Regular readers will know that I have a lot of respect for Bob Sutton. I have been a regular reader of his blog "work matters" for some time now. So I was pleased to find that he contributes to another blog on Harvard Business Online. In his opening entry he includes a list, "Ten Things I Believe", which he gives to his students on their last day of class. They are all short, but worth a careful read and ponder:
"1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all – first do no harm!
2. Indifference is as important as passion.
3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can't have both at the same time.
4. Learning how to say smart things and give smart answers is important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
5. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; self-interest is a learned social norm, not an inherent feature of human behavior.
6. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
7. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
8. The best test of a person's character is how he or she treats those with less power.
9. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
10. Work is an over-rated activity.
And now I’ll add two more beliefs that are especially important to managers:
11. Have strong opinions, weakly held (thanks to Paul Saffo).
12. Argue as if you are right, listen as if you are wrong (thanks to Karl Weick)."
If teachers, at all levels, took Erika Andersen's advice to listen more and tell less, that I talked about in the previous post, we might have a major revolution in learning.
I've been meaning to point people to Erika Andersen's ChangeThis manifesto, "Growing Great New Managers", since I first read it at the beginning of this month. She uses a gardening metaphor to provide some of the the most sensible and practical advice for new managers and those responsible for them that I've come across in a while. Here's a little taster, but don't take my word for it, download it and see for yourself:
"I believe that listening is the management analog of soil preparation, the foundation for all future success. This flies in the face of common wisdom: most of us assume that once we become managers, we’re supposed to stop listening. We think manager = answer person. I suggest that the single most useful thing you can learn to do as a manager is stop talking and start listening."
After reading a couple of recentish pieces on Tom Peters' site about "Brand You" (here and here) and the original column by Lucy Kellaway , which he linked to, I decide to write a follow up to my piece, "Unbranded You".
Instead I found I had plunged into a long meditation on identity, the market, authenticity and our changing world, which took me to some interesting places, but a long way from writing anything.
So, instead, I am going to focus on a couple of extracts from two entries from the blog of that master cartographer of the human landscape, Grant McCracken. They, I suspect, might point forward to a more useful strategy for the future than the Brand You formula, which, while in one set of terms, worked quite successfully in the Eighties and Nineties, but, as much of Tom Peters' other work suggests,may be less appropriate in the emerging world that faces us now.
The first extract is from a piece entitled "Cate Blanchett: Brand Exemplar":
"Contradiction is one of the sources from which fluidity and openness come. Blanchett is "candid and private, gregarious and solitary, self-doubting and daring, witty and melancholy." The idea that a brand could be any of these things is a little dizzying. The idea that it could all of these things at once, is completely removed from the realm of possibility. Still, that's doesn't mean that brands won't someday master contradiction. After all, if a real world of perfect dynamism is truly upon us, it won't have any choice."
The second is simply called, "Noise":
"I found myself thinking that some of the most interesting people these days are hybrids. In fact, it's relatively easy to be one thing. In fact, we got pretty good at being one thing. These days, the trick is to be several things. This is more difficult, but I think Rosenwald is right to say that it gives us access to new creative powers. Selves used to be declaried unfit for habitation when filled with diversity, accident, and noise. But these are now the signatures of someone well defined. Hybrid selves are good to live. Good and noisy."
Read both the posts in full to get what I am groping for, but my sense is that rather than developing a public persona that can be expressed in two or three words, like a conventional brand, a good and noisy identity, "filled with diversity, accident, and noise", is the way to the future.
What follows is an extract from a speech by the late David Lochhead. I wonder, and this is a genuine wonder, I don't know the answer, how much has changed in the ten years since he gave it.
"Let me say at the outset that I like the World Wide Web. I enjoy browsing. I appreciate the avenue to information of all types that the Web opens to me. But while the Web is not totally devoid of community building, those places where community happens are hidden away in dark corners. The culture that we were beginning to construct in the formation of services like Ecunet has become something different, something distorted, something of a caricature of culture.
Let me try to characterize the world as I experience it on the Web. It is first, a culture of isolated individuals, wandering in what seems like random paths through Cyberspace. When I journey on the Web, I journey by myself. On the way, I encounter people, but we are as ships passing in the night. Occasionally, I discover a fellow traveller, someone whose Web page reflects some of my interests. For a few days, we might exchange e-mail. We might cross link our pages. But very soon we pass on, left only as traces in the form of entries in our respective e-mail address lists.
To what shall we compare the culture of the Web? I imagine that if we were to conduct a kind of free association brain storming, the list of our comparisons might well go on for ever. The image that has impressed itself on me lately, however, is that of the Carnival midway. A glitzy veneer hides a content of questionable quality. The entertaining competes with the sleazy and the grotesque. And behind it all seems to lurk an endless array of gigantic egos - carnival performers, if you like - each with their own "home page." One stall competes with the other to be today's "hot spot." Technique abolishes substance. And the web surfer wanders up the midway, pausing at some attractions and ignoring others, quite indifferent to the faces of the crowd who wander the midway with him and not usually interested in the faces of those who work the carnival stalls, either. That is not to say that there is no community on the Web. But what the Web constructs is a community and a culture of perpetual strangers."
"Thomas Jefferson (2004; Hartmann 2002: 69-73) saw three main threats to democracy — governing elites, organized religion and commercial monopolists (whom he referred to as a “pseudo-aristocracy”). So he was keen to include freedom from monopoly in the Bill of Rights. But, thanks mainly to his Federalist opponents, that clause slipped through the cracks of the constitution."
A few days ago I wrote about how Ben Copsey and I were working on an idea for a web-based business. At that time we weren't sure whether this was "just a good idea" or whether it was something that would have wider appeal.
Well, we've just had our first reality check. My good friends, Gill and Nick at Plot, have just started playing with a prototype and so far have been very enthusiastic. Of course, being Gill and Nick, they have come up with a barrage of ideas we need to think about. But the general thrust of their experience so far is that our potential market has expanded to a niche market of four.
My friend Michael Renouf has, at last, gone on-line. I love Michael's work and have felt sad that much of the best of it has never been seen by a wider public. Some of the birthday cards he has drawn for me, Mimi and Ben have been so funny, pointed and unexpected, that they are a sheer delight. Take a trip to his site, visitor numbers will encourage him to keep going. At the moment he is following Patricia Ryan Madson's advice, "Be average", but take a daily visit and pretty soon I expect you will see something that blows you away. Remember, Non-Stick Plans, go there. You won't be disappointed
Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a challenging manifesto up at ChangeThis, "Few and Far Between: Black Swans and the Impossibility of Prediction". In it he argues that our world is shaped by rare, unpredicatble shocks and that we might as well accept this rather than maintaining the fiction that we live in a predictable, ordered world.
You ought to read the wholoe thing, but a passge I particularly like is this one:
"Go through the following exercise. Look into your own existence. Count the significant events, the technological changes, and the inventions that have taken place in our environment since you were born and compare them to what was expected before their advent. How many of them came on a schedule? Look into your own personal life, to your choice of profession, say, or meeting your mate, your exile from your country of origin, the betrayals you faced, your sudden enrichment or impoverishment. How often did these things occur according to plan?"
Had it been published a few months earlier I might well have quoted it in my manifesto, "Purposive Drift: making it up as we go along", which has a different, but complementary, take on prediction and planning.
This snippet from a long article by Bob Garfield on the coming end of advertising as we know it, is worth at least a short ponder:
'They had a promotion for their 45th anniversary. They wanted to give away 45,000 tickets for opening day to drive traffic. So we got a brief to do whatever: ads, microsite, whatever. But our interactive creative director just went off and posted it on Craigslist. Five hours later, 45,000 tickets were spoken for.'
'No photo shoot. No after-shoot drinks at Shutters,' he adds, with faux regret. Then, with somewhat less irony: 'Now, the trick is, how do you get paid?'"
I was looking through some of my entries on this site and noticed how often I use the word "curious" and its variants. Some of the people who know me well may say that I am simply nosey. This may be true. But, in my defence, I would say that the world is an interesting place and that there is much to be curious about.
Doing a quick search for "curiosity" on my machine, I rediscovered the results of an on-line test I had totally forgotten about. (Apologies: I can't remember where I did this, only that it was something I looked at in January 2003). It seemed pretty accurate to me:
Richard's Key Strengths
1 Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.
2 Curiosity and interest in the world
You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
3 Capacity to love and be loved
You value close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated. The people to whom you feel most close are the same people who feel most close to you.
4 Love of learning
You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.
5 Appreciation of beauty and excellence
You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
The only tiny disagreement I have with this analysis is that I have never been so keen in learning in formal contexts like school or class. Apart from that it seemed spot on.
The other thing I found in my search was a "think" piece I wrote back in 2002, "Managing Creativity", which could equally well have been called "The Six Cs of Creativity". The section on curiosity read:
The 'why?' is a questioning of how things are. The 'why not?' is a questioning of how things might be. Both carry the idea of the world as a dynamic field of possibilities rather than something fixed or static.
Cultivating curiosity, by encouraging the hunger for new experiences and new ideas and by provoking deep questions and different frames of reference is at the heart of successfully managing the creative process.
"Powerful and effective ideas are unlikely to emerge from isolating creativity on a pedestal. Instead, managers must learn to immerse themselves in their companies' actual circumstances.... Creative thinking will arise naturally from a visceral sense of the state of things and from early intimations of new openings and opportunities - awareness acquired by an unbounded and active engagement with the environment."
RegisMcKenna, "Real Time: Preparing for the Age of the Never Satisfied Customer", Harvard Business School Press, 1997, pp147
"What do you consider to be the major reason for your early and continuing success? Answer, without hesitation: an immense curiosity to know what is going on elsewhere."
Raymond Loewy, "Industrial Design", "Royal Designers on design: a selection of the annual addresses given by Royal Designers for Industry at the Royal Society for Arts,1954-84" The Design Council,1986, pp174
"An emeritus professor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cyril Stanley Smith, points out that historically, necessity has not been the mother of invention; rather, necessity opportunistically picks up invention and improvises improvements on it and new use for it, but the roots of invention are to be found else where in motives like curiosity and especially, Smith noted, 'esthetic curiosity"
Jane Jacobs, "Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life", 1986, pp222
Every so often my inner pedant crawls out the closet where he belongs. Checking through this site I was surprised to see that the last time he slither out was back in 2003, when I took issue with people using the useful word "disinterested" to mean the same thing as "uninterested".
My current irritation is the way that the word "feedback" is currently used to mean asking people what they think of your performance or an activity they have undertaken. Now I know that objecting to this usage is being ultra pedantic, since if you do a google on "feedback" and ask for a definition one of the ones you get is:
"The return of information about the result of a process or activity; an evaluative response: asked the students for feedback on the new curriculum."
But, never-the-less, I can't help feeling that this usage is pretty wooly and gives an unfounded authority and precision to a process that isn't. Wouldn't it be simpler and more accurate to say, "We asked students about what they thought of the new curriculum." or "I took some students aside and asked them some questions to find out how much they had understood of my lecture"?
What might be more productive is if we were to think more about and practice, what Donald Schon called "backtalk":
"One form of judgment in which I'm particularly interested is the kind that I call backtalk, where you discover something totally unexpected-'Wow, what was that?' or 'I don't understand this,' or 'This is different from what I thought it would be-but how interesting!' Backtalk can happen when the designer is interacting with the design medium. In this kind of conversation, we see judgments like, 'This is clunky; that is not,' or 'That does not look right to me,' or just 'This doesn't work.' The designer's response may be 'This is really puzzling,' or 'This outcome isn't what I expected-maybe there is something interesting going on here.'"
The problem I see with our current usage of the term "feedback" is that it's focus is too narrow and too concerned with confirming prior assumptions. Backtalk, in contrast, is about surprises and discontinuities, the kind of things that enable us to see what we are doing with fresh eyes, and may give us clues to make the work work better, whether we're designers, teachers or anyone else making stuff happen in the world.
You can do it yourself, just click on the links.
We are co-designing, with them, more sustainable ways to organise daily life - ways that bring material benefit in the immediate term."
"Andrea Crews -- the brainchild of Maroussia Rebecq, an art school grad from Bordeaux -- is a recycling clothes label. Working closely with charity shops like Emmaus, the Crews crew cuts up and repurposes huge heaps of secondhand clothes, re-investing dead and ugly heaps of cloth with playful panache. They stage big fun events where dozens of amateur models are transformed into garish and sometimes grotesque creatures, and all the clothes are given away to the audience at the end of the show. Most importantly, and against all the odds, many of their creations actually look excitingly good. It's a philosopher's stone sort of deal -- Andrea Crews recycles base materials into pure fashion gold."
"Thus,the designer ideal should no longer be the “apolitical”
designer of the mid 20th century, nor the “critical” designer
of the late 20th century. Instead the role of the designer is to
facilitate the proliferation of publics around issues of concern,
assisting them in their hacking efforts and enrich the toolbox
with which we can change the situated problems. The designer
is in this case not only a constructive critical actor but also a
builder of applied scenarios and an explorer of possibilities
where every design case with its publics and interfaces is a
small effort to change and an example of “practical idealism”
(to use a term by Mahatma Gadhi)."
My friend Ben Copsey and I have been working on an idea for a web based business for a while now. That means I blah, Ben listens, says something sensible and then goes off to build another prototype. Very soon we will have something robust enough to test to see whether our idea appeals to more than a niche market of two. We, of course, are very excited by the idea, whether others will be equally excited has yet to be proved.
I take some encouragement because as we go on I can see links to some of the ideas that Vannevar Bush was developing in his thinking for his hypothetical machine the Memex , which I don't think anyone else has fully developed and echoes of David Gelernter's ideas about lifestreams, which, again, don't seem to have been absorbed into mainstream thinking.
So very soon we shall see whether our ideas fall into the category of "seemed like a good idea at the time" or whether we have got something useful and desirable enough for people to want to pay to use. I'll keep you posted.