The most powerful animating force of art and creativity

The most significant animating force of great art, Dillard argues1, 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.


 

 

  1. 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 []

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.

 

 

 

 

 

A lesson from jazz legend Miles Davis

Loose improvisation is integral to jazz, but we all know Miles Davis as a very exacting character. He could be mean, demanding, abrasive, cranky, hypercritical, and we might conclude, given these personal qualities, and the consistent excellence of his playing, that he was a perfectionist who couldn’t tolerate screw ups. [Herbie] Hancock gives us a very different impression, telling the tale of a “hot night” in Stuttgart, when the music was “tight, it was powerful, it was innovative, and fun.”

Making what anyone would reasonably call a mistake in the middle of one of Davis’ solos—hitting a noticeably wrong chord—Hancock reacted as most of us would, with dismay. “Miles paused for a second,” he says, “and then he played some notes that made my chord right… Miles was able to turn something that was wrong into something that was right.” Still, Hancock was so upset, he couldn’t play for about a minute, paralyzed by his own ideas about “right” and “wrong” notes.

[Says Hancock:] What I realize now is that Miles didn’t hear it as a mistake. He heard it as something that happened. As an event. And so that was part of the reality of what was happening at that moment. And he dealt with it…. Since he didn’t hear it as a mistake, he thought it was his responsibility to find something that fit.

Hancock drew a musical lesson from the moment, yes, and he also drew a larger life lesson about growth, which requires, he says, “a mind that’s open enough… to be able to experience situations as they are and turn them into medicine… take whatever situation you have and make something constructive happen with it.”

(…)

What matters, Davis is quoted as saying, is how we respond to what’s happening around us: “When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if it’s good or bad.” Or, as he put it more simply and non-dualistically, “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”

Source: Open Culture