they will tear the film apart. Directors aren’t forced to respond to the feedback, but they generally do — and the films are generally better for it.”
Pixar uses a process for “postmortems” on the major aspects of movies after they’re completed. Ed Catmull described it as “like taking cod liver oil,” but the company insists on it anyway. During the postmortems, the team involved in the film is asked to come up with five things they’d do again and five things they wouldn’t do again. Postmortems not only surface the information but also help to prevent the problems from festering among team members. Catmull comments that because people are starting to game that postmortem process, Pixar is thinking of alternative approaches.
Pixar admits mistakes in other ways. Sometimes, when a movie project isn’t going well, Pixar will “restart” it. Toy Story 2, for example, wasn’t going well and had to be restarted. Catmull points to that restart as a catalyst for the articulation of several key values at the company.
Pixar has an extensive education program at Pixar University, with more than 110 different courses. That’s got to improve organizational judgment. And even there, employees are encouraged to make and admit mistakes. Randy Nelson, the director of Pixar University, says, in the book Mavericks at Work: “It’s the heart of our model…giving people opportunities to fail together and to recover from mistakes together.”
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Tom Davenport holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College. Over many years he’s authored or co-authored nine books for Harvard Business Press, most recently Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning (2007) and Analytics at Work: Smarter Decisions, Better Results (2010). His byline has also appeared for publications such as Sloan Management Review, California Management Review, Financial Times, Information Week, CIO, and many others. For more from Tom, visit his website [click here].
Denning is the author or co-author of several acclaimed books which include The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge Era Organizationsw, Squirrel, Inc.: A Fable of Leadership Through Storytelling, Storytelling in Organizations: How Narrative and Storytelling Are Transforming Twenty-first Century Management that he co-authored with John Seely Brown, Katalina Groh, and Larry Prusak, The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative, and most recently The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leaders Inspire Action Through Narrative.
Morris: Storytelling has been a popular activity for centuries. How do you explain the fact that, only in recent years have executives begun to understand and appreciate the potential value and, more importantly, the impact of the business narrative?
Denning: We are entering an era with a rapidly growing need for leadership. This is caused by the convergence of irresistible socioeconomic forces. Accelerating economic and social change in the global economy, the consequent imperative for ever faster innovation, the emergence of global networks of partners, the rapidly growing role of intangibles, which can’t be controlled like physical goods, the increasing ownership of the means of production by knowledge workers, the escalating power of customers in the marketplace, and the burgeoning diversity in both the workplace and marketplace—all these forces imply a vastly more important role for transformational leadership in the future. The ability to get results in the face of these challenges will depend at least as much on leadership as on management. It will depend on a capacity to inspire enduring enthusiasm in people over whom we have no hierarchical control.
These irresistible forces will drive organizations to develop genuine leadership capability as a necessary competence. Leadership—the ability to connect people to meaningful goals without hierarchical power to compel compliance—will become a requirement for organizational survival. Management won’t disappear. We’ll continue to have much to thank management for. It has helped us achieve the wonders of the modern global economy—its stunning scientific accomplishments and the massive improvements in the physical standard of living of most people, at least in the developed countries—and it will go on doing so.
But the challenges now facing the human race won’t be solved by better management alone. Management will still be needed, but it will be less pivotal. In fact, it will be mostly taken for granted. Our capacity to manage will give us the technical means to solve our most intractable problems. What is needed now is the will to solve them. So goals, ends, purposes—what we are trying to accomplish—move to center stage. In the world of management, the goals are largely given. Management is about finding the quickest, cheapest, and best way to reach those goals. The language of management is naturally abstract. Human goals are naturally absent from its discourse. Once the emphasis shifts toward goals, ends, and purposes, then it is natural for the language to shift from abstractions to narratives, which have goals built into them.
Please click here to read the complete interview.
Thomas H. Davenport holds the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management at Babson College and is responsible for the overall management of the Institute for Process Management. He and Larry Prusak also manage the Working Knowledge program. His published works include Process Innovation, Thinking for a Living, Working Knowledge and What’s the Big Idea? with Prusak, The Attention Economy co-authored with John Beck, most recently Competing on Analytics co-authored with Jeanne G. Harris.
Note: This interview was conducted in 2007. Davenport is now in the process of completing another interview.
Morris: In your various books and articles, you offer excellent advice as to how to manage knowledge. Let’s begin with a more basic challenge, one which Carla O’Dell and Jackson Grayson examine in If Only We Knew What We Know: First determining what your information needs are and then what necessary knowledge already exists within an organization. Your views on that?
Davenport: I certainly agree that it’s better to start with the knowledge your organization possesses already. It’s somewhat surprising that relatively few organizations have done either of the two steps above. They don’t examine their strategies and decide what information and knowledge are critical to achieving them, and they don’t have a good inventory of what they know already. Those two steps in that order would be a great boon for knowledge management.
Morris: In What’s the Big Idea? you and Larry Prusak explain how ideas are linked to business success, who introduces ideas to organizations and how they do that, why “content counts,” where the best management ideas come from, how ideas interact with markets, where to find ideas most appropriate to a given organization and then how to sell them, and why idea-based leadership is essential to any organization’s success. These are admirable objectives. Why do so few organizations achieve them?
Davenport: People get very excited about business ideas, but they don’t manage them to fruition very well. There are a variety of problems in this regard. Most companies take on too many ideas at once. They don’t have any sort of process for monitoring how the idea is being implemented within the organization. GE is the primary exception. Under Jack Welch they developed a management system for making new business ideas a reality, and they were very disciplined about which ones they took on. Then there aren’t usually enough idea practitioners around to make it all work.
Morris: Also in What’s the Big Idea?, you and Prusak assert that “Idea-Friendly Culture” which (a) has open dialogue between and among all levels, (b) supports “boundarylessness” to maximize individual and collective intellect from both within and outside the organization, and finally, (c) encourages trust and responsibility which will “allow people to learn effectively from each other and provide motivation for putting ideas to work.” That said, what role could and should senior management have to expedite and support such initiatives?
Davenport: They control the organization’s resources, and each idea that an organization adopts consumes resources. So it’s very important that they decide which ideas enter the portfolio that the organization will try to implement. They’re really setting the idea strategy—“what ideas are we going to pursue?” They also have to put pressure on the organization to make things happen. At GE, Welch would call business unit managers who would be moving a little slowly on an idea, and say, “Why aren’t you doing more with digitization? This is really critical to our success and your long-term future here.” That’s obviously very powerful.
Morris: As you indicate in Thinking for a Living, what do you consider to be the appropriate relationship between knowledge workers and various technologies provided to them?
Davenport: In most cases thus far, knowledge workers have been the victim of the technologies. A lot of tools have been thrown at knowledge workers, and nobody’s given them much help in thinking about how it fits their jobs and their objectives. Now we all have a lot of technologies—laptops, desktops, PDAs, cell phones, pagers, etc.—but they don’t integrate very well, and everything is very fragmented. The result is that only a small percentage (less than 1% in my informal surveys) of knowledge workers feel that they are very good at managing their personal information and knowledge environments.
Morris: In the same book, you suggest that individual knowledge work improvement initiatives have two attributes. With regard to the first, why should they be focused on improving the performance of knowledge workers as individuals, not as members of a larger group
Davenport: I did some work with the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie-Mellon. I realized that they had figured out something important. If you want to improve how an organization gets better at software development, you need to address the problem on multiple levels: the company, the team, and the individual. I think the same thing applies to knowledge worker productivity and effectiveness. We really haven’t done enough at any of these levels for knowledge work.
Morris: Why should individually oriented initiatives be directed at improving some skill or capability, rather than instituting a new process?
Davenport: I really believe in both. Again, we should be working on multiple levels. Of course, you can’t do that for every job. You have to pick one or a few knowledge work roles that are very critical to your organization’s success, and focus on those.
Morris: In Chapter 7 of Thinking for a Living, you pose a very important question: “What’s more important to improving knowledge worker performance: technological networks or human networks?” For those who have not as yet read your brilliant book, what is the gist of your response to that question?
Davenport: Well, I try to go with the data, and when we asked high-performing knowledge workers how they get the information they need to do their jobs, they generally said they got more useful information from their human networks than from technological ones. Consider the implications of that.
Of course, you don’t really have to choose—you can try to improve both types of networks. The problem is that most organizations spend a lot more time and money on the technological networks, and ignore the human ones altogether. Knowledge workers are well aware of that neglect…and resent it.
Morris: In your opinion, what are some of the most common misconceptions about the practices of high performance knowledge workers and how they get their work done?
Davenport: I guess the biggest misconception is that you can’t do anything with knowledge workers, as I suggested above. Organizations just leave them alone. I think it’s possible to impose a bit more structure on knowledge work and measure and improve it in almost every case. Of course, you can go too far, and alienate these unique and very valuable workers.
Morris: Before concluding this interview, please tell us about your next book, Strategic Management in the Innovation Economy, which you co-authored with Marius Leibold and Sven Voelpel.
Davenport: That book is really a textbook about how to pursue multiple forms of innovation in the contemporary world. I don’t generally do textbooks, but Marius and Sven did most of the work. Right now I am most excited about my next book, which is about how companies compete on their analytical capabilities. It should be out in early 2007. I’m not a terribly quantitative person myself, but I see the world moving in that direction. I wrote an article on this topic entitled “Competing on Analytics” in the January (2006) issue of Harvard Business Review, and it’s gotten a more positive reaction than just about anything else I’ve written. So I’m excited about it.
In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
In this Q&A, I defer to Steve Denning and a recent issue of his newsletter in which he responds to the question posed. Then in Q&A #171, I share Denning’s five suggestions as to how to use storytelling to ”kindle the spirit of high performance teams.”
So, “Why do some self-organizing teams evolve into high-performance teams, while others flounder around for months, even years? Getting the context right is a big part of it. But even when the context is right, it still doesn’t happen. Why?
“Ultimately the evolution of self-organizing teams evolve into high-performance teams depends on mutual respect and trust of the members of the team. When people have this kind of respect, they feel they have the support of others, they view the group’s resources, knowledge, perspectives, and identities to some extent as their own, they feel as though they have new capabilities, and begin to include others in their concepts of themselves. They feel a sense of exhilaration as they learn new things from and about their partners. In a sense, their sense of self expands. They become a larger person.
“We are beginning to learn some of the neuroscience of the phenomenon. It has much to do with a hormone called oxytocin that is produced naturally in the brain during supportive social interactions. It causes deliciously exhilarating floods of feeling in the brain. It curbs fear and increases trust. It is strongly present in young mothers, and in love affairs. It also appears to be an element in the feeling we find in high-performance teams…Can it be generated? How does this trust and respect arise? Can it be generated? In order for the team members to reach this level of respect, they have to know each other more deeply than the superficial relations of the modern bureaucracy. They have to get to know who are these people they are working with.”
1. Storytelling celebrates what people share in common while respecting their differences. Members of high performance teams feel a common bond, mutual respect and affection, and an obligation to be cordial as well as productive and supportive in collaboration with others.
2. Storytellers are the most effective communicators. However different Socrates, Jesus, and Abraham Lincoln were in most other respects, all of them anchored their most important ideas in human experience. The most valuable high performers are people, not machines.
3. Storytellers are more likeable. Members of high-performance teams enjoy each other’s company. Because of mutual respect and trust, they share confidences and speak frankly, at times candidly, but never n a hurtful way. They look forward to being together.
With regard to low-performance teams, communication, cooperation, and collaboration between and among members are generally ineffective because of a lack of mutual trust and respect. They continue to ask (albeit silently), “What’s in it for me?” The human implications and consequences of decisions under consideration are either ignored or at least treated with indifference. Members of LPTs tend to avoid contact with each other except when it is required by meetings or shared tasks.
Over the years, I have chaired a number of what proved to be low-performance teams. Attempting to develop teamwork resembled trying to give a bubble bath to a tub full of tomcats. Only after I read Dennings’ books and began to apply his strategies and tactics for storytelling did I begin to see at least some progress.
As Denning points out, “Clearly, conventional management techniques are at best impotent, and more likely, counterproductive when it comes to creating respect and trust. Leadership storytelling, by contrast, is well adapted to meet the challenge.” He suggests five ways, the subject of Q&A #171.
These are Denning’s books:
The Springboard (2000)
Storytelling in Organizations, with John Seely Brown, Katalina Groh, and Larry Prusak (2004)
Squirrel, Inc. (2004)
The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling (2005)
The Secret Language of Leadership (2007)
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob