I’ve read three reviews of Rachel Maddow’s new book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power, and have the sample pages loaded into my iPad. It is on my “I want to read this book list,” which is long and ever-growing… But, sadly, I doubt that this book fits into my “I will present this somewhere” list, so it may be a while.
On The Daily Beast, Rachel Maddow’s ‘Drift’ Probes America’s Uneasy Relationship With the Military by Allison Yarrow, the article ends with this terrific quote from Maddow:
“There are many ways to envision female success. Ultimately, you don’t do anybody any favors by putting people in jobs they can’t do well in. The best way to win is to be better than everybody else,” Rachel Maddow said.
Put people in jobs that they can do well.
Be better than everybody else.
It can’t be put much more simply… what great insight!
Here’s another good article about the book – Bullet Points: Rachel Maddow proposes solutions to decades of American military bloat, by Emily Bazelon, from Slate.com.
In Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure, Paul J. H. Schoemaker observes, “Our schools and organizations are designed for efficiency and order. These are fine principles but rarely encourage mistakes, either brilliant or foolish. Students are graded on how much they know, not on the degree to which they learn from helpful errors. Similarly, companies strive for error elimination, hiring advisers and relying on sophisticated management tools such as Six Sigma…For most people, [however] it is not that they make too many mistakes but too few.” And deliberate and purposeful mistakes are most important because of what they reveal and what can be learned from those revelations.
Schoemaker includes throughout his narrative several brief quotations from a variety of sources. Here are the ones that caught my eye:
1. Mistakes…are the portals of discovery.” James Joyce
2. “Success is 99% failure.” Saichiro Honda (founder of Honda Motor Company)
3. “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” Winston Churchill
4. “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.” Oscar Wilde
5. “So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because that is where you will find success. On the far side of failure.” Thomas J. Watson, Sr.
6. “Never test the depth of a river with both feet.” African proverb
7. “Chance only favors the prepared mind.” Louis Pasteur
8. “Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.” Vincent van Gogh
As Schoemaker suggests, “The key question companies [and individuals] need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather, ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?’”
I highly recommend Brilliant Mistakes, published by Wharton Digital Press (November 2011).
A while back, I spoke for the wonderful folks at The Dallas Foundation. Here is their tag line:
Here for Good.
It is a great tag line. And the phrase, “Here for Good,” should become some kind of mantra for many more companies and organizations.
I thought about this, again, as I pondered the current state of affairs. This blog post is a reflection about two or three different aspects of the modern business environment.
#1 – there are a lot of “bottom 10%ers” (the Jack Welch term), or “deadwood” employees (this is a term I heard from a very sharp and insightful man just this week), and they drag entire departments and organizations down. Maybe because the average “10%er” is just showing up at his/her job. Work is “just a job” to such a person.
#2 – There seem to be a fair number of companies/organizations (maybe some entire industries) which have slipped a little, or a lot, in the ethics department. These companies seem to have little concern about treating people in an ethical manner. And we find example after example in multiple industries, like NFL Football (bounties on players), to Wall Street firms (one firm: some customers are viewed as and defined as, and treated like, “muppets”), and education (teachers and administrators cheating on standardized tests).
It certainly seems like an era of ethical deficiencies.
Why? A comprehensive look at the why (the whys) is much beyond the scope of this brief article. But I think this question might help us think a little about this:
Do you have a job, a career, or a calling?
If you have a job, your vision for work is pretty narrow. Yes, there are plenty of people with a job who are hard-working, good, upright and honest people. But if all you have is a “job,” you care little about the success of the organization (beyond the ability to “keep your job”). You show up to get your pay check, and that may be about all that matters.
If you have a career, then you view your current job as a piece of the bigger puzzle of building a successful career. The subtle danger here is that you are concerned about you – your own success, not the success of others, even the success of your customers, or the others in your organization.
Yes, I know that one way to aim for success for yourself is to aim for the success of others. But to aim for the success of others in order to be successful yourself, well…that is a little on the self-centered side. You know, a little bit of the whole “greed is good” idea.
I think that if you are focused on yourself, building your career, then you might just be open to cutting a few ethical corners to get there.
But if you have a calling, then you view your work as “for the other.” You view work as a means to do what you were born to do, which is to live a life that is helpful and useful to others. A calling is not something you “do,” or “build” or “endure.” It is who you are, not what you do.
Maybe we need to find a way to lift our vision of work, past that of “just a job,” or “building a career,” to “fulfilling a calling.” This might help us lift ethical standards just a little higher.
Many organizations seem to value “servant leadership.” So, what is servant leadership? From Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.“
View your work as that of fulfilling a calling; try to work for a servant leader, who is a servant first… As you “rise up the ladder,” you will become a servant leader yourself. You will serve others first, and always. Then you will be here, and at work, for good.
How and why conceptual blending of dissimilar subjects, ideas, and concepts is the most important factor in creative thinking
Those who have read any of Michael Michalko’s previously published books, notably Cracking Creativity and Thinkertoys, already know that he has a unique talent for explaining the creative process (making something new) and the innovative process (making something better) and does so creatively and innovatively, in ways and to an extent that almost anyone can understand (a) what they are, (b) how they differ, (c) what they share in common, and (d) how to benefit from them.
In his latest book, he explains how and why conceptual blending of dissimilar subjects, ideas, and concepts is the most important factor in creative thinking. It is not only a matter of “connecting the dots,” although that skill important; it also involves “connecting the right dots in the right way” and, more importantly, being able to recognize especially important “dots” that others may not see, much less appreciate.
Michalko organizes his material within two Parts: Creative Thinking and The Creative Thinker. Obviously, the first focuses on various techniques, skills, drills, exempla, and exercises that explain what creative thinking is and can do. In Part II, he explains how almost anyone can become a much more creative thinker. More specifically, how to become much more alert for connections (especially between and among what are significantly dissimilar), intentionally thinking more creatively rather than haphazardly, changing the way one speaks in order to change the way one thinks (he devotes all of Chapter 12 to that), and “Becoming What You Pretend to Be,” the title of the next chapter. Long ago, Henry Ford observes, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” Michalko wholly agrees, noting that just as attitude can influence behavior, behavior can influence attitude. Of special interest to me is the “Thought Experiment” (“Velten’s Instructions,” on Pages 183-185″). I’ll say no more about it except this: What I learned from completing this exercises – all by itself – is worth far more than the cost of the book.
Here in Dallas, we have a farmers market near the downtown area at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as a sample of their wares. In that spirit, I now provide a representative selection of Michalko’s insights from among the several hundred I carefully considered:
On Leonardo da Vinci: “His mind integrated information instead of segregating it. This is why he was polymathic. He created breakthroughs in art, science, engineering, military, science, invention, and medicine.” This is what Roger martin has in mind, n The Opposable Mind, when he discusses his concept of “integrative thinking.” Page 10
On the Edison research center in Menlo, Park (NJ): “Thomas Edison’s lab was a big barn with worktables set up side by side that held separate projects in progress. He would work on one project and then another. His workshop was designed to allow one project to infect a neighboring one, so that moves made here might also be tried there. This method of working allowe4d him to consistently rethink the way he saw his projects. You can use separate notebooks to do, in time, what Edison’s workshop did in space.” Page 70
On the creative thinker: Someone who is “a result of the assembly and interactions of certain critical human traits. First, you must have the intention and desire to be creative; second, you must consciously cultivate positive speaking and thinking patterns; and last, you must act like a creative thinker and go through the motions of being creative every day.” Page 145
On creating one’s own experiences: “Cognitive scientists have discovered that the brain is a dynamic system – an organ that evolves its patterns of activity rather than computes them like a computer. It thrives on the creative energy of feedback from experiences either real or fictional. An important point to remember is that you can synthesize experience, literally create it in your imagination. The human brain cannot tell the difference between an `actual’ experience and an experience imagined vividly and in detail.” Page 186
I presume to offer two suggestions to those who purchase this book: highlight key passages (my preference is for the Sharpie ACCENT wide tip pen with Smear Guard) and complete the several dozen “Thought Experiment” exercises using a notebook (my preference is the Mead Black Marble Wide-Ruled Composition Book). This really is a workbook without spaces within which to complete the exercises. Fortunately, Michael Michalko has a very creative mind and thus has been into his book a lively and substantive interaction between his reader and the material he provides.
Here is an excerpt from an outstanding article written by Paul J. H. Schoemaker and featured online by Inc. magazine. To read the complete article, check out other resources, sign up for free email alerts, and obtain subscription, please click here.
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In the beginning, there was just you and your partners. You did every job. You coded, you met with investors, you emptied the trash and phoned in the midnight pizza.
Now you have others to do all that and it’s time for you to “be strategic.”
Whatever that means.
If you find yourself resisting “being strategic,” because it sounds like a fast track to irrelevance, or vaguely like an excuse to slack off, you’re not alone. Every leader’s temptation is to deal with what’s directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete. Unfortunately, if you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you’ll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you’re on is leading off a cliff.
This is a tough job, make no mistake. “We need strategic leaders!” is a pretty constant refrain at every company, large and small. One reason the job is so tough: no one really understands what it entails. It’s hard to be a strategic leader if you don’t know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.
After two decades of advising organizations large and small, my colleagues and I have formed a clear idea of what’s required of you in this role. Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well. [Here are the first two.]
1. Anticipate: Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:
o Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry: Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
o Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
o Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better
2. Think Critically: “Conventional wisdom” opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:
o Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
o Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
o Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions
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Do you have what it takes?
Obviously, this is a daunting list of tasks, and frankly, no one is born a black belt in all these different skills. But they can be taught and whatever gaps exist in your skill set can be filled in. I’ll cover each of the aspects of strategic leadership in more detail in future columns. But for now, test your own strategic aptitude (or your company’s) with the survey at http://www.decisionstrat.com. In the comments below, let me know what you learned from it.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Paul J. H. Schoemaker: Founder and Chairman, Decision Strategies International. Speaker, professor, and entrepreneur. Research Director, Mack Center for Technological Innovation at Wharton, where he teaches strategic decision-making. Latest book: Brilliant Mistakes: Finding Success on the Far Side of Failure.
Here is an excerpt from an article, featured in The McKinsey Quarterly published by McKinsey & Company. It includes an excerpt from Daniel Kahneman‘s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. To read the complete article, check out the abundance of other free resources, obtain information about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.
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In an excerpt from his new book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, the Nobel laureate recalls how an inwardly focused forecasting approach once led him astray, and why an external perspective can help executives do better.
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In the 1970s, I convinced some officials in the Israeli Ministry of Education of the need for a curriculum to teach judgment and decision making in high schools. The team that I assembled to design the curriculum and write a textbook for it included several experienced teachers, some of my psychology students, and Seymour Fox, then dean of the Hebrew University’s School of Education and an expert in curriculum development.
After meeting every Friday afternoon for about a year, we had constructed a detailed outline of the syllabus, written a couple of chapters, and run a few sample lessons. We all felt we had made good progress. Then, as we were discussing procedures for estimating uncertain quantities, an exercise occurred to me. I asked everyone to write down their estimate of how long it would take us to submit a finished draft of the textbook to the Ministry of Education. I was following a procedure that we already planned to incorporate into our curriculum: the proper way to elicit information from a group is not by starting with a public discussion, but by confidentially collecting each person’s judgment. I collected the estimates and jotted the results on the blackboard. They were narrowly centered around two years: the low end was one and a half, the high end two and a half years.
A shocking disconnect
Then I turned to Seymour, our curriculum expert, and asked whether he could think of other teams similar to ours that had developed a curriculum from scratch. Seymour said he could think of quite a few, and it turned out that he was familiar with the details of several. I asked him to think of these teams when they were at the same point in the process as we were. How much longer did it take them to finish their textbook projects?
He fell silent. When he finally spoke, it seemed to me that he was blushing, embarrassed by his own answer: “You know, I never realized this before, but in fact not all the teams at a stage comparable to ours ever did complete their task. A substantial fraction of the teams ended up failing to finish the job.”
This was worrisome; we had never considered the possibility that we might fail. My anxiety rising, I asked how large he estimated that fraction was. “About 40 percent,” he said. By now, a pall of gloom was falling over the room.
“Those who finished, how long did it take them?”
“I cannot think of any group that finished in less than seven years,” Seymour said, “nor any that took more than ten.”
I grasped at a straw: “When you compare our skills and resources to those of the other groups, how good are we? How would you rank us in comparison with these teams?”
Seymour did not hesitate long this time. “We’re below average,” he said, “but not by much.”
This came as a complete surprise to all of us—including Seymour, whose prior estimate had been well within the optimistic consensus of the group. Until I prompted him, there was no connection in his mind between his knowledge of the history of other teams and his forecast of our future.
We should have quit that day. None of us was willing to invest six more years of work in a project with a 40 percent chance of failure. Yet although we must have sensed that persevering was not reasonable, the warning did not provide an immediately compelling reason to quit. After a few minutes of desultory debate, we gathered ourselves and carried on as if nothing had happened. Facing a choice, we gave up rationality rather than the enterprise.
The book was completed eight years later. By that time, I was no longer living in Israel and had long since ceased to be part of the team, which finished the task after many unpredictable vicissitudes. The initial enthusiasm for the idea in the Ministry of Education had waned, and the textbook was never used.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Daniel Kahneman (Hebrew: דניאל כהנמן) (born March 5, 1934) is an Israeli-American psychologist and Nobel laureate. He is notable for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making, behavioral economics and hedonic psychology. With Amos Tversky and others, Kahneman established a cognitive basis for common human errors using heuristics and biases (Kahneman & Tversky, 1973; Kahneman, Slovic & Tversky, 1982; Tversky & Kahneman, 1974), and developed prospect theory (Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work in prospect theory. In 2011, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers. Currently, he is professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. Thinking, Fast and Slow was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition (October 25, 2011).
What do you need to focus on for organizational success? I think the number of issues is small. But so very few organizations master these.
Assuming you know and are successfully focused on your actual business (a big assumption — Peter Drucker: “What is your Business?”), here’s my current list:
1) Build leaders
2) Engage employees
3) Find and nurture genuinely happy customers
4) Always improve, and always innovate
5) Build and maintain exceptional quality, regardless of your “product”
I can think of “subsets” for each of these. For example, to take just one: in order to always innovate, you need to break down silos and practice continual collaboration…
And, I think these same issues cross all industries.
And there may be others…
What would you take away from, or add, to this list?