Gene Siskel used to say his favorite movies were about what people actually do all day. That’s what “Secretariat” is. It pays us the compliment of really caring about thoroughbred racing. In a low-key way, it conveys an enormous amount of information. And it creates characters who, because of spot-on casting, are vivid, human and complex.
Roger Ebert’s Review of Secretariat
Call this some misc. observations…
Back on some best-seller lists is the excellent book, how: Why HOW we Do Anything Means Everything…In Business (and in Life) by Dov Seidman. The current version is a re-issue, with updates, of the 2007 book. (I presented my synopsis of this book at the August, 2007 First Friday Book Synopsis).
Here are a few quotes from the book, revealing pieces of Seidman’s message.
Reciprocity – doing unto others as they do unto you – seems therefore to be a biological function; trust begets trust. We feel in our guts that keeping promises and connecting with others are what gives our lives meaning, and most of us seek meaning in our lives… If we live in a word more connected than ever before, shouldn’t we all find ways to connect better?
The key to long-term, sustained success does not lie in breaking all the rules; it lies in transcending the rules and harnessing the power of values.
To apologize is inherently a dangerous act, but one with latent power. To apologize is to accept responsibility, this we all know, but it is also to cede power to the wronged party. You place in their hands the decision to forgive you or not. Apologizing requires willful vulnerability. It is the ultimate act of transparency…
Culture is the way things really work, the way decisions are really made, e-mails really composed, promotions really earned and meted out, and people really treated every day.
You cannot do success… Success is something you get when you pursue something greater than yourself, and the word I use to describe that something is significance. Pursuing significance, in the end, is the ultimate HOW.
And here are some rather obvious observations.
First is that this book is about real life, the real day-to-day activities, of real people, especially at work. That’s what made me think of Ebert’s reference to Siskel, at the top of this post.
Second, many seem so fixated on “success,” that they just leap over any values considerations. (And, yes, that “many” just might include you and me). But Seidman calls us back to the centrality of values. It is a very good and worthy and noble call.
Third, we really are in this together. Really. Failure in Dallas might hurt someone in Europe. And vice versa. The Euro zone is so vary fragile, that the articles predicting this as their last hour are piling up. And if the Euro Zone collapses, it will hurt us all.
Fourth, it really is somebody’s fault – or, many somebodies. There have been some really, really big mistakes made in recent years. But to find an actual “it’s partly my fault, and I apologize” messenger is practically impossible. Consider again Seidman’s words: “To apologize is inherently a dangerous act, but one with latent power.” It might really do some good for some folks, somewhere, to apologize. But there have been far too few apologies. (And, maybe, far too few lessons learned from mistakes made).
I don’t know what will get us out of this big mess we all seem to be in. But I think a new look at How by Dov Seidman would be a pretty good use of a few hours.
You can purchase my synopsis of that first edition of How by Seidman, with audio + handout, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.
“We lead by being human. We do not lead by being corporate, professional, or institutional.” (Paul G. Hawken, founder, Smith and Hawken)
James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others
More profoundly than just getting things done, strong connections with others represent a value unto themselves. Relationships lie at the heart of who we are as humans; they give our lives meaning and significance.
Dov Seidman, how: Why HOW we Do Anything Means Everything…In Business (and in Life)
On a drive to a client’s last Thursday, I listened with rapt attention to a great hour on Think, the local NPR program (KERA – 90.1), hosted by Krys Boyd. Krys is a terrific, always thoroughly prepared interviewer, and her guests on Thursday were a Pulitzer and Tony winning playwright, and his high school drama teacher. Here’s the paragraph on Think’s web site:
What makes a writer a writer, and how can a great teacher influence the arc of a writer’s career? We’ll spend this hour with playwright, author, screenwriter, actor, director Doug Wright and Linda Raya, the Highland Park High School Fine Arts director and theatre teacher who instructed Doug when he was a student at the school. Doug Wright will deliver the keynote address at this weekend’s 15th annual Highland Park Literary Festival.
During the interview, this paragraph absolutely gripped me (I transcribed this from the audio):
Art (should be perceived as) a serious subject. I’m very fond of saying that Art, and Drama in particular, is the one discipline that teaches empathy… Because if you’ve got a kid in Anne Frank, then they’re learning what it was like to be Jewish during World War II. Drama is all about slipping into someone’s shoes, and walking their walk…by studying plays and acting in them we learn tolerance.
And the emphasis in schools (athletics): we teach competition; we teach competition really, really well. But we don’t always teach empathy and tolerance. And I think that’s what these disciplines foster. And I think it is shocking and disturbing that they’re the first to meet the chopping block when legislators are looking at the state budget.
I have read a lot of business books over the years, and there is little shortage of discussion of concepts such as “winning,” competition,” “beating the competition,” “being first.”
But this interview reminded me that there is another, I think better, side to this whole endeavor – let’s call it the “human side.” And in the heart of this side is empathy – walking in another’s shoes. Doug Wright reminds us of the simple fact that all business leadership, all business management, all business endeavor begin (and end) with human beings.
Starting by being human might be the best business (and life) counsel of all.
Have you done a culture check recently?
Definition: A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time
Recently, Howard Schultz, chairman, president and C.E.O. of Starbucks, was interviewed by Adam Bryant of the New York Times. (Bob excerpted this interview for our blog here). Here’s a key excerpt from that interview:
Bryant: What is your advice to an entrepreneur who asks you: “I’m just starting a company. How do I create a culture?”
Schultz: I would say that everything matters — everything. You are imprinting decisions, values and memories onto an organization. In a sense, you’re building a house, and you can’t add stories onto a house until you have built the kind of foundation that will support them. I think many start-ups make mistakes because they are focusing on things that are farther ahead, and they haven’t done the work that has built the foundation to support it.
Culture is the way things really work, the way decisions are really made, e-mails really composed, promotions really earned and meted out, and people really treated every day. Culture is a company’s DNA, the sum total of its history, values, aspirations, beliefs, and endeavors, the operating system, if you will, that defines and influences what occurs at the synapses between everyone working together in a group, large or small.
Unlike an operating system, however, just inserting a piece of code-such as a compliance program or an innovation team–cannot change a culture; cultures are alive; they evolve and change over time.
Just what is the culture you have, and what is the culture you want? The culture creates so much within an organization, and a good, well-liked, respected, consistent culture is a morale builder and success generator.
Have you done a culture check recently?
My true academic love is rhetoric (part of what we call the humanities). I love it because it is honest – it calls itself an art. And art is imprecise, long-brewing. You can use a calculator to get to the right numbers, but you need a crock pot to simmer all the stuff that goes into your mind to ponder the big questions of life. From Aristotle on, rhetoric has been defined as an art – “Rhetoric is the art of persuasion; rhetoric is the art of finding the available means of persuasion.” If persuasion was a science, then Coke or Pepsi could make the definitive commercial, persuade us to abandon those lesser brands forever, and we would then be loyal customers for life.
But, no, rhetoric (persuasion) is not a science – it is an art, unpredictable, very, very tough to nail down. Science is definite – art is indefinite. And without art, life is less meaningful, and much less noble. Science can make a nuclear bomb or provide nuclear energy. Somebody, from the inside of his or her unique human soul, needs to help decide which is the appropriate use of such power. This part of “education” is called the humanities – it is what keeps us human.
Business books fall in the midst of this discussion. Shall we approach business as though business were a science, or part of the humanities? A whole bunch of business authors simply want to tell us what works. And increasingly, the voices telling us how to do the job of education come from the world of business.
“What do our kids need to know today? As far as some are concerned, whatever will get them hired by Bill Gates.” These are the words of Mark Slouka in a terrific, thought-provoking, confrontational article in the September issue of Harper’s: Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school. (Note: subscription required for access to full article).
The evidence is overwhelming, and the advocates are many. They tell us that our schools need to do a better job teaching math and science, in order to compete with schools rising in quality, from all across the world. But are we about to throw away what made America great, the “soul” of America? The point of the Harper’s article is that it is a dangerous move to move away from the humanities into mathandscience.
In my book synopsis presentations, I usually read quite a few quotes from the book. Here, I print quite a few quotes from the article in Harper’s. These provide just a taste, but help us understand the warning:
• It’s a play I’ve been following for some time now. It’s about the increasing dominance—scratch that, the unqualified triumph—of a certain way of seeing, of reckoning value. • It’s about the victory of whatever can be quantified over everything that can’t. It’s about the quiet retooling of American education into an adjunct of business, an instrument of production.
• In a visible world, the invisible does not compute; in a corporate culture, hypnotized by quarterly results and profit margins, the gradual sifting of political sentiment is of no value; in a horizontal world of “information” readily convertible to product, the verticality of wisdom has no place. Show me the spreadsheet on skepticism.
• What is taught, at any given time, in any culture, is an expression of what that culture considers important. That much seems undebatable.
• By downsizing what is most dangerous (and most essential) about our education, namely the deep civic function of the arts and the humanities, we’re well on the way to producing a nation of employees, not citizens. Thus is the world made safe for commerce, but not safe.
• Writing is “a critical strategy that we can offer students to prepare them to succeed in the workplace.” Writing skills are vital because they promote “clear, concise communications, which all business people want to read.” “The return on a modest investment in writing is manifold,” because “it strengthens competitiveness, increases efficiency and empowers employees.”
• (a “first-rate education,” we understand by this point, is one that grows the economy),
• The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be. Their method is confrontational, their domain unlimited, their “product” not truth but the reasoned search for truth, their “success” something very much like Frost’s momentary stay against confusion.
• It’s been said before: in the margins of the page, over the course of time, for the simple reason that we shape every book we read and are slightly shaped by it in turn, we become who we are. Which is to say individuals just distinct enough from one another in our orientation toward “the truth” or “the good” to be difficult to control.
• To put it simply, science addresses the outer world; the humanities, the inner one.
• Mathandscience becomes the all-purpose shorthand for intelligence; it has that all-American aura of money about it.
• The market for reason is slipping fast…
As I read this article, I thought of a book I presented a couple of years ago. It has cropped back up on the business best-seller list. That is good. Here’s the book:
Why HOW we Do Anything Means Everything…
In Business (and in Life) by Dov Seidman.
Seidman wrote: This is a HOW book, not a how-to book. What’s the difference between how-to and HOW? Everything.
I think it is a mistake for the business community to help lower the importance of the humanities. And not just because the humanities would make us better at business communication. I think the humanities will help make us better people.
Does anybody else wish that Bernie Madoff, or the creators of mortgage swaps, had spent more time really paying attention in the humanities?
• You can order the synopsis of my presentation of How: Why HOW we Do Anything Means Everything…In Business (and in Life), at our companion web site, 15 Minute Business Books.