Keith 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.
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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.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Keith cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
His home page
Keith’s Amazon page
The Zig Zag page
Huffington Post link
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.
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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.
Terry R. Bacon is a Scholar in Residence in the Korn/Ferry Institute. Previously, he was founder and CEO of Lore International Institute. He has a B.S. in engineering from West Point and a PhD in literary studies from The American University. He has also studied business and leadership at Goddard College, Roosevelt University, University of Chicago, Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard. He is a prolific author and speaker, having written more than one hundred articles, white papers, and books, including Selling to Major Accounts, Winning Behavior, The Behavioral Advantage, Adaptive Coaching, Powerful Proposals, What People Want, and The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence (AMACOM, January 2011). Bacon’s latest book, Elements of Influence: The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead, was also published by AMACOM in July 2011.
He is chairman of the Fort Lewis College Foundation board and president of Music in the Mountains, a summer classical music festival in Durango, Colorado. During the last four years, Leadership Excellence has named him one of the top 100 thinkers on leadership in the world. You can learn more about him and his ideas and works at http://www.terryrbacon.com/, http://www.theelementsofpower.com/ or http://www.booksbyterryrbacon.com/.
Here is an excerpt from my second interview of Terry. To read the complete interview, please click here.
To read my first interview of him, please click here.
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Morris: When and why did you decide to write Elements of Influence?
Bacon: I have been researching power and influence for more than 20 years. In 1990, I created the Survey of Influence Effectiveness, a 360-degree assessment of power, influence frequency, and influence effectiveness. After the instrument was validated, we began collecting data from business people around the world. Several years ago, I began to analyze the data and found that we had a gold mine of information on how people build their power bases and how they use power to lead and influence others. Some of the results confirmed my hypotheses about power and influence, but other results were unexpected and gave me some new insights into leadership through influence.
Morris: To what extent is it an extension of Elements of Power?
Bacon: I began writing them at the same time. Initially, I had intended to write one book on power and influence, but the more I wrote the more I realized that the subject was bigger than I could reasonably explore in a single book. I had lunch in New York with my editor, Ellen Kadin, and told her how large the book had become, and she suggested separating the topics and doing two books. So Elements of Influence is very much an extension of The Elements of Power. They complement each other very well.
Morris: What differentiates it from Elements of Power?
Bacon: In The Elements of Power, I describe the eleven sources of power people can have—where that power comes from, how people can become powerful in each of the eleven ways, and how those power sources can become power drains. Character, for instance, can be a huge source of power for people who are perceived to be moral exemplars, but if they do something unethical or immoral, they can lose that power very quickly. Eliot Spitzer is a good example of this. Throughout this book, I also explain how readers can build each of these power sources. The second book, Elements of Influence, describes how people use their power to lead and influence others. This book describes the ten ethical influence techniques and the four unethical means of influencing others. Together, these books provide a complete picture of what enables anyone to make a difference in the world. The subtitle of the influence book is The Art of Getting Others to Follow Your Lead, and that really captures the essence of both books.
Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing Elements of Influence?
Bacon: I had done a substantial amount of research before writing the book, so many of the head-snapping revelations occurred as I was reviewing the research findings. It was impossible not to be surprised and amazed as I examined those findings in depth and realized that some of my preconceptions about power and influence were wrong and as I learned more about this fascinating topic. One huge surprise, for instance, was the enormous leverage that expressiveness power has on a person’s effectiveness at leading and influencing others. Another surprise was how power and influence differed in the 45 cultures I studied. Of course, I also had some interesting revelations as I wrote the book. As a writer, I always create a fairly detailed outline of a book before I start writing, but the writing process itself is always one of discovery. For me, that is one of the joys of writing. No matter how much I think I know about a subject, I always discover more—and have some intriguing realizations—as I write.
Morris: To what extent (if any) does it differ in final form from what you originally envisioned? Please explain.
Bacon: As a writer, I do a tremendous amount of up-front work on books, so I know what the books is about, what I’m going to say in each chapter, and essentially how the book will look when it’s finished. So, once I’d made the decision to write about the power and influence topics in separate books, the final form of those books did not differ substantially from what I had originally envisioned. However, the content of the chapters evolved as I wrote them because, for me, like other writers, the process of writing is a journey of clarification and discovery.
Morris: What are the most significant differences between your book and others that also examine influence, persuasion, etc?
Bacon: A number of the books on influence and persuasion are primarily oriented toward marketing, so when those authors speak about influencing people, they often mean influencing consumers or buyers. Even Robert Cialdini’s classic book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, emphasizes how influence is used by marketers, peddlers, and salespeople. In Elements of Influence and the work I’ve done on power, I have focused more broadly on how people influence each other in everyday life: in business, at home, at school, in the professions, in the arts, and so on. I’m not as interested in the marketing applications of influence as I am in how people try to influence each other all the time. Furthermore, as comprehensive as Cialdini is, he doesn’t discuss every influence technique, such as engaging people by consulting them or influencing scores of people by being a role model. Gandhi, for instance, continues to influence millions of people (who never knew him) by being a role model of non-violent resistance.
Some other books on influence make outlandish claims. One promises to teach you how to get anyone to do anything. Another, titled The Science of Influence, claims that you can get anyone to say yes in eight minutes or less. Books like these are not scientific, and the claims they make don’t just border on the ridiculous, they ARE the ridiculous. Yes, people learn to become better at influencing, but to get anyone to do anything? In eight minutes or less? As I note in my book, if these claims were remotely reasonable, then why is there still conflict in the Middle East? People are more complicated than these authors imagine, and the claims they make on their book covers are good selling tools—but they’re false.
Morris: You refer to influence as an “art” but also suggest that there are elements of science involved when getting others to take one’s lead – to believe something wants them to think, or do something one wants them to do. Please explain.
Bacon: The art in influence comes in the ability to read others, intuit how they will respond to different forms of influence, build commonality and rapport with them, observe carefully and adapt as you interact with them. The science comes in understanding and applying the ten laws of influence, in knowing the different influence techniques and when to use them, and in studying the link between operating styles and influence effectiveness and using the principles gleaned from that study to more effectively influence people with different operating styles.
Morris: For those who have not as yet read the book, what are the “ten laws of influence”?
Bacon: First, I think it’s important to define influence. It is the art of getting others to follow your lead—to believe something you want them to believe, think in a way you want them to think, or do something you want them to do. All of us try to influence others every day. We try to persuade others to accept our point of view on a political candidate, or we try to get them to buy something or accept the price we’re willing to pay for something they are trying to sell to us. Whether you are arguing a point, making a proposal, interviewing for a job, or asking for a raise, you are trying to influence people. And leadership is entirely about influencing other people. The basic principles of influence are what I call the ten laws, and they are:
1. Influence attempts may fail for many legitimate reasons. No matter how skilled you are, you won’t be able to influence everyone all the time.
2. Influence is contextual. People won’t be influenced unless they have the latitude to say yes, unless saying yes is consistent with their interests and values, and unless they have an agreeable disposition.
3. Influence is often a process rather than an event. You won’t always succeed the first time, but if you persist you may eventually succeed.
4. Influence is cultural. People in different cultures often respond differently to the same influence technique.
5. Ethical influence is consensual and often bilateral.
6. Unethical influence may succeed—but always at a cost.
7. People respond best to the influence techniques they use themselves.
8. If you are observant, people will reveal what they find most influential.
9. Influence usually involves a mix of techniques.
10. The more power you have, the more influential you will be.
If you understand these fundamental laws, you will be more influential.
Morris: Which of the ten fundamentals do most people find most difficult to master? Why?
Bacon: Number 8. If you watch people carefully and note how they try to influence you or other people, you can discover how best to influence them (and this law is based on law number 7. A man who tries to influence you by giving you the logical reasons for doing something is likely to respond well to logic himself. A woman who tries to influence you by citing an authority will probably respond well to legitimizing (an influence technique that works by appealing to authority). I’ve seen people who know this intuitively, but I’ve also seen others who struggle with it. They’ll try to use logic, and when logic doesn’t work, they’ll try a different logical argument. When that doesn’t work (and they become frustrated), they’ll try more logic. Instead, they should pay attention to what the person they are trying to influence is most responsive to and adapt accordingly.
Morris: Can almost anyone master the skills needed to possess and exert great influence?
Bacon: Yes, but the first step is to build their power base. If you don’t have considerable power, you won’t be able to exert great influence. The next step is to build your influencing skills and then learning to adapt your technique to the person and the situation. For example, if I want to be capable of influencing a number of people at one time and inspiring them to action, I need to be very good at an influence technique called “appealing to values.” The power sources that make appealing to values effective are expressiveness (being a superb communicator), character (being considered honest and trustworthy), attraction (having people like me or want to be near me), and reputation (being well regarded in my organization or society). I also need to be highly skilled at conveying energy and enthusiasm, building rapport and trust with others, listening, appearing self-confident, and using a compelling tone of voice. Many people can improve their skills in these areas. The most influential people become masters at them. Becoming a real master at influencing others may take years, but if they apply themselves everyone can become more influential than they are now.
Tad Waddington is Director of Performance Measurement for Accenture. He received his PhD in Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistical Analysis from the University of Chicago. He is the co-author of Return on Learning: Training for High Performance at Accenture and the author of Lasting Contribution: How to Think, Plan, and Act to Accomplish Meaningful Work, which has won six prestigious awards. Fluent in Chinese, Tad is Global Senior Advisor to the Asia-Pacific CEO Association Worldwide. He is also among my most cherished personal friends.
Here is an excerpt from my second interview of Tad. To read the complete interview, please click here.
To read the first interview, please click here.
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Morris: So much has – and hasn’t happened – in the world since our last conversation a few years that I really don’t quite know where to begin. So, for those who have not as yet read Return on Learning and/or Lasting Contribution. Let’s begin there. First Return. What was the book’s ROI for you?
Waddington: The return for me has come in two big ways. First, I love to travel, because it, to paraphrase Kant, shakes me out of my dogmatic slumbers. I’ve spoken on the return on investment in training in Beijing, Cairo, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, London, Mumbai, Nanjing, Nice, Saigon, Singapore, and dozens of other places. Second, it was the beginning of my understanding of how incredibly high, robust, and pervasive are the returns on investments in human capital.
Morris: Then and even more so now, Accenture is a very large and very complex organization. For years it has been my great pleasure as well as privilege to work closely with owner/CEOs of hundreds of small companies (i.e. those with annual sales of less than $25 million). Here’s my question: What are the most valuable lessons that leaders of small companies learn and apply from what you and your co-authors share in the book.
Waddington: Employee learning (aka, human capital investment) is more important than leaders think it is. I’ll give an example. Imagine that you run a very small business and that your business performance is a function of People, Process and Technology. If you’ve invested $5 in Process and $5 in Technology and $1 in People, then your total output is ($5 * $5 * $1) $25 units of production. If you increase your investment in People by $1, then your output goes to ($5 * $5 * $2) $50. The formula return on investment (ROI) is:
ROI = (Value – Cost) / Cost
In this example, the value added by the training was $25 at a cost of $1.
ROI = ($25 – $1) / $1 = 2,400%.
The ROI in training is absurdly high, because training helped to realize value in the other factors of production. For example, suppose I am barely skilled at using some software. Upgrading me to the newest version or giving me a faster computer would not yield as much value as would increasing my skills with the software. Increasing my skills will allow me to draw more value out of both the software and the hardware. In other words, because organizations have traditionally underinvested in training, they will see extraordinarily high returns. Therefore, it is well worth the CEO’s investment of resources (time, money, attention) to align learning with the organizations strategy
Morris: In your opinion, what is the single greatest challenge that world leaders now face?
Waddington: In the West in particular, short-term thinking. Most of our public companies seem to look only to the next quarter and our politicians, only to the next election. A more concrete example is that in North Dakota oil companies burn off 100 million cubic feet of natural gas every day, because it is cheaper to burn it than to capture it. In the short term, this makes economical sense. In the long run, we can’t get that gas back, it adds millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and it is just plain stupid .
Morris: What is the single greatest opportunity, one that did not exist until recently? How best to take full advantage of it
Waddington: This goes back to something I spent a great deal of time working on in graduate school. It is clear that science has led to progress; we have medicine, computers, transportation, and so on. And yet progress could be much, much greater. How? To date there have been an estimated 50 million scientific article published. Nobody can read even a small fraction of that.. Here’s an example of why this is a problem: One of my PhD advisors, Don Swanson, had Raynaud’s disease. When it gets cold, his fingers and toes hurt, a lot. Since he invented the research database, he knew of its limitations so when his doctors told him there is no cure, he got to searching.
He went into Pub Med and pulled every article with the word “Raynaud” in the title. Then he stripped out meaningless words and pulled every article with meaningful words. The result was two sets of articles published years earlier that nobody had ever cited and that didn’t cite each other. One set said that Raynaud’s has something to do with blood viscosity. The other said that fish oil decreases blood viscosity. He started taking fish oil supplements and his disease cleared up. He published the work and clinical trials have proved him right. He then did the same thing with his headaches: “Role of calcium entry blockers in the prophylaxis of migraine” and “Magnesium: nature’s physiologic calcium blocker.” Nobody knew of these connections, because the literature crossed disciplinary lines. People know what is in their area of specialization, but not potentially related areas.
Swanson argues that the idea of an information explosion is a misnomer. Since it is people who produce articles, the ratio of articles to people isn’t unmanageable. The real problem—the supernova of explosions—is in the connections between articles. Connections grow exponentially. Looking at just pair-wise relationships, you get
Connections = (Number of Articles * Number of Articles -1) / 2.
2 will get you 1. 3 will get you 3. 4 will get you 6. 5 will get you 10 and 50 million will get you 1.25 * 1015.
Only a very small percentage of articles needs to connect for there to exist a great deal of undiscovered public knowledge.
It is a problem, because we already have solutions for much of what ails us. The problem is that one person knows that A leads to B. Somebody else knows that B leads to C. Nobody knows A leads to C.
What is the opportunity? The biggest potentially game-changing invention to come along since the internet is IBM’s Watson, the computer that beat the best at Jeopardy. The internet digitizes information, but the information is in human language. Watson, however crudely, can handle human language. This allows us apply the power of computing to knowledge discovery.
To take full advantage of it, I would have Watson read everything and have it ask the experts such questions as: Steve Jobs died of pancreatic cancer. This cancer is caused by these genes turning off and those turning on. This dermatology drug turns on these genes and that schizophrenia drug turns off those genes. If he had taken these two drugs in combination, would he still be alive?
Step one is just figuring out logical implications: If A leads to B and B leads to C, then doesn’t A lead to C? Step two is mapping out what is known and not know and then suggesting studies that could be done to fill major holes in our thinking. For example, A>B>C>E>F. Shouldn’t we look into D?
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Tad Waddington cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
An introduction to Tads’ book Lasting Contribution
A deep dive into explaining Confucianism
Don Swanson’s computer program for searching for undiscovered public knowledge in medical research databases.
The Nova documentary on IBM’s Watson.
Field’s book, A Great Leap Forward
Terry R. Bacon is a Scholar in Residence in the Korn/Ferry Institute. Previously, he was founder and CEO of Lore International Institute. He has a B.S. in engineering from West Point and a PhD in literary studies from The American University. He has also studied business and leadership at Goddard College, Roosevelt University, University of Chicago, Wharton, Stanford, and Harvard. He is a prolific author and speaker, having written more than one hundred articles, white papers, and books, including Selling to Major Accounts, Winning Behavior, The Behavioral Advantage, Adaptive Coaching, Powerful Proposals, What People Want, and most recently, The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence (AMACOM, January 2011). Bacon’s next book Elements of Influence, will be published in July 2011.
He is chairman of the Fort Lewis College Foundation board and president of Music in the Mountains, a summer classical music festival in Durango, Colorado. During the last four years, Leadership Excellence has named him one of the top 100 thinkers on leadership in the world. You can learn more about him and his ideas and works at www.terryrbacon.com, www.theelementsofpower.com, or www.booksbyterryrbacon.com.
Morris: Before discussing your brilliant book, The Elements of Power, a few general questions. First, other than a family member, who has had the most influence on your personal development?
Bacon: A variety of teachers and mentors through the years. I couldn’t site one particular person. It’s more like a loose community of caring people. However, I found reading about the lives of Sir Thomas More and physicist Richard Feynman to be particularly inspirational for me.
Morris: On your professional development?
Bacon: Probably every author of every good book on leadership and business I’ve ever read, including Michael Useem, Dan Goleman, David Maister, Peter Drucker, John Kotter, Warren Bennis, Garry Wills, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, Michael Porter, James MacGregor Burns, and a host of others. I’m a voracious reader, and the key thoughts of those books stick with me.
Morris: To what extent did your education, training, and experience at the United States Military Academy prepare you for what awaited you, following active duty?
Bacon: The military academy had a profound effect on me. It taught me leadership, decision making, strategic thinking, responsibility, adaptability, integrity, and an engineer’s mindset, all of which helped me develop as a man and prepared me for the leadership roles I’ve played since active duty.
Morris: In your opinion, are business opportunities today better, worse, or about the same as they were (let’s say) ten years ago? Please explain.
Bacon: I think the opportunities today are the same as they were ten years, a hundred years ago, and a thousand years ago. Opportunity is what you create when you have the gumption to make something out of nothing, when you see possibilities others don’t, and when you are brazen enough to break with tradition and courageous enough to see it through. That existed long ago and it exists in abundance today.
Morris: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you began your business career years ago?
Bacon: I wish I’d known earlier in my career how to assess talent and select the best people for every job. And I wish I knew how to make the tough people decisions sooner. Businesses thrive when you have the right people in place and decay when you retain the wrong people. But making the tough calls is difficult for most younger managers/leaders, especially if you are a “people person.”
Morris: What is the primary mission of the Korn/Ferry Institute? How specifically does it fulfill that mission?
Bacon: The Institute’s mission is to develop and implement world-class intellectual property to improve our clients’ acquisition, development, and retention of top talent.
Morris: Most people I know claim that the most valuable lessons they learned were from personal experience; more specifically, from failure rather than from success. Is that also true of you? Please explain.
Bacon: Yes, I think you learn more from failures—if you actively seek to understand why they happened, avoid focusing on blame, and apply the lessons immediately. I’ve always told people that it’s okay to make mistakes. If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t pushing yourself. But it’s not okay to make the same mistake twice. Mistakes and failures are acceptable as long as you learn from them and apply the lessons immediately to improve the business.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Terry Bacon cordially invites you to check out these websites:
To learn more about Music in the Mountains, please click here.
For more information about Fort Lewis College, please click here.
For more about the foundation, please lick here.
You can learn more about the Durango Arts Center by clicking here.
Linda A. Hill is the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. She is the faculty chair of the Leadership Initiative and has chaired numerous HBS Executive Education programs, including the Young Presidents Organization’s Presidents’ Seminar and the High Potentials Leadership Program. She is a former faculty chair of the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School, and she was coursehead during the development of the new Leadership and Organizational Behavior MBA required course. She is the co-author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives of Becoming a Great Leader with Kent L. Lineback and Becoming a Manager: How New Managers Master the Challenges of Leadership (2nd Edition).
Dr. Hill did a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Harvard Business School and earned a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences at the University of Chicago. She received her M.A. in Educational Psychology with a concentration in measurement and evaluation from the University of Chicago. She has a B.A., summa cum laude, in psychology from Bryn Mawr College.
Morris: For those who have not as yet read Being the Boss, you and Kent Lineback identify and then discuss three “imperatives” to become a great leader. The first is “Manage Yourself.” My own opinion is that someone who can’t do that effectively cannot manage anyone else, much less members of a team (Imperative #3). What do you think?
Hill: Management is fundamentally a social activity, something done between two or more human beings. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that management begins with the manager’s ability to relate to others. That doesn’t mean at all that she must be highly social or gregarious but that she’s able to connect with others and generate trust, which we define as a belief in someone’s competence and character. In short, management begins with who you are and how that leads you to relate to others.
Morris: Robert Sutton has much of value to say about a “good boss” and a “bad boss.” From your own perspective, what are the defining characteristics of each?
Hill: We focus more in the book on how bosses grow from good to great and spend little time discussing “bad” bosses, except perhaps by implication. Using the framework we propose in the book, I suppose you could say “good” bosses (what we would call great bosses) are those consistently proficient at all three imperatives and therefore able to get the best possible effort from others individually and as a group. And I suppose we would say “bad” bosses are those so inconsistent or so lacking in proficiency that they make others less than they could be even as individuals.
Morris: Based on your experience, what you have observed, and what you have learned from others, what do all great teams share in common?
Hill: In a nutshell, I think they share a deep mutual commitment to their purpose, the reason they exist, and the concrete goals around that purpose, combined with a deep sense of “we.” That “we,” which is an entity to itself and more than a simple aggregation of individuals, is more important than any member individually and can be summed up as a belief that “we” will succeed or fail together.
Morris: When I am asked about great teams, I immediately think about those at the Disney who produced the classic animated films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi, those involved in the Manhattan Project, and whose associated with Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. All of them had great leadership. Here’s my question: However different they and their situations may be in most other respects, what do all leaders of great teams share in common?
Hill: They focus on creating the characteristics I mentioned in my previous answer – they focus on purpose, goals, and the importance of “we.” Equally important, they include themselves in that “we.”
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Linda Hill invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
www.beingtheboss.com and www.hbr.org/beingtheboss. The first is our Web site for the book. Anyone can contact us there. The second is the publisher’s microsite for the book. It contains the book’s full bibliography and other useful information.
Here is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review (July/August 2007). You can purchase a copy of the complete nine-page article and/or subscribe to HBR [click here].
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Thirty years ago, two Hungarian educators, László and Klara Polgár, decided to challenge the popular assumption that women don’t succeed in areas requiring spatial thinking, such as chess. They wanted to make a point about the power of education. The Polgárs homeschooled their three daughters, and as part of their education the girls started playing chess with their parents at a very young age. Their systematic training and daily practice paid off. By 2000, all three daughters had been ranked in the top ten female players in the world. The youngest, Judit, had become a grand master at age 15, breaking the previous record for the youngest person to earn that title, held by Bobby Fischer, by a month. Today Judit is one of the world’s top players and has defeated almost all the best male players.
It’s not only assumptions about gender differences in expertise that have started to crumble. Back in 1985, Benjamin Bloom, a professor of education at the University of Chicago, published a landmark book, Developing Talent in Young People, which examined the critical factors that contribute to talent. He took a deep retrospective look at the childhoods of 120 elite performers who had won international competitions or awards in fields ranging from music and the arts to mathematics and neurology. Surprisingly, Bloom’s work found no early indicators that could have predicted the virtuosos’ success. Subsequent research indicating that there is no correlation between IQ and expert performance in fields such as chess, music, sports, and medicine has borne out his findings. The only innate differences that turn out to be significant—and they matter primarily in sports—are height and body size.
So what does correlate with success? One thing emerges very clearly from Bloom’s work: All the superb performers he investigated had practiced intensively, had studied with devoted teachers, and had been supported enthusiastically by their families throughout their developing years. Later research building on Bloom’s pioneering study revealed that the amount and quality of practice were key factors in the level of expertise people achieved. Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born. These conclusions are based on rigorous research that looked at exceptional performance using scientific methods that are verifiable and reproducible. Most of these studies were compiled in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, published last year by Cambridge University Press and edited by K. Anders Ericsson, one of the authors of this article. The 900-page-plus handbook includes contributions from more than 100 leading scientists who have studied expertise and top performance in a wide variety of domains: surgery, acting, chess, writing, computer programming, ballet, music, aviation, firefighting, and many others.
The journey to truly superior performance is neither for the faint of heart nor for the impatient. The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself. Above all, if you want to achieve top performance as a manager and a leader, you’ve got to forget the folklore about genius that makes many people think they cannot take a scientific approach to developing expertise. We are here to help you explode those myths.
Let’s begin our story with a little wine.
What Is an Expert?
In 1976, a fascinating event referred to as the “Judgment of Paris” took place. An English-owned wineshop in Paris organized a blind tasting in which nine French wine experts rated French and California wines—ten whites and ten reds. The results shocked the wine world: California wines received the highest scores from the panel. Even more surprising, during the tasting the experts often mistook the American wines for French wines and vice versa.
Two assumptions were challenged that day. The first was the hitherto unquestioned superiority of French wines over American ones. But it was the challenge to the second—the assumption that the judges genuinely possessed elite knowledge of wine—that was more interesting and revolutionary. The tasting suggested that the alleged wine experts were no more accurate in distinguishing wines under blind test conditions than regular wine drinkers—a fact later confirmed by our laboratory tests.
Current research has revealed many other fields where there is no scientific evidence that supposed expertise leads to superior performance. One study showed that psychotherapists with advanced degrees and decades of experience aren’t reliably more successful in their treatment of randomly assigned patients than novice therapists with just three months of training are. There are even examples of expertise seeming to decline with experience. The longer physicians have been out of training, for example, the less able they are to identify unusual diseases of the lungs or heart. Because they encounter these illnesses so rarely, doctors quickly forget their characteristic features and have difficulty diagnosing them. Performance picks up only after the doctors undergo a refresher course.
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You can purchase a copy of the complete nine-page article and/or subscribe to HBR [click here].
K. Anders Ericsson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Conradi Eminent Scholar of Psychology at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. He is th author of The Road To Excellence: the Acquisition of Expert Performance in the Arts and Sciences, Sports, and Games.
Michael J. Prietula (email@example.com) is a professor at the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, in Atlanta, and visiting research scholar at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, in Pensacola, Florida.
Edward T. Cokely (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, in Berlin.
Tad Waddington is Director of Performance Measurement for Accenture. He received his PhD in Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistical Analysis from the University of Chicago. He is the co-author of Return on Learning: Training for High Performance at Accenture and the author of Lasting Contribution: How to Think, Plan, and Act to Accomplish Meaningful Work, which has won six prestigious awards. Fluent in Chinese, Tad is Global Senior Advisor to the Asia-Pacific CEO Association Worldwide. He also sits on three boards on three continents. He is also among my most cherished personal friends.
Morris: Before discussing Return on Learning and then Lasting Contribution, a few general questions. First, please explain your interest in and extensive associations with various Asian countries, notably with China.
Waddington: I suspect my interest in learning Chinese began in high school when I read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and wanted to learn a (very) different language so I could think differently. I was also interested in philosophy so learned ancient Chinese and got a master’s in the History of Religions at the University of Chicago’s Divinity school. I’ve been going to China since 1983 so have friends throughout the region. And in a stunning act of bad planning, I married a Japanese woman.
Morris: What are some of the most common misconceptions in the U.S. about China and its objectives?
Waddington:People think that China is a rich and powerful country. It has half the per capita GDP of Botswana. People talk about “China” and “Chinese food” as if it were one thing, but we don’t do that with Europe and China is 1.6 times the size of Europe with far greater linguistic variety. Remember that a language is a dialect with an army. Many of what we call dialects are mutually unintelligible. I could go on, but just these two points—a huge, poor country—already give you an understanding of China’s objectives: To feed and employ its people without falling into chaos. Indeed, China’s objectives are far more tame than they could be; the West twice invaded China (1839-1842 and 1856-1860) to force them to buy opium and yet I’ve never heard the Chinese say they wanted revenge.
Morris: What can we learn from China?
Waddington:Absolutely nothing relating to business. OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but think about this: When the West started doing business with Japan we wrote hundreds of books on Japanese management. I can’t think of one on Chinese management and I think I’ve found a clue as to why this is and it’s not just the effects of Socialism. If you look up “List of oldest companies” [click here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oldest_companies%5D, the five oldest are Japanese, starting with a construction company in the year 578. It takes time to get good at something.
Morris: Both of us are the beneficiaries of a superb formal education. Here’s my question. How specifically have your studies at ASU, and then at the University of Chicago (both divinity school and graduate school) guided and informed, indeed nourished your personal development?
Waddington: I finished high school barely literate, having read fewer than ten books in my lifetime, but I graduated from ASU with a 4.0 GPA. I still have professors who tell me, “We live for students like you.” You can imagine how very little I slept those four years, but I learned discipline of mind. At the Divinity School I learned how to read, to see not just what is in the text, how it all fits together, and how it fits with other texts, but also how to see what’s not in the text and why and how it fits. With the PhD I learned to do the same thing with numbers. In short, I learned to think, which has nourished every aspect of life.
Morris: Here’s a follow-up question. As you reflect back on your years as a student, which books seem to have served as the most valuable “magic carpets” because they enabled your mind, heart, and soul to go where they had not been before?
Waddington: You are looking for an answer like Suntzu’s Art of War, which I’ve read quite a few times in the original, but a more honest answer is Han Yu’s (768-824) writings and is irrelevant, because it isn’t the content that mattered, but the process. I know the exact moment I became an intellectual: 3:41 a.m. on Thursday, April 12, 1990. By day I was reading Gadamer’s Truth and Method; the meaning of a text isn’t in the text and it’s not in the reader; nor is it in the intentions of the author. Meaning comes from a dialectic between the reader and the text, blah, blah, blah. At night I was translating Han Yu, averaging the blistering pace of about an hour a word. In frustration I thought, “I just want somebody to tell me what this means.” Then I realized that nobody could. Even if the professor walked in right then and told me, I would have disagreed, because I’d already considered that translation and rejected it for good reasons. I realized that I had tried every possible permutation of interpretations, still didn’t have enough data to be certain, but had to make a decision anyway and then take responsibility for that decision. It sounds abstract and esoteric, but that is the nature of judgment and it has helped me in business, in parenting, in everything.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.