When in doubt, draw a distinction

By far the most substantial piece of content I read recently is from Jay Rosen. He is a press critic who writes about the media and politics. He is a professor at the School of Journalism at New York University.

Here is how it starts:

And here are some of the distinctions he draws in this Twitter thread:

  • Public vs. audience
  • Journalism vs. the media
  • Truth-seeking vs. refuge-seeking
  • Political vs. politicized
  • Issues vs. troubles
  • Ritual vs. transmission
  • Expect vs. predict
  • Subscription vs. membership

He says that

For distinctions to work, the terms have to be sufficiently close that prying them apart clears space for thought. If I write, “bending is not the same as breaking,” well, who said it was? That one is going nowhere. But “naked is not the same as nude” is an idea with legs.

It’s not just semantics. Well, it is, but it’s more than that. It’s a show of clarity of ideas in your field of endeavor. In his case, it’s media and politics.

And it occurs in all fields.

Just last week, I bumped into a few more instances:

  1. My friend and colleague Ed Carvalho invited us to draw a distinction between intelligence and intellect;
  2. And then this one in the Harvard Business Review between habit and routine:

When we fail at forming new patterns of behavior, we often blame ourselves, rather than the bad advice we read from someone who doesn’t really understand what can and cannot be a habit.
A habit is a behavior done with little or no thought, while a routine involves a series of behaviors frequently —and intentionally— repeated. A behavior has to be a regularly performed routine before it can become a habit at all.
The problem is that many of us try to skip the “routine” phase.

There are other distinctions that Rosen does not discuss in his thread, including

  • Lying vs. bullshitting
  • Experience vs. expertise
  • Exit, voice, and loyalty
  • Information overload vs. filter failure

Anyone who took part in one of my leadership development programs will have heard me discuss exit, voice, “loyalty”/conformity, and sabotage as a way to distinguish how different people react differently to finding themselves in conflict situations.

The take-aways from this piece?

  1. When in doubt, draw a distinction;
  2. Doing so is a way to manifest that you are a thinker – that you don’t take things at face value but you do reflect on them and come out with your own thoughts;
  3. Drawing distinctions is also a manifestation of where you put your attention, that is, what your field of endeavor really is.

And since a lot of readers of this newsletter are managers then it begs the question: are your distinctions mostly about the domain of expertise that preceded your becoming a manager or are they about management itself?


The content of this post is an edited version of an entry in my free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

A genius is the one most like himself: Thelonious Monk’s tips for musicians

I’m a jazz fan, always have been. And I’m a Monk fan.

Monk created this list when a musician joined his band for a multiple-week gig.

I encourage the managers I work with to have a readme document for themselves and to have a structured, personal way of welcoming new members to their team. It also goes a long way for that welcoming to include peers.

In any case, here’s Monk’s list. What does yours look like?

 

  • Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  • Pat your foot & sing the melody in your head, when you play.
  • Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, play the melody!
  • Make the drummer sound good.
  • Discrimination is important.
  • You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
  • All reet!
  • Always know… (monk [backwards])
  • It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
  • Let’s lift the band stand!!
  • I want to avoid the hecklers.
  • Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
  • The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
  • Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined.
  • What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.
  • Always leave them wanting more.
  • A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
  • Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, & when it comes, he’s out of shape & can’t make it.
  • When you’re swinging, swing some more!
  • (What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!
  • Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene.
  • These pieces were written so as to have something to play, & to get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
  • You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (to a drummer who didn’t want to solo).
  • Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along & do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
  • They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it.

Source: Open culture

 

 

On the difference between management and leadership

Managing is getting something done, stabilizing existing processes, controlling and correcting deviations to ensure quality and reliability.

Leadership is about doing something new or better, whether a simple process improvement or a transformation. It is more about reframing for improvement. It likely calls upon people to learn new skills and shift beliefs.

Our tendency to ascribe leadership to individuals that hold a formal entitlement as head of a team, group, or function is unhelpful when distinguishing management from leadership as activities with different purposes.

Leadership is not the property of a formal position, but rather an activity that occurs anywhere in the company. A person responsible for such a change is therefore in a leadership role irrespective of title.

 

source: “Culture shift with Ed and Peter Schein” in Dialogue. Also a Twitter thread.

 

 

 

Here’s why you are skeptical about empowerment

The principle: Humans crave independence and control so giving it to them at work should be a good thing.

The caveat: As people feel increasingly autonomous, they can also become unmoored from others’ needs, expectations and social norms.

Research results: Managers who value being respected will respond to empowerment initiatives by, in turn, empowering their workers. But, managers who value being in charge will respond to empowerment initiatives by closely controlling and dominating their employees.

In other words, empowerment can lead to more autonomous employees, but micromanagers will micromanage.

— from a journal article by Nicholas Hays and Russell E. Johnson of Michigan State University, and Hun Whee Lee from Ohio State University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The hybrid stategy: Stock and Flow

There are two kinds of quantities in the world. Stock is a static value: money in the bank or trees in the forest. Flow is a rate of change: fifteen dollars an hour or three thousand toothpicks a day. Easy. Too easy.

But I actually think stock and flow is a useful metaphor for media in the 21st century. Here’s what I mean:

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

Flow is ascendant these days, for obvious reasons—but I think we neglect stock at our peril. I mean that both in terms of the health of an audience and, like, the health of a soul. Flow is a treadmill, and you can’t spend all of your time running on the treadmill. Well, you can. But then one day you’ll get off and look around and go: oh man. I’ve got nothing here.

I’m not saying you should ignore flow! This is no time to hole up and work in isolation, emerging after years with your work in hand. Everybody will go: huh? Who are you? And even if they don’t—even if your exquisite opus is the talk of the tumblrs for two whole days—if you don’t have flow to plug your new fans into, you’re suffering a huge (get ready for it!) opportunity cost. You’ll have to find those fans all over again next time you emerge from your cave.

(…)

And the real magic trick is to put them both together. To keep the ball bouncing with your flow—to maintain that open channel of communication—while you work on some kick-ass stock in the background. Sacrifice neither. The hybrid strategy.

More here.

 

 

Inclusion by any other name

I’m allergic to clichés and buzzwords. And this might be one of them. A research project reports this:

The employees described inclusive leaders … as leaders who act in ways that demonstrate their values and communicate openly and honestly. They treat each employee as a unique individual, recognize each person’s strengths and value diverse perspectives.

Inclusive leaders were also described as asking others for feedback when making important decisions and providing everyone access to critical information. They encourage everyone to work together as a team and go out of their way to make sure employees of all job positions are valued and encouraged to be involved.

Whatever the nomenclature, these are definitely sound management practices with desirable outcomes.

 


The content of this post was originally posted in the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

The strength of weak ties

Perhaps you do this already with your team: you take the first few minutes of a meeting to check in, sometimes as a group and sometimes in random pairs or trios in breakout rooms. Just a few minutes to chitchat – about anything but work, like what would happen randomly at the office.

Well, Zapier, a company that helps its clients create automation workflows, is doing something similar but company-wide. They

try to make serendipitous, face-to-face interaction happen on a routine basis. We use a Slack app called Donut, which pairs everyone who signs up with a random coworker and helps schedule a video call. There are no rules to these conversations—people talk about where they live, their hobbies, or (if they want) work. These interactions don’t replace the serendipity of an office, but they can go a long way.

The topic of work is going to come up when you’re talking with random coworkers, because it’s the one thing you for sure have in common.

And there are benefits: these random conversations can lead to solutions, they connect people who might otherwise never talk, and it allows for what Mark Granovetter calls “the strength of weak ties”.

 


The content of this post was originally posted in the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The job candidate selection process is a fail. Try this.

The job candidate selection process does not work. Even Google has taken back their famed clever interview questions. There is just no data to support that the job candidate selection process is effective at screening for success or at predicting that candidates will remain with the company.

A few years ago I worked with a large, successful engineering firm (it might have been the largest in the country at the time) that had a unique way of selecting and hiring candidates.

The owner of the company told me that their approach was based on two observations:

  1. There is no telling from a job interview, or a series of interviews, whether a candidate will be good at the job, be happy in the company, and will remain for longer than x years. And, if as a company these three criteria (or any other you identify) are important to you, then job interviews are useless and a random process is just as good.
  2. Nor can you tell whether we will want a a person to remain in the company once we get to know the person and the person gets to know us.

The process

So the process they established was as follows:

  1. Identify a series of criteria that any candidate should meet. Because no criterion has proven to be predictive then pick the ones you think/feel might work;
  2. Once you have received applications, pick out the ones that meet all criteria;
  3. From those who meet all criteria, pick one randomly.

The interview

Then the owner would invite the candidate for a chat in which he would explain to the candidate what type of work they do at the firm, how they work,  and what type of values they try and uphold. The owner would then ask the candidate if they can see themselves working in such an environment. If the answer is yes, the person was hired under the following terms: You are hired for six months with full benefits.

After six months

At the end of the six months you and I will meet again and you will tell us whether

  • What we told about the type of work they do at the firm, how they work,  and what type of values they try and uphold is true; and
  • You can see yourself working here permanently.

And we will tell you

  • How well you did during the six months: your work, how you work, and how you understood and embodied the values we try and uphold based on surveys and interviews with your manager, the co-workers on your team, the peers you interface with, and (when applicable) the customers you interface with;
  • Whether we want you to stay and, if yes,
    • We will be discussing the type of projects you would like to work on in the future; and
    • Offer you a permanent position.

The added benefit

Imperfect and incomplete as it is, based on its premise of nothing being predictive of anything in matters of hiring, it is as good as any other process I am familiar with.

And I just read in the FT that it also a great way to boost diversity.


See also: How IBM does it, Writing a good (emotionally-intelligent) job posting helps, and there’s always the Monthy Python way.

 

 

 

 

How should I react when an employee is not performing well or makes a mistake?

Frustration is of course the natural response — and one we all can identify with. Especially if the mistake hurts an important project or reflects badly upon us.

The traditional approach is to reprimand the employee in some way. The hope is that some form of punishment will be beneficial: it will teach the employee a lesson. However, some managers choose a different response when confronted by an underperforming employee: compassion and curiosity. Not that a part of them isn’t frustrated or exasperated but they are able to suspend judgment and may even be able to use the moment to do a bit of coaching.

What does research say is best? The more compassionate response will get you more powerful results. The more employees look up to their leaders and are moved by their compassion or kindness, the more loyal they become to them. Conversely, responding with anger or frustration erodes loyalty. (Harvard Business Review)

There is probably something in your personal experience that confirms this. I know there were plenty of instances in mine.

 


From the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creativity: it’s about exploration v. exploitation

Meta-analysis of the research on creativity by Francesca Gino in the Harvard Business Review. The whole three-article series is good. Here’s a sample: Five ways in which managers can bolster creativity:

  1.  Hire for curiosity;
  2. Model inquisitiveness;
  3. Emphasize learning goals;
  4. Let employees explore and broaden their interests; and
  5. Have “Why?” “What if…?” and “How might we…?” days.

Not convinced?

She identifies two tendencies that restrain managers from encouraging curiosity:

  1. They have the wrong mindset about exploration, often thinking that letting employees follow their curiosity will lead to a costly mess; and
  2. They seek efficiency to the detriment of exploration.

It’s the old exploitation-exploration dilemma. James March’s paper is a classic on this. Knut Haanaes provides great examples in this TEDtalk.

 


From the September 2020 issue of my newsletter. “On management and strategy” is a free, monthly newsletter in which I share my own writing as well as links to articles and research on management, leadership, and strategy. It’s easy to subscribe… and unsubscribe.