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Entries for the 'What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell' Category

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #19: Troublemakers

Friday, August 13th, 2010

thought-leaders

I love categories. They help me think. They help me break down large sweeping ideas, realities and generalities into manageable chunks.

Generalities. The practice under consideration in this week’s chapter of What the Dog Saw. “How do we know we’ve made the right generalization?”

What-the-Dog-SawFor someone like myself who uses categories religiously to help organize, sort and sift, Gladwell’s observations about the reliability of our generalizations is both fascinating and challenging.

Fascinating because we ban ownership of entire breeds of dogs thinking that we’re protecting children, while allowing the sort of people who breed aggressive dogs to continue creating situations of great danger to children.

Challenging because I don’t yet consider the “stability” versus “variability” of my category choices. Do I pay more attention to dog breed or dog owner?

This issue comes down to finding meaningful and reliable criteria to make generalizations and develop categories that are as helpful to one’s thinking and communicating as I have always found them.

Gladwell’s not suggesting we throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Categories and generalizations are crucial and amazing tools. Whether we’ve chosen the best tool for the job is another matter altogether.

On what basis do you make your generalizations or define the categories you use to think, plan and communicate? What if another approach, change in vocabulary, or a completely different taxonomy were able to transform the way you approached complex problems at work?

What was your main take-away from this chapter?

We have come to the conclusion of this series of “Thought Leaders Unpacked™“. A special thank-you to Malcolm Gladwell for his witty, insightful and thought-provoking, What the Dog Saw. It’s been a great journey together. Thank you for your involvement.

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #18: The New-Boy Network

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

thought-leadersFirst impressions stick. While strangely enduring, these impressions are not necessarily accurate.

In this week’s chapter of What the Dog Saw, Gladwell explores how much weight we give our first impressions and the misleading conclusions we too readily draw.

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The result being, “we replace the obviously arbitrary with the not so obviously arbitrary.” This one quote is worth the price of the entire book.

I have long advised that the traditional interview process of hiring is fraught with pitfalls given the brief and artificial nature of the structure.

All involved are putting on their best social personas in order to make a positive impression. Interviewers usually omit disclosing anything negative about the working culture of the organization. Applicants are careful to use the wordings and examples that they have been told the employer wants to hear.

Now on top of these practical limitations, Gladwell reveals how often most people don’t let any of this information inform their initial gut impressions anyway. We replace one set of fallacious information with another.

Our lengthy interview processes don’t feel arbitrary, but if they aren’t providing valid or meaningful information that is resulting in any better hiring results, why should we bother?

Is it all a waste? Should we conduct all our hiring at social mixers and simply select the people we enjoy the most?

As Gladwell concludes, maybe all that is necessary to secure your next job, get your next promotion, or possibly even win your next date is to, “speak clearly and smile.”

What do you think? What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #17: The Talent Myth

Friday, July 30th, 2010

thought-leadersPretty sobering to read that the company which believed in and practiced talent-based hiring and promoting was Enron.

Assessing performance instead of potential. But performance cannot be measured when promotions are taking place within the span of an evaluation cycle.

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We tend to describe ourselves by the categories used by those with power. But those categories do not always (if even very often) either help us describe or understand reality accurately.

Gladwell suggests that the system is the star in companies that consistently thrive.

Different systems serve different strategic needs better. Whether highly centralized or decentralized, there is no one-size-fits-all “best” management system.

What intrigues me most is our enduring desire to find the “magic” answer. Which is the “correct” or “best” management system? What leadership style is most effective? Tell me, expert, tell me. Don’t make me think. Don’t make me choose. Give me another book. Find me a more authoritative guru.

This chapter makes me feel a bit proud that we at Bold Enterprises help leaders discover and develop their own individual “leadership poise.” The stance from which and out of which you observe, reflect, act and adjust on an on-going, non-formulaic basis.

Instead of searching for “the right answer” we become proficient at raising the right questions. The way forward through uncharted territory (the future) is not going to be found on any map. Becoming better map readers is not the skills leaders need in these times of rapid change.

How does one become a better explorer in a culture of competence, perfection and short-term measurements?

What do you think? What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #16: Dangerous Minds

Monday, June 28th, 2010

thought-leadersSo much for criminal profiling as a career option.

I guess it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that this psychological practice is fraught with hazards, lacks scientific precision and comes up short in overall effectiveness.

What-the-Dog-SawWhat the practices loses, though, is not its value altogether, but its precision and reliability.

We tend to swing between extremes in our culture. Black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, for us or against us, perfectly reliable or not worth even considering.

Fascinating as discovering the flimsy underpinnings of criminal profiling might be, I’m hard pressed to dismiss the practice altogether. Nor am I hearing Gladwell suggesting such.

As I reflect on this chapter, though, I can feel the desire to resolve the tension between profiling’s clarity and its fuzziness. Its promise and its deceptiveness.

It is analogous to raising children. There are certain broad commonalities about child development and growing up that are true for all people. These patterns, processes and stages must not be ignored or contravened.

On the other hand, each child is a unique individual, and progresses through the stages of maturation in their own way and on their own terms. Where one child needs stern discipline another may only need a gentle rebuke. While encouragement and praise may motivate one, only challenge and goading may get through to another.

We are mistaken to attempt to resolve the tension between what is common and what is unique about growing up. And so we are mistaken to resolve the tension between the reliability versus the insightfulness of criminal profiling.

It is possible to receive the profiler’s insights without either embracing them uncritically or ignoring them dismissively. I think the practice of criminal profiling, however inexact, will be around for quite a while.

What was your main take away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #15: Most Likely to Succeed

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

thought-leaders“The school system has a quarterback problem.” And so Malcolm Gladwell draws us into a conundrum that haunts the various interest groups and stakeholders fighting over education in America.

The perennial fight over scarce resources, institutional power, and job security—all in the name of putting children “first,” of course—overlooks a very interesting problem. We don’t use what we know about what makes a good teacher in our training and choosing of teachers.

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As being a good quarterback in college football is not, interestingly enough, a good indicator of how well one will play in the pros, so for teachers having the education, credentials and years of experience are not necessarily indicators of being a good teacher.

And even though we know better, we still base teacher selection, pay and retention on anachronistic metrics such as college degrees received before ever teaching and seniority unrelated to the quality or effectiveness of teaching.

Fascinating to me is the ability and willingness of the various stakeholders, from unions to school administrators to parents to politicians, to permit their interests to supersede all that is known about what makes a good teacher, what motivates a good teacher and what rewards good teaching.

Gladwell has several ideas for attracting, training and culling those best suited to teaching children, which you’ll see as you read this chapter. But for my reflection, I’m stuck on the damage we are willing to inflict on those we purport to serve—especially when they are those who cannot defend their own interests—in order to defend our own interests.

There isn’t really a quarterback problem in teaching. There’s an initial intake and on-going culling problem in teaching. The system is too entrenched to experiment with change, or even to adjust toward what would not be an experiment at all!

What do you think? What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #14: Late Bloomers

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

thought-leadersJust call me, “Cézanne.”

Having enjoyed a multi-faceted career, I could easily buy into any of the many interpretations others have provided to make sense of the diversity of roles I have held through the years. Interpretations, that is, that come from a particular frame of reference that Malcolm Gladwell explores in this week’s chapter on “Late Bloomers.”

What-the-Dog-SawMultiple roles could be a symptom of being lost. Unable to find my way, my calling, my destiny, I could be moving from role to role in search of something that feels like home.

I could be a loser of sorts. Kidding myself into believing that I am God’s gift to humanity. I don’t see that my personality grates, my skills are archaic, and my working style is neither productive nor helpful.

I could have my priorities mixed up. Preferring to inaugurate entirely new visions of capitalism for the 21st century, I neglect being a stable, domestic provider who makes sure that each week’s expenses corresponds with a particular paycheck that covers them.

What if, though, I were exactly where I belonged during each stage of my professional journey so far? What if the only way forward is to take another step? What about uncharted territory where the path only becomes visible when looking back at where we have been?

When experience is one of life’s teachers, then the knowledge, experience and connections needed to see which path to take can only be found in actually proceeding down a path. In the doing is the learning, the adjusting, the maturing.

Gladwell’s insight into our culture’s fallacious assumption that genius comes early and easily is a breath of fresh air to those of us who experience the world so startlingly different that we struggle to find vocabulary, context and/or means to communicate, persuade and create all that burns deep within.

This week’s chapter seemed written especially for me. Give it a read. It might be especially for you too.

You never know. You or I may be the next, “Cézanne.”

Join the conversation. What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #13: Blowup

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

thought-leadersHow do you approach thinking about the failure of large, complicated, systems like a nuclear reactor or a space shuttle disaster?

Assigning blame is one goal. Understanding what happened and why is a similar but different approach. Fixing the specific failure so that it doesn’t happen again is another related goal.

What-the-Dog-SawGladwell, are you getting used to this yet?, turns our usual frames of reference on their respective heads.

It turns out that I’m probably a “normal accident” waiting to happen. Forget complex nuclear power plants or space shuttles for a moment.

What about the complexities of a person’s life?!

Work, family, relationships, projects, chores, play, and the unexpected all taking place simultaneously, consecutively, purposefully, randomly, wonderfully, and yes, every great once in a while, tragically.

It should not come as a surprise that, through no one’s particular act of negligence or incompetence or poor judgment, there might eventually occur a horrible accident.

In our narcissistic, litigious culture we survive and thrive on finding someone other than ourselves to blame and hold responsible for anything that harms us. But that may not always be either the case or even possible.

What alternative interpretations of “normal accidents” can we use to help us not only cope, but come out healthier on the other side of that which most horribly rocks our worlds?

What do you cope when the hard-to-explain brings harm into your life? What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each week I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #12: The Art of Failure

Friday, May 7th, 2010

thought-leadersEvery week I feel like I’m saying, “This is my favorite chapter.”

So this week I’ll say, “This is my favorite chapter… so far.” Are men my age allowed to say, “OMG!” Earthquake to my soul.

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The difference between choking and panicking. The difference between thinking too much and thinking too little. The difference between thinking when you don’t need to and not thinking when you do need to.

The first sort of over-thinking interferes with your natural (or practiced) ability to do what you need to do, and tragically you don’t do what you ordinarily would be able to do. The second sort of under-thinking interferes with your ability to put your brain to work when you need it most, and tragically you never get the opportunity to do what your brain would have otherwise been able to help you choose.

Choking or panicking.

I almost never panic. I tend to remain calm in crisis, my thinking somehow becomes clearer, and my willingness to act decisively heightens. I’m not sure why that is. I’ll just be thankful.

Choking, though, is another story altogether. And here is where this chapter was so enlightening for me. When faced with an important interview, for example, I respond to the importance by trying harder. That response has always made (more…)


Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #11: Connecting the Dots

Friday, April 30th, 2010

thought-leaders20/20 hindsight is a boon for lazy and irresponsible journalists.

While the intelligence services have to sift through thousands of clues, leads, chatter, patterns, and threats across a variety of agencies with diverse mandates and structures before any of an infinite number of possible futures unfolds, the journalist simply waits until after-the-fact and then follows the maze backwards to suggest (fallaciously) that the actual course of events was evident all along.

What-the-Dog-SawI am growing in my appreciation for how deftly Gladwell is able to keep me intellectually honest.

In example after example in this week’s chapter Gladwell gets into the shoes of those operating before-the-fact. From the perspective of those for whom the thousands of clues, (some legitimate, some not) may or may not in fact be connected radically impacts how we evaluate the efficacy of their work.

The lazy journalist is able to accuse the intelligence services of failure (and make a lot of money doing so, I might add), because they did not see before-the-fact what seems so obvious after-the-fact.

One set of professionals (intelligence services) gets accused of bungling their jobs because another set of professionals (journalists) actually bungles their job.

If there is any dynamic that those of us in the writing professions should be the most aware, it is the power of perspective, point of view, and knowing full well how deeply the interpretation of the story is influenced by how you choose to tell the story.

It’s a shame that in matters as grave as national security, some of our public story-tellers are lazy and irresponsible.

Each Friday I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

Thought Leaders Unpacked -> What the Dog Saw #10: Something Borrowed

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

thought-leadersWhen is stealing not stealing? What belongs to everyone even though a particular someone is the creator?

For those of us who trade in words, believe in the power of words, and watch lives change on the turn of a phrase, it’s an important question.

What-the-Dog-SawThis week’s chapter out of What the Dog Saw, wasn’t so much a mind-bending eye-opener for me as it was a thoughtful reflection on creativity, the propagation of ideas, and ownership rights for those who write.

Continuing to stir in my mind is the inherent conflict between creating/owning an idea, which seeks to exclude everyone else; and propagating/influencing others with your ideas, which seeks to include everyone else.

We both want our ideas to take hold on as wide a basis a possible, and we want to benefit ourselves from the recognition and revenue that their value earns.

Keep it to ourselves where we keep control, or get it out there where we lose control?

Copyright  laws are intended to give us a way to hold both extremes in tension. With the explosion of information and content on the internet, creativity, ownership and the value of content is getting more and more difficult to distinguish.

To which end of the spectrum do you lean? Tightly control your content or disseminate it widely? What was you main take-away from this chapter?

Each Friday I post my reflections from one chapter of What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.