Issue No. 282 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting features the Malcolm Gladwell book I reviewed in 2008—because it might (maybe not?) have relevance to the recent Asiana Airlines accident in San Francisco. Plus, check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
Uncertainty Avoidance Syndrome
I've been on the road this month—so I reached back to Issue 116 (December 2008) for another fun read, but informative book. If you haven't read this, it's a must! (This eNews was mailed on July 18 but posted today.)
Few books cause me to think differently about the world. This book did. I can’t stop talking about it. (Just ask my wife.) Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell (view his popular TEDTalk, "Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti") has gifted us with an absolutely fascinating book that will make you think, ponder, discuss and wonder. He asserts, “I will argue that there is something profoundly wrong with the way we make sense of success.”
The author of The Tipping Point and Blink continues, “The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine. It’s not enough to ask what successful people are like, in other words. It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn’t.”
Titled Outliers, the book defines an outlier as “something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body.” And with one fast-reading example after another, story teller/commentator-on-life Gladwell is off and running.
Why are Asian students seemingly more successful at math? Go back to the rice paddies and observe the rigorous work ethic. Why do college students in the south get more rattled than Northerners when confronted? Check out their Scottish and Irish ancestors and their “culture of honor.”
After an alarming number of airline crashes on the formerly named Korean Airlines, how and why did management change the culture of the cockpit? (Don’t read “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes” chapter at 30,000 feet, as I did last week. Yikes!)
What does the “Matthew Effect” (per the first book of the New Testament) have to do with hockey players born in January? Teachers, parents and grandparents will be amazed at his data on I.Q., education and school vacations—the U.S. school year is 180 days long. Japan’s is 243 days.
You will insist that Gladwell’s conclusions cannot possibly be true. Are they? You’ll sense sadness at how we fail to understand culture—and the incredible harm of wasted years and lives—all preventable, claims the author. He makes a compelling case about luck, timing—and the extraordinary power of the 10,000-hour rule and how it contributed to the success of Bill Gates and the Beatles.
Read the book and then host a team discussion on the vast implications for your organization, such as what to consider when recruiting new team members and how professional development programs might need to change based on a person’s ethnicity. For example, Greeks and Guatemalans are in the top five of the “uncertainty avoidance” countries (high reliance on rules), while Swedes and Jamaicans represent the top-five cultures best able to tolerate ambiguity.
To order this book from Amazon, click on the graphic below for Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) According to the author, “job applicants at Microsoft are asked a battery of questions designed to test their smarts, including the classic, ‘Why are manhole covers round?’ If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re not smart enough to work at Microsoft.”
2) Gladwell writes, “Those three things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.” Do you agree?
Good, Better or Best?
Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
A cracker-jack department head, some years back, submitted a routine project to me well in advance of the deadline. My heart sank as I read the report.
In my (feeble) mind, the project should have taken 15 to 30 minutes. My colleague had easily invested two to three hours on the assignment. It was spectacular, it was gorgeous, it was perfect (no typos), but it was unnecessary.
At the next weekly staff meeting, I announced a new vocabulary for all future projects: "Good, Better, or Best." If the assignment was for an internal document, the standard might be "Good." Maybe rough calculations on the back of an envelope will be good enough for another project. “Better” might require more work because a committee might review it and a “better” job might save us time in the long run.
“Best” is reserved when it must be perfect: website copy, donor letters, corporate annual reports, grant applications, etc. Our team appreciated the new vocabulary—because it saved them time. If I failed to delineate the scope of a future project, I was always asked, “Should this be Good, Better or Best?” Try it at your shop this week.