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

 

 

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 most powerful animating force of art and creativity

The most significant animating force of great art, Annie Dillard argues, is the artist’s willingness to hold nothing back and to create, always, with an unflappable generosity of spirit:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Don’t hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.

The very impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water.

Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

I say the same goes for knowledge workers.

 

source: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/03/28/annie-dillard-writing-the-abundance/

 

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.

 

 

 

 

U.S. workers did not share in the growth of the economy of the last forty years

According to a recent study1, unlike the growth patterns in the 1950s and 1960s, the majority of full-time workers did not share in the economic growth of the last forty years.

Had the income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) held steady in the following four decades, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.

The median income for all adults with nonzero income was $42,000 in 1975 and it grew to $50,000 by 2018. Had income for this percentile grown as the same pace as the economy, it would have reached $92,000. In other words, their income growth captured only 17% of the growth that occurred in the whole economy.

 

 

 

 

  1. https://www.rand.org/pubs/working_papers/WRA516-1.html []

On paid employment, work, craft, and spare time

Even if a man’s whole day be spent as a servant of an industrial concern, in his spare time he will make something, if only a window box flower garden.1

A job is not the only work you do. Equating paid employment with work is at the root of the “work-life balance” discussion going nowhere.

What is your craft? What is the thing you do in your spare time? And if the answer is “what is spare time?”, therein lies the rub.

We might need to revisit our view of “time is money”, keep and eye on the family-to-work spillover effect, and wonder what is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?.

 

 

  1. Eric Gill, An Essay on Typography, 2nd paragraph, via laudator temporis acti, accessed 200915 []