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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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I was introduced to a interesting company Isobar, which created  “an in-store activation device using neuroscience technology to create UMOOD. UNIQLO customers were fitted with a neuro-headset and shown a series of video stimuli. Their neurological responses to the stimuli were then analysed in real-time by a custom-built algorithm that identified their current mood and recommended the perfect T-shirt for them.”

Imagine, how difficult it is to choose a T-shirt that we now relegate decision making to a technology device. Kudos to the company for getting modern man out of his dilemma of too much choice.  Now I understand why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same colored T-shirt and why the Japanese used to insist on uniforms for every staff.

Are you in the same predicament? Afraid to make choices? Why?

Perhaps the best invention yet is to simplify. Or to make a choice, and stop blaming yourself. Take notes, observe your own reactions.

Perhaps we don’t take the time to understand ourselves.

https://www.isobar.com/sg/en/work/umood/

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Photo: 999 glass fishes at the Oceans Financial Centre Singapore.The work holds a message about strength from community and collaboration.
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Technology alone likely won’t deliver the uplift in performance that organizations seek.

There are three reasons to value human capital:

– People are the creators of technology – it does not create itself.

– People are the stewards of technology – they cannot control it but they can shape it and are less effective without it.

– People are the champions of technology.

Companies such as Airbnb and Uber, optimise technology but also have huge teams of people to service their customers. Humans know best how to partner with technology.

“What gets in the way is that there is an insufficient understanding of disruption, there is pressure from stakeholders and the strategy for human capital is not aligned with the strategic goals of the organisation.

Smartphones, data-collecting industrial parts and other innovations of the Digital Age are amazing, but none of them pack the productivity-boosting power of the lightbulb or the telephone. Indeed, apart from a short burst between 1996 and 2004, the digital technology revolution actually hasn’t boosted overall productivity.

Airbnb offers a strong example of what can happen when people are enabled rather than replaced by technology. The firm might have fewer than 3,000 people on the payroll, but it depends on tens of thousands of creative, ambitious and talented human hosts to supply those 2 million rooms worldwide. Technology may connect hosts to potential guests, but Airbnb has no business without the hosts.

The “Talent Trumps Tech” idea applies to the executive suites, too. Yes, the boss likely will be able to use technology to instantly get real-time data about the firm’s pipeline of sales, cash flows, threats from competitors, even the value of individual customers …. At the same time, it will be easier for CEOs to get concrete business options from intel- ligent software. These AI-infused programs can use current data and past experiences to identify trouble spots or opportunities and make recommendations to improve the business.

Making the call
However, no app or robot is going to make the final decision on what business strategy to pursue, or whether to open a new office in Austin or Amsterdam, or whether to merge with a rival firm. “I’ll never say never, but I can’t imagine CEOs giving up those decisions,” says Nels Olson, vice chairman and co-leader of Korn Ferry’s Board & CEO Services practice. “Artificial intelligence will be there to provide input.”

Excerpts from 2030: The Very Human Future Of Work by Hazel Euan-Smith & Russell Pearlman & Karen Kane in the series on “The Future of Work is Human”
– KornFerry Institute

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/

Your mind cannot hold two thoughts at once.
That means that a single thought can occupy your entire mind
Whether good or bad, everything stems from a single thought
If we are careful with that first thought, even tragedies can be prevented.

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Catching the sunset in Hawke’s Bay, NZ 2016.

Dream big but start small
A small adjustment can have a big effect on your life
If you want to be healthier, start by going to bed half an hour earlier

Haemin Sunim, “The Things You Can See Only when You Slow Down”
Translated by Chi-Young Kim

Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behaviour
Keep your behaviour positive, because your behaviour become your habits
Keep your habits positive, because your   habits become your values
Keep your values positive, because your
values become your destiny
-Mahatma Gandhi

Have you given this answer when asked “Tell me about your weakness”. That you are a perfectionist.

According to Sharon Begley, author of books such as “The Mind and the Brain”, “The Plastic Mind” and “Can’t. Just. Stop. An Investigation of Compulsions“, many of the creative types have traces of OCD and anxiety in them.

Her book begins with a story of blind John Milton who wrote the epic 10,000 plus lines of “Paradise Lost” by dictating his lines crafted at night and memorised until daylight broke, to one of his three daughters. Milton had a palpable need to be unburdened of the memorised lines of verse that filled him with anxiety until he could be “milked”. Hemingway described himself the same way “When I don’t write, I feel like shit”. Vincent Van Fogh produced more than 200 paintings of sunflower in a short span of time equivalent to one painting every 34hrs.

Begley observed that these geniuses’ work sprang from a “deep creative impulse and genius” that also came from something “deeper, darker, more tortured”. Driven to keep the psychic pain away. Compulsions so desperate and tortured.

Who exactly is a perfectionist?

Begley cites Caroline Meyer of Loughborough University in a 2011 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders discovered a link between perfectionism and compulsive exercise. The falling short of perfection provokes anxiety which only the compulsive behavior can quiet – the result is a compulsion to work out to a self destructive extreme.

Is there a difference between addiction and compulsion?

Addiction begins with a flash of pleasure overlaid by an itch if danger. It’s fun to gamble or drink and puts you at risk. You like how you feel when you win.

Compulsion in contrast is about avoiding unpleasant outcomes. They are born in anxiety and remain strangers to joy. Such behavior is repeated to relief the angst brought about by negative consequences. “If I don’t do this, something terrible will happen.”

Note: Perfectionists have the potential to self destruct. Not a good answer in a job interview.

Begley cites another creative type, Joan Rivers who was working very hard just before she died in 2014. Rivers worked as compulsively as a kid trying to break into show business.

Begley went on to observe that the compulsion to do good in the world can “emanate from as many sources as a river of snow melt water “. Positive such as seeing one’s work make an impact in the lives of others, or a sense of connectedness. Or negative forces such as a repulsive force of anxiety.

Drive to work can come from the anxiety that no one will do a job as competently as you will. Or an anxiety that comes from contemplating one’s own mortality or the existence of suffering in the world and saying “not on my watch”? What compels people to do good?

What compels people to create?
According to Marcy Seaham, who advises corporations on creativity there are 4 temperaments that drives people to create.
1. Artisan/ improviser – restlessness from feeling “Ive had enough” of this way of doing things or imperfect device
2. Catalysts/ idealists are restless as long as things dont change. Impelled by curiosity.
3. Creativity comes from enjoyment of mastery and accomplishment. “Incompetence and stupidity makes them restless.” Perception of themselves as not accomplishing.
4. Guardians/ Stabilisers feel restless when things are not going smoothly.

Conclusion

A very well written book, except that what’s amiss in my view is any attempt to help those of us who suspect we may have some secret compulsive behavior. Her aim is to create a “realization that there is no bright line between mental illness and mental normality”.

You’ve succeeded Ms Begley. Now every colleague looks suspiciously having OCD traits. Including myself.

Next time you describe yourself as a perfectionist in an interview, think again. You may be revealing more than you should.

Every other day, Twitter and Facebook has someone posting that robots are replacing me.

Should I face this with fear ? When I was young, we were told the neighbouring countries are going to eat our lunch. Especially Penang. After all we have no resources. Then I learnt that the “Chinese and Indians are eating my lunch”. Now it’s the robots.

Let’s face it. Someone is always going to eat my lunch. I say this, not to underestimate the enemy. But to plan a strategy. What did I learn from the past which can set me better for the future.

Last week, my 12 year old nephew told me with all seriousness of a very cute and “voice not broken” that 10 million jobs will be wiped out in 10 years time. He learnt this while watching TV.

While we throw these words around, how then are we preparing the next generation? With a doomsday, Armageddon mentality or competitive steak?

I do not have the answer.

Machines replacing the jobs of humans is not a new story. When I first joined the Foreign Service, we had typists in a typing pool. When we tried to lobby countries in the UN to support us for a seat in some UN Council, 185 letters or Third Part Notes had to be typed – such jobs were essential. I could only type all alphabets with one finger. The body of the letters were printed but the typists typed out the names of the countries in 4 places in super human speed. Good luck if the names were typed wrongly. So proof reading was essential because humans make mistakes. We had to beg the typists to prioritise our work and bribed them with gifts and praises. There were never enough typists for the stuff that required typing.

Imagine our elation, when computers, mail merge and excel were introduced. The typists’ jobs were replaced but many of them moved on to other jobs in the organisation. The total number of employees did not go down. In fact more work was created.

Change is part of life. Seasons change, winds change. One of the key skills we need is to embrace change. Mindset of an adventure.

That’s the excuse I gave myself to acquire the Samsung S8+. I was very excited, the day I decided to buy the new phone, fiddling the model in the Samsung concept store and confirming with my telecom provider that stock was available. My preferred color: Orchid Grey.

On the actual day of the purchase, I was first in queue. But when the phone was in my hands. Dread overtook me. Inertia. Why did I buy a new phone with a new contract for 2 years. My Note 4 is excellent, why pay $438 (after the various discounts) just for a curved screen and a better camera.

Every action seemed insurmountable.
The transfer of data and learning how to use the new functions. You can learn everything yourself from YouTube, my friend said.

Well, I paid $38 for the Samsung Concierge and a kind lady walked me through the steps at the Samsung store in Plaza Singapura.

It’s ok. No matter how many phones I’ve changed, I’m still afraid and reluctant.

Mel Robbins calls it the 5 Sec rule. When you decide on a new challenge, take action within the first 5 secs or your frontal cortex will kick in. So I went straight to the Samsung Concierge and transfered everything.

My friend told me the story of his father, a former senior official (ie educated and highly respected) who refused to use a smart phone. Why is that an issue? Singapore is moving over to 3G soon and the network will not support 2G. My parents who were not university educated have long since moved to smart phone and WhatsApp. How did they learn? By asking people around them. Because they had to depend on their wits for survival, asking for help has become a skill.

Sun Tzu says it’s important to get a local guide who will show you the way.

In “Humility is the New Smart.” , the authors argue that Humility by “learning and unlearning” and asking questions are the new skills of the Smart Machine Age. Never being afraid to tear down old assumptions and ask those around us who know the way. Although beware of the blind leading the blind.

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That’s why I bought the Samsung S8+ and the Samsung Concierge service. Learning something new destabilises me and makes me humble. And more empathetic to those who struggle to make sense of this new age.

Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age https://g.co/kgs/Y2bnEP