Mastery of the mundane

Photo by Evil Paul

When I read Outliers: The Story of Success about two years ago, one on the things that struck me most is the 10,000 hours rule. For those of you are still not familiar with this concept, in the book, Gladwell claims, based on research by Anders Ericsson that greatness requires enormous amounts of time. If you truly want to be an expert at something, you need to practice and engage in the act for about 10,000 hours. While this claim seems daunting, unintuitive and does not always hold up, it still presents a worthy approach to perseverance.

Perseverance is something we truly lack at management. Because even if you do not believe that it takes 10,000 hours to truly become great at something, we all instinctively value expertise and experience in the functional parts of the business world. But, when it comes to managerial skills (communicating with people, facilitating discussion, effective recognition, helping people excel, etc.) you wouldn’t find many people hailing for specific experience in that sense. Would you hire a manager that has no technical experience just for his excellent managerial skills and experience?

Our world is becoming more and more specialized and managers are less and less equipped to lead from the front, by expertise. Functional expertise is becoming a part of a bigger diverse workflow of creativity, where the challenge lies in the transformation of diversity into synergy. In this kind of world, managerial expertise that comes out of long-lasting experience coupled with perseverance is the true skill that needs to be celebrated. Power is to be found in the fundamentals. Or, as NameTag Guy tells us, in becoming the master of the mundane:

Become a master of the mundane. “Fully extend your dominant arm.” That’s what good coaches will tell you. Whether you’re shooting hoops, slinging slap shots or slamming aces, nothing beats an unbent elbow. It’s just a basic tenet of most sports.
The interesting part is how well the pros execute this strategy. Even the ones who get paid millions of dollars a year. They’re never too good, too rich or too successful to master the mundane.
My friend Steve Hughes, a presentation coach, teaches his clients this very principle: “You’re looking for the trick play when you need to just work on basic blocking and tackling.”
Remember: Never underestimate the power of continual application of the fundamentals. Forget the rudiments and forego the revenue. Are you brilliant at the basics?

So, how many hours have you been practicing you managerial skills?

Elad

Mastery of the mundane

When I read Outliers about two years ago, one on the things that struck me most is the 10,000 hours rule. For those of you are still not familiar with this concept, in the book, Gladwell claims, based on research by Anders Ericsson that greatness requires enormous amounts of time. If you truly want to be an expert at something, you need to practice and engage in the act for about 10,000 hours. While this claim seems daunting, unintuitive and does not always hold up, it still presents a worthy approach to perseverance.

Perseverance is something we truly lack at management. Because even if you do not believe that it takes 10,000 hours to truly become great at something, we all instinctively value expertise and experience in the functional parts of the business world. But, when it comes to managerial skills (communicating with people, facilitating discussion, effective recognition, helping people excel, etc.) you wouldn’t find many people hailing for specific experience in that sense. Would you hire a manager that has no technical experience just for his excellent managerial skills and experience?

Our world is becoming more and more specialized and managers are less and less equipped to lead from the front, by expertise. Functional expertise is becoming a part of a bigger diverse workflow of creativity, where the challenge lies in the transformation of diversity into synergy. In this kind of world, managerial expertise that comes out of long lasting experience coupled with perseverance is the true skill that needs to be celebrated. Power is to be found in the fundamentals. Or, as NameTag Guy tells us, in becoming the master of the mundane:

Become a master of the mundane. “Fully extend your dominant arm.” That’s what good coaches will tell you. Whether you’re shooting hoops, slinging slap shots or slamming aces, nothing beats an unbent elbow. It’s just a basic tenet of most sports.
The interesting part is how well the pros execute this strategy. Even the ones who get paid millions of dollars a year. They’re never too good, too rich or too successful to master the mundane.
My friend Steve Hughes, a presentation coach, teaches his clients this very principle: “You’re looking for the trick play when you need to just work on basic blocking and tackling.”
Remember: Never underestimate the power of continual application of the fundamentals. Forget the rudiments and forego the revenue. Are you brilliant at the basics?

So, how many hours have you been practicing you managerial skills?

Elad

10,000 hours rule, Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Seth Godin, NameTag Scott, perseverance, expertise, diversity, synergy, creativity

The challenge of diversity and innovation – a different way to approach motivation

Photo by Sanj@y

Last week (yes I know, who writes about things that happened last week anymore, right?) John Kotter wrote an interesting post on HBR.org titled: What a Physicist Taught Me About Leading Change. In it, Kotter describe the importance of diversity for developing new ideas:

Whenever you get people with diverse backgrounds looking at the same thing you can come up with ideas that might not have developed otherwise. That is hardly news. But I’ve learned in studying large-scale change that if the people are very different, in relevant ways, and want to work together (not appointed to be on one more task force), the possibilities are great.

I emphasized the words “and want to work together” in the quote because it touches the heart of the challenge of managers today that have to deliver innovation if they want their companies to survive.  As Kotter says, some types of innovation will only develop out of diversity. These are usually the game changing, radical innovations. And if we want to keep delivering them, we need to keep at putting together diverse teams.

But here lies the challenge. Diversity is hard. More than that, innovation is hard. Innovation out of diversity requires learning that is difficult, because it involves heading right on into areas you are not familiar with along with someone who doesn’t really speak your language or gets you. And in order to that, you have to be truly motivated. A kind of motivation that can only emerge and cannot be mandated.

Our management structures, unfortunately, are not built to support this kind of motivation. This is a kind of motivation that will not come out of mechanisms of control or rules, but only out of autonomy, mastery and especially, purpose. That is the real challenge of diversity. It demands a change in our leadership mindset.

So, how do you make sure your diverse group wants to work together?

Elad

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Are your employees afraid to embarrass themselves?

Photo by Katie Tegtmeyer

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that I have a fascination with Epic Fantasy novels and I find many management lessons in them. Yesterday, it happened again. I am currently reading Terry Goodkind’s Soul of the Fire and came across between two characters. I need to set the stage. These are newlyweds (Richard and Kahlan) that are deeply in love. They also had a number of extraordinary experiences and learned to trust one another deeply. Now, check out this exchange between them.

‘Then… what?’

‘Joseph Ander was a wizard, and the wizards of his time were able to do things even Zedd would find astounding. Perhaps Joseph simply used this rock as a starting place’

‘What do you mean? How?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t know as much about magic as you – maybe you could tell me. But what if he simply took a small rock from here for each Dominine Dirtch and then when he got to where they are today, made them big.’

‘Made them big?’

Richard opened his hands in a helpless gesture. ‘I don’t know. Used magic to make the rock grow…’

“I was thinking you were going to come up with something silly’ Kahlan said. ‘That actually makes sense, as far as I know about magic’

Richard was relieved not to have embarrassed himself.

If for a moment you ignore the fact that the conversation deals with magic, you will notice that this is a conversation that happens in every office around the world every day. Usually, the conversation is in our heads. The most important part of this exchange is actually the last line: “Richard was relieved not to have embarrassed himself”.

Here is a man, a leader of men, talking to the love of his life, who he shared life and death experiences with and learned to trust. And still, he is afraid to speak up his mind. He is afraid to be embarrassed.

I ask you this: how many times in your life did you want to speak up and haven’t because you felt afraid to be embarrassed. How many times does it happen to your peers or employees every day? More importantly, what are we missing because of this?

In the story, this conversation led to an important discovery. And if you substitute “Magic” with “Science”, “Marketing”, “Finance” or any other word, you can see the resemblance to the quote. To some people, these professions also seem like magic.

There is a term in the research of teams called psychological safety developed greatly by Harvard researcher Amy C. Edmondson. It deals with how safe do team members feel in voicing their opinions, talking against the accepted norms and how generally confident are they that when they will speak up, they wouldn’t be ridiculed and their thoughts will be accepted positively even if they are wrong.

There is a lot of talk about diversity in the workforce and its importance.  But in order to enjoy the benefits of diverse opinions, viewpoints and thoughts, managers must take action and make sure their people feel safe to speak up.

Yesterday, in his wonderful daily newsletter, Hugh MacLeod wrote:

We all like to make fun of the folks who we think are a bit deluded. But, given that much of success in life is gained through dogged determination and no taking “no” for an answer, being deluded is highly underrated. When it comes to work, career, love, a touch of delusion is probably a very useful device.

Great ideas and inventions come from the Iconoclasters, people who go against the established dogma or conventions. Deluded people. But if we want to enjoy their wisdom, we need to let them speak, and more importantly, feel safe to speak.

Elad

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The efficient, but less effective, way

“… [B]usiness students are trained to find the single right plan, right. And then they execute on it. And then what happens is, when they put the marshmallow on the top, they run out of time, and what happens? It’s a crisis. Sound familiar? Right. What kindergarteners do differently, is that they start with the marshmallow, and they build prototypes, successive prototypes, always keeping the marshmallow on top, so they have multiple times to fix ill built prototypes along the way. So designers recognize this type of collaboration as the essence of the iterative process. And with each version, kids get instant feedback about what works and what doesn’t work.

This amazing short TED talk and the above quoted part got me thinking about a term I came across in the beginning of my MBA training and recently came across again while reading Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances. Equifinality:

Equifinality is the principle that in open systems a given end state can be reached by many potential means.

We are sometime so consumed with the chase after efficiency that we forget two things:

1. There is rarely one “right” way to succeed at anything.

2. Redundancy, multiplicity and wealth of options sometime lead to better outcomes in terms of effectiveness, even though they might seem be less efficient.

A few months ago I wrote this about a different TED talk:

As managers we need to remember that each employee has a world of his own. We need to remember that his world is different than ours and different than “the world” we are trying to create. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Different does not mean wrong. The challenge is to acknowledge the differences and find similarities and connections between the worlds in order align them.

There is a lot of talk about the power of diversity. But diversity is not only in culture, gender, race, age and other demographic qualities. It is also, maybe even more importantly, about abundance of ideas. If different does not mean wrong, then it must have some kind of right component in it. Synergy, by definition, is better than the sum of its parts. But if you only think in one “right” way, there is no way to reach synergy, as it only comes from combination of different ideas.

In a world where efficiency is a standard and where effectiveness will become more and more the differentiator, it is time to start and think in terms Equifinality.

So, do you have one right way?

Elad

Intuitive Vs. Analytical

I was watching Mae Jemison’s TED talk today about the connection between science and art. In this interesting talk she explains why she thinks the perception of many people that science is analytical while art is intuitive is wrong. Actually, she claims, they are both a manifestation of the same idea. You can find analytical thinking in art and you can find intuitiveness in science.

That made me think. This debate is relevant to business as well. How should businesses be run? According to intuition or analysis? The answer, of course, is both.

In the last few weeks I have been preparing for interviews with management consulting firms. One thing you understand when you practice solving business cases and reading about how these firms operate, is that there is a tremendous importance to analysis. You are expected to be structured in the way you approach each problem, you are expected to think about all the problems while at the same time paying attention to the little details. But at the same time you see how important intuition in their work and thinking process is. You are also expected to hypothesize and prioritize. Go with your basic logic, gut feeling and intuition.

I heard many people in the past say: “I am a numbers guy” or “I am a big picture – go with my gut – kind of guy”. Hell, I said it myself a few times. And I think knowing what you are is an important part of success. At the same time, it is also important to understand that the fact that you have a certain point of view, a bias if you will, does not make the other way wrong. It means that we should actively try to seek out the other way.

It seems to me that success, in art, science or business, comes from integrating intuition and analysis. That is one of the reasons diverse teams have trouble working in the short term (they speak different languages – one of intuition while the other analysis) but in the long term, they tend to outperform homogeneous teams (which do not take the full picture).

Thus, if we are unable to use both (and most people will struggle doing it consistently) we need to complete our own biased point of view, with the opposite point of view. Or just remind ourselves to re-check the other point of view every once in a while.

So, how do you integrate both intuition and analysis in your everyday work?

Elad

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