Contrary Styles of Management

BOOK REVIEW: GRIT

GritGrit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Recommended for: improvement agents, systems thinkers (as a counter to their beliefs), parents, the education community, people wanting to reach their life goals.

I’ve seen this books floating around the educational circles. Its part of the growth mindset movement in our schools. The book’s premise is that our ability to be gritty (i.e. being able to relentlessly pursue an objective) is what will determine our ability to succeed in life and lays out strategies on how to get more grit.

The book and Duckworth’s ideas have been criticized by systems-thinkers who believe that most of our problems are systems/culture/environment related and praised by those who believe that we need to become better individuals in order to become successful.

Here’s my top 25 takeaways:

  1. Americans endorse hardworking over intelligence by five times when asked about hiring a new employee. However, in practice, we have a tendency to favor “naturals.” (I have personally seen this. We want people who ‘just get it.’)
  1. There’s a grit test in the book. I scored in the 60% which, according to the survey, means I’m grittier than 60% of the population. Should I put this on my resume? Heh.
  1. Grit is about working on something you care about so much your willing to stay loyal to it. Its not about just falling in love, but staying in love.
  1. “Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” Good quote.
  1. She suggests envisioning your goals in a hierarchy. The top level goal (your life philosophy) is supported by mid-level goals which are supported by low level goals. The lower level goals change in order to meet the higher level goals. Top level goals are written in ink. Lower level goals are written in pencil.
  1. You might have to do things in your lower level goals that you don’t want to do in order to reach your higher level goals.
  1. Grit is about holding the same top level goal for a very long time. This is your life philosophy and is so powerful that it organizes a great deal of your waking activity.
  1. Positive fantasizing is when you have a high level goal, but no lower level goals to reach it. You live with the short term great feelings about your goal, but in the long term, you live with disappointment of not having achieved the goal. This is common.
  1. Grit, just like other character attributes like honesty and generosity are genetically influenced, but also experience influenced.
  1. She had a chart that showed the older you are, the grittier you are. It was quite pronounced. Two ways to interpret this—the older generation grew up in a time when grit was more important (i.e. they just worked harder as they’ve always claimed) or we become more grittier as we get older.
  1. For some, purpose dawns early, for others, it takes many years of refinement. (I fall into this camp. I’m definitely a late bloomer).
  1. For the beginner, novelty is anything they haven’t encountered before. For the expert, novelty is nuance.
  1. “Some people get twenty years of experience, others get one year of experience twenty times in a row.” Another great quote.
  1. Grit paragons exude kaizen. There aren’t any exceptions. (Glad to hear this).
  1. This is how experts practice (called deliberate practice)—they create a stretch goal. They are very specific on what they want to do. Instead of practicing what they do well, they strive to improve weakness. They then give the goal great effort and undivided attention. Experts typically practice when no one is watching. Experts hungrily ask for feedback on how they are doing. They are more interested in what they are doing wrong rather than what they are doing right.
  1. Experts say they do the practice that they don’t like so they can better enjoy what they love.
  1. Doing crazy hours of practice is not the same as deliberate practice. There’s a story of the Japanese Rowing team inviting Mads Rassmusen (Danish rower and double World Champion and Olympic Gold winner) to visit them. He was shocked at how many hours they were putting in. Its not hours of brute force exhaustion you are going after he told them. Its high quality training goals pursued for just a few hours of the day.
  1. Infants and toddlers don’t seem to be bothered when they can’t get something right. They practice it over and over again until they do. What happens? It seems to be that once they get older, they realize their mistakes cause a reaction in some grownups. We frown. Our cheeks puff out. We point out that they are doing something wrong. What does this teach them? Embarrassment. Shame. Fear. Between coaches and parents, they’ve learned that failing is bad. After awhile, they aren’t willing to stick their necks out and give their best effort.
  1. Paragons of grit all believe their hard work and struggles are worth it because somehow they see it helping other people.
  1. Don’t say setbacks aren’t discouraging. That’s not realistic. Of course they are discouraging. Instead believe that setbacks don’t discourage you for long. Always get back on your feet.
  1. You don’t need to be a parent to make a difference in someone’s life. If you care about them and get to know what’s going on, you can make an impact. Try to understand whats going on in their life and help them through that.
  1. Learned industriousness—the idea that hard work and reward can be learned. Without experiencing the connection between reward and effort, animals, including people default to laziness. Calorie burning efforts is, after all, something that evolution has shaped us to avoid whenever possible. Psychologist Robert Eisenberger at the University of Houston has done research on this (this sounds like evidence for X style management).
  1. If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it. If you’re a leader, and you want the people in your organization to be grittier, create a gritty culture. (aha! So there is systems-thinking in this book!)
  1. It seems the hard way to get grit is to learn it yourself. The easy way is to use conformity—the basic human drive to fit in—because if you are around people who are gritty. You’re going to act grittier.
  1. Culture has the power to shape our identity. Over time and under the right circumstances the norms and values of the group to which we belong become our own.

Duckworth admits there needs to be inquiry into exploring the possible downsides of grit. For example, she admits there is a danger in sticking with something for too long. What is the cost of the pursuit? Our family? Relationships? Health? Money? Time? Duckworth says that people with grit are often described as obsessive. When does this go too far?

Overall, I found this book inspiring and I often find myself thinking on what Duckworth has to say, particularly on how we go about setting and accomplishing our goals.

As noted, her ideas and research seem to run, at first glance, counter to systems-thinking. Her thesis is that we need to strengthen the individual in order to get ahead. However, she also argues that gritty culture creates gritty individuals, which is a systems idea.

After reading this book, I’m thinking we need both. For us systems-thinkers, we need grit when our influence is low, because we are unable to improve the system, but when our influence becomes greater, we have the responsibility to improve the system (Deming often remarked that our system is destroying the rugged individual—we need to fix this).

My concern, though, is that within our dualistic culture, we will concentrate on one or the other and because we are an individualistic society, we will focus more on the individual. This book may be giving those with this mindset too much ammunition. Perhaps this is why, Alfie Kohn, who I admire a lot, has been highly critical of Duckworth’s work. His argument against it can be found here.

The book can be bought here.

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Following in the Footsteps of Assholes

I’ve been wondering lately if one of our biggest hurdles for improvement are the heroes of American industry. When people become successful, we want to know how they did it, and then we copy.

Here are four men I think most of the world admires and a summary of their management style.

13678_bill_gates_surprised-pngBill Gates— Founder of Microsoft. Wealthiest man in the world. Enough said. Well known for his dictatorial style. The articles I’ve read about him describe him as sarcastic, aggressive, and having a fixation on winning no matter what. He was known to bring his staff to tears. Many would say this is what made Microsoft. Do the ends justify the means and should we emulate his management style to become successful ourselves?

thp83ralslSteve Jobs –No one can deny his vision. He had an uncanny ability to predict the future. At the same time, he was described as arrogant, controlling, and mean-spirited. People who didn’t impress him were called “bozos.” Mark Graban, who I greatly admire, also questioned Steve Job’s leadership style. I work with a lot of tech heads and to them, Jobs is like a god. Should we emulate him?

muskElon Musk– It seems this guy is always in the headlines. He possesses tremendous self confidence and is absolutely unrelenting in pursuit of his vision. One employee said she would follow “him into the gates of hell carrying suntan oil.” At the same time, Musk is infamous for breaking an employee. One of his staff said Musk is “best compared to a master who berates and smacks his dog for not being able to read his mind.” The articles I read suggest he bleeds some really good employees who just can’t keep up with him. Of course, there are some who say this is what makes working with Musk so great. They say he brings out the best in them. Is Musk doing something right and should we look to him as a model?

jeff-bezosJeff Benzos– He’s know for his straight talk: “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” We hear of his infamous e-mails with the subject line “?” and how it elicits waves of panic and instant action. It seems instilling fear gets him the results he wants. At the same time, Benzos is on another level in the intelligence department. A former vice president, said that Bezos’ criticisms tend to be right – even when he has no real knowledge of the field. Should all our leaders be like Benzos?

When you look at it collectively, there seems a strong argument that these management styles are the way to go in order to achieve success. The proof is in the pudding, right?

I’ve worked with some brilliant, super-driven people (though perhaps not at the level of the above four). Management put the company in, what they believed, was their capable hands.

Is this the recipe for success?

Here are my observations from working with these managers:

  • No one could keep up with them. They could outsmart and outwork anyone under the table.
  • They always believed they were right. Always.
  • These managers were resentful that everyone wasn’t as smart or as committed as they were and as a result were abrasive to work with. They were often insulting or degrading and had little tolerance for people who couldn’t do the same thing they could.
  • Their personalities created high turn over. People got physically sick and were often demoralized. People quit or asked to be put on another team. This only annoyed these managers even more. Why couldn’t they get good people or why couldn’t people just “get over themselves and just work?” They just couldn’t deal with people and their weaknesses.
  • The product? It suffered. The customer? They suffered. We were always behind schedule and quality was poor. The managers blamed the team members. Some people on the team just stopped caring—i.e. ‘Just tell me what you want and give me my paycheck.’
  • There was so much turnover that new people had to constantly be trained. It put more pressure on these brilliant people to produce and as a result they became more combative and resentful. They were often in charge of training and were irritated when people couldn’t remember everything they had taught them (the method was insert funnel/pour in knowledge approach)
  • I tried to reason with them, trying to get them to understand that they were dealing with mere “mortals.” They didn’t care. To them, the people just had to get better. They didn’t seem to have a strategy on how to accomplish this, though.
  • The Darwinism of the project seemed to be fine with them. If people left—good, they didn’t need to be there anyway. At the same time they were irritated they couldn’t get good people.
BUD/S Hellweek Surf Drills

Should we have a much more rigid selection process in recruiting our employees? The special forces do it.

Before I left one of these teams, I spoke with one of these managers about the regular turnover (I was about to leave as well). She blamed it on the hiring processes. “This is a tough product and you have to get people who can deal with it.” I suggested the people they hired needed to have the tough-mindness of a special forces operator. She agreed with me. Perhaps we were on to something. A rigid selection process such as what they use in the special forces ensures only a certain type of person becomes one. Perhaps we should copy? At the same time, though, these projects in themselves weren’t really that difficult. It had become difficult based upon the decisions in leadership. Besides, it seems everyone thinks their company or project is special and requires special people. Not every company in the world can expect to get special-forces quality people.

Jobs or a Gates or a Musk or a Benzos probably represent .001% of our population. The majority of us are simply unable to do what they can. I know many would fault me for saying this, after all we live in a country where we are all taught and expected to be exceptional. Here’s the fact– most people are just average. I know we all think of ourselves and the people we hire as above average, but if everyone is above average, then no one is.

All this reminds me of how Deming pointed out how managers seem to be able to manage just about anything except people. I think this definitely applies here. We simply must learn to better manage and lead ordinary, fallible, and imperfect people and get the best out of them. What if these brilliant men were able to do that? How much more successful would they be? Many would argue they ARE getting the best out of these ordinary people. And they are doing it with their type of style of leadership. After all, the proof is in the pudding.

Are they right?

BOOK REVIEW- Winning

jack-welch-winningDAN’S SCORE: Stars 4
Winning
by Jack Welsh


My wife, god love her, rolled her eyes after hearing me going on and on about the virtues of Agile and Deming-style management for the millionth time.

A manager herself (and often my sparring partner over the best way to manage), she was growing tired of my pontification. “You know,” she said with a frown, “there’s other management styles out there.”

I decided to take her up on this and look at a contrary style.

Another reason I selected this book is because one of my fellow employees, after eyeballing the library on my desk, told me, “I’d prefer to take advice from people who have actually ran a business.”

Ouch.

So, I selected Jack Welsh’s book, Winning. Welsh is probably one of the biggest influences on management in the last decade. Warren Buffest said Winning was the only management book that was needed. It’s hard to argue with Welsh’s advice. After all, he grew GE by 4000% during his stay as GE’s CEO and made it the largest company in the world.

I’ll admit, this book rattled my confidence. Welsh’s ideas would certainly better resonate with the circles I’ve worked in than any of the Agile exhortations I’ve spouted. Many would say his management style is superior because the proof is in the pudding, and despite Deming’s belief that there is no instant pudding, Welsh has a hell of a lot pudding. It’s hard to argue against.

Overall it was an interesting read and I learned a lot.

At first, I was calling Welsh the anti-Deming. But as it turns out, Deming and Agile have a lot in common with Welsh. Here are some of the thing I saw:

Welsh

Deming/Agile

“There is no easy formula (for success).” “There is no such thing as instant pudding. (i.e. no recipe for success).”~Deming
“Variation is evil and must be destroyed.” Welsh is a huge supporter of Six Sigma. “If I had to reduce my message for management to just a few words, I’d say it all had to do with reducing variation.” ~Deming
You must develop a culture of trust in order to develop a culture of candor. Trust is important in both Agile and Deming philosophy. Deming often talks about the importance of driving out fear.
Believes an organization must have a culture of learning. PDSA, an appreciation for knowledge, kaizen and retrospectives are at the heart of Agile and Deming philosophy.
Believe culture is very important. It’s just as important as strategy. Also believe culture is important and the key for successful change or the biggest obstacle for change. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
Change is important. Also embraces change.
“Don’t get the mentality of ship it then fix it.” Build quality into the product the first go around.
Does not like quotas. He said it ruins a meritocracy. Also hate quotas.
Believes management must change in order to succeed. Interesting enough, he brought up the post war Japanese miracle as an example (though did not mention Deming). “It would be a mistake to export American management to a friendly country.” ~Deming
Doesn’t like the concept of the boss needs to knows it all. There needs to be a culture of employees coming forward with opinions and ideas and the boss needs to listen. Every voice needs to be heard and everyone needs to feel like they can come forward and speak their minds. Hate command and control. Absolutely hate it.
People are important. So important he believes the HR director should at least be equal to the CFO. Lots of focus on understanding people and what motivates them. Respect for people underlies Agile concepts and is core to Deming’s teachings.

That being said, there are some key differences:

Welsh

Deming/Agile

Differentiation or 20-70-10 or ‘Rank and Yank’ is critical to his philosophy of success. He says it creates a meritocracy and is fair for everyone. Welsh admits this is the most controversial of his philosophies. Deming hated ranking. He called it a destroyer of people. Ironically, this was also the most controversial of his philosophies.
Emphasis on the individual and heroic effort. He believes stars are critical to success. He talks about undaunted individual effort a lot and chalks it up to much of GE’s success over the years. Both agile and Deming emphasize teamwork over heroes. Jeff Sutherland said if you need heroics it’s a sign of poor planning.
Results is the best indicator of success. Deming said beware of management by results (MBR) or management by objective (MBO).
Does not mention the importance of a system. Systems are key in both Deming and agile thinking.
Rely on leaders who have a sixth sense—i.e. “the ability to see around corners,” trust their gut, are intuitive, have an uncanny ability to see things others do not, people who just have a ‘knack,’ people with natural abilities (i.e. its something that can’t be trained) Emphasis on science to bring about improvement (PDSA, understanding of psychology).

I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to Agile and Deming practitioners. It gave me better perspective on what I think most people in the U.S. would prefer as a management style. Perhaps there is something there we can leverage to instigate change? After all, looking at the two philosophies, there are plenty of similarities. Perhaps we can build from there? I’m certainly going to borrow some of his ideas such as the importance of creating an organization that can be candid with one another.

I’m going to continue to study contrary points of view and post what I found on my blog. After all, Taichi Ohno told us, “We are doomed to failure without a daily destruction of our various preconceptions.”

You can buy Winning here.