Would-be Nelson Mandelas

November 28, 2016

By André Spicer via aeon.co   Article


“Another significant source of stupidity in firms we came across was a deep faith in leadership. In most organisations today, senior executives are not content with just being managers. They want to be leaders. They see their role as not just running their business but also transforming their followers. They talk about ‘vision’, ‘belief’ and ‘authenticity’ with great verve. All this sounds like our office buildings are brimming with would-be Nelson Mandelas. However, when you take a closer look at what these self-declared leaders spend their days doing, the story is quite different.

No matter how hard you search there is little – if any – leadership to be found. What most executives actually spend their days doing is sitting in meetings, filling in forms and communicating information. In other words, they are bureaucrats. But being a bureaucrat is not particularly exciting. It also doesn’t look very good on your business card. To make their roles seem more important and exciting than they actually are, corporate executives become leadership addicts. They read leadership books. They give lengthy talks to yawning subordinates about leadership. But most importantly they attend many courses, seminars and meetings with ‘leadership’ somewhere in the title. The content of many of these leadership-development courses would not be out of place in a kindergarten or a New Age commune. There are leadership-development courses where participants are asked to lead a horse around a yard, use colouring-in books, or build Lego – all in the name of developing them as leaders.

At least $14 billion gets spent every year on leadership development in the US alone yet, according to researchers such as Jeffrey Pfeffer at Stanford, it has virtually no impact on improving the quality of leaders. In our own research, we found that most employees in knowledge-intensive firms didn’t need much leadership. People working at the coalface were self-motivated and often knew their jobs much better than their bosses did. Their superiors’ cack-handed attempts to be leaders were often seen as a pointless distraction from the real work. George, a manager in a high-tech engineering firm, told us he saw himself as a very ‘open’. When we asked his subordinates what he actually did, they told us that he provides breakfast in the morning and runs an annual beer-tasting.”

Idea survival

November 28, 2016

By Shane Parrish via medium.com/@farnamstreet/   Article

Using “Survival of the Fittest” to Improve “Idea Survival”

“Nature has a passion for quantity as a prerequisite to the selection of quality; she likes larger litters, and relishes the struggle that picks the surviving few. She is more interested in the species than the individual.” Will Durant

“Nature is more interested in species survival than individual survival. In fact, she’s ruthless. She doesn’t care which individuals survive as long as the group survives.

The struggle becomes a natural filter to get rid of the weakest of each species. This ‘selective removal of the weakest’ improves the overall chances the group survives over the long-term.

The key here is the filter. You need the filter.

We have no such filter when it comes to ‘idea retention.’

We collect ideas and mental models and we employ them. However, we don’t have a natural filter to eliminate them. Even repeateded failure of a idea we hold dear is often not enough to convince us we’re wrong.

There is another way.

In the work required to have an opinion, we mention this quote from Charlie Munger:

We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.’

So what can we do to encourage this?

We need to be eager to be wrong. Darwin understood this idea, that’s part of the reason he’s in the history books.

In failing to learn from nature’s natural culling process we become more interested in our ideas surviving than ideas that survive time.”

Gambler’s fallacy

November 28, 2016

By Shane Parrish via farnamstreetblog.com   Article

Mental Model: Misconceptions of Chance

“The gambler’s fallacy implies that when we come across a local imbalance, we expect that the future events will smoothen it out. We will act as if every segment of the random sequence must reflect the true proportion and, if the sequence has deviated from the population proportion, we expect the imbalance to soon be corrected.

Kahneman explains that this is unreasonable – coins, unlike people, have no sense of equality and proportion ….

He illustrates this with an example of the roulette wheel and our expectations, when a reasonably long sequence of repetition occurs.

After observing a long run of red on the roulette wheel, most people erroneously believe that black is now due, presumably because the occurrence of black will result in a more representative sequence than the occurrence of an additional red.

In reality, of course, roulette is a random, non-evolving process, in which the chance of getting a red or a black will never depend on the past sequence. …

The gambler’s fallacy need not to be committed inside the casino only. Many of us commit it frequently by thinking that a small, random sample will tend to correct itself.

For example, assume that the average IQ at a specific country is known to be 100. And for the purposes of assessing intelligence at a specific district, we draw a random sample of 50 persons. The first person in our sample happens to have an IQ of 150. What would you expect the mean IQ to be for the whole sample?

The correct answer is (100*49 + 150*1)/50 = 101. Yet without knowing the correct answer it is tempting to say it is still 100 – the same as in the country as a whole.

… It is important to realize that the laws governed by chance are not guided by principles of equilibrium and the number of random outcomes in a sequence do not have a common balance. … In fact, deviations are not ‘corrected’ as a chance process unfolds, they are merely diluted.”

The Un-Silicon Valley Way

November 28, 2016


MailChimp and the Un-Silicon Valley Way to Make It as a Start-Up

“The typical start-up fairy tale goes something like this: You begin with young entrepreneurs from Stanford or Harvard who have come up with some novel idea for disrupting restaurants or dog walking or whatever else. After creating a prototype, the guys (they are almost always men) enter start-up boot camps like Y Combinator, recruit a group of early investors, and perhaps launch a Kickstarter with a slick video. If the initial plan succeeds, the founders go into heedless expansion mode, which usually means selling off huge chunks of their company in exchange for gobs of money from venture capitalists. …

In fact, it’s possible to create a huge tech company without taking venture capital, and without spending far beyond your means. It’s possible, in other words, to start a tech company that runs more like a normal business than a debt-fueled rocket ship careening out of control. …

There is perhaps no better example of this other way than MailChimp, a 16-year-old Atlanta-based company that makes marketing software for small businesses. … Under the radar, slowly and steadily, and without ever taking a dime in outside funding or spending more than it earned, MailChimp has been building a behemoth. According to Ben Chestnut, MailChimp’s co-founder and chief executive, the company recorded $280 million in revenue in 2015 and is on track to top $400 million in 2016. MailChimp has always been profitable…. The company … now employs about 550 people, and by next year it will be close to 700.

As a private company, MailChimp has long kept its business metrics secret, but Mr. Chestnut wants to publicize its numbers now to show the road less traveled: If you want to run a successful tech company, you don’t have to follow the path of ‘Silicon Valley.’ You can simply start a business, run it to serve your customers, and forget about outside investors and growth at any cost. …

Start-ups fueled by venture capital often need to figure out how to run like ordinary businesses; they embark on unsustainable growth, they forget about earning money, they don’t learn how to weather tough times. …

‘One of the problems with raising money is it teaches you bad habits from the start,’ said Jason Fried, the co-founder of the software company Basecamp, who has written frequently on the perversions of the venture capital industry. ‘If you’re an entrepreneur and you have a bunch of money in the bank, you get good at spending money.’

But if companies are forced to generate revenue from the beginning, ‘what you get really good at is making money,’ Mr. Fried said. “’nd that’s a much better habit for a business to work on early on, to survive on their own rather than be dependent on money people.'”

Your worst employee

November 21, 2016

By Robin Camarote via inc.com   Article

Why Your Worst Employee Makes You the Best Manager

“I spent a lot of my early years as a boss congratulating myself on being a fantastic manager. That went on until I hired someone who had trouble getting to work at our client’s site before 11am. He also failed to see the importance of taking notes in meetings, snapped at his coworkers, and thought certain elements of the job were beneath his abilities. He had this knack for irritating others and the remarkable ability to get progressively worse, not better. …

While wreaking havoc on your day, your worst employee creates a number of opportunities that your best don’t. They…

  1. Force you to develop your communication skills quickly. The ability to give constructive and timely feedback to employees who need it is an uncommon but much-needed skill.
  2. Make you get crystal clear with your instructions. Most employees don’t intentionally try to disregard instructions. More often when employees mess up, it’s because they didn’t understand the instructions, didn’t bother to ask clarifying questions, or assumed they already knew how to accomplish the task at hand. When you’re clear about what you want, it’s more difficult for someone to bring you back anything less.
  3. Cause you to solidify your vision of the office culture you want to create.Whether you’re the CEO or a mid-level project manager, your team has a culture with prevailing beliefs and attitudes about your business, clients, market, and each other. When that vision is challenged — either intentionally or not- you’re forced to outline to your team specifically what that culture is and how it’s been compromised.
  4. Help you build the team’s confidence. One of the biggest issues that problem employees create is not their negative behavior itself but the way they expose their manager’s lack of response to that behavior. All the team wants is for the issue to be addressed and for everyone to move on. When you get to the root of the problem, prescribe a solution, hold your employee accountable for that plan, and then fire them if no progress is made you do two things at the same time. Those two important things are correcting the problem and building the team’s confidence in you.
  5. Help you impress your leadership and clients. Similar to the positive gains among your other employees, your boss and clients will notice your ability to handle the tricky situation. It’s not the lack of problems that impresses others, it’s your ability to handle them in a timely and fair manner.

So, while it’s frustrating to have to work with difficult people, you should thank them. They’re going to be the employees who help you learn and grow the most as a manager. That said, you can do everything right as a manager and still face issues from a problem employee. And that’s when you seriously think about then take the appropriate steps to fire them.”

Millennial employees wish you understood

November 21, 2016

By Steven Kaufman via entrepreneur.com   Article

6 Concepts Your Millennial Employees Wish You Understood

“Simply put, millennial employees work harder and remain more loyal if they believe their boss understands them and their needs. Here are six important considerations that your millennial employees wish you recognized.

1. Their time is more valuable than money.

It’s no great secret that employees hate it when their boss keeps them in the office late or bombards them in the evenings and on weekends with emails, phone calls and homework. … when one of your team members completes their part and turns it over to you, they expect you to complete it promptly so that they can move onto the next thing instead of waiting on you. …

2. They want to know what’s happening with the company.

Does your office operate on a need-to-know basis? Your millennial employees are probably not happy with that arrangement.Workers usually aren’t offended if they’re not included in a company’s decision making – they know that’s your job. But they do resent being kept in the dark about the company’s plans and direction. …

3. They want to learn something.

… Learning something new keeps them engaged, and they know that if and when they move onto a new job, your company will have made them a better employee. If your employees aren’t learning anything, they aren’t improving themselves, and they’re apt to go someplace where they can.

4. They hate the open office concept.

… Chances are, millennials believe that you put them in an open office simply so that you could keep an eye on them. Again, this erodes trust. … Nobody grows up hoping to work in a cube, or worse yet, around a table, like a kindergartener. And if you maintain a private office for yourself, they’ll resent you for it.

5. They want praise and a raise.

… But if millennials’ hard work, engagement and sacrifice isn’t rewarded, you’ll quickly catch them turning in the bare minimum. … only two things really move the needle: praising quality work and raising compensation for top performers. …

6. Nobody really loves their boss.

… Where many entrepreneurs go wrong, though, is coveting their employees’ love and admiration, too. No matter how fun you make your workplace or how deeply you involve yourself in your millennial workers’ lives, the fact remains that nobody loves their boss. And nobody wants to. … if you keep their interests in mind while running your business, they just might love to work for you. Isn’t that the kind of company where you’d like to work too?”

Good and Great

November 21, 2016

By James R. Bailey via hbr.org   Article

The Difference Between Good Leaders and Great Ones

“Great leadership and good leadership have distinctly different characteristics and paths. Leadership is not one-dimensional. It can be great and good, or one but not the other, or neither.

Uses of “great’ usually begin with descriptions of being unusually intense or powerful, either ‘to great effect’ or ‘a great effort.’ In that sense, great is a force. True, great also means ‘excellent,’ but that is not its primary meaning. As for ‘good,’ we usually reference morality, virtue, and ethics — ‘a good person’ or ‘a good decision.’ Good can refer to the quality of something — contrasted against the commonly understood opposite, bad — but in this context good refers to the direction in which behavior is compelled.

Great leadership is powerful, dominating, often overwhelming. It can sweep people along through sheer animation. Great leadership excites, energizes, and stimulates. It’s a rousing call, shocking complacency and inertia into action. It’s one of the most potent pulls in human history, and as such accounts for much of humanity’s progress, as well as its suffering. … Great has no inherent moral compass, and thus its unpredictable potency can just as easily be put toward pugilistic and peaceful purposes.

To speak of good leadership is to speak of protecting and advancing widely accepted principles through means to ends. It denotes doing the ‘right’ thing. There may be legitimate differences in interpretation of what’s right and wrong, but long-standing ethics, mores, and customs of conduct that have allowed individuals and collectives to survive and thrive are remarkably similar across culture and time. Good heeds the best interests and welfare of others.

Good leadership is not as arresting as great leadership. When good rules the day, it’s not so noticeable, as things are transpiring as they should. Great is dramatic, whereas good is the blended background, a values-based screen upon which great deeds unfold. This accounts for why the force of great often overshadows the direction of good.

The tug between great and good leadership is one of perpetual and dynamic coexistence. There is great — a force that is often inexplicable, occasionally irrational, and, importantly, intermittently ungovernable. Then there is good — a direction that is north-star true, providing the point of values of mutual benefit. The former moves, the latter aspires.”