The Promotion Curse

The records of almost 40,000 salespeople across 131 firms were studied and researchers found that companies have a strong tendency to promote the best sales people. Convincing others to buy goods and services is a useful skill, requiring charisma and persistence. But, as the authors point out, these are not the same capabilities as the strategic planning and administrative competence needed to lead a sales team. The research then looked at what happened after these super-salespeople were promoted. Their previous sales performance was actually a negative indicator of managerial success. 

People get promoted until they reach a level when they stop enjoying their jobs. At this point, it is not just their competence that is affected; it is their happiness as well. The trick to avoiding this curse is to stick to what you like doing.  Beware the curse of overwork and dissatisfaction. 

The Economist’s Bartleby column

When Company Values Falter

When we talk about cases of clear fraud or criminal misdoing, it seems so easy to say, “What was wrong with these evil people?” But when they’re in the moment, they’re saying to themselves, “I have to do things for these investors” or “I have to do things for my employees to keep things going.” It’s the concept of escalation of commitment; at first you had very small things that would get covered up and justified, but then the amount of deception gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Theranos might be a good example of this. The people who founded that company had good intentions, right? They wanted to develop medical testing and products that would benefit the world. They believed in it. And either for the mission, for the long-term viability of the company, or for the employees, you can see how they end up making mistakes and unethical actions even though they began with good intentions.

Ken Shotts quoted in Fast Company

Work & the Project of Living

Americans have forgotten an old-fashioned goal of working: It’s about buying free time. The vast majority of workers are happier when they spend more hours with family, friends, and partners, according to research conducted by Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. In one study, she concluded that the happiest young workers were those who said around the time of their college graduation that they preferred careers that gave them time away from the office to focus on their relationships and their hobbies.

How quaint that sounds. But it’s the same perspective that inspired the economist John Maynard Keynes to predict in 1930 that Americans would eventually have five-day weekends, rather than five-day weeks. It is the belief—the faith, even—that work is not life’s product, but its currency. What we choose to buy with it is the ultimate project of living.

Derek Thompson writing in The Atlantic 

Saying "no" to 1,000 things

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying "no" to 1,000 things.

Steve Jobs 

Most tech doesn’t come from startups

Only about 15% of programmers work at startups, and in many big tech companies, most of the staff aren’t even programmers anyway. So the focus on defining tech by the habits or culture of programmers that work at big-name startups deeply distorts the way that tech is seen in society. Instead, we should consider that the majority of people who create technology work in organizations or institutions that we don’t think of as “tech” at all.

What’s more, there are lots of independent tech companieslittle indie shops or mom-and-pop businesses that make websites, apps, or custom software, and a lot of the most talented programmers prefer the culture or challenges of those organizations over the more famous tech titans. We shouldn’t erase the fact that startups are only a tiny part of tech, and we shouldn’t let the extreme culture of many startups distort the way we think about technology overall.

Anil Dash writing in Medium

The people who can help you see yourself for who you are

Romantic partners and close friends might be more informed, because they’ve observed you more—but they can also have blurrier vision, because they chose you and often share that pesky desire to see you positively. You need people who are motivated to see you accurately. And I’ve come to believe that more often than not, those people are your colleagues. The people you work with closely have a vested interest in making you better (or at least less difficult). The challenge is they’re often reluctant to tell you the stuff you don’t want to hear, but need to hear.

Adam Grant writing in The Atlantic

Go Take a Hike

A century ago, economists believed that you could predict how poor someone was by how much he or she worked. The whole point of earning wealth, they argued, was that it afforded you less toil and more downtime. But somewhere in the annals of America’s workaholic culture, putting in inhuman hours at your job became a status symbol, especially for the elite.

Today’s high-flying executives are some of the worst offenders. Apple CEO Tim Cook gets up at 3:45 a.m. each day to fire off work emails, and is often the first one in the office and the last one to leave. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has bragged about pulling all-nighters at her desk.

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban once didn’t take a vacation for seven years. These executives continue to put in grueling 100-hour workweeks long after they’ve made more money than they could hope to spend in a lifetime. Why? Because in our work-obsessed society, busyness has become something that we aspire to. It signals that we are in demand, and that our time has value.

You could argue these executives are doing what they love, and that meaningful work provides a real sense of fulfillment. But all that industriousness probably isn’t making them more creative or productive. Some of history’s most accomplished figures across science, math, and literature—people like Charles Darwin, Henri Poincaré, and Charles Dickens—insisted on working just four or five hours a day. The rest of their mornings and afternoons were filled with long walks and other leisurely pursuits that recharged their mental batteries and gave rise to creative ideas.

Studies of exceptional performers and athletes reveal similar work/rest patterns, with just a few hours a day of serious, focused effort. No one expects corporate America to suddenly start breaking for afternoon naps. But the next time your colleague sends an urgent 10 p.m. email, you might tell him, quite literally, to go take a hike.

Carolyn O’Hara, The Week magazine

Shifting with Needs

Not infrequently, those who started (a) company either decide to leave voluntarily or are forced out of the company that they started. The irony of this kind of event is lost on practicality no one: The person who founded the organization is now found to be irrelevant, or even detrimental to it.

From the standpoint of a theory of styles, such an event is neither surprising nor likely to be unusual. The styles of thinking that are compatible with rugged entrepreneurship are often not the styles that are compatible with management in a more entrenched and possibly bureaucratic firm. Similarly, different styles may be required for different levels of kinds of responsibility in an organization.

The startup entrepreneur has no lack of ability; if he or she had, the company never would have succeeded in the first place. Rather the individual has a revolutionary spirit that is more suitable to the earlier than the later stages of organizational development.  What had worked so well earlier on simply no longer works. If the person cannot be flexible, he or she is likely to find it hard to fit into the organization.

Robert Sternberg, Thinking Styles

Who comes out on top?

To understand a company’s strategy, look at what they actually do rather than what they say they do. The same logic applies to one’s life. For example, ambitious people will reliably tell you that family, or being a mother or father, is the most important thing in their lives. Yet when pressed to choose between racing home to deal with a chaotic pre-bedtime scene and staying another hour at the office to solve a problem, they will usually keep working. It’s these small, everyday decisions that reveal if you’re following a path to being the best possible spouse and parent. If your family matters most to you, when you think about all the choices you’ve made with your time in a week, does your family come out on top?

Clay Christensen, How will you Measure your Life?

Loose, Messy and Chaotic

Centralised, hierarchical systems made sense in a world in which information and knowledge were relatively scarce commodities and could be tightly controlled, but the decentralisation of knowledge, brought about by the inexorable rise of the internet – combined with a collapse of trust in traditional sources of authority and expertise – legitimises the creation of flatter, decentralised operational models. Rapidly changing customer expectations powered by social media are forcing institutions to become more open, transparent and responsive and to operate in close to real time, as opposed to the painfully slow pace of institutional time.

Tight ways of thinking and working, while being superficially attractive and comforting, don't work. They have been built on the illusion of control. This illusion – propagated by legions of consultants, economists, market researchers and other purveyors of empirical snake oil – has actually made businesses less capable of embracing the complex realities of the modern world.

Agility, flexibility, a willingness to exercise judgement and an ability to improvise will become the defining characteristics of successful institutions in the next decades. This means fighting the instinct to solve every problem through rules and regulations and recognising the limitations of long-term planning and the painfully slow nature of most internal decision-making processes.

It means accepting the need to operate in real time and making the organisational and cultural changes necessary to achieve it. And most importantly, it means building a strong, self-sustaining, trusting organisational culture rather than in investing in yet more process and bureaucracy.

The future is loose, messy and chaotic: now is the time to embrace it.

Martin Thomas

Loose: the Future of Business is Letting Go

Solo Performance

A mountain of studies has shown that face-to-face brainstorming and teamwork often lead to inferior decisionmaking. That’s because social dynamics lead groups astray; they coalesce around the loudest extrovert’s most confidently asserted idea, no matter how daft it might be.

What works better? “Virtual” collaboration—with team members cogitating on solutions alone, in private, before getting together to talk them over. As Susan Cain (who write Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking) discovered, researchers have found that groups working in this fashion generate better ideas and solve problems more adroitly. To really get the best out of people, have them work alone first, then network later.

Sounds like the way people collaborate on the Internet, doesn’t it? With texting, chat, status updates, comment threads, and email, you hash over ideas and thoughts with a pause between each utterance, giving crucial time for reflection. Plus, you can do so in private.

(The) overall the irony here is pretty gorgeous. It suggests we’ve been thinking about the social web the wrong way. We generally assume that it has unleashed an unruly explosion of disclosure, a constant high school of blather. But what it has really done is made our culture more introverted—and productively so. Now if we could just get some doors on those cubicles.

Clive Thompson writing in Wired Magazine

a simple question

Upon meeting someone, instead of asking, "What do you do?" I prefer asking, "What do you love to do?" That always stops people. Their eyes soften, and they smile. "What do I love to do?" Sadly, it usually it has nothing to do with their work.

The problem is that our society does not teach us to value what we really love. It teaches us to value what we are good at. How many people do you know who are really good at their jobs but hate what they do for a living? Think for a moment. It's staggering.

In the last few years, I've become acutely aware of just where the culprit might lie.

My daughter and I have just finished the college slog, and she is off to her freshman year in a matter of weeks. The journey wasn't easy. Over and over again at colleges around the country I heard admissions people with starched shirts and neat scarves shooting what felt to me like verbal bullets to a room full of prospective students, such as "Who here is good at math? Raise your hand."

Half the room would groan. Half would raise their hands.

"Okay — for those of you with raised hands, you might want to declare Accounting as your major. Accounting majors are guaranteed jobs out of college."


Is that what college is for? Getting a job?

A job is a good thing, of course, but college is about something deeper. It should teach you how to think. It should help you learn what you can't stand. It is about stretching your mind in ways you never thought you could and coming out the other side ready to fly into the unknowns of life with some level of confidence and better yet, wonder.

Every single time I witnessed this What-are-you-good-at-raise-your-hand assault on our college-bound youth, I wanted to stand up, Oz-like, and say, "Ignore the person on the stage. It's not what you are good at. It's what you love. If you are lucky enough to have both, good for you!"

Laura Munson, Writing in The Week

Turning happiness into a management tool

A large American health-care provider, Ochsner Health System, introduced a rule that workers must make eye contact and smile whenever they walk within ten feet of another person in the hospital. Pret A Manger sends in mystery shoppers to visit every outlet regularly to see if they are greeted with the requisite degree of joy. Pass the test and the entire staff gets a bonus—a powerful incentive for workers to turn themselves into happiness police. Companies have a right to ask their employees to be polite when they deal with members of the public. They do not have a right to try to regulate their workers’ psychological states and turn happiness into an instrument of corporate control.

Companies would be much better off forgetting wishy-washy goals like encouraging contentment. They should concentrate on eliminating specific annoyances, such as time-wasting meetings and pointless memos. Instead, they are likely to develop ever more sophisticated ways of measuring the emotional state of their employees. Academics are already busy creating smartphone apps that help people keep track of their moods, such as Track Your Happiness and Moodscope. It may not be long before human-resource departments start measuring workplace euphoria via apps, cameras and voice recorders.

Schumpeter in The Economist

bosses: don't be jerks

After decades of being bossed, and 16 years of bossing, I’ve developed a prime directive for bosses which will probably not be taught at Harvard Business School: Don’t be a jerk. Organizations need hierarchies and leadership, so yes, you get to call some shots. You can be tough and demanding. But remember that your authority over other human beings is an artificial construct. You are not better than the people working for you. Fire people if you must, but humiliate no one. Be kind. Granted, many bosses don’t operate this way, and I can understand why women in positions of power want the right to be as obnoxious and tyrannical as their male counterparts. But wouldn’t it be better still if no boss could get away with acting like a jerk?

William Falk writing in The Week Magazine

Career Choices

Find what you are good at. Find what you have a passion for doing. People will pay you good money to do the things that fit within both of these circles. No one is going to be willing to pay for your "C minus" work (or not very much). So forget about bringing your "fours" up to "sixes" (on a scale of one to ten). Focus on getting your "eights "up to "nines" and your "nines" up to "tens." (A bit of an oversimplification.. but you get the idea).

Stephen Goforth

Selling the Problem

Most managers and leaders put 10 percent of their energy into selling the problem and 90 percent into selling the solution to the problem. People aren't in the market for solutions to problems they don't see, acknowledge and understand. They might even come up with a better solution than yours. Then you won't have to sell it, the solution will be theirs.

William Bridges, Managing Transitions

The Outgoing Basket

The head of a small firm who had a great many difficulties in establishing his business told me that he was immeasurably helped by a technique which he invented. He had trouble, he said, with the tendency to "blow up" a small difficulty into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. He knew that he was approaching his problems in a defeatist attitude, and had common sense enough to realize that these obstacles were not so difficult as he made them appear to be. As he told the story, I wondered if he did not have that curious psychological difficulty known as the will to fail.

He employed a device which reconditioned his mental attitude and after a time had a noticeable effect on his business. He simply placed a large wire basket on his office desk. The following words were printed on a card and wired to this basket, "With God all things are possible." Whenever a problem came up which the old mechanism of defeat began to develop into a big difficulty, he threw the paper pertaining to it into the basket marked "With God all things are possible" and let it rest there for a day or two. "It is queer how each matter when I took it out of that basket again didn’t seem difficult at all," he reported.

In this act he dramatized the mental attitude of putting the problem in God’s hands. As a result he received power to handle the problem normally and therefore successfully.

Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking

Are personal and professional ethics related? Ashley Madison may have the answer

A study out of the University of Texas at Austin took a look at the names revealed in the Ashley Madison hack.  Ashley Madison is the online dating service for marital affairs. The researchers wanted to know whether the CEOs and CFOs who used the site "were more likely to do dishonest things.. they looked to see whether the firm was the target of a class action lawsuit or the firm had made financial misstatements," NPR's Shankar Vedantam reports.

What did they find?  It turns out the corporate leaders who used Ashley Madison were more than twice as likely to engage in corporate cheating and misconduct. They also found this group more likely to be risk-takers when it came to innovation and research.

Bottom line: "Our findings suggest that personal and professional ethics are closely related (and) support the classical view that virtues such as honesty and integrity influence a person’s thoughts and actions across diverse contexts.”

You can read the study for yourself here.

Stephen Goforth

A simple strategy of the talent hotbeds: chunking

Deep practice feels a bit like exploring a dark and unfamiliar room. You start slowly, you bump into furniture, stop, think, and start again. Slowly, and a little painfully, you explore the space over and over, attending to errors, extending your reach into the room a bit further each time, building a mental map until you can move through it quickly intuitively. the instinct to slow down and break skills into their components is universal.

We heard it a billion times while we were growing up, from parents and coaches who echoed the old refrain “Just take it one step at a time.”  But what I didn't understand until I visited the talent hotbeds was just how effective that simple, intuitive strategy could be.

In the talent hotbeds I visited, the chunking takes place in three dimensions. First, the participants look at the task as a whole-- as one big chunk, the megacircuit.  Second, they divide it into its smallest possible chucks. Third, they play with time, slowing the action down, then speeding it up, to learn its inner architecture.

People in the hotbeds deep-practice the same way a good movie director approaches a scene--one instant panning back to show the landscape, The next zooming in to examine a bug crawling on a leaf in slo-mo.

Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code