In his latest book, Ken Robinson observes in Chapter 7 that being creative is not only about thinking; it is also about feeling. For example, “Among the legacies of the Enlightenment and Romanticism are many common-sense but mistaken assumptions about the differences between the arts and the sciences.” (Page 186) What follows are brief excerpts of Robinson’s subsequent narrative.
“The main process of science is explanation. Scientists are concerned with understanding how the world works in terms of itself. Science aims to produce systematic explanations of events, which can be verified by evidence.” (187)
“Many of the great [scientific] discoveries were made intuitively. Scientists do not always move along a logical path. They may sense a solution or discovery intuitively before an experiment has been done and then design tests to see if the hypothesis can be confirmed or proved wrong. Every attempt is then made to be as methodical as possible. But although rational analysis plays a part, it is only a part of the real process of science.” (190) “Scientific understanding is the product of the creative mind…creativity is at the heart of science.” (191)
“The main process of art is description. Artists are involved in describing and evoking the qualities of experience…Artists are concerned with understanding the world in terms of their own perceptions of it” with making feelings, with imagining alternatives and with making objects that express those ideas. At the heart of the arts is the artifact. Artists make objects and events as objects of contemplation.” (191)
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“It is not what interests artists or scientists that distinguishes them from each, but how it interests them. The difference lies in the types of understanding they are searching for, in the functions of these processes and in the modes of understanding they employ. Artists and scientists are not always different people. In the Renaissance the individuals roamed freely over both the domains that we now think of separately as arts and sciences. (195)
“It is through feelings as well as through reason that we find oyr real creative power. It is through both that we connect with each oitger and create the complex, shifting worlds of human culture.” (196)
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I hope these brief excerpts convince you to check out Robinson’s latest book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, New Edition, Fully Updated (Capstone Publishing Ltd, 2012) and I also highly recommend his earlier book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, (Penguin, 2009) as well as Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment: Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World (Portfolio/Penguin, 2012), Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011) and Michael Michalko’s Creative Thinkering: Putting Your Imagination to Work (New World Library, 2011).
“I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
As Hannibal Lector explains to Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, the Roman emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius, endorsed the idea of focusing on the essence of a subject. The French later formulated the concept of the précis. Still later, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, “I would not give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” All this serves to create a context, a frame of reference, for Ken Segall’s brilliant analysis of what drove Steve Jobs to create an insanely great company that continues to produce insanely great products.
As Segall explains, “Simplicity doesn’t spring to life with the right combination of molecules, water, and sunlight. It needs a champion – someone who’s willing to stand up for its principles and strong enough to resist the overtures of Simplicity’s evil twin, Complexity. It needs someone who’s willing to guide a process with both head and heart.” These are among the passages, themes, and concepts that caught my eye throughout Segall’s lively and eloquent narrative:
o Standards Aren’t for Bending (Pages 15-16)
o Small Groups = Better [Collaborative] Relationships (35- 38)
o The Perils of Proliferation (52-54)
o Thinking Different vs. Thinking Crazy (74-77)
o Simplicity’s Unfair Advantage (93-95)
o Never Underestimate the Power of a Word (123-125)
o Death by Formality (132-135)
o Technology with Feeling (138-140)
o Ignoring the Naysayers: Inventing the Apple Store (180-184)
I have read all of the books written about Steve Jobs and Apple and reviewed most of them. In my opinion, with the exception of Walter Isaacson’s definitive biography, none provides a more thorough explanation of Jobs’s values, standards, and motivations than does this one. As Segall suggests, Jobs’s greatest achievement is that he “built a monument to Simplicity.” As Jobs invariably had the last word at the conclusion of conversations and meetings, it seems appropriate that he also have the last word now: “Simplicity can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Amy Schulman, executive vice president and general counsel at Pfizer. She says that just as good writers learn to “show, don’t tell” in their essays, she has learned to use real-life anecdotes about herself to convey her style to employees.
To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
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A Blueprint for Leadership: Show, Don’t Tell
Bryant: Do you remember the first time you were somebody’s boss?
Schulman: Well, I’ve been a baby sitter, and a camp counselor and a teacher. And in all of those jobs, you’ve got to get people to do what you want them to do, and not just by bossing them around.
Bryant: I’ve lost count of the number of executives I’ve interviewed who, it turns out, have teaching backgrounds.
Schulman: Actually, I think that’s not surprising. People who are drawn to teaching really like to help people. I think of teaching as teasing out what’s already inside of people, and helping them to get better. Teaching has a lot to do with getting other people enthusiastic about something, and feeling that you want to create that spark. When I was a little kid, about 7 or so, the first present I remember asking for was a blackboard — not the kind of easel kids have for painting and drawing, but a big teacher’s blackboard. I would actually make up assignments, hand them out to imaginary students, grade them and teach classes.
Bryant: What are some of the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned?
Schulman: One of the biggest lessons I’m learning now is having a better feel for when to step out of a situation and when to step in. I do think that is actually one of the hardest things to balance correctly. People want to hear from you. They want your opinion. And if you don’t ever speak up and weigh in, then I think the people you lead will feel frustrated, wondering why you’re hanging back and not saying what you think. But if you’re constantly giving direction and speaking, then you’re really not encouraging conversation. And no matter how democratic you’d like to think you are as a boss, you learn that your voice is louder than others’. I respond best to people who challenge me, and I like being challenged, and I tend to reward people who are appropriately challenging. I think learning to refrain from speaking — without making people feel that you’re trying to frustrate them by being opaque — has been an inflection point for me. Q. How did you learn that?
Bryant: It was just watching the room, and being puzzled if I thought there should be conversation, and wondering why there wasn’t more conversation. I also saw how quickly people tended to agree with me, so I thought, it can’t be that I’m right all this time. And so I learned to really try to deliberately reward people in a conversation for challenging me. I don’t mean being insubordinate. I mean really following up on other people’s ideas. One of the marks of a good speaker is actually being a great listener.
So I remind myself that no matter how quick I think I am, that I have to show that I’m listening, and show people how I’ve gotten to the endpoint, or else I run the risk of squelching conversation. So I will deliberately slow myself down so that the room catches up to where I am. I know how I feel when I get cut off, and so shame on me if I do that to other people.
Bryant: What else?
Schulman: Another thing is realizing that people impute motives to you if you’re not clear. It’s important not to be ambiguous or vague about what you want, because then people waste a lot of energy trying to figure out, well, what is she thinking? What does she want? Why is she reacting this way? And so there is a certain kind of clarity and an absence of ambiguity about goals that I think is critical. And I think one of the marks of being a more mature boss is finding that perfect balance between clarity about goals and purpose, so that people aren’t wasting time trying to sense what’s in the ether, and not being so direct that you’ve cut off conversation prematurely and your voice is the only voice in the room. How do you get that magic right? I don’t know. But when it happens, that’s a great meeting.
Bryant: What are some other lessons you’ve learned?
Schulman: One of the things that I’ve really come to respect is that everybody who works for me needs something different in terms of how I tease out what’s really on their mind. Are you somebody who is going to get anxious if you haven’t heard from me in a few weeks and therefore you’re going to start sending me a lot of self-serving e-mails telling me every great thing you’ve done? Are you somebody who I have to invite in because otherwise I’m going to miss half of what you’re doing, and could do? And so I think recognizing and deliberately responding to the different things that people need has been something that I’ve learned over time.
Bryant: Do you have the equivalent of a first-day speech you use in new jobs — in effect, these are the rules of the road if you’re going to work with Amy Schulman?
Schulman: I do give people the rules of the road for working with me. But I think one of the things we all have to recognize is that on the first day of any job you can say to people, “Here’s who I am and here’s what I like,” and nobody will absolutely believe you. Have you ever met a leader who doesn’t say, “I want to hear feedback openly. I tend to be very straightforward. I know how to laugh at myself. I’m not afraid of criticism. My door is always open.”
Bryant: Good point.
Schulman: It would almost be funny to say, “Look, my door is closed, don’t bother me.” And so you can say all these things, but the proof is in the pudding. So what I try and do is tell real-world stories about my family, my background. After all, how many times did your English teacher write on your paper, “Show, don’t tell?” And so I always think about that — show, don’t tell.
Bryant: Can you give me an example of one of those stories?
Schulman: A story I often tell is about the first time I took a deposition. I got there early, and I thought that the most important thing was to control the witness. I didn’t realize the first time around that the way you control somebody is not by intimidating them. But I adjusted the chair that I was sitting on so that I’d be really tall, and could look down imposingly on the witness. But I raised it so high that as soon as I sat down, I toppled over and fell backward. I tell that story for a few reasons. I want people to know I’m not afraid to laugh at myself. And the best way to show people that you’re not afraid to laugh at yourself is to actually laugh at yourself and tell a story of a time that you’ve been embarrassed.
Bryant: What else?
Schulman: I think it’s very important as a new leader not to claim things that people might have a reason to believe are not true. There’s nothing worse than a first-day speech that sounds like every other speech that came before it. So I think less is more as a new leader. People are going to hear the content. But what they’re really doing is reading the person. Is she comfortable? Is she having fun? Does she seem like somebody who I want to follow? Is she going to be fair to me? When somebody asks her a question, is she flustered? Does she seem curious? I think those are the things that people take away from a first-day speech.
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Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his brilliant book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.
Those who read Bryant’s interview of Amy Schulman and wish to develop or improve their storytelling skills are urged to check out these outstanding books:
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Random House (2007)
The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience
Blah Blah Blah: What To Do When Words Don’t Work
The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling: Mastering the Art and Discipline of Business Narrative (Revised and Updated)
How and why great talent “isn’t hard to find if you know how [and where] to look”
As George Anders explains in the Introduction, he spent two and a half years conducting research to determine the answer to this question: “How and where to find great talent?” He focused on expert talent spotters in three broad sets: the public performance worlds (e.g. sports, arts, and entertainment), high stakes aspects of business (especially finance and the information economy), and “heroic professionals” of public service (e.g. teaching, government, and medicine). “It’s easy to see how they operated, but it took a while to understand why.” What he learned is shared in this book. For example, with people as with organizations, “the gap between good and great turns out to be huge,” perhaps as much as a 500% difference. The financial implications are vast and substantial.
Of special interest to me is what Anders learned about what he characterizes as “the jagged résumé” (i.e. people whose background to date appears to teeter on the edge between success and failure), “talent that whispers” (i.e. the proverbial “diamonds in the rough”), and “talent that shouts” (i.e. spectacular but brash candidates “that can make or destroy a program”). As I reflect back over NBA and NFL drafts during the past 12-15 years, I can easily recall dozens of examples of players who exemplify one of these three.
Anders spent a great deal of time examining how talent is evaluated in several less publicized organizations. They include Sergeant Dan Fagan and Army Special Services, Wendy Kopp and Teach for America, David C. Evans and the University of Utah, Bob Gibbons (an independent high school basketball scout), Adam D’Angelo and Facebook, Daniel Walker and Apple, Scott Borchetta and Big Machine Records, and Dr. John Cameron and his “boot camp for America’s most ambitious surgeons” at the medical school at Johns Hopkins as well as Brad Smart and Randy Street and ghSMART & Company. However different these expert talent evaluators may be in most respects, there are three basic principles on which all agree:
1. Widen your view of talent: Compromise on experience but never in character, seek out “talent that whispers,” on the fringes of talent ask “What can go right?” and take tiny chances so that you can take more of them.
2. Find inspirations that are hidden in plain sight: Draw out the “hidden truths” of each job, be willing to use your own career as a template, rely on auditions to see how and why people achieve as they do, and master the art of aggressive listening.
3. Simplify your search for talent: Be alert to other invisible virtues, insist on the right talent (i.e. don’t lose track of what is needed), challenge your best candidates to push themselves even harder, and “become a citadel of achievement” (i.e. embrace extraordinary effort as a way of life).
By nature, greatness creates a legacy that endures long after specific achievements have occurred. As George Anders makes crystal clear throughout his lively as well as informative narrative, “People with great reputations for attracting and developing talent regard the search for brilliance as their calling. They see themselves as discoverers, protectors, and builders of an entire discipline.” Yes, they possess skills and capacities (especially enlightened intuition) that enable them to spot exceptional talent – albeit under-developed talent — before everyone else does. The “rare find” is their objective as well as evidence of their own exceptional talent but do not ignore or underestimate the significance of the word “rare.”
For many leaders, especially those centrally involved in attracting and then developing talent, this may well be the most valuable business book they could read.
“What they have done has worked for them”…and can work for us as well.
I read this book when it was first published more than a year ago and have since purchased several dozen copies to give as gifts to family members and friends as well as to clients who have (you guessed it) serious “people problems” in the workplace. This review is overdue. Others have shared their reasons for hold this book in such high regard. Here are three of mine. First, its author, Michael O’Malley, is exceptionally well-qualified – as a social psychologist, management consultant, executive editor for Yale University Press, and avid beekeeper — to suggest what lessons can be learned from bees and their culture. He identifies and then discusses 24, devoting a separate chapter to each. They range from “Protect the Future” (#1) to “Create Beautiful, Functional Spaces” (#24). Those who wish to strengthen their leadership and management skills will appreciate the precision and eloquence of O’Malley’s observations, insights, and counsel.
I also appreciate how skillfully he anchors each of his key points in an authentic context, the world of bees. He enables his reader to become almost (not quite) as fascinated as he is with “the regularity of their behavior…[The fact that they] live in colonies with overlapping generations and do all the things we do: provide shelter, care for their young, eat, work, and sleep. In addition, they have developed a [production] system that rivals ours in complexity and surpasses it in efficiency.” As I worked my way through the lively narrative, O’Malley helped me to understand and appreciate “the wisdom of bees” for reasons that have absolutely nothing and yet – paradoxically — everything to do with its relevance to the human workplace.
Finally, I greatly appreciate the fact that O’Malley immediately establishes and then sustains a direct rapport with his reader. I felt as if I were right there with him as he tended to his own bees while providing a running monologue on what was happening…and why. Then later, as if sitting on a porch nearby, his monologue continues with a combination of delight, amazement, and appreciation of what the culture of honeybees reveals about “the twists and turns they make in their struggles. What they have done has worked for them”…and can work for us as well.
How to recruit, hire, onboard, and retain the workers who possess the character, talent, and skills your company needs
This is one of the volumes in a series of anthologies of articles that first appeared in HBR. In this instance, its nine articles focus on one or more components of a process by which to “win the race for talent” and then prevent “your company’s top talent from jumping ship as good replacements become harder to get.”
Having read all of the articles when they were published individually, I can personally attest to the brilliance of their authors’ (or co-authors’) insights and the eloquence with which they are expressed. Two substantial value-added benefits should also be noted: If all of the articles were purchased separately as reprints, the total cost would be at least $60-75; they are now conveniently bound in a single volume for a fraction of that cost.
Here in Dallas, there is a Farmers Market near the down area at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that spirit, I now provide a brief excerpt that is indicative of the high quality of all nine articles:
In “How to Keep Your Top Talent,” Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt review a core set of ten best practices for identifying and managing emerging talent. Here are the first five:
“1. Explicitly test candidates in three dimensions: ability, engagement, and aspiration.
2. Emphasize future competencies needed (derived from enterprise-level growth plans) more heavily than current performance when you’re choosing your own employees for development.”
3. Manage the quantity and quality of high potentials at the corporate level, as a portfolio of scarce growth assets.
4. Forget the rote functional or business-unit rotations; place young leaders in intense assignments with precisely described development challenges.
5. Identify the riskiest, most challenging positions across the company, and assign them directly to rising stars.”
Other articles I especially enjoyed include Tamara J. Erickson and Lynda Gratton’s “What It Means to Work Here,” Timothy Butler and James Waldroop’s “Job Sculpting: The Art of Retaining Your Best People,” and “Let’s Hear It for B Players” co-authored by Thomas J. DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan.
If asked to select only one book that provides the most valuable material to supplement what is offered in this volume, it would be Bradford D. Smart’s Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching, and Keeping the Best People, Revised and Updated Edition, published by Portfolio/Penguin.
How and why “As One behavior” can accomplish almost anything
There is so much to be said about what this book offers. Where to begin? Perhaps my purposes are best served by providing a series of five key points:
1. Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley share what was learned from the a two-year Deloitte Flagship Project whose purpose was to examine the challenges of working together “As One.” The project’s scope was global, nourished and supported by best resources available from the US, UK, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, South Africa, and Japan.
2. Key questions are addressed. For example: What does it take to work As One? To succeed As One? To overcome barriers As One? To cope with failure As One? To become stronger As One?
3. Baghai and Quigley used an advanced forensic data analytic technique called a self-organizing map (SOM). Various maps (they use eight) “find relationships in data where the number of variables makes the analysis complex, and, they divide complicated data into groups of similar items so that you can understand what makes them similar.”
4. There are eight leader & followers archetypes: (landlord & tenants, community organizer & volunteers, conductor & orchestra, producer & creative team, general & soldiers, architect & builders, captain & sports team, and senator & citizens). A chapter is devoted to each of the eight. Baghai and Quigley thoroughly explain how leaders and followers can coordinate individual action with a group’s collective power.
5. Material about each of the two-part archetypes is organized within this format: Exemplary Individual, Exemplary Business, Key Characteristics of Leader and Team, “Is X the right model for the reader?”, and “How to become a better X?” For example, Chapter 4 (Pages 126-159):
Archetype: Producer & Creative Team
Individual: Jerry Bruckheimer (“The Man with the Golden Gut”)
Business: Cirque du Soleil
Key Characteristics of Leader and Team: Open culture, transparency, hands-off producer with a vision
Is it the right model?: Four reasons it could be great and four reasons to think twice
How to become a better producer?: Answer seven Qs such as “Does your culture effectively encourage openness and constructive criticism?”
No brief commentary such as this can possibly do full justice to what this book offers. Its scope and depth of coverage as well as the eloquence with which Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley present the material are unsurpassed by any other single source of which I am aware and I have read and reviewed hundreds of books about leadership and teamwork. Moreover, the book’s design, lay-out, and abundance of illustrations are of the very highest quality. Its list price is $40 and well worth it but Amazon now sells it for only $16.00.
In his book Eight Steps Ahead: What Separates Business Visionaries from the Rest of Us, published by Portfolio/Penguin (2011), Erik Calonius reveals what makes visionaries tick and how they develop their extraordinary powers. We learn, for example,
• How Steve Jobs used intuition to guide him from the Apple I to the Mac, and on to the iPhone and iPad
• How a block of wood and a chopstick helped Jeff Hawkins develop the first PalmPilot
• Why John Lennon took a nap before writing “In My Life”
• How Richard Branson had the insight to trademark “Virgin Galactic Airways” in the early 1990’s, when private spaceflight was still science fiction
• Why Richard Feynman made breakthroughs in quantum mechanics by imagining he was an electron
What do they and other business visionaries share in common? Here are five key points:
1. They “find something that the rest of us have been missing” and later describe as “so obvious”…but we didn’t see it before.
2. They “share a willingness to suffer and struggle for their dreams.” As Anders Ericsson’s research on peak performance reveals, they are not only willing to commit 10,000 (or more) hours to whatever must be learned, mastered, etc. to achieve the results they seek.
3. They “see” in great detail what does not as yet exist or at least is not as yet visible to others. For example, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475-1564) saw the Pieta and David; everyone else only saw two huge blocks of granite.
4. They “get out into the world and experience things, and from that shape their ideas.” For example, George de Mestral in Colombier, near Lausanne, Switzerland, who took long walks with his dog in the woods each day and grew weary of removing burrs from its hair. In 1941, he envisioned what we now know as Velcro, a hock-and-loop fastener inspired by the burr’s interaction with hair.
5. Their drive to see their dreams fulfilled “exceeds rational behavior…in fact, it defines what a visionary is” but their enthusiasm, passion, and determination are usually contagious. They are driven to make something better…hopefully, MUCH better. Steve Jobs concedes without apology that he is only interested in “insanely great ideas.”
In his latest book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Habits, Minds, and Actions (to be published by Portfolio/Penguin on March 8 2011), he offers a wealth of practical advice on how best to achieve especially important strategic objectives. For example, how to overcome resistance to project launches such as change initiatives? Here’s his response.
* * *
First he cites a statement by Annette Simmons, author of Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact.
“People don’t want more information. They’re up to their eyeballs information. They want faith – faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.”
Kawasaki notes, “I’ve watched product launches ranging from fully scripted, multimedia productions by famous CEOs to “two guys in a garage” using an old laptop.” The best presentations are based on a story that offers drama and entrainment as well as (yes) essential information.
Here are four story lines (i.e. plots) that Lois Kelly suggests in her latest book, Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Great aspirations, David versus Goliath, Profiles in courage, and Personal stories.
Here are Kawasaki’s 11 suggestions:
1. Tell a Story (plot, cast of characters, conflict, tension, climax, etc.)
2. Immerse People (appeal to emotions)
3. Promote Trial (offer whatever is easy, immediate, convenient, inexpensive, and reversible)
4. Prime the Pump (create an aqppealing context, a reassuring frame-of-reference)
5. Plant Many Seeds (make everyone feel important and included)
6. Ask People What They Are Going to Do (“fish or cut bait”)
7. Reduce the Number of Choices (sharpen focus)
8. Increase the Number of Choices (create flexibility)
9. Illustrate the Salient Point (facts that verify what is most important)
10. Present the Big, Then the Small Choice (“If not X, how about Y?”)
11. Get Your First Follower (so that others then follow)
All of this is thoroughly discussed in Chapter 5 of Enchantment, a “must read” for those in need of guidance in a multitude of strategic areas. I think that no one offers more and better business advice than Guy Kawasaki does. I also highly recommend his immensely valuable I also highly recommend the immensely valuable Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition, now available in a paperbound edition and sold for only $11.75 by Amazon.