Bob Sutton’s Ten plus Two

Regular readers will know that I have a lot of respect for Bob Sutton. I have been a regular reader of his blog “work matters” for some time now. So I was pleased to find that he contributes to another blog on Harvard Business Online. In his opening entry he includes a list, “Ten Things I Believe”, which he gives to his students on their last day of class. They are all short, but worth a careful read and ponder:
“1. Sometimes the best management is no management at all – first do no harm!

2. Indifference is as important as passion.

3. In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.

4. Learning how to say smart things and give smart answers is important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.

5. You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; self-interest is a learned social norm, not an inherent feature of human behavior.

6. Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.

7. Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.

8. The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.

9. Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.

10. Work is an over-rated activity.
And now I’ll add two more beliefs that are especially important to managers:
11. Have strong opinions, weakly held (thanks to Paul Saffo).

12. Argue as if you are right, listen as if you are wrong (thanks to Karl Weick).”

Before I forget

I’ve been meaning to point people to Erika Andersen’s ChangeThis manifesto, “Growing Great New Managers”, since I first read it at the beginning of this month. She uses a gardening metaphor to provide some of the the most sensible and practical advice for new managers and those responsible for them that I’ve come across in a while. Here’s a little taster, but don’t take my word for it, download it and see for yourself:
“I believe that listening is the management analog of soil preparation, the foundation for all future success. This flies in the face of common wisdom: most of us assume that once we become managers, we’re supposed to stop listening. We think manager = answer person. I suggest that the single most useful thing you can learn to do as a manager is stop talking and start listening.”

Why can’t we be more like Cate?

After reading a couple of recentish pieces on Tom Peters’ site about “Brand You” (here and here) and the original column by Lucy Kellaway , which he linked to, I decide to write a follow up to my piece, “Unbranded You”.
Instead I found I had plunged into a long meditation on identity, the market, authenticity and our changing world, which took me to some interesting places, but a long way from writing anything.
So, instead, I am going to focus on a couple of extracts from two entries from the blog of that master cartographer of the human landscape, Grant McCracken. They, I suspect, might point forward to a more useful strategy for the future than the Brand You formula, which, while in one set of terms, worked quite successfully in the Eighties and Nineties, but, as much of Tom Peters’ other work suggests,may be less appropriate in the emerging world that faces us now.
The first extract is from a piece entitled “Cate Blanchett: Brand Exemplar”:
“Contradiction is one of the sources from which fluidity and openness come.  Blanchett is “candid and private, gregarious and solitary, self-doubting and daring, witty and melancholy.”  The idea that a brand could be any of these things is a little dizzying.  The idea that it could all of these things at once, is completely removed from the realm of possibility.  Still, that’s doesn’t mean that brands won’t someday master contradiction.  After all, if a real world of perfect dynamism is truly upon us, it won’t have any choice.”

The second is simply called, “Noise”: 
“I found myself thinking that some of the most interesting people these days are hybrids.  In fact, it’s relatively easy to be one thing.  In fact, we got pretty good at being one thing.  These days, the trick is to be several things.  This is more difficult, but I think Rosenwald is right to say that it gives us access to new creative powers.  Selves used to be declaried unfit for habitation when  filled with diversity, accident, and noise.  But these are now the signatures of someone well defined.  Hybrid selves are good to live.  Good and noisy.”

Read both the posts in full to get what I am groping for, but my sense is that rather than developing a public persona that can be expressed in two or three words, like a conventional brand, a good and noisy identity, “filled with diversity, accident, and noise”, is the way to the future.

A community of perpetual strangers?

What follows is an extract from a speech by the late David Lochhead. I wonder, and this is a genuine wonder, I don’t know the answer, how much has changed in the ten years since he gave it.
“Let me say at the outset that I like the World Wide Web. I enjoy browsing. I appreciate the avenue to information of all types that the Web opens to me. But while the Web is not totally devoid of community building, those places where community happens are hidden away in dark corners. The culture that we were beginning to construct in the formation of services like Ecunet has become something different, something distorted, something of a caricature of culture.
Let me try to characterize the world as I experience it on the Web. It is first, a culture of isolated individuals, wandering in what seems like random paths through Cyberspace. When I journey on the Web, I journey by myself. On the way, I encounter people, but we are as ships passing in the night. Occasionally, I discover a fellow traveller, someone whose Web page reflects some of my interests. For a few days, we might exchange e-mail. We might cross link our pages. But very soon we pass on, left only as traces in the form of entries in our respective e-mail address lists.
To what shall we compare the culture of the Web? I imagine that if we were to conduct a kind of free association brain storming, the list of our comparisons might well go on for ever. The image that has impressed itself on me lately, however, is that of the Carnival midway. A glitzy veneer hides a content of questionable quality. The entertaining competes with the sleazy and the grotesque. And behind it all seems to lurk an endless array of gigantic egos – carnival performers, if you like – each with their own “home page.” One stall competes with the other to be today’s “hot spot.” Technique abolishes substance. And the web surfer wanders up the midway, pausing at some attractions and ignoring others, quite indifferent to the faces of the crowd who wander the midway with him and not usually interested in the faces of those who work the carnival stalls, either. That is not to say that there is no community on the Web. But what the Web constructs is a community and a culture of perpetual strangers.”

What a pity

“Thomas Jefferson (2004; Hartmann 2002: 69-73) saw three main threats to democracy — governing elites, organized religion and commercial monopolists (whom he referred to as a “pseudo-aristocracy”). So he was keen to include freedom from monopoly in the Bill of Rights. But, thanks mainly to his Federalist opponents, that clause slipped through the cracks of the constitution.”
Keith Hart
Hartmann, T. 2002. Unequal Protection: the rise of corporate dominance and the theft of human rights. New York: St. Martin’s.

A Niche Market of Four

A few days ago I wrote about how Ben Copsey and I were working on an idea for a web-based business. At that time we weren’t sure whether this was “just a good idea” or whether it was something that would have wider appeal.
Well, we’ve just had our first reality check. My good friends, Gill and Nick at Plot, have just started playing with a prototype and so far have been very enthusiastic. Of course, being Gill and Nick, they have come up with a barrage of ideas we need to think about. But the general thrust of their experience so far is that our potential market has expanded to a niche market of four.

Non-Stick Plans

My friend Michael Renouf has, at last, gone on-line. I love Michael’s work and have felt sad that much of the best of it has never been seen by a wider public. Some of the birthday cards he has drawn for me, Mimi and Ben have been so funny, pointed and unexpected, that they are a sheer delight. Take a trip to his site, visitor numbers will encourage him to keep going. At the moment he is following Patricia Ryan Madson’s advice, “Be average”, but take a daily visit and pretty soon I expect you will see something that blows you away. Remember, Non-Stick Plans, go there. You won’t be disappointed

Few and Far Between

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a challenging manifesto up at ChangeThis, “Few and Far Between: Black Swans and the Impossibility of Prediction”. In it he argues that our world is shaped by rare, unpredicatble shocks and that we might as well accept this rather than maintaining the fiction that we live in a predictable, ordered world.
You ought to read the wholoe thing, but a passge I particularly like is this one:
“Go through the following exercise. Look into your own existence. Count the significant events, the technological changes, and the inventions that have taken place in our environment since you were born and compare them to what was expected before their advent. How many of them came on a schedule? Look into your own personal life, to your choice of profession, say, or meeting your mate, your exile from your country of origin, the betrayals you faced, your sudden enrichment or impoverishment. How often did these things occur according to plan?”
Had it been published a few months earlier I might well have quoted it in my manifesto, “Purposive Drift: making it up as we go along”, which has a different, but complementary, take on prediction and planning.