First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

A conversation with Grant McCracken on how to build “a living, breathing culture”

McCrackenTrained as an anthropologist (Ph.D. University of Chicago), Grant McCracken has studied American culture and commerce for 25 years. He has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and worked for Timberland, New York Historical Society, Diageo, IKEA, Sesame Street, Nike, the White House, and Netflix.

He started the Institute of Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum. He taught anthropology at the University of Cambridge, ethnography at MIT, and marketing at the Harvard Business School. He has been affiliated with the Department of Comparative Media at MIT and the Berkman School at Harvard. He is a student of culture and commerce and explored this theme in Culture and Consumption I and then in Culture and Consumption II.

Grant has also looked at how Americans invent and reinvent themselves. He had explored this theme in Big Hair, Transformations, Plenitude and Flock and Flow.

Six years ago, he published a book called Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation with Basic Books in which he argues that culture now creates so much opportunity and danger for organizations that they need senior managers who focus on it full time. He is hoping this will create a new occupational destination for graduates in the arts and humanities.

His latest book, Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas, was published by Harvard Business Review Press (2012).

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Chief Culture Officer and then Culturematic, here are a few general questions. First, in your opinion, what are the defining skills and characteristics of a great anthropologist?

McCracken: Anthropologists are good at reading culture and that gives them interesting powers of pattern recognition. Now that American culture is so dynamic, any such advantage n is a good thing.

Morris: To what extent can they be developed by formal education?

McCracken: Oh, I think they are entirely trainable. And it doesn’t take a formal education. All we need is a base of curiosity, intelligence, and creativity and it’s away to the races.

Morris: To what extent can they be developed only through real-world experience?

McCracken: I think a combination of formal education and experience serves best.

Morris: In your opinion, which of these skills and characteristics would be of greatest value to C-level executives?

McCracken: C-level executives have formidable powers of pattern recognition. The question is how we can give them the ability to read “soft indicators” in the study of contemporary culture, movies, trends, generations, subcultures. This is easier than it looks.

Morris: What are some of the core questions that anthropologists have in mind when preparing to begin a new project or assignment?

McCracken: Here’s one: “How to know what you don’t know…but think you do.”

Morris: How do you define “culture”?

McCracken: Culture is comprised of the meanings with which we define the world. And the rules with which we govern behavior.

Morris: In your opinion, to what extent is culture a structure? Please explain.

McCracken: The meanings of culture come from within a culture. That is why we define each generation in terms of both its structure and its values.

Morris: In your opinion, to what extent is culture an organism? Please explain.

McCracken: I don’t think culture is a organism in any useful sense, although goodness knows, it grows and changes as if driven by a genetic imperative.

Morris: What are the most common misconceptions about anthropology? What, in fact, is true?

McCracken: A lot of people think anthropology is about primates, or archaeology or small communities. These are all true in a way but it is also true that anthropology is very good at studying large, contemporary cultures.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Chief Culture Office. When and why did you decide to write it?

McCracken: Culture matters so much to the success of a business. Take for instance the artisanal trend that has been growing at least since 1971 when Alice Waters founded Chez Panisse. McDonald’s, Kraft, and Subway are now struggling to adjust to the trend but had they had a CCO, they would have had around 45 years of early warning.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

McCracken: How so much of economics appears just to ignore culture.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

McCracken: It’s pretty close to it’s original concept, again a bad thing.

Morris: As you explain in the Introduction to Culturematic, it is ” a little machine for making culture. It is designed to do three things: test the world, discover meaning, and unleash value…It’s still a little vague, isn’t it? Some of you are saying, ‘I’m not exactly sure of what he means.’ Me neither. I am still working it out. The idea will get clearer as you read the rest of the book.” To what extent are you now clearer about “what it means”? Please explain.

McCracken: There are a couple of simple techniques for making culture out of culture…and this is where innovations come from.

* * *

To read the complete transcript of the conversation, please click here.

Grant cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His blog website

His Amazon page

HBR link

Wired link

Psychology Today link

Twitter link

LinkedIn link

Sunday, June 28, 2015 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Skarzynski and David Crosswhite: An interview by Bob Morris, Part Two

SkarzynskiPeter Skarzynski is a founder and Managing Partner of ITC Business Group, LLC. He advises large, global organizations on strategy, innovation and organizational change and is recognized as a leading expert in enabling organizational renewal and growth through innovation. His experience cuts across industries and includes technology, consumer products & retail, healthcare, energy, financial services and transportation companies. His primary focus has been to help client organizations renew their core business through competence leverage and break-through business concept innovation. He has led and delivered client work in Asia, The Americas and Europe. Before co-founding ITC, Peter was CEO, Chairman and a founding Director of Strategos, a firm initially chaired and founded by Professor Gary Hamel. He also served as a Vice President in the strategy practice of Gemini Consulting and held several senior-level consulting roles in its predecessor, the MAC Group.

A frequent corporate and conference speaker, Peter has written thought pieces for The Wall Street Journal, CEO Magazine, and The Drucker Foundation. His 2008 book, Innovation to the Core: A Blueprint for Transforming the Way Your Company Innovates, was the first to describe how large organizations can build and sustain a company-wide innovation capability. Peter holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing and a BA (with Honors) in Policy Studies and Economics from the University of Chicago.

CrosswhiteDavid Crosswhite is an experienced management consultant with more than 20 years of work in the field of growth-focused strategy, innovation, and innovation capability development within large organizations. He is a currently a Managing Partner of ITC Business Group, LLC and a former Managing Director of Strategos. His work focuses on assisting clients with their growth strategy and strategy development processes and systems. His work in this area spans multiple industries, including consumer products, durable goods, healthcare, medical devices, financial services, and heavy manufacturing. David’s experience cuts across B2C and B2B sectors. His work with the Whirlpool Corporation is well-known and documented in Strategic Innovation: Embedding Innovation as a Core Competence in Your Organization, authored by Nancy Tennant, EVP of Leadership and Competence Development for Whirlpool. His work is also heavily documented in Innovation to the Core, and in multiple Harvard Business Review cases and other business journals. .

Prior to Strategos, David was a Principal at the MAC Group and Gemini Consulting in their strategy practice. At MAC/Gemini, David focused on marketing and process design for growth issues in the telecommunications industry. David worked domestically and internationally across many of the major telecommunications providers to develop their go-to-market, service, and product development strategies and processes.

David earned his MBA at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University.

Peter and David’s most recent collaboration is The Innovator’s Field Guide: Market Tested Methods and Frameworks to Help You Meet Your Innovation Challenges, published by Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2014)

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of them. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Briefly, please explain to what extent the methods and frameworks in The Innovator’s Field Guide have been “market-tested.”

Skarzynski:
It’s fairly road-tested. First, the principles reflect leading practices across organizations of all stripes. Not just the ones mentioned in The Guide but others we researched but, could not put in to the book because of space constraints.

Crosswhite: The frameworks reflect our expression of ways to action the the concepts and principles articulated. And, as we say in the book, these or other frameworks are scaffolding for individuals and teams. They help you ensure that you are asking the right questions. But its all about the right questions and the new learning they facilitate.

Morris: You introduce and discuss nine Principles of Innovation (i.e. “why you are doing what you’re doing”). For those who have not as yet read your book, please suggest what is the key point to be made about each. First, articulate a clear definition of innovation

Crosswhite: What outcomes do you want from your efforts? What constitutes innovation for your organization? What qualifies as “what you want” when you – your organization – says it wants innovation?

Skarzynski: Yes. What is the job you want innovation to do for you and your organization.

Morris: Aim your efforts at the business concept, and focus not just on the “what” but also “who” and “why”

Skarzynski: Innovation efforts fall short when you lock on a single focus. Technology companies think too much about technology, for example. Product companies think about what’s the next product or product iteration they want to introduce.

Crosswhite: To Peter’s point, in the work of innovation consider all aspects of the business concept and model. Not just the “what” of product; not just thinking of ‘new’ products. But, new targets (who) and new benefits or reason to believe (Why). Take the time to consider all dimensions of the business concept and business model. In doing so, you’ll open up the aperture of innovation for your organization a great deal more.

Morris: Understand that innovation means new learning

Crosswhite: If innovation is about “new and different” that means you need to build new, foundational learning. You have to ask new questions about product market and industry context. We share techniques about how to ask new questions in new ways, systematically, in the guide. But our view is, no new learning, no new innovation. Or not much, at least. .

Skarzynski: Christensen speaks to new learning through the “jobs to be done” framework. Think of the job the customer is hiring the product or service to do. Ask yourself, is there a better way to perform that job. This type of thinking is fundamental to disruption. It is a mirror to “Design thinking,” which has become mainstream in the last five years.

Morris:
Earn the right to ideate through insight-driven innovation

Skarzynski: Before you go to ideate, have an insight based POV. Make that your foundation to ideate

Crosswhite: Yes, it goes to the “new learning point.” No new learning, no new ideas. Give yourself a chance to break frame first. Gain some new bases for the conversation. Then go have the conversation. Putting people in a room to develop new ideas without new learning in hand is very likely to yield the same old ideas and conversations. Why wouldn’t it?

Morris: Make the work of innovation not merely the generating of new ideas but an end-to-end process through to successful commercialization

Crosswhite: As a starting premise, we think of innovation as a new idea, realized in market. If you start there, then the work of innovation is not just ideation. It’s the end to end work of developing the new idea, getting it to a point of action, and then implementing. Or testing, iterating, and implementing if that’s what’s called for. That’s an end-to-end process, not just an ideation process.

Skarzynski: Which is worth highlighting as a key principle since so many organizations, and even consultancies either implicitly or explicitly think of innovation as just getting some new ideas, some new post-it notes, created. And then the rest is “just execution”. We believe that’s a mistake, and there’s a better way to frame the work of innovation to get you more meaningful results.

Morris: Build innovation capability through a learn-by-doing approach

Skarzynski: In practical terms this is the best way for an organization to get innovation and capability that stick. Pick meaningful innovation issues and topics, frame them, and apply the right techniques and approaches to work the issue. It gets you results sooner, and capability that is deeper and more sustainable. It beats a classroom training format any day of the week in terms of results achieved for the organization.

Crosswhite: Nothing to add. Agree in full.

Morris:
Be systematic and systemic in your approach

Crosswhite: Be systematic: Adopt specific, tangible, tried and true techniques that attack the issue in a deliberate and organized fashion. The Guide, of course, puts forth techniques to apply to common challenges. But most important is that you have a point-of-view about the actionable approach you want to take to the challenge. Be systemic: Look for all the appropriate levers to apply to your organization to achieve sustainable innovation capability. Not just process and tools only – although these are important levers. But skill-building, leadership engagement, metrics, incentives, communications, and multiple others. Use as many levers as you can avail yourself of to create the most sustainable and robust innovation capability.

Skarzynski: And a key to the systemic point is that of making sure the combinations of specific organizing actions – Dave refers to them as levers –you choose align and work well with one another. In other words, they’re specifically selected to work with the grain of your organization and synch up with one another – as opposed to inadvertently “fight” one another. This sounds obvious but too many organizations think of selecting organizing levers for innovation as an exercise of simply picking from a set of menu items those that you deem most attractive to pick. And it’s really a more in depth design exercise than that. We speak about this a great deal in Chapter 8 – which speaks to “Organizing for Innovation”.

Morris: Embrace and employ Open Innovation (OI).

Skarzynski: Briefly, the notion is the pool of know how and talent in a given domain is massively larger than that which is present within your particular organization. In a hyper-competitive world, tapping in to external talent (IP, especially) is value-creating. We share a brief example from Mondelēz. Henry Chesbrough pioneered this management practice, of course, and he leads a center focusing on open innovation at Berkeley. And of course P&G among others leaned hard in to it.

Crosswhite: In addition…and again, borrowing from Henry, organizations successful in OI first must become “open” internally before being open externally. Open internally means success at working across organizational silos and, critically important, being as comfortable working across networks as working within traditional hierarchies. Success in OI takes time and requires smart, fit-for-purposes changes to internal processes.

Morris: Of the nine, which seems to be the most difficult to follow? Why?

Crosswhite: They are all hard. And for any given organization, one may be more difficult but, they are all hard.

Skarzynski: For sure they are all difficult. But they are not impossibly so. And the best way to build your skill is to get going. Pick a challenge or area of focus…and aim your efforts at that challenge.

* * *

To read the complete Part 2 of my interview, please click here.

To read Part 1, please click here.

In addition to the hyperlinks, Peter and David cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Innovator’s Field Guide link

Our Growth practice link

Sunday, July 13, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peter Skarzynski and David Crosswhite: An interview by Bob Morris, Part One

SkarzynskiPeter Skarzynski is a founder and Managing Partner of ITC Business Group, LLC. He advises large, global organizations on strategy, innovation and organizational change and is recognized as a leading expert in enabling organizational renewal and growth through innovation. His experience cuts across industries and includes technology, consumer products & retail, healthcare, energy, financial services and transportation companies. His primary focus has been to help client organizations renew their core business through competence leverage and break-through business concept innovation. He has led and delivered client work in Asia, The Americas and Europe. Before co-founding ITC, Peter was CEO, Chairman and a founding Director of Strategos, a firm initially chaired and founded by Professor Gary Hamel. He also served as a Vice President in the strategy practice of Gemini Consulting and held several senior-level consulting roles in its predecessor, the MAC Group.

A frequent corporate and conference speaker, Peter has written thought pieces for The Wall Street Journal, CEO Magazine, and The Drucker Foundation. His 2008 book, Innovation to the Core: A Blueprint for Transforming the Way Your Company Innovates, was the first to describe how large organizations can build and sustain a company-wide innovation capability. Peter holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing and a BA (with Honors) in Policy Studies and Economics from the University of Chicago.

CrosswhiteDavid Crosswhite is an experienced management consultant with more than 20 years of work in the field of growth-focused strategy, innovation, and innovation capability development within large organizations. He is a currently a Managing Partner of ITC Business Group, LLC and a former Managing Director of Strategos. His work focuses on assisting clients with their growth strategy and strategy development processes and systems. His work in this area spans multiple industries, including consumer products, durable goods, healthcare, medical devices, financial services, and heavy manufacturing. David’s experience cuts across B2C and B2B sectors. His work with the Whirlpool Corporation is well-known and documented in Strategic Innovation: Embedding Innovation as a Core Competence in Your Organization, authored by Nancy Tennant, EVP of Leadership and Competence Development for Whirlpool. His work is also heavily documented in Innovation to the Core, and in multiple Harvard Business Review cases and other business journals. .

Prior to Strategos, David was a Principal at the MAC Group and in Gemini Consulting’s strategy practice. At MAC/Gemini, David focused on marketing and process design for growth issues in the telecommunications industry. David worked domestically and internationally across many of the major telecommunications providers to develop their go-to-market, service, and product development strategies and processes. David earned his MBA at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, and holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Lehigh University.

Peter and David’s most recent collaboration is The Innovator’s Field Guide: Market Tested Methods and Frameworks to Help You Meet Your Innovation Challenges, published by Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2014)

Here is an excerpt from my interview of them. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *


Morris:
Before discussing The Innovator’s Field Guide, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Skarzynski: Well, that is certainly a long list! Certainly it starts with my family – 5 siblings and Mom and Dad. Specific teachers and colleagues.

Crosswhite:
Like Peter, it starts with family. My parents were both public school teachers. So, education, inquiry and learning were always front and center. And watching the learning and development process of our children has always fascinated and inspired me.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Crosswhite: There is a long list of mentors over the years. Each has had their influence. In work habits and ethics. In intellectual and professional development. None of them “famous.” All of them important though.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Crosswhite: It was in the early 1990s, during the peak of “re-engineering” which as you know was all about cost cutting and right sizing. We were in the early days of doing this, at the birth of Gemini Consulting

Skarzynski: That’s right. And we were doing the work in a way that explicitly required high engagement of large client teams. At the time the firm was collaborating with C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel. It was then that we thought we really should be applying the “high engagement, client owns this” answers approach to strategy, growth and innovation. So, we took that path along with Gary and C.K, along with other colleagues, particularly Linda Yates, and we never turned back.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Crosswhite:
Critical. At every level. In particular my technical education at Lehigh and my MBA at Northwestern’s Kellogg School. I particularly found some of the logic and frameworks for other disciplines to be enlightening, leading me, I suppose, to be attracted to the craft of developing and enhancing “newer” disciplines like systematic innovation.

Skarzynski:
A profound impact, to be sure. At every level of education, I had the good fortune to experience outstanding teachers. In particular, my liberal arts study at The University of Chicago was immeasurably helpful. The whole focus was on inquiry: Why, why, why. It was impossible to hide from a weak argument. The same was true in graduate study.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world now that you wish you knew when you went to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Skarzynski: How incredibly interesting any organization can be when its leadership is seriously committed to growth and the full engagement of its employees.

Crosswhite: I think the entire OD discipline is fascinating when done well. The difference between what organizations say they want to get done vs. what they do can often be great. So learning and applying principles and techniques of change management in service of specific, meaningful goals is hard to do, but very rewarding when done well.

Morris:
Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Crosswhite:
The Godfather, Part II. It is a legitimate contender. There are two strategy stories here, one a success and one a failure: Vito’s story is one of success of bringing people together by understanding their unmet needs in the community and Michael’s story is one of failure of ruthless independence that results in his complete and utter isolation. Vito shows that business is highly personal and depends on community while Michael shows that impersonal business is more than a failure, it’s a tragedy. Of course, there’s ethics to be considered with this example.

Skarzynski: I like G2 also. And ethics, for sure is an issue with the example. But Dave’s movie choice surfaces an important point: Business success builds from doing the right thing, the right way.

You see this notion emerging prominently in business literature now. Stephen Denning writes about this in Forbes. And Dov Seidman and Clay Christensen speak well on it. How will any individual – and of all of us working in organizations – how will our actions help individuals be better people.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Skarzynski: Too many to name! Here are three. And I owe these to my kids and wife who recommended each to me. Boys in the Boat is a great book speaking to the need for individual excellence in the context of a team (the boat) excellence in which every person (seat) must play their uniquely valuable role. Second, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. Third, The Invisible Heart – An Economic Romance. It is a fictional book written by an economist. It moves quickly through basic tenets like the power of incentives, supply and demand, and markets. Easy to read, easy to understand.

Crosswhite: Does The Road to Serfdom qualify as non-business? Regardless, it offers profound insights about why and how value and wealth are created, which form a strong basis for thinking about the work of innovation as well.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

In addition to the hyperlinks, Peter and David cordially invite you to check out the resources at these websites:

Innovator’s Field Guide
link

Our Growth practice link

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Keith Sawyer: An interview by Bob Morris

Sawyer, KeithKeith Sawyer is one of the world’s leading scientific experts on creativity and innovation. In his first job after graduating from MIT, he designed videogames for Atari. He then worked for six years as a management consultant in Boston and New York, advising large corporations on the strategic use of information technology. He’s been a jazz pianist for over 30 years, and performed with several improv theater groups in Chicago, as part of his research into jazz and improvisational theater.

Previous to Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity, his books include Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration and Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, and he has published over 80 scientific articles. Sawyer is a professor of education, psychology, and business at Washington University in St. Louis.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Who has had the greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Sawyer: I had so many wonderful mentors and advisors that introduced me to creativity research. When I arrived at the University of Chicago as a doctoral student, I had long been interested in musical and artistic creativity, but I had no idea this was a field of scientific research. When I applied to grad school, I wanted to study conversational dynamics, and I went to University of Chicago to work with the famous linguistic anthropologist, Michael Silverstein. Just by coincidence, my first Fall term on campus, Mike Csikszentmihalyi was teaching a class called “Psychology of Creativity,” and I signed up for it, basically as an elective.

Mike was the one who introduced me to the field and showed me that it was possible to do rigorous empirical study of the creative process. His own dissertation, also at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s, was a study of the creative process of MFA students at the Art Institute of Chicago. For the term project in his class, I interviewed several jazz musicians about their own creative process. Mike liked the paper, and suggested that I revise it and submit it to the Creativity Research Journal. After revision it was accepted, and became my first published journal article, in 1992.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Sawyer: I didn’t start graduate school until I was 30. My undergrad degree was in computer science at MIT, and I worked eight years after college in information technology and software development. My first job, I designed videogames for a small company in Cambridge, MA that did many of Atari’s hit videogames, under contract. Then, I worked six years doing management consulting for big money-center banks. At the age of 29, I was really ready for a change; I had always wanted to return to grad school and become a professor, and the time was right. But I didn’t know what I wanted to study or even what departments to apply to. I knew I wanted to study how people communicate through language; I discovered that scholars study this in linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and psychology.

And as a matter of fact, throughout my career since then, I’ve continued to be very interdisciplinary and this is my own approach to creativity research.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Sawyer: I am not one of those people who thinks that schools kill creativity. Teachers and schools taught me so much that I needed to know to do the work I’ve done. My two degrees are from two extremely rigorous environments, MIT and the University of Chicago. What both of these places share is a deep commitment to ideas and inquiry. People really care about getting it right, about what is the truth about a phenomenon. Sometimes people argue, and I mean shouting…just because they really really care about ideas.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Sawyer: I knew nothing! I was just a nerdy computer science graduate. And the videogame design company was not corporate at all; it was a small startup company that had all of the features we now associate with Internet startups. In 1982, we had a gourmet chef, we had company-paid vacations to Disneyworld…I got my real education about the business world when I started consulting for big companies like Citicorp and AT&T and US West. My mentor was the company founder, Kenan Sahin, who had been a professor in business at MIT. Thanks to him, I essentially received an MBA education on the job.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Keith cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His home page

His blog

Keith’s Amazon page

The Zig Zag page

Huffington Post link

Sunday, May 5, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leigh Thompson: An interview by Bob Morris

Thompson, Leigh
Leigh Thompson
is the J. Jay Gerber Professor of Dispute Resolution & Organizations in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She directs the highly successful Kellogg executive course, Leading High Impact Teams, and the Kellogg Team and Group Research Center. She also co-directs the Negotiation Strategies for Managers course. Thompson has published more than 100 research articles and has authored nine books, including The Truth About Negotiations, Making the Team, and The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator. Her latest book, Creative Conspiracy: The New Rules of Breakthrough Collaboration, was published by Harvard Business Review Press (January 2013).

Here is an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Creative Conspiracy, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Thompson: As strange as it sounds my husband, Robert Weeks, helped me discover some strengths I didn’t know I had. His passion for cycling led me to get on a bike so we would have something to do together. What I learned is that I actually have a lot of strength and talent in that area. From casual riding for fun, I started rigorous training to become a bike racer. That experience taught me the importance of having a goal and of being coachable. It also taught me about failure and success. I don’t think I would have written the Creative Conspiracy without his presence in my life.

Morris: Who has had the greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Thompson: Two dissertation advisors: Reid Hastie (now at the University of Chicago) taught me to be extremely rigorous and mission-focused in my research. Max Bazerman (now at Harvard Business School) – introduced me to negotiation research. I had started my dissertation topic on a boring subject and changed it when I met Max. If I’m not passionate about something, it is hard for me to focus on it.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow? Please explain.

Thompson: When I was pursuing my PhD I thought I would spend the rest of my life as a researcher in an academic institution. However, I was lonely simply doing research for research sake. I found my true home in a business school. On the very first day while teaching MBA students and executives, I decided that I never wanted to do any research unless I could bring it into the classroom and have executives find it valuable.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Thompson: I think some people know exactly what they want to do from the time they are 10 years old. I always felt like a fraud because I don’t think I figured out what I wanted to do until I was about 35 years old. In college, I was a theater major for about a year and a half, then I changed majors and earned a major in communication studies and a minor in psychology. After that I became a marriage counselor and therapist, then I became a social psychologist, and finally when I was about 35 it all came together. But when I look back, having training on the stage helps me in the classroom, having performed marriage counseling helps me works with people and understand interpersonal dynamics, and being a researcher helps me too. All these false starts have shaped what I’m most passionate about doing now.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Creative Conspiracy. When and why did you decide to write it?

Thompson: When I was in the classroom and working with companies, I realized that they often operated under well-intentioned, but largely faulty assumptions. In fact, the scientific evidence on creativity is not well known by companies. So, a lot of what companies were doing was completely contrary to a lot of the research studies. I didn’t feel comfortable asking my students and clients to go and read 250 management science and psychological science articles, so I wanted to put all of this research together in an easy to read format. My goal was to collect all this information and build a framework that was actionable.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Thompson: The key conversation stopper in all of my lectures and teaching on creativity is that teams are distinctively less creative than individuals. Another head-snapping revelation is that focusing on quantity is a much better key to creative success than focusing on quality. Just by stating these two facts, I can almost cause a revolt. In Chapter 2, I provide a quiz where people can access whether they are operating under myth or actual fact. And the rest of the book provides a step-by-step guide on what leaders can do to be more creative.

Morris: Many (if not most) people assign negative connotations to the word “conspiracy.” How do you define the word and, in your opinion, what are the defining characteristics of a conspiracy that is creative?

Thompson: A creative conspiracy is below radar behavior and stage setting by teams in order to think about new possibilities and question assumptions. Conspiracy can have a negative connotation, and I wanted to come up with a title that would signal the fact that sometimes creative stage setting is at odds with traditional organizational expectations In certain sections of the book I discuss creative deviance, where teams actually defy what superiors and managers are asking them to do all in the name of questioning assumptions and coming up with new breakthroughs.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

For more information about Leigh Thompson’s teaching and research, please visit www.leighthompson.com.

Monday, March 18, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daniel Goleman on “How to Find Your Flow”

Goleman, DanielHere is a brief excerpt from an article written by Daniel Goleman and featured by LinkedIn.

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Where we want to be on the Yerkes-Dodson arc is the zone of optimal performance, known as “flow” in the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [pronounced cheek-sent-me-high-uh] at the University of Chicago. Flow represents a peak of self-regulation, the maximal harnessing of emotions in the service of performance or learning. In flow we channel positive emotions in an energized pursuit of the task at hand. Our focus is undistracted, and we feel a spontaneous joy, even rapture.

[Note: To watch the video of Csikszentmihalyi’s TED presentation, please click here.]

The flow concept emerged from research where people were asked to describe a time they outdid themselves and achieved their personal best. People described moments from a wide range of domains of expertise, from basketball and ballet to chess and brain surgery. And no matter the specifics, the underlying state they described was one and the same.

The chief characteristics of flow include rapt, unbreakable concentration; a nimble flexibility in responding to changing challenges; executing at the top of your skill level; and taking pleasure in what you’re doing – joy. That last hallmark strongly suggests that if brain scans were done of people while in flow we might expect to see notable left prefrontal activation; if brain chemistry were assayed, we would likely find higher levels of mood and performance enhancing compounds like dopamine.

This optimal performance zone has been called a state of neural harmony where the disparate areas of the brain are in synch, working together. This is also seen as a state of maximum cognitive efficiency. Getting into flow lets you use whatever talent you may have at peak levels.

People who have mastered a domain of expertise and who operate at the top of their game typically have practiced a minimum of 10,000 hours – and are often world class in their performance. Tellingly, when such experts are engaged in their skill, whatever it may be, their overall levels of brain arousal tend to become lower, suggesting that for them this particular activity has become relatively effortless, even at its peak.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Daniel Goleman is the author of the international bestsellers Emotional Intelligence, Working with Emotional Intelligence, and Social Intelligence, and the co-author of the acclaimed business bestseller Primal Leadership. He was a science reporter for the New York Times, was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and received the American Psychological Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his media writing. Learn more about the latest research on emotional intelligence in Dan’s latest book, The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights. He lives in the Berkshires.

Friday, January 25, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why You Are Not a Failure

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Dorie Clark for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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Success sells. Everybody loves a winner. These clichés are reaffirmed every day in our business and media culture, especially if the winners are young or “emerging.” Fast Company recently released their list of the year’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. Every city has its roundup of the local heavy hitters (hello “30 under 30″ and “40 under 40″). And don’t forget the World Economic Forum’s posse of Young Global Leader. What, you didn’t make the cut? (Actually, me neither.) In this kind of environment, it’s all too easy to feel like a failure — but just because the world doesn’t yet recognize your genius doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I talked recently with David Galenson, an economist at the University of Chicago who began studying prices at art auctions — an exploration that drove him to understand the nature of creativity over the course of one’s career. He realized there were two very distinct types of creativity — “conceptual” (in which a young person has a clear vision and executes it early, a la Picasso or Zuckerberg) and ”experimental” (think Cezanne or Virginia Woolf, practicing and refining their craft over time and winning late-in-life success).

I saw this kind of fast, “conceptual” creativity and success exemplified not too long ago at my Smith College reunion, where I heard a talk by one of our notable alumnae, Thelma Golden, now the Director of the Studio Museum in Harlem. Golden has been on my radar for a long time — the year I graduated, she was honored by the college with a special prize. Though it typically goes to older alumnae, she won it only 10 years after graduation for her achievements as a Whitney Museumcurator. She’d known she wanted to enter the field since high school, she told us. Her focus was singular, and she attained professional success almost immediately. It’s enough to make anyone feel like a loser in comparison.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the forthcoming Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.

Friday, July 6, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Get Into the Zone

Here is another valuable Management Tip of the Day from Harvard Business Review. To sign up for a free subscription to any/all HBR newsletters, please click here.

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Everyone aspires to get into “the zone,” or the mental state where you do your best work. Next time you’re trying to achieve peak performance, remember these three things:

• There is no zone for new activities. When you start a new task, you’re not going to find flow. Getting in the zone requires activating the subconscious part of the brain, which is simply inaccessible when you are trying something for the first time.

• You need the right environment. Figure out the settings that facilitate your flow — be it a crowded coffee shop or a quiet library — and work in them whenever possible.

• Emotions are key. Being in the zone requires finding the feelings that allow your subconscious to take over. Music can help activate these emotions. Find songs, albums, or artists that put you in the right mood and block out distractions.

Today’s Management Tip was adapted from “How to Get into Your Zone” by James Allworth.

To read that article and join the discussion, please click here.

Also, you may wish to check out Management Tips from Harvard Business Review by clicking here.

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To read his other articles, please click here.

James Allworth is the co-author of How Will You Measure Your Life?. He has worked as a Fellow at the Forum for Growth and Innovation (FGI) at Harvard Business School, at Apple, and Booz & Company. Connect with him on Twitter at @jamesallworth.

You may also wish to check out Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, written by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mee-hy cheek-sent-mah-hy-ee),  a Hungarian psychology professor, who emigrated to the United States at the age of 22. Now at Claremont Graduate University, he is the former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago and of the department of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College.

Friday, June 22, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Empathy Is The Most Powerful Leadership Tool

Here is a brief excerpt from an especially thought-provoking and informative article written  by Ginny Whitelaw and featured online by Fast Company magazine. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.

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This blog is written by a member of our expert blogging community and expresses that expert’s views alone.

Anything we’re trying to make happen as a leader involves other people, and the fact is, most people don’t have to follow us. They don’t have to believe in our great ideas, buy our great products, or do what we want them to do. Even when we have authority–as parents of teenagers will tell you–our power doesn’t go very far without others believing that what we want them to do is in their best interests. The pull of connecting to others and their interests is far more powerful than the push of control, especially when we find the intersection between their interests and our goals. How do we know what’s truly in someone else’s interests?

“Become the other person and go from there.” It’s the best piece of coaching advice I ever received, coming from Tanouye Roshi, and it applies equally to influence, negotiation, conflict, sales, teaching, and communication of all kinds. To become the other person is to listen so deeply that our own mind chatter stops; to listen with every pore on our body until we can sense how the other’s mind works. To become the other person is to feel into her emotional state, see through her eyes, think like she thinks, and see how she views us, our proposition, and the situation at hand. To write it out or read it in serial fashion makes it sound like a lengthy, time-consuming process, but in fact, deep empathy conveys its insights in a flash, and our ability to empathize deepens with practice, as we learn to quiet our own inner state.

[Whitelaw then explains specifically how and why “becoming the other person” is essential to effective leadership at all levels and in all areas of any organization, whatever its size and nature may be.]

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Dr. Ginny Whitelaw is the co-founder of Focus Leadership, LLC, focusing on the development of the whole leader. A biophysicist by training, she combines a rich scientific background with senior leadership experience, and 30 years of training in Zen and martial arts. For many years she has been an executive coach, faculty member and program director with Oliver Wyman’s Delta Executive Learning Center. She has also served as adjunct faculty to Columbia University’s senior executive program. A seasoned program manager in telecommunications and aerospace, she has more than 20 years of experience leading multifunctional teams and complex change efforts.

Dr. Whitelaw spent 10 of those years at NASA, where she became the Deputy Manager for integration of the International Space Station Program. She led a large-scale change effort to re-align the management of the Space Station program. Her work using cross-functional teams became a model for other NASA programs, and she was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal for her efforts. She also has small and non-profit organization leadership experience, having founded and run 4 companies, including two major training centers for Zen and Aikido. A Rinzai Zen priest, she holds a 5th degree black belt in Aikido, and teaches Zen meditation alongside her work as a management educator and executive coach.

Dr. Whitelaw is the author of BodyLearning and (with Betsy Wetzig) Move to Greatness: The 4 Essential Energies of the Whole and Balanced Leader. Together with Mark Kiefaber, she has developed the FEBI® (Focus Energy Balance Indicator), a powerful assessment identifying one’s preferences for four energy patterns linking mind and body. She holds a Ph.D. in Biophysics from the University of Chicago, as well as a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in Philosophy from Michigan State University.

Her latest book is The Zen Leader: 10 Ways to Go From Barely Managing to Leading Fearlessly.

Thursday, May 3, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Teach the Books, Touch the Heart

Illustration Credit: Domitille Collardey

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Claire Needell Hollander, an English teacher at a public middle school in Manhattan. It first appeared in the April 20, 2012, edition of  The New York Times. It attracted my attention for several reasons including the fact that I have been a book worm since childhood. Also, after earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in comparative literature at the University of Chicago and Yale, I taught world literature for 13 years at two boarding schools in New England, and then for ten years at a local community college. The great books can indeed “touch the heart.”

I am convinced that such books are “magic carpets” that can transport those who read them almost anywhere in time and space, from the shores of Troy under siege to worlds within and beyond our universe a century or more from now. In this article, Hollander describes her young students’ reactions to various great books and then shares her concerns about the subordination of learning skills to standardized testing skills.

To read the complete article, please click here.

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FRANZ KAFKA wrote that “a book must be the ax for the frozen sea inside us.” I once shared this quotation with a class of seventh graders, and it didn’t seem to require any explanation.

We’d just finished John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. When we read the end together out loud in class, my toughest boy, a star basketball player, wept a little, and so did I. “Are you crying?” one girl asked, as she crept out of her chair to get a closer look. “I am,” I told her, “and the funny thing is I’ve read it many times.”

But they understood. When George shoots Lennie, the tragedy is that we realize it was always going to happen. In my 14 years of teaching in a New York City public middle school, I’ve taught kids with incarcerated parents, abusive parents, neglectful parents; kids who are parents themselves; kids who are homeless or who live in crowded apartments in violent neighborhoods; kids who grew up in developing countries. They understand, more than I ever will, the novel’s terrible logic — the giving way of dreams to fate.

For the last seven years, I have worked as a reading enrichment teacher, reading classic works of literature with small groups of students from grades six to eight. I originally proposed this idea to my principal after learning that a former stellar student of mine had transferred out of a selective high school — one that often attracts the literary-minded offspring of Manhattan’s elite — into a less competitive setting. The daughter of immigrants, with a father in jail, she perhaps felt uncomfortable with her new classmates. I thought additional “cultural capital” could help students like her fare better in high school, where they would inevitably encounter, perhaps for the first time, peers who came from homes lined with bookshelves, whose parents had earned not G.E.D.’s but Ph.D.’s.

Along with Of Mice and Men, my groups read: Sounder, The Red Pony, A Raisin in the Sun, Lord of the Flies, The Catcher in the Rye, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth. The students didn’t always read from the expected perspective. Holden Caulfield was a punk, unfairly dismissive of parents who had given him every advantage. About The Red Pony, one student said, “it’s about being a dude, it’s about dudeness.” I had never before seen the parallels between Scarface and Macbeth, nor had I heard Lady Macbeth’s soliloquies read as raps, but both made sense; the interpretations were playful, but serious. Once introduced to Steinbeck’s writing, one boy went on to read The Grapes of Wrath and told me repeatedly how amazing it was that “all these people hate each other, and they’re all white.” His historical perspective was broadening, his sense of his own country deepening. Year after year, ex-students visited and told me how prepared they had felt in their freshman year as a result of the classes.

And yet I do not know how to measure those results. As student test scores have become the dominant means of evaluating schools, I have been asked to calculate my reading enrichment program’s impact on those scores. I found that some students made gains of over 100 points on the statewide English Language Arts test, while other students in the same group had flat or negative results. In other words, my students’ test scores did not reliably indicate that reading classic literature added value.

Until recently, given the students’ enthusiasm for the reading groups, I was able to play down that data. But last year, for the first time since I can remember, our test scores declined in relation to comparable schools in the city. Because I play a leadership role in the English department, I felt increased pressure to bring this year’s scores up. All the teachers are increasing their number of test-preparation sessions and practice tests, so I have done the same, cutting two of my three classic book groups and replacing them with a test-preparation tutorial program. Only the highest-performing eighth graders were able to keep taking the reading classes.

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Monday, April 23, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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