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The Three Threats to Creativity

Teresa Amabile

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Teresa Amabile 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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Creativity is under threat. It happens whenever and wherever there’s a squeeze on the ingredients of creativity, and it’s happening in many businesses today. According to the Labor Department’s most recent stats, productivity is up. But stretching fewer employees to cover ever more work in our job-starved recovery is no way to run the future. Without the creativity that produces new and valuable ideas, innovation — the successful implementation of new ideas — withers and dies. Creativity depends on the right people working in the right environment. Too often these days, the people come ill-equipped, and their work environments stink.

A recent story about the 40th anniversary of Xerox PARC
http://kara.allthingsd.com/20101008/check-out-parcs-40th-anniversary-doings/

stirred my memories of how the creativity ingredients overflowed at that place, in that time. PARC was a first light in the dawning of Silicon Valley.

By 1973, when I moved there, PARC researchers had invented the first user-friendly computer, laser printing, object-oriented programming, a personal workstation, and the foundation of the Ethernet. By the time I left Palo Alto in 1977, they had developed the first graphical user interface (GUI) with icons, pop-up menus, overlapping windows, and the basics of point-and-click screen navigation. At this moment, you are almost certainly using something that sprang from the blossoming creativity at Xerox PARC in the 1970s.
We all wince at the thought of how Xerox utterly failed to innovate on PARC’s inventions, allowing Apple and Microsoft to run away with most of them. But there’s no denying how world-changing those inventions were. The organization that gave birth to them illustrates — by way of contrast — why so many of today’s organizations are creatively sterile.

What made PARC so different from organizations where creativity falters? An abundance of all three key ingredients:

1. Smart people who think differently. The first threat to business creativity is our endangered education system, with its downward trends in science and math, and its increasingly narrow focus on basic subjects. The four dozen people working at PARC were really smart, with two important kinds of smarts. First, they had deep expertise — in computer science, optical science, and system dynamics, as well as broad acquaintance with seemingly unrelated fields. Alan Kay, one of PARC’s first computer scientists, brought his colleagues vast knowledge ranging from music to biology. Second, the PARC inventors had creative smarts. Rather than getting trapped by what was already inside their heads, they voraciously consumed new information and combined it in ways no one had previously imagined. They didn’t develop those habits of mind by following mandated curricula.

2. Passionate engagement. Aside from small startups, too few organizations today give people a chance to do what they love in service of a meaningful mission. Robert Bauer walked into his dream job at PARC three months after its founding. He stayed for over 30 years. As he recently told Computerworld.com, “Conducting research at PARC four decades ago was like magic. …We came to work every day with a passion …” My research has shown that people are most creative when they are on a mission, intrinsically motivated by a love for what they are doing. Bauer and his colleagues found immense interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge in “dreaming, proving and making things that had never been done before.” Indulging their passion was so exciting, and so much fun, that they worked their tails off. These days, people are more likely to find work frustrating than fun.

3. A creative atmosphere. Under the severe pressures of the financial crisis, contemporary organizational atmospheres resemble assembly lines more than hotbeds of creativity. Too often, the imperative is to do the same thing repeatedly, ever faster and more efficiently; reflection, exploration, and intense collaboration become superfluous luxuries. The PARC culture could hardly have been more different. Like all great organizational cultures, this one started with a bold vision. PARC’s founder, George Pake, was out to create “the office of the future.” He and Bob Taylor,  head of PARC’s Computer Science Laboratory, built a near-perfect work environment for creativity: freedom to pursue passions, challenging goals, collaborative norms, sufficient time to really think, and the resources people needed to follow their dreams. Even the smartest, most passionate people won’t thrive in — or will soon abandon — a work environment that stifles them. Most people who got into PARC never wanted to leave.

PARC was ahead of its time, but it was no anomaly. Even today, many creative hotbeds exist around the world, in new ventures and in a few more established shops like MIT’s Media Lab, SONY, the design firm IDEO, and Disney’s Pixar.

But with the three ingredients of business creativity becoming scarce resources, the PARCs of tomorrow will face swift extinction.

Forty years after the birth of PARC, have workplaces gotten any better at fostering that sort of brilliance?

Are start-ups the only places where the ingredients of creativity abound today? Is creativity under threat — or is it somehow protected — in your organization?

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Teresa Amabile is Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She researches what makes people creative, productive, happy, and motivated at work. She is the author of two books, Creativity In Context: Update To The Social Psychology of Creativity and Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity, as well as more than 100 scholarly papers. Amabile holds a doctorate in psychology from Stanford University.

Friday, November 19, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Secrets of an “insanely great” public speaker

Here is a portion of my current DRAFT of a review of Carmine Gallo’s book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, published by McGraw-Hill ((2010).

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Let’s face it: few (if any) of those who read this book will then be “insanely great in front of any audience.” That’s not why Carmine Gallo wrote it. Rather, his purpose is to help his readers to present their ideas to anyone, anywhere, anytime “with the power of believing in themselves and in their story.” Obviously, there are valuable lessons to be learned from what Steve Jobs does and how he does it.

He brings so many resources to bear on each presentation. They include (1) a thorough understanding of the given subject, (2) a passionate interest in it, (3) rigorous and extensive preparation, (4) total self-confidence and physical presence that command attention, (5) brilliant insights that are thoroughly developed, and (6) sharp focus only on what is most interesting and most important to those in his audience. I have seen Jobs in action several times and can attest to the power and impact of what he says and how he says it.

Gallo cites a few tips early in his narrative. They may seem simple but don’t be fooled. All of the greatest public speakers will tell you that it took them many years (about 10,000 hours) of deliberate practice to master them.

1. Plan in Analog: Think of the presentation as a story that has a setting, a plot, characters, conflicts, increasing tensions because of unsolved problems and/or unanswered questions, a climax, and a brief concluding lesson. Develop a structure to organize these components.

2. Answer the One Question That Matters Most: Those in the audience are asking the same question, “Why should I care.” Disregard this question and you will lose the audience almost immediately.

3. Develop a Messianic Sense of Purpose: Gallo notes that Jobs was worth more than $100 million by the time he was 25 and it didn’t matter to him at all. That wasn’t what he was about. “Understanding this one fact will help you unlock the secret behind Jobs’s extraordinary charisma.”

4. Create Twitter-like Headlines: Develop headlines into 140-character sentences. Less is more. My take: Think like a sniper, not a crop duster.

5. Draw a Road Map: Jobs effectively uses the most powerful principle of persuasion, The Rule of Three (i.e. three new products, three objectives, three barriers. Three parts, three features)

6. Introduce the Antagonist: In each of Jobs’s greatest presentations, he introduces a common enemy against which everyone unites, becomes emotionally engaged, prepares to do battle, agrees to make sacrifices, etc.

Note: It could be waste, a foreign country, the New York Yankees (“the Evil Empire”), a product, a competitor. Whatever.

7. Reveal the Conquering Hero: At each presentation, Jobs introduces a hero for the audience to rally around. It could be a person, a product, a goal, a comoetitive advantage, a “secret weapon,” or a destination.

Note: I urge you to click here and upload Steve Jobs’s commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005. Once seen and heard, you will never forget it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert I. Sutton suggests, “If you’re the boss, start killing more good ideas.”

Robert I. Sutton

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Robert I. Sutton 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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Recently, I posted a list of 12 Things Good Bosses Believe [click here]. Now I’m following up by delving into each one of them. This post is about the ninth belief: “Innovation is crucial to every team and organization. So my job is to encourage my people to generate and test all kinds of new ideas. But it is also my job to help them kill off all the bad ideas we generate, and most of the good ideas, too.”

An evidence-based mantra is that, to get a few good ideas, you and your colleagues need to generate a lot of bad ideas. I wrote about this notion in my last post on Forgive and Remember [click here] where we saw that, to yield a dozen or so commercially successful ideas for toys, a group at IDEO generated over 4,000 non-starters. It turns out, however, that the best managed enterprises don’t just recognize the flowers among the weeds; they mow down a lot of the flowers, too.

I first started thinking about this five years ago or so after a conversation with a Yahoo! executive participating in the Customer-Focused Innovation program [click here] that Huggy Rao and I run at Stanford. Yahoo! had just had Steve Jobs in to address their top 100 or so bosses. Jobs advised them that killing bad ideas isn’t that hard — lots of companies, even bad companies, are good at that. He insisted that what is really hard — and a hallmark of great companies — is killing good ideas. For any single good idea to succeed, it needs a lot of resources, time, and attention, and so only a few ideas can be developed fully. The challenge is to be tough enough to do the pruning so that the survivors have a chance of being implemented properly and reaching their full potential.

Since then it’s also become clear to me that good product and experience design depends on tossing out most good ideas. If too many of them are thrown in, then the result is a terrible and confusing Frankenstein of an offering. (This seems to be many people’s objection to Microsoft Word: It does everything, so therefore is annoying and confusing to use for many single things.)

The implication, then, is that the “innovation funnel” [click here] where a lot of ideas are whittled down to a precious few — should contain two major filtering stages: one where you get rid of the bad ideas and then another where you toss the good ideas that aren’t quite good enough to justify a thinner spread of resources, a greater diffusion of focus, and possibly a more complex customer experience.

If you take this argument to its logical conclusion, it means that a great boss — and let’s define that for the moment as a boss whose team delivers innovation — might track these two metrics:

• How many good ideas are killed? If this number isn’t high enough, that is a bad sign. It means either that not enough ideas are being generated, or that important hard choices aren’t being made.

• How many people are complaining — even leaving — because of good ideas being killed? This really is what makes the pruning so hard.

It’s tough on the people who came up with ideas and are emotionally invested in them. Being the direct cause of their complaining, and even departure, is awful — and certainly doesn’t make you feel like a great boss. But if no one is complaining, that’s a worse sign. This kind of frustration is an unfortunate byproduct of an effective innovation process, and if your people don’t have enough pride and confidence to get upset when their innovative ideas are killed, then something is wrong with them — or your culture.

These are weird metrics, but they make sense given Jobs’ argument. His argument also resonates with our experience teaching in the Stanford d.school and my experience working with creative teams in industry: The groups that often do the worst work have too many pet ideas and can’t bring themselves to kill enough of them, so they don’t do a decent job on any of them.

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Robert I. Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. He studies and writes about management, innovation, and the nitty-gritty of organizational life. His new book is Good Boss, Bad Boss [click here], from Business Plus.

Monday, August 30, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert I. Sutton on “Why good bosses tune in to their people”

Robert I. Sutton

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Robert I. Sutton for the August 2010 issue of The McKinsey Quarterly. To read the complete article, check out other resources, and/or sign up for a free online subscription, please click here.

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Know how to project power, counsels Stanford management professor Bob Sutton, since those you lead need to believe you have it for it to be effective. And to lock in your team’s loyalty, boldly defend their backs.

Bosses matter. They matter because more than 95 percent of all people in the workforce have bosses, are bosses, or both. They matter because they set the tone for their followers and organizations. And they matter because many studies show that for more than 75 percent of employees, dealing with their immediate boss is the most stressful part of the job. Lousy bosses can kill you—literally. A 2009 Swedish study tracking 3,122 men for ten years found that those with bad bosses suffered 20 to 40 percent more heart attacks than those with good bosses.

Bosses matter to everyone they oversee, but they matter most to those just beneath them in the pecking order: the people they guide at close range, who constantly tangle with the boss’s virtues, foibles, and quirks. Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or the head chef at a restaurant, your success depends on staying in tune with the people you interact with most frequently and intensely.

All bosses matter, but those at the top matter most. Whether or not they know it, their followers monitor, magnify, and often mimic their moves. I worked with a large company where the CEO did almost all of the talking in meetings, interrupted everyone, and silenced dissenting underlings. His executive vice presidents complained about him behind his back, but when he left the room, the most powerful EVP started acting the very same way. When that EVP left, the next-highest-ranking boss began imitating him in turn.

The ripple effects of this CEO’s style are consistent with findings from peer-reviewed studies showing that senior executives’ actions can reverberate throughout organizations, ultimately undermining or bolstering their cultures and performance levels. When CEOs have far more pay and power than their direct reports do, for instance, performance can suffer if their subordinates feel they can’t stop them from making and implementing lousy decisions. A few years ago, I did a workshop with a management team struggling with “group dynamics” problems. Team members felt that their boss, a senior vice president, listened poorly and “ran over” others; he called his people “thin-skinned wimps.” I asked the team—the senior vice president and five direct reports—to do an exercise. The six of them spent 20 minutes brainstorming potential products and then narrowed their choices to the most feasible, the wildest, and the most likely to fail.

As they brainstormed, I counted the number of comments made by each team member and the number of times each interrupted someone else and was interrupted in turn. The senior vice president contributed about 65 percent of the comments, interrupted others at least 20 times, and was never interrupted. When I had him leave the room, I asked his subordinates to estimate the results, and they did so accurately. Then the senior vice president returned. He recalled making about 25 percent of the comments, interrupting others perhaps 3 times, and being interrupted 3 or 4 times. When I showed him the results and explained that his direct reports had estimated them far more accurately, he was flabbergasted and annoyed.

Being a boss, as this exercise shows, often resembles the role of a high-status primate: your subordinates watch you constantly, so they know more about you than you know about them. Likewise, anthropologists who study chimpanzees, gorillas, and baboons report that followers devote far more attention to their leader than he devotes to them. (Studies of baboon troops show that typical members glance at the dominant male every 20 or 30 seconds.) As Princeton University psychologist Susan Fiske observes, primates—including ourselves—“pay attention to those who control their outcomes.”

Linda Hudson, CEO of BAE Systems, got this message after becoming the first female president of General Dynamics. After her first day on the job, a dozen women in her office imitated how she tied her scarf. Hudson realized, “It really was now about me and the context of setting the tone for the organization. That was a lesson I have never forgotten—that as a leader, people are looking at you in a way that you could not have imagined in other roles.” Hudson added that such scrutiny and the consequent responsibility is “something that I think about virtually every day.”

The best bosses work doggedly to stay in tune with this relentless attention and use it to their advantage. They are self-absorbed, but not for selfish reasons. On the contrary, they know that the success of their people and organizations depends on maintaining an accurate view of how others construe their moods and moves—and responding with rapid, effective adjustments.

That view is invaluable for bosses as they try to carry out their first and most important task: convincing others that they are in charge. Bosses who fail to do this will find their jobs impossible, their lives hell, and their tenures short. Of course, taking charge effectively isn’t enough. The best bosses also boost performance by watching their people’s backs: making it safe for them to learn, act, and take intelligent risks; shielding them from unnecessary distractions and external idiocy of every stripe; and doing hundreds more little things that help them achieve one small win after another—and feel pride and dignity along the way.

Taking control

James Meindl’s research on “the romance of leadership” [click here] shows that leaders get far more credit—and blame—than they deserve, largely because, cognitively, it is easier and more emotionally satisfying to treat leadership as the primary cause of performance than to consider the convoluted and often subtle mishmash of factors that actually determine performance differences. It is especially difficult to resist demonizing the bosses of failing organizations, however irrational that may be. This bias toward glorifying and vilifying individual leaders (and downplaying the role of systems, collective action, and external factors outside management’s influence) is especially strong in the United States and many European nations.

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To read the complete articvle, check out other resources, and/or sign up for a free online subscription, please clich here.

About the Author: Robert I. Sutton is a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best . . . and Learn from the Worst, to be published by Business Plus in September 2010.

Monday, August 23, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jeffrey Pfeffer on “The Real Reason for Bad Bosses”

Jeffrey Pfeffer

Here is an article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer for BNET, The CBS Interactuve Business Network. To obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.

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My Stanford colleague Bob Sutton has a new book coming out on how to be a good boss and what behaviors make a bad boss. [Note: Robert I. Sutton’s Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst will be published by Business Plus on September 7, 2010.] Like the best of the leadership literature, it is both research-based and sensible. It also sheds some light on why it’s so hard to follow the best practices for good managers and move up the ladder at the same time.

The book’s prescriptions include the classic adage, tell the truth. In one example, Sutton tells the tale of a CEO who alienated most of the company’s top management team by denying that he was pursuing an opportunity at another organization. When that CEO didn’t get the job and further dissembled, saying he had stayed because of loyalty to the current team, trust was broken and people left the company.

Sutton’s book and much research show how truly terrible the work environment is for many people. Employee disengagement is high, the Conference Board reports job satisfaction is at an all-time low, and many people would look for a new job at the first opportunity.

Research literature shows the importance of supervisor-subordinate relationships. They are one of the principal drivers of employee engagement or its opposite, turnover. So why are there so many bad bosses? After all, each year companies spend billions on leadership training and development. And the number of books on how to be a better, more effective leader must be approaching infinity, with much of the advice around for literally decades.

One answer to this question comes from the example cited above. Although disguised in Bob’s book, he told me who it was. Suffice it to say that in this instance, and in numerous others, although the boss may be “bad,” that boss has been extraordinarily successful and is continuing to thrive by any reasonable measures.

That’s because numerous studies point to an inherent contradiction between the prescriptions about how to get the most from others on the one hand and the realities of what it takes to build your own reputation and power on the other. While being positive, supportive, and warm often gets the best from subordinates, being critical and even nasty results in more attributions of intelligence and competence. Because people usually get hired (and promoted) on the basis of how competent they appear, companies, sometimes unintentionally, reward precisely the opposite behaviors that would make someone a good boss.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy’s article, Just Because I’m Nice, Don’t Assume I’m Dumb [click here] nicely captures the dilemma. Research shows that people who want to appear smart engage in more critical behavior than those who want to appear nice or a control group. Other research on group perception also shows evidence of a compensation effect, so that being rated positively on one dimension is likely to lead to being seen much less positively on a second dimension. Groups are perceived as either warm and incompetent or competent and cold.

The conflict between the behaviors required to be a good boss and the actions often necessary to attain and hold onto leadership positions helps explain why many people find that their best opportunities for obtaining coaching and mentoring come from people not at the most senior levels nor on the fast track. Unless people can overcome the oft-observed psychological tendency to see the traits of warmth and competence as negatively related and softness as a sign of weakness, there seem to be very slim prospects for implementing all of the good advice about how to be a be a better leader.

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Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. His forthcoming book from HarperBusiness is Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jeffrey Pfeffer on “women and the uneasy embrace of power”

Jeffrey Pfeffer

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer 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.

Although women now attend college at a higher rate than men, and have for the most part closed the gap in achieving advanced and professional degrees, women are not occupying the real power positions in corporations, academia, or the professions in anywhere near the same proportions as men. Catalyst, among many other organizations, bemoans this reality. The fact of the underrepresentation of women at the top begs the question of why. One part of the answer is women’s reluctance to embrace power.

The evidence shows that women are less power-oriented than men. Women have more negative attitudes toward holding power, they are less likely to pursue power-based influence strategies, they are more bothered by and disfavor hierarchical relationships, they are less motivated to dominate others, and they are less likely to take actions to attain power. Moreover, in situations such as salary negotiations, studies show that women often believe that they deserve less than similarly qualified men and are, as a consequence, likely to demand less and to press their salary demands with less vigor.

Women bank too much on likeability. To be sure, people in general overestimate the importance to their influence of being well-liked, and underestimate the effectiveness of displaying anger, but women seem to be more susceptible to these beliefs than men. And while men, too, are sometimes uncomfortable with the actions required to attain power — building relationships with useful others, displaying confidence, engaging in self-promotion, being willing to work long hours — women, as a rule, tend to be less willing to make the trade-offs required to attain positions of power. As a consequence, many women, including talented graduates of MBA programs, reach a point several years into their careers where they decide the compromise isn’t worth it, and drop out of the quest for power.

Two implications follow.

First, women must make more of what they see as trade-offs. Everyone, men and women, must make certain sacrifices to achieve power and career success. If women want to achieve power at the same rate as men, they will need to be willing to make difficult choices, whether by forgoing family for work or choosing a partner in part on the basis of whether that individual will be supportive of their power quest (“strategic marriage,” as a former student of mine put it). 

Second, women need to get tougher. It’s true that women tend to be perceived more negatively and be less liked when they use the same power strategies as men. (This is an unfair reality that Alice Eagly has referred to as “the double bind.”) But there is little evidence to suggest that those strategies aren’t just as effective for women.

Carly Fiorina reached the CEO position at Hewlett-Packard because throughout her career, she was willing to market herself. Although Meg Whitman at eBay presents a kinder exterior image, people who crossed her suffered consequences. No one who witnessed former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher aggressively holding her own in a media interview could doubt her confidence and refusal to back down from a conflict — or could question where her nickname, “the Iron Lady,” came from.

Although we might wish that the rules for attaining power were different, or different for women, they aren’t. There’s no question that women are as qualified as men to hold positions of power. I would argue that we need them to do so. The question is: when will they step up to the pursuit of power, vigorously and strategically?

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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.

Jeffrey Pfeffer
is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. His forthcoming book from HarperBusiness is Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jeffrey Pfeffer on why those with power can be so rude

Jeffrey Pfeffer

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jeffrey Pfeffer 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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One of the most fundamental principles of power is that it is self-reinforcing. People with power have the resources to keep it — they are able to hire the best talent and access the best opportunities.

More important, other people like associating with power and success, a phenomenon that social psychologist Robert Cialdini has called “basking in reflected glory.” [Click here.] And they will make all sorts of accommodations to be near success. Consequently, while likeability can often produce power, power and success invariably produce likeability. People choose to be with successful people and organizations, and then make sense of their choices by deciding that they actually like and respect those they are associating with.

I vividly recalled these principles as I read the numerous obituaries and remembrances following the death of New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Three facts are clear from all of the media coverage describing this extraordinary man.

First, he was not a kind, sweet person to his employees and had few of the characteristics we associate with being a good boss. Dave Anderson, sports columnist for The New York Times, commented on Steinbrenner’s rude firings of his managers, including the legend Yogi Berra. Steinbrenner ruled through fear and was wont to publicly insult both players and managers. He was tempestuous and prone to make snap decisions — one explanation for how he could hire and fire manager Billy Martin five times. He had a temper and often meddled in the day-to-day operations of the team.

The second fact is that Steinbrenner was phenomenally successful. Part of a syndicate that bought the Yankees for $10 million in 1973, at the time of his death that team was worth an estimated $1.6 billion. Under his leadership, the Yankees refurbished their old stadium and then built a brand new one. They pioneered television and marketing deals that brought in even more revenue. And, they won baseball games, league championships, and World Series at a rate exceeding any of their competitors.

And therefore, this third fact: Although you can find few articles — maybe no articles — on Steinbrenner that don’t mention his temper, obscene language, and being a difficult boss, virtually all of the writing has a reverential tone for his accomplishments. Regular New Yorkers and former New York Yankees, even those he had abused, were in tears during the brief memorial at Yankee stadium. As Bruce Jenkins, a sportswriter for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “Such a great, terrible man — and the template for success in American sports … he didn’t just make a difference, he rocked the landscape and changed it forever. If the details were grim, it’s the memory that lasts.”

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Mostly I am arguing that regardless of whether or not we like it, the managerial flaws of powerful people will always fade into the background, and sometimes even be called endearing. Once you have it, much, if not all, will be forgiven.

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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.

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. His forthcoming book from HarperBusiness is Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jon R. Katzenbach and Zia Khan: An interview by Bob Morris

Jon R. Katzenbach

Jon R. Katzenbach is a Senior Partner with Booz & Company where he launched and now leads the Katzenbach Center at Booz. He is a recognized expert in leadership, organizational performance, teaming, culture, and employee motivation. His published works include Why Pride Matters More Than Money, Peak Performance, Teams at the Top, Real Change Leaders, The Myth of the Top Management Team, and Firing Up the Front Line. He also co-authored (with Douglas Smith) The Discipline of Teams and the bestseller The Wisdom of Teams. He and Zia Khan are the co-authors of a new book, Leading Outside the Lines, in which they discuss how leading enterprises can accelerate behavior change and performance by mobilizing the informal elements of their organization to complement the formal.

Zia Khan

Zia Khan is the Vice President for Strategy and Evaluation at the Rockefeller Foundation. He is responsible for shaping the Foundation’s strategy and integrating it into the Foundation’s initiatives, Bellagio program, and organization. He also leads the Foundation’s long-term research program, exploratory initiatives, innovation capabilities, and monitoring and evaluation processes. Zia brings to the Foundation many years of consulting experience in strategy and organizational performance. He is a frequent writer and speaker on strategy, innovation, and organization. Zia holds a B.S. from Cornell and a Ph.D. from Stanford. Khan currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, which is rich territory for weekend bike rides. He’s an avid reader. While Zia aspires to spend more time in the outdoors, he thoroughly enjoys New York’s cafes, cinemas, and sidewalks.

Morris: Before focusing on Leading Outside the Lines, a few general questions. First, a great deal has happened (and not happened) in the business world during the past 3-5 years. In your opinion, what is the single most important development and what is its significance?

Katzenbach: Clearly, the financial recession and its recovery challenges is the single most important development that I see.

Khan: Another interesting and ongoing phenomenon is the emergence of new business models from developing economies that will add significant competitive pressure to incumbent players.  This increases the pressure to be constantly driving costs down while ramping up innovation.

Morris: Michael Porter once observed, “The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. ” What do you think?

Katzenbach: While it is a very insightful question, I am not sure that I would characterize it as “the essence.”  Equally if not more important is recognizing that even the best-contrived strategies are relatively short-lived.  Therefore, those who can revisit, reconstruct, modify or abandon their strategies quickly are likely to be more successful than those who simply define the dos and don’ts.

Khan: As Jon points out, the critical element in that observation is how long should the choice last.  What’s the right balance between staying the course and adapting quickly? That’s where the simultaneous need is for locking down formal processes while encouraging informal exploration becomes critical.

Morris: In 1963, Peter Drucker expressed a similar thought: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Nonetheless, C-level executives continue to make that mistake. Why?

Katzenbach: The age-old concept of cognitive dissonance reduction advanced by Leon Festinger in 1957 helps explain the mistake you cite. Once a “difficult decision is made” there is a strong, human tendency to defend it and “make it work” rather than reverse, revise or even question it. For example, the most avid readers of new car ads are those who have just purchased the car — and that tendency is stronger if that purchase decision was difficult to make.  Extending that to strategic decisions, executives are more inclined to stick with a decision (rather than abandon it) by relentlessly pursuing its execution with great efficiency.

Khan: There is also a strong tendency among C-level executives to measure progress. A complementary quote comes from Einstein: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  The trick is that once programs and metrics become established, the focus is on making progress on pre-defined activities without questioning whether the goal remains relevant.

Morris: Based on your own experience and what you have observed, what are the best strategies for overcoming resistance to change, especially barriers that are the result of what Jim O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of comfort.”

Khan: Comfort with the status quo becomes deeply engrained in terms of formal processes, metrics, and structures, but also in terms of informal values, sources of pride, and evaluation criteria for problem-solving.  The informal can both help and hinder change.  My suggestion for overcoming resistance to change is to identify what parts of the change already align with the informal organization, and mobilize them to help make the change more widespread.  For example, if there’s a company-wide effort to focus on customer service, and some sales associates in retail stores are passionate about this while others aren’t, you’ve found yourself some allies.

Katzenbach: Perhaps the single best strategy for overcoming resistance to change is to get informal, peer-to-peer interactions at different levels in critical populations to support the change.  As Zia indicates, the status quo is supported by lots of elements that are formally imbedded.  However, it is often the informal elements that companies overlook when they are trying to change the status quo. Many companies focus on formal efforts to change – these help establish a common outlook but they do not motivate the change itself. Informal efforts are what help motivate employees to change.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

To check out a wealth of resources (including a videotaped interview of Katzenbach and Khan) please click here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert I. Sutton on why a great boss is confident, but not really sure

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Robert I. Sutton 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

Robert I. Sutton.

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Recently, I posted a list of 12 Things Good Bosses Believe [click here]. Now I’m following up by delving into each one of them. This post is about the sixth belief: “I strive to be confident enough to convince people that I am in charge, but humble enough to realize that I am often going to be wrong.”

My favorite track on Tom Petty’s 2006 album Highway Companion is a song called “Saving Grace.” About halfway through, he closes off a verse by singing: “You’re confident but not really sure.” That’s a state of mind that sounds paradoxical, but at times it really is true. In fact, it’s the essence of what developmental psychologist John Meacham called the “attitude of wisdom.” And it’s a good description of some bosses I know, who strike a healthy balance between knowing and doubting. 

Meacham’s insight, which was developed much further by one of my intellectual heroes, organizational psychologist Karl Weick, was that the people we consider wise have the courage to act on their beliefs and convictions at the same time that they have the humility to realize that they might be wrong, and must be prepared to change their beliefs and actions when better information comes along.
When I first became enamored with wisdom after reading Weick’s writings (perhaps eight years ago) I heard a great conversation about it at a conference put on by Harvard Business School Publishing in Silicon Valley. There, I heard innovation guru Clay Christensen and HBSP editor Walter Kiechel interview long-time Intel CEO Andy Grove [click here.], who had recently relinquished that title and become Chairman. I took careful notes and then a few weeks later went back to the organizers to request a transcript, which they were kind enough to send me. Grove gave his own testimony to this notion of “Confident but not really sure.” I’ve edited this for length (see the whole thing and more of my thoughts on it here), but here’s what he advised:

None of us have a real understanding of where we are heading. I don’t. I have senses about it. But decisions don’t wait, investment decisions or personal decisions and prioritization don’t wait, for that picture to be clarified. You have to make them when you have to make them. So you take your shots and clean up the bad ones later. I think it is very important for you to do two things: act on your temporary conviction as if it was a real conviction; and when you realize that you are wrong, correct course very quickly.

This balancing act between confidence and doubt is a hallmark of great bosses. The confidence inspires people to follow them and believe in them, but the doubt helps ensure they get things right. They are always listening and watching for evidence that they might be wrong, and inviting others to challenge their conclusions (albeit usually in private and in “backstage” conversations).

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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.

Robert Sutton
is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. He studies and writes about management, innovation, and the nitty-gritty of organizational life. His new book is Good Boss, Bad Boss, forthcoming from Business Plus.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robert I. Sutton on the delicate art of being perfectly assertive

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Robert I. Sutton 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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Recently, I posted a list of 12 Things Good Bosses Believe [Click here.]. Now I’m following up by delving into each one of them. This post is about the fourth belief: “One of the most important, and most difficult, parts of my job is to strike the delicate balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough.”
The upshot of my earlier post called Some Bosses Live in a Fool’s Paradise [click here] is that the best bosses stay in tune with how their words and deeds are construed by their followers, but there is a lot about being a human being and wielding power over others that makes such perspective-taking difficult.

One area where self-awareness is particularly hard to gain has to do with one’s level of assertiveness. Bosses often can’t tell when they’re pushing people too hard versus not challenging them sufficiently. But as research conducted at Columbia University by Daniel Ames and Frank Flynn suggests, striking the right balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough is immensely important to being (and being perceived as) a great boss.

Ames and Flynn began with the observation that managers who are too assertive are seen as overbearing and that damages their relationships with others; but managers who are not assertive enough don’t end up achieving much with their teams that they — and their peers and superiors — can take real satisfaction in. With this in mind, they hypothesized that the best bosses would be rated roughly average on terms like “competitive,” “aggressive,” “passive,” and “submissive” by their direct reports. Indeed, this is what they found when they asked 213 MBA students to assess their most recent bosses on various dimensions. There was tremendous overlap between the bosses rated as moderately assertive and the bosses rated most effective overall. The MBAs also deemed those moderately assertive bosses to be most likely to succeed in the future, and to be people they would be happy to work with again.

And what of the bosses judged to be ineffective overall? Ames and Flynn found that lapses in assertiveness (whether by being too assertive or not assertive enough) were mentioned as hallmarks of these weak leaders far more often than deficits in “other commonly studied attributes, including intelligence, conscientiousness, and charisma.”

When I heard about this research, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from Tommy Lasorda, who has worked for the Los Angeles Dodgers for almost 50 years, including a 20-year stint as the team’s manager. The first day he took charge of the team, Tommy said to the press: “I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”

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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.

Robert I. Sutton is Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. He studies and writes about management, innovation, and the nitty-gritty of organizational life. He is the coauthor with Jeffrey Pfeffer of The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action. His last book was The New York Times bestseller The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. His next book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst by Robert I. Sutton will be published by Business Plus/Hatchette Book Group in September (2010).

Friday, July 9, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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