Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Self-help for leaders

My weekly book post on s+b's blogs is about Edgar Schein's latest and best work:

Two Books That Will Make You a Better Leader

I’ve been meaning to write an appreciation of Edgar H. Schein, the organizational psychologist and
professor emeritus at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. I don’t want to talk about his many notable contributions to the field of organizational development over the past five decades or his work on corporate culture (a term he is credited with coining), which helped define that field of study. Instead, I’d like to focus on Schein’s last two books, which, in the long run, might prove to be his best and most timeless works.

In Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (Berrett-Koehler, 2009) and Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (Berrett-Koehler, 2013), Schein eschews big-picture theory for managerial practice, and he bypasses organizational dynamics for interpersonal communication. Both books are fast reads and they are grounded in the everyday—Schein opens Humble Inquiry by relating an impromptu conversation he had with a woman walking her the rest here

Business lessons from U.S. foreign policy failures

Stephen Walt, the noted international affairs professor from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, spent a day at William & Mary last week, and I got a chance to attend a thought-provoking and highly articulate talk that he gave courtesy of the Institute for the Theory & Practice of International Relations. Walt says that U.S. foreign policy has been pretty abysmal for the past 20 years. He enumerated the external and internal reasons for this, and as he discussed them, it occurred to me that each of these reasons represented a flaw or pitfall that large, powerful companies--like large, powerful countries--would do well to consider and avoid. The talk was about 40 minutes long (sans questions) and well worth the investment in time.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Game playing pays off

My weekly book post on the s+b blog is about Adam Penenberg’s new book examining how video games are being used to enhance organizations and improve lives:

Cow Clicker, DARPA, and the Power of Gaming

I came of age playing pinball and was unimpressed by Atari’s Pong when it appeared in the mid-1970s
—even though it launched an entire industry. So, never having become an aficionado of video games, I was surprised that NYU journalism professor Adam Penenberg was able to hook me right from the beginning of his new book, Play at Work: How Games Inspire Breakthrough Thinking (Portfolio Penguin, 2013), an expansion of a Fast Company article he wrote in 2010.

Penenberg writes about Ian Bogost, a professor of interactive computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology who designs video games that lampoon society. One of the games Bogost created is named Cow Clicker. It’s a mindless pursuit in which you collect points for clicking on a cartoon cow once every six hours and getting the members of your social networks to click on cows, too. It was meant to satirize social media, but then it became a hit. In fact, when Bogost added mooney (which is purchased with real money) to the game, some players paid for customized cows and extra points. Then Bogost removed the cows altogether and all you did was click on an open field. Many players soldiered on. What better illustration of the extraordinary power of video games to engross people could there the rest here

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Scott Adams on ghostwriting

Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, has a new book out--How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life (Portfolio, 2013)--which is a funny take on the memoir-cum-personal-success-manual genre. Paging through it brought to mind a Dilbert strip that my cousin clipped out of a newspaper and mailed to me, in an envelope through the US Postal Service--just like in the olden days. The strip cracked me up so much that I emailed Adams to see if I could buy a signed copy. (No answer. Bet he's never gotten one of those emails before.) Anyway, here it is: 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Corporate cow-tipping for fun and profit

My weekly book post on s+b's blogs is about a new book recounting the modern era of hostile takeovers:

Corporate Raiders and Their Minions: A History

The badly tarnished reputation of the financial sector could use some polish, but don’t bother looking
for it in John Weir Close’s A Giant Cow-Tipping by Savages: The Boom, Bust, and Boom Culture of M&A (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). The book, a social history of contemporary M&A, is light on strategies and mechanics, but it’s loaded with dish. And therein lies the fun.

There’s no mention of serial corporate acquirers such as Cisco and Johnson & Johnson here. Close, the founder and editor of The M&A Journal, a pricey insider’s newsletter, focuses exclusively on corporate raiders and their investment bankers and lawyers. Together, starting in the 1970s and accelerating through the 1980s, they transformed the face of M&A—from a gentile corporate pursuit in which an unwelcome bid was considered bad form into pitched battles of the sort described in Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco (Harper Business, 1990).

The raiders who Close describes are colorful, to say the the rest here

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Everything in your business speaks

Good friends are cruising around Greece and sent this photo of a restaurant sign with a note to check out the snail's tentacles. It reminded me that the Disney Institute teaches that everything in a business "speaks" to customers.

 Credit: Ken Lyon

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bruce Poon Tip's excellent adventure

My weekly book post on s+b's blogs is about G Adventures’s founder Bruce Poon Tip, who built a successful business by following his bliss.

An Entrepreneur’s Journey to Business Nirvana

Bruce Poon Tip tells a familiar story in the opening chapter of his book, Looptail: How One Company Changed the World by Reinventing Business (Business Plus, 2013). It’s 1997 and Poon Tip’s travel
adventure company, G Adventures, is flirting with bankruptcy. He’s miserable and he’s on a tour. Crossing the border from Nepal into Tibet, he walks by a group of monks and one says, in perfect English, “Welcome back.”

“I’ve never been here before,” says Poon Tip.

“You’ve been here before,” says the monk.

And so have we. Books by entrepreneurs about the companies in which they have invested their lives almost always include that moment of truth when their authors stare into the maw of bankruptcy. I tend to be leery when reading such books—often they are exercises in myth-making, culture-building, and marketing as much as anything else. And I would argue that Looptail fits the bill on all three counts. Check out the book’s website for proof.

But Looptail won me over nevertheless...find out why here

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Culture building with vocal silence

My weekly book post on s+b's blog is about an insider's view of teaching at HBS:

The Management Stylings of Harvard Business School

We’ve been treated to several insider accounts of Harvard Business School (HBS) over the years.
Robert Reid’s Year One: An Intimate Look Inside Harvard Business School, Source of the Most Coveted Advanced Degree in the World (William Morrow, 1994) and Philip Delves Broughton’s Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School (Penguin Press, 2008) covered the experience from the student’s perspective. But Michel Anteby’s Manufacturing Morals: the Values of Silence in Business School Education (University of Chicago Press, 2013) is the first I’ve seen that describes HBS from a professor’s point of view.

Anteby, an associate professor of organizational behavior, turns his experience of being hired by and teaching at HBS into an ethnographic study that explores how the “way we do things around here” is communicated to the faculty—a highly skilled and highly independent workforce. In doing so, he’s written a book that works on several levels.

First, Manufacturing Morals is a fun read. It’s packed with stories about what it’s like to teach at a leading (arguably, the leading) business school. As you might expect, the standards for faculty at HBS are high, and everything from how pictures get hung on office walls to what professors wear reinforce those standards.

Second, the publication of Anteby’s study is timely in light of Jodi Kantor’s New York Times article about the ongoing effort to promote gender equality within the school. It’s interesting that with all the attention paid to how things are done at HBS, its aggressively masculine student culture, the performance gap between male and female students, and the dearth of tenured female professors has only just begun to be addressed.

Finally, Manufacturing Morals is useful as a guide to creating corporate culture via “vocal silence.” Anteby finds examples of vocal silence at work throughout HBS, and thinks it can be a particularly effective means for communicating organizational mores. I asked him to explain the seemingly oxymoronic concept, and how companies can use Anteby's response here