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The Peter Principle, Why things go wrong by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull

With foreword by Robert Sutton

Let me have men about me that are fat
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous
– Julius Ceasar, Shakespeare

We hire people after our own image. The authors cite Napolean who felt that people with big noses make better leaders. The Retrospective Decision making model predicts that we make decisions intuitively and retrospectively give a reason (possibly logically) for our decision.

We make judgments about people’s competence. Sometimes from brief interactions. The more powerful you are, the more impact. Interviewers sometimes take as fast as 30 sec to form impressions.

The Peter Principle predicts that many people are promoted to their level of competence.

Several examples of signs of people who posses this malady.

Papyrohobia
Cannot tolerate papers or books on his desk. Probably such piece of paper is reminder that he hates his job. He makes a virtue of his phobia by keeping a clean desk, creating the impression of incredible fast decision making.

Structurophilia
Obsessive concern with buildings, planning, construction, maintenance and reconstruction. But unconcerned about the work going on, inside the buildings.

Such as those with a compulsion to build memorial statues.

When i read this tiny book of 161 pages or halved if you put in A4 size, it was amusingly refreshing. Most bizarre types actually exist in organisations especially because the skill sets required for different levels of organisation from technical in front-line supervisors to political skills needed at higher levels of management.

What then is the solution?
As someone interested in productivity, I am curious about how to improve our decision making on promotion and hiring.

Unfortunately, beyond naming the crime as incompetence, this book sheds little light on how to solve the problem.

Perhaps its beyond my competence to read between the lines. Or frankly, no one knows. Management is as much an art as a science.

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Several years ago, I was asked by a University to coach their students how to become multipotentialite. This rare breed of students had gone through a rigorous and stringent interview process to qualify for the programme. Like a doting parent, they believed these students could change geography, be anything they want. All of them were energetic and articulate, and could change the world in a single leap.

What is this multipotentialite, asked I. I was pointed to a TED talk “Why some of us don’t have one true calling”. Caree coach Emilie Wapnick coined a term “multipotentialite” to describe “generalists”.

Wapnick has romanticised the idea of being interested in too many things and being bored quickly. Her competence as an English major is in communicating and creativity – she now works as a workshop presenter and motivational speaker, while ignoring the fact that many of her other dabblings are quite amateurish interests.

Many of the “multipotentialites” she showcased, too had one deep area of expertise which they transferred to other areas.

When the world exploded with globalisation in 1990s, the great headhunting debate was who made a better manager? Generalists vs specialists. Generalists won hands down.

Soon the marketplace became overcrowded by job hoppers, bored after 1 year on the job and yet not quite made much contributions.

Today a more appropriate description would be I vs T-shaped skills, often attributed to McKinsey.

I-shaped skills are deep knowledge and experience in one context, and not proven or applied to other areas. Wapnick’s dabblings into music and a rock band would be a “dash” “—“, jack of all trades.

i VS t

In both I and T shaped skills, depth of experience is highly valued. A T-shaped professional, will be one with deep expertise but able to adapt that skill across different functions to create a new product. Effective collaboration in a discipline like design benefits from individuals who have combined this with a range of applications in different professional environments.

Steve Jobs is a T-shaped professional. He has always immersed himself in the Silicon Valley context and working with other I-shaped professionals. Not many of us have heard of his way-off predictions regarding the Segway. (Read Adam Grant’s book on “The Oringinals”).

How does one become a T-shaped individual?

1. Deepen your knowledge

In “Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn“, Wlodkowski makes a case that “knowing our subject well enhances our confidence, flexibility and creativity. When a person has really mastered a concept well, he can be playful with it. Spontaneity and improvisation are more possible for the competent. Deep understanding of a subject transforms mere information into useable knowledge”. (p54 2008).

Remaining as an I-shaped individual runs the risk of your job being automated.

2. Update your expertise

Designlab suggests to drink from several fountains. “Design, like most creative disciplines, is constantly changing — in terms of technology, standards, culture, and client expectations. Get subscribed to the top sites and journals in your area. Bookmark, keep a log, experiment, and exceed your comfort zone as often as you can.”

3. Broaden your horizons

Expand the range of projects you take on. Do a stocktake of your current skills. What other industries could you apply or transfer them to. Add Breadth to your depth. Cross-functional skills eg. Understanding finance and how to market your products.

4. Embrace your inner wiring
Figure out your Myers-Briggs personality type to be more self-aware and more generous to those who see the world differently. Train in conflict resolution, change management process to deal with difficulties to build trust and empathy between collaborators.

5. Pick up Softskills
Tim Brown of IDEO suggests that T-shaped individuals have empathy and enthusiasm about other fields. This creates trust.

6. X-shaped?
Many researchers now talk about X-shaped. The X factor or Charisma, rare quality which some attribute to the gift of God.

While T-shaped people are great collaborators, when it comes to hiring a new leader for an organisation, the qualities are more X-shaped. These leaders have depth of subject, professional esteem and credibility. Similarly, they are able to support diverse teams. Many websites cite John Lasseter or Ed Catmull of Pixar as X-shaped. This isn’t for everyone: roles demanding X-shaped people tend to be focused on strategy and team management.

http://trydesignlab.com/blog/how-to-get-hired-understand-if-youre-an-i-t-or-x-s/

You should not have any special fondness for a particular weapon, or anything else, for that matter. Too much is the same as not enough. Without imitating anyone else, you should have as much weaponry as suits you.”

The Ground Book/地の巻:
“It is difficult to realise the true Way just through sword-fencing. Know the smallest things and the biggest things, the shallowest things and the deepest things.

– Miyamoto Musashi 宮本武蔵, Book of Five Rings

Skills are good to have but they should not be kept in your special trophy wall. If you want to be creative, you need to step out of your comfort zone and make decisions that are based on what is happening at this very moment and what was a success last month.

Besides if you use the same methods and “tricks” you will become quite predictable. Instead, try new approaches and learn how to fail. Use your skills to break new ground, not recreate beautiful stuff to get self admiration. When really failing, you sure will not forget about it and there is always a lesson to learn from this.

http://geofflivingston.com/tag/musashi/

http://dudye.com/10-things-miyamoto-musashi-can-teach-you-about-creative-strategy

Interesting video of a Japanese chef Jun who bought a rusty knife and sharpens it. Watch Jun make a radish rose with his sharpened knife. That’s skill.

How to polish a knife: Watch as a rusty piece of Japanese metal becomes a sharp, shiny blade

What do you think are important 21st Century skills?

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Photo: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

In the transition from technical role to a management role, one of the key areas for young managers to watch for is the lack of power base.

Jean Louis Barsoux and Cyril Bouquet in MIT Sloan Review suggest 3 areas to plug this deficit:

Legitimacy
Critical resources
Networks

Legitimacy with bosses can send a signal of credibility to others which leads to a cycle of high visibility and influence which boosts your standing. Connects you to influential people and information.

Research on (LMX) Leader Member exchange indicates that bosses mentally divide their members into “in group” vs “out group”.

What can you do?
What you do in the job:
Hard work while important is exaggerated to secure credibility. LMX research suggests that one’s attitude and perceived compatibility with the boss are more powerful determinants of good relationship.

1. Understand the boss’s style and objectives. Boss’s preferences. Can be as simple as the boss’s preferences such as for email vs face to face discussions. Brevity vs depth. Adjust your communication style accordingly. Goals and interests to provide the kind of support to help boss succeed. Deliver on those objectives. May include seeking feedback as appropriate. Find subtle ways to advertise your expertise by publicly volunteering to help colleagues tackle difficult problems.

2. Accumulate credits by helping superiors get things done. Powerful people may see them as valuable allies. Kick start the virtuous cycle of reciprocity by making good faith deposits upfront.

3. Turn yourself into a resource. Gain special expertise.

What sort of expertise ?
Identify problems that nobody else has noticed or that few people are capable of resolving and then work to address them.

Consolidate your strengths. You’ve heard the 80/20 rule. To be so good you can’t be ignored. Don’t just be a generalist.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi Co once said, “To be a future leader, one should have a skill that everyone looks at and says X is the go-to person for that skill. Unless you’re really knownfor something, you don’t stand out from the pack.

One of the risks involved is that you’ll be locked into the position.

4. Build your own network.
A high quality relationship with a poorly connected boss may do more harm than good. Sometimes you’ve to protect yourself from bad bosses. After all you’ve to identify escape routes for yourself in the event of sudden changes and shake up.
Cultivate useful allies. Look beyond titles and formal roles to discover informal ties and actual dynamics that drive decision making in a group. Real movers and shakers.

How?

Reach out to both internal and external stakeholders. External stakeholders can include government relations, customers and analysts and institutional investors and board members. Asking customers what do you really need ?

Match-making– create forums where ideas and information can be exchanged. Sometimes it could be the organisation’s dinner and dance where you help people connect. Gain a reputation as someone who knows how to connect people.

Many of these roles contain risks, acknowledge the authors. So walk a fine line as you may be seen as using the role for your own gain.

Assess the areas of influence which you lack.

This is a joke recently told to me by a senior management leader, about the need to check our assumptions.

No harm or malice intended towards the professions mentioned below:

An engineer, a physicist, and an accountant were interviewed for position of Chief Executive officer of a large corporation.

The engineer was interviewed first. He was asked a long list of questions, finally: “How much is two plus two?” The engineer excused himself, made a series of calculations and returned to the boardroom, declaring, “Four.”

The physicist was interviewed next. He was asked the same questions for consistency. Before answering the last question, he excused himself, went to the library, and did a great deal of research. After comsulting the United States Bureau of Standards, he also announced, “Four.”

The accountant was interviewed last, and was asked the same questions. At the end of his interview, before answering the last question, he drew the blinds in the room. Closed the door, and asked the interviewer, “How much do you want it to be?”

Our world view is often shaped by the culture we are from, national culture, organisation culture and even our professional culture.

Do your old assumptions still work in dealing with a new world ?
How do you know that the person you’re dealing with; works on the same assumptions or similar standards ?

How would you navigate in the “white rapid” world of work? How do you prepare yourself?

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Photo taken at the Tongarino rapids in North Island, New Zealand.

We are all in sales now.

Says Daniel Pink.

“To sell is human – the surprising truth about moving others” by Daniel Pink

Analysing his work week, Pink realised that as a writer he spends a big portion of his time selling in a broader sense – persuading, influencing and convincing others.

Physicians sell patients on a remedy. Teachers sell students on the value of paying attention in class. We deliver presentations to fellow employees and make pitches to new clients.

We’re in the business of “moving” people to part with resources – whether it’s tangible like cash or intangible like effort or attention or support.

In a survey of 9057 respondents, he commissioned, two findings emerged:

1. People are now spending 40% of their time doing non-sales selling -persuading, influencing and convincing others in ways that don’t involve anyone making a purchase. Across a range of profession, we are devoting roughly twenty four minutes of every hour to moving others.

2. People consider this aspect of their job crucial to their professional success – even in excess of the considerable amount of time they devote to it.

Dan Pink ask the following questions
1. Do you earn your living trying to convince others to purchase goods or services?
2. Do you work for yourself or run your own operation even on the side ?
3. Does your work require elastic skills – the ability to cross boundaries and functions, to work outside your speciality, and to do a variety of different things throughout the day?
4. Do you work in education or health care?
If you answered yes. Then you’re in sales. Because you’re in the business of moving others.

If selling is part of our work experience, what must we do?

Perspective-taking of the other person

  1. Attunement

Attune to the other person. Best way to start a conversation, he suggests: Ask – where are you from? Attune to culture differences.

Watch, wait and wane.  Mimic but don’t lose sight of your objective and do it with deftness, dont let the person think you’re imitating them. Mood map

2. Buoyancy

Before you attempt something, rehearse Interrogative Self Talk.  

Instead of positive self-talk such as “I’ll be the world’s best salesman”, take on a different tack – Ask questions.

According to researchers Ibrahim Senay and Dolores Albarracin of University of Illinois and Kenji Noguchi of University of Southern Mississippi, when given task to solve anagrams, the self-questioning group solved nearly 50% more puzzles than the self-affirming group.

Why?  Asking questions – interrogative, brings out answers which are strategies for carrying out the task. Daniel Pink suggests asking yourself “can I do that?”.  (Note: I suggest to rephrase that question to “how can I do that?”.  Unlike Pink, I have found that people with low self-efficacy sometimes answer, “no, I can’t.”

Ambivert and be positive.

After the sale: what is your Explanatory Style?

Martin Seligman found out that people who give up easily, even when they can actually do something, have a negative explanatory style.  They explain bad events as permanent, pervasive, and personal. It can diminish performance, trigger depression and turn setbacks into disasters.

Optimists instead attribute bad events as temporary and something external.

3. Clarity

Good salespeople are skilled problem-solvers. They assess prospects needs, analyze their problems and deliver the optimal solution. Or so we used to think.

Today’s world, information is abundant, so its less on problem solving than on problem finding. The Conference Board, a few years ago, asked public school administrators and private employers, what are the most important competencies required in today’s workforce.  Administrators ranked “problem solving” as number one.  Employers instead, ranked it number eight.  

Their top ranked ability was “problem identification”. [Interestingly World Economic Forum also ranked problem solving as Number One.  But Critical thinking as number two.  Nothing on problem Identification. ]

According to Haas School of Business in University of California, Berkeley, “being able to see what the problem is before you jump in to solve it” or “framing a problem in interesting ways” is very important. It triggers the ability to sort through data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces.

Skill valued in the Past: Answering questions

Skill valued Now: Asking questions, uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues and finding unexpected problems.

How to be a better salesperson?
Identify frames of reference for the other person.

  1. Clarity depends on contrast. Frame your offerings in ways that contrast with its alternatives and thereby clarify its virtues.
  2. Everyone loves choices.  But too much choice is bad. [See Jam experiment by Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University. While more customers stopped by the jam booths with 24 choices, only 3% bought jam. At the booth with more limited selection (6 choices), 30% customers made a purchase.]
  3.  Use the experience frame.  Experiential purchases make people happier than material purchases.  Framing a sale in experiential terms is more likely to lead to satisfied customers and repeat business. If you’re selling a car, “go easy on emphasizing the rich Corinthian leather on the seats. Instead point out what the car will allow the buyer to do – see new places, visit old friends, and add to a book of memories.
  4. The label frame – in 2004, social scientists from the Interdisciplinary Centre in Israel, the US Air Force Academy and Stanford University recruited participants to play a Prisoners Dilemma game.  For one group, they called it “Wall Street Game”, and the other “Community Game”. In the Wall Street Game, 33% of participants cooperated.  In the Community Game, 66% reached the mutually beneficial results.  The label helped people put the exercise in context and hinted at what was expected. In an experiment of 5th grade students, a similar thing happened. Students who were labelled “neat” were more likely to keep their classroom clean.
  5. Clarify other’s motives
  6. Try a jolt of the unfamiliar
  7. Curate information
  8. Learn to ask better questions
  9. Find the 1%
  10. Ask 5 “Whys”

To improve your influencing skills:
Books suggested by Dan Pink

  1. Influence by Robert Cialdini
  2. Made to Stick: Why some ideas survive and others die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  3. Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  4. Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
  5. Nudge: Improving decisions About health, wealth and happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. Twyla Tharp

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Not exactly art but a watercolour  painting session at today’s #carfreesundaysg# at the civic district.

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Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. – Pablo Picasso  ( quip taken from the brochure of Singapore Association for Mental Health)

The night before, I was reading  “Secrets of a creativity coach” where Eric Maisey bared his email coaching with artists, writers and others in the creative profession.

For writers, he suggested to write a few minutes day (aka 3 pages of Julia Cameron). For artists, he suggested 45 mins a day significant art.

1. List down 3 goals. (WOW goal)
2. Work on the first goal on day 1, second goal on day 2.
3. Work on the goals for 3 weeks.

For the clients who cannot find time, he advises them to list down the areas that they can do less of.

While these instructions seem easy enough, the typical goal setting plan that every self help book starts with. I realised that coaching ultimately is also about commitment to spend time on your goals and accountability to someone.

Don’t wait for inspiration to strike.