1: exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance, often by an overbearing manner
2: showing an offensive attitude of superiority; proceeding from or characterized by arrogance
1: not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive
2: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission
This FrIday, at the August 6 First Friday Book Synopsis, I will be presenting my synopsis of the book Humble Inquiry, Second Edition: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (The Humble Leadership Series) by Edgar H. Schein and Peter A. Schein.
It is a pretty convicting book.
To fail to practice humble inquiry is to be an arrogant know-it-all who of course knows nothing close to “all.”
Or, as the authors state it, Humble Inquiry is the gentle art of asking questions to which we don’t already know the answer. Humble Inquiry must be practiced to build better relationships and to help others to untangle the complex situations we are confronted with daily.
I will later write my usual post, with my lessons and takeaways. But this is a post with one focus. The book calls us to practice “Here-and-now humility.”
What a great phrase!
It’s not about being a humble person; although, that would be a good thing to be. It is about taking a humble position in the midst of conversations; in the midst of every conversation.
Here is how the authors describe this trait:
Embracing Humility in the Here-and-now; Here-and-now Humility: think of this as Here-and-now Humility, accepting our dependence on each for information sharing and task completion. Here-and-now Humility is how you feel when you realize that you are dependent on someone else in the situation.
That other person you are talking to; they know stuff. They know stuff that you do not know. They know stuff that you have not even thought about. They know stuff that you do not know; that you do not know that you do not know.
Since they know stuff that you do not know, ask them to share what they know. Ask them…humbly. Receive their wisdom and insight and observations with a curious attitude; with the attitude of a humble learner.
Learn from them.
I think we could all become better learners – better life-long learners – if we adopted humble inquiry, with a special emphasis on Here-and-now humility.
We have much to learn. You have much to learn. This is one important way to learn to learn.
There is such uncertainty all around us.
We thought we were on the tail end of the COVID days. We may not be.
And companies – entire industries – are struggling.
We are…pretty close to being scared all the time.
In restaurants, some close their doors on some days because…their workers do not show up, or quit. I’m reading that many places are seeing workers quit mid-shift.
How do you even talk about employee engagement when your employees are leaving; quitting; or so remote that you don’t even see each other like you once did…?
On Friday, Aug. 6, I will be presenting my synopsis of the new book by John Kotter: Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times by John P. Kotter, Vanessa Akhtar, Gaurav Gupta.
John Kotter is something of the premiere change guru of the era. This is not the first book I have read by him, or presented to our gatherings that he authored.
In fact, in our 23+ years of the First Friday Book Synopsis, this will be the sixth book by John Kotter that either I have, or my former colleague Karl Krayer has, presented.
In this new book, he keeps coming back to one theme over and over again:
We can’t live all of our time in SURVIVE mode.
We need to intentionally design more time – a lot more time – in THRIVE mode.
Because of external realities (like, COVID), and internal realities (like, Big Data that points out threats and deficiencies in an avalanche of repeated messaging), we are worried about survival nearly all the time.
And we can’t survive that way.
We need to intentionally focus on focusing on opportunities; not threats. This will put us into “dreaming up better days ahead, and better ways to do stuff” thinking much more often, enabling us to… thrive.
Don’t just survive; thrive.
Thrive; don’t just Survive.
That’s the key.
I think I’m a fan of the idea.
If you are available at 7:30 am (Central Time) on Friday, August 6, join us on Zoom for the August First Friday Book Synopsis. I will present my synopsis of Kotter’s new book that morning. Click here for all the details: Change by John Kotter, et al., and Humble Inquiry by Edgar Schein & Peter Schein – for the August 6, 2021 First Friday Book Synopsis (On Zoom) – In our 24th Year
We may not know yet.
Recently, I was talking to a person who was wondering… “Are we out of this yet?”
No, I don’t think we are.
The issue, of course, was this: are we really ready to fully return to “normal” after the COVID year+.
We want to be. We want to go back to our networking gatherings, our public gatherings.
I want to return to public speaking in-person, rather than speaking to people through my computer screen. (Although, I am so grateful that the technology made that possible when we most needed it).
But, as we read and hear of the rise and the strength of the Delta Variant, and the rise in hospitalizations, and the warnings that we are about to see another spike, and…and… I notice the people that are missing in the few gatherings I have attended, and the unease…
No, we are not quite ready to pretend it is over. Because, it is not over.
Here are a few “suggested guidelines” that I came up with. Your guidelines might be different. But mine are:
#1 – Re-enter society and gatherings and events and restaurants and…as much as you feel comfortable doing so. (I would probably add that you should do so only if you are fully vaccinated).
#2 – Do not rush those that are not ready. If they do not feel ready; if they are uneasy; if they are missing, avoid any hint of criticism or guilt. People have to move at their own pace in these still-precarious days.
#3 – Do the best work you can, in the ways that can work, until we do finally return to true normal.
And, by the way, that new, next true normal may be different from the old normal. We really don’t know how things will go, do we?
Vinny Gambini: Oh, oh, oh, I’m sorry. You testified earlier that the boys went into the store, and you had just begun to make breakfast. You were just ready to eat, and you heard a gunshot. That’s right, I’m sorry. So, obviously, it takes you five minutes to make breakfast.
Mr. Tipton: That’s right.
Vinny Gambini: Right, so you knew that. Uh, do you remember what you had?
Mr. Tipton: Eggs and grits.
Vinny Gambini: Eggs and grits. I like grits, too. How do you cook your grits? Do you like them regular, creamy or al dente?
Mr. Tipton: Just regular, I guess.
Vinny Gambini: Regular. Instant grits?
Mr. Tipton: No self-respectin’ Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits.
Vinny Gambini: So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you five minutes to cook your grits, when it takes the entire grit-eating world twenty minutes?
Mr. Tipton: [a bit panicky] I don’t know. I’m a fast cook, I guess.
Vinny Gambini: I’m sorry, I was all the way over here. I couldn’t hear you. Did you say you were a fast cook? That’s it?
[Mr. Tipton nods in embarrassment]
Vinny Gambini: Are we to believe that boiling water soaks into a grit faster in your kitchen than on any place on the face of the earth?
Mr. Tipton: I don’t know.
Vinny Gambini: Well, perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove. Were these magic grits? I mean, did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?
I have a…pet peeve.
We want things to be so quick and easy these days.
My wife makes homemade granola. It takes her a while.
It is so good. Much better than the store-bought kind.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a fan of quick and easy. I love convenience. And if a website or an app takes too long to load (longer, say, than 1/10th of a second), I grow impatient.
But, maybe, some things actually take a while.
Maybe good things take quite a while.
For just one example: I remember reading some books by David Halberstam a few decades ago. They were thick; lots of pages. Lots and lots of pages. It took a while to get through his books.
And, every minute spent was worth it.
Recently, a participant in our First Friday Book Synopsis events told me that he got more out of my synopses than he did from reading the book for himself.
Now, I encourage people to read books on their own; slowly, carefully, thoroughly. But, in my synopses, I do my best to take people on as deep a dive as I can in the time allotted. (And, yes, that time has expanded over the years. “15minute” business books has become more like 25-30 minutes). And, when I present my synopses to companies or organizations or teams, it is more like an hour, even an hour+, on the content of one book.
I like presenting the longest versions of my synopses…
A book is not a tweet. Or a blog post. When written well, by a careful writer who has done good research, and maybe developed a lifetime of expertise, a book provides quite a deep dive into the subject matter.
And that takes more than a page or three.
And I try to provide as much of a deep dive as I can in my synopsis presentations.
Now, here’s the point of this post; don’t let your desire for speed and convenience deprive you of depth and understanding. Maybe you need slow, leisurely, more thorough learning experiences. Like you can get from reading a book carefully and thoughtfully.
Like you can get, I think, when you attend our monthly events or bring me in to present a synopsis to your team.
There is much to learn. Take your time; learn it well. It will pay rich dividends.
Remember: “No self-respectin’ Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits.”
I present book synopses, every week, of books that will instruct and motivate and teach people how to lead, how to think, how to be more effective…
I have created quite a few such lists through the years. This list is prepared for the needs of this particular client. But I’ve got a hunch that any company or organization could benefit greatly from synopses of these books for some serious training sessions for their key people.
In my synopses (some organizations call these synopses “book briefings,” I provide thorough and comprehensive handouts of the key content of each book. These handouts include:
- the main point of the book
- why the book is worth our time
- important excerpts taken directly from the book (the best of Randy’s highlighted passages)
- references to a few of the best stories from the book
- key points of the book
- my own lessons and takeaways
When I present my synopsis/briefing, every participant has the handout, and follows along.
One client calls what I provide “a deep immersion in a book.” I like that. I think it captures what I try to do.
I have presented synopses of many, many more good books. But, I think I can promise you that if you and your team immerse yourself in these 28 books, you would take a leap forward in your understanding, and you might become much more productive, more effective, more innovative….
This list includes a few “classics,” that though they are older, I would still strongly recommend them: Encouraging the Heart; Getting Things Done; The Checklist Manifesto; Drive.
And, a few of these fit more than one category. For example, Smarter Faster Better is about: personal productivity; teams; culture…
So, here they are: five+ catgegories, 28 books, and a whole lot of learning.
Leadership – (with books that would be complementary to Servant Leadership emphasis)
Encouraging the Heart: A Leader’s Guide to Rewarding and Recognizing Others by James Kouzes and Barry Posner (Simon and Schuster, 1999)
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. St. Martin’s Press (March 14, 2017)
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown. Random House. 2018.
Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. St. Martin’s Press (2015)
Leadership Strategy and Tactics: Field Manual by Jocko Willink. St. Martin’s Press (January 14, 2020).
Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by Jim Mattis and Bing West. Random House (September 3, 2019).
Change: How Organizations Achieve Hard-to-Imagine Results in Uncertain and Volatile Times by John P. Kotter, Vanessa Akhtar, Gaurav Gupta.
Digital Transformation: Survive and Thrive in an Era of Mass Extinction by Thomas M. Siebel. RosettaBooks (July 9, 2019).
2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything by Mauro F. Guillen.
Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations by Thomas L. Friedman. Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2016.
Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath. Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster (March 3, 2020)
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. Viking. 2021
Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford. Basic Books, 2015.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. Foreword by Sheryl Sandberg.
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen (Viking Press; 2001)
Mindset by Carol Dweck Ballantine Books; Updated edition (December 26, 2007).
When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink. Riverhead Books (January 9, 2018)
Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business – Random House, March 8, 2016
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. Riverhead Hardcover; (December 29, 2009)
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. Metropolitan Books (2009).
Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr; Larry Page, (Foreword). Portfolio (April 24, 2018).
Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman. BenBella Books. (April 3, 2012)
The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, Jim Huling.
The Disney Way: Harnessing the Management Secrets of Disney in your Company by Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson (McGraw Hill Books, 1998
Just Work: Get Sh*t Done, Fast & Fair by Kim Scott. St. Martin’s Press. 2021.
Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, Amy Wallace. Random House (April 8, 2014).
You might also want to read these blog posts, for other “lists” of books I have recommended.:
I have presented synopses of business books monthly for over 23 years. Our synopses are available for purchase. Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of the synopsis presentation (recorded at our First Friday Book Synopsis events).
You can order them from our web site. Click on the “Buy Synopses” tab above to search by book title. And click here for our newest additions.
• The theme that emerges from these three chapters can be summarized in one sentence, which will be a key theme of this book: wherever there is judgment, there is noise—and more of it than you think.
• Our conclusion is simple: wherever there is judgment, there is noise, and more of it than you think.
• Our topic is human error. Bias and noise—systematic deviation and random scatter—are different components of error. The targets illustrate the difference.
• Some judgments are biased; they are systematically off target. Other judgments are noisy, as people who are expected to agree end up at very different points around the target. Many organizations, unfortunately, are afflicted by both bias and noise.
• In real-world decisions, the amount of noise is often scandalously high.
• Wherever you look at human judgments, you are likely to find noise.
Whenever you observe noise, you should work to reduce it!
• As we will see throughout this book, the amount of noise observed when an organization takes a serious look almost always comes as a shock.
• Judgment is a form of measurement in which the instrument is a human mind.
• In noisy systems, errors do not cancel out. They add up.
Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement
There is no other way to say this: these are uncertain times.
We all know the VUCA designation, which was first taught to Army Generals:
There may be a lot of causes for all the uncertainty and volatility. But, one cause is that we are learning, with more precision, just how wrong we get things.
Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, is well-known for his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. As a careful reader of business books, I think I can state with confidence that that book has been the most quoted and referred to book by other authors over the last many years. It seems to pop up everywhere. His key understanding from that book is found in his description of two kinds of thinking:
- System 1 thinking – fast, intuitive; judgment is achieved quickly and effortlessly
- System 2 thinking – slow, deliberative thought.
And, we get in trouble because we engage in so much System 1 thinking to the exclusion of System 2 thinking.
I presented my synopsis of his new book Noise at the July 9 First Friday Book Synopsis.
As always, I ask What is the point? Here it is for this book: We make too many bad judgments. We need to get better at making better judgments. This book points the way.
And I ask Why is this book worth our time? Here are my three reasons for this book:
#1 – This book is thorough; it shows us where we make bad judgments in practically every part of our work life; and all other parts of life.
#2 – This book is filled with understandable examples, even as it teaches us from well-researched findings.
#3 – This book reminds us – me; and you – that we are part of the problem; we have flaws in our own judgment.
In my synopses, I always include a number of Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages. Here are the best of the best that I included in my synopsis:
• Interjudge disparities increased significantly after 2005. When the guidelines were mandatory, defendants who had been sentenced by a relatively harsh judge were sentenced to 2.8 months longer than if they had been sentenced by an average judge. When the guidelines became merely advisory, the disparity was doubled. …After the guidelines became advisory, judges became more likely to base their sentencing decisions on their personal values.
• First, judgment is difficult because the world is a complicated, uncertain place. Disagreement is unavoidable wherever judgment is involved.
Second, the extent of these disagreements is much greater than we expect.
Third, noise can be reduced.
Fourth, efforts at noise reduction often raise objections and run into serious difficulties.
• For another exercise in counterfactual thinking, consider how different countries and regions responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Even when the virus hit them roughly at the same time and in a similar manner, there were wide differences in responses.
• Whether you make a decision only once or a hundred times, your goal should be to make it in a way that reduces both bias and noise.
• Agreement is especially easy when a judgment is absurd. …Judges at wine competitions differ greatly on which wines should get medals, but are often unanimous in their contempt for the rejects.
• The measurement and reduction of noise should have the same high priority as the measurement and reduction of bias.
• Suppose that doctors are deciding whether to admit people for hospitalization, that companies are deciding whom to hire, that lawyers are deciding which cases to bring, or that Hollywood executives are deciding which television shows to produce. In all these cases, there will be pattern noise, with different judges producing different rankings of the cases.
• “Level noise is when judges show different levels of severity. Pattern noise is when they disagree with one another on which defendants deserve more severe or more lenient treatment. And part of pattern noise is occasion noise—when judges disagree with themselves.”
• Simply put, just like a basketball player who never throws the ball twice in exactly the same way, we do not always produce identical judgments when faced with the same facts on two occasions.
• Or to put it differently, you are not always the same person, and you are less consistent over time than you think. But somewhat reassuringly, you are more similar to yourself yesterday than you are to another person today.
• His pattern resembles what you would see in an experiment in which two groups of investors read business plans that are substantively identical but printed in a different font and on a different paper. If these irrelevant details make a difference in the investors’ judgment, there is psychological bias.
• We don’t know if the investors who were impressed by the sleek font and glossy paper are too positive or if those who read the rougher version are too negative. But we know their judgments are different, although they should not be.
• For example, the perception of the risk of airplane crashes or hurricanes rises briefly after well-publicized instances of such events. In theory, a judgment of risk should be based on a long-term average. In reality, recent incidents are given more weight because they come more easily to mind.
• Because of confirmation bias and desirability bias, we will tend to collect and interpret evidence selectively to favor a judgment that, respectively, we already believe or wish to be true.
• The psychologist Paul Slovic terms this the affect heuristic: people determine what they think by consulting their feelings. …We like most things about politicians we favor, and we dislike even the looks and the voices of politicians we dislike. That is one reason that smart companies work so hard to attach a positive affect to their brand.
• The rule is simple: if there is more than one way to see anything, people will vary in how they see it.
• “The uniqueness of people’s personalities is what makes them capable of innovation and creativity, and simply interesting and exciting to be around. When it comes to judgment, however, that uniqueness is not an asset.”
• Good judges tend to be experienced and smart, but they also tend to be actively open-minded and willing to learn from new information.
• Psychologists and neuroscientists distinguish between crystallized intelligence, the ability to solve problems by relying on a store of knowledge about the world (including arithmetical operations), and fluid intelligence, the ability to solve novel problems.
• As one newspaper headline put it, “Study Finds That Basically Every Single Person Hates Performance Reviews.” Every single person also knows (we think) that performance reviews are subject to both bias and noise.
• The definition of success is a nontrivial problem.
And, here are a number of the key points made by the authors that I included in my synopsis:
- Let’s start here – a lot of bad decisions and mistakes are made…everywhere…
- And, “the problem is with you, not with me…”
- Indeed, we suspect that underwriters who heard about the noise audit and accepted its validity never truly believed that its conclusions applied to them personally.
- We view the occasional disagreements with colleagues as lapses of judgment on their part. (emphasis added).
- What is this book?
- This is a book about decision-making that is done poorly (incorrectly; wrong) because of too much noise, some bias, and too much System 1 thinking with too little System 2 thinking.
- This book is more diagnosis than solution; but it points plenty to potential solutions.
- Noise, noise everywhere…
- medicine, especially psychiatry; hiring; performance evaluation; forecasting; court (judges; and juries)
- noise between people
- noise within each individual person
- Be wary of:
- Moods — People in a good mood are more cooperative and elicit reciprocation. They tend to end up with better results than do unhappy negotiators. On the other hand, a good mood makes us more likely to accept our first impressions as true without challenging them. People who are in a good mood are more likely to let their biases affect their thinking.
- Overconfidence — “The average expert was roughly as accurate as a dart-throwing chimpanzee.” — People who believe themselves capable of an impossibly high level of predictive accuracy are not just overconfident. They don’t merely deny the risk of noise and bias in their judgments. Nor do they simply deem themselves superior to other mortals. They also believe in the predictability of events that are in fact unpredictable, implicitly denying the reality of uncertainty. — We are not all highly confident all the time, but most of the time we are more confident than we should be.
- Substitution — substituting one question for another will lead to an answer that does not give different aspects of the evidence their appropriate weights, and incorrect weighting of the evidence inevitably results in error. — When we substitute an easier question for the one we should be answering, errors are bound to occur.
- the halo effect – (part of the first impression/exposure effect) — When the initial evaluation is erroneous, however, the tendency to stick to it in the face of contradictory evidence is likely to amplify errors.
- Noise — noise is unwanted variability
- Bias – the evaluator’s preferences (known and unknown…)
- Occasion noise is the variability in judgments of the same case by the same person or group on different occasions. A surprising amount of occasion noise arises in group discussion because of seemingly irrelevant factors, such as who speaks first.
- Objective Ignorance – Some of the executives in our audiences tell us proudly that they trust their gut more than any amount of analysis.
- Really?… Judgements, and decisions, are impacted by:
- the time of day
- the fatigue of the decision maker
- Do not forget:
- regression to the mean
- standard deviation
- the desire for coherence – The aim of judgment, as you experienced it, was the achievement of a coherent solution.
- there is a danger in first impressions…leading to the danger of informational cascades…
- confirmation bias
- fundamental attribution error — A well-documented psychological bias called the fundamental attribution error is a strong tendency to assign blame or credit to agents for actions and outcomes that are better explained by luck or by objective circumstances.
- smarter is better – GMA (General Mental Ability)
- The big suggestions:
- a noise audit
- decision hygiene
- evaluations done independently, in sequence…
- second opinions; free of as much other information as possible (especially the evaluations of others)
- make your own second guess/second opinion
- “You can gain about 1/10th as much from asking yourself the same question twice as you can from getting a second opinion from someone else.” This is not a large improvement. But you can make the effect much larger by waiting to make a second guess.
- the wisdom of crowds – especially crowds of trained experts… (but; be a little wary of groups)
- we need more statistical models; and more algorithms…
- maybe pay more attention to the “average” before you give your judgement… – “base rates”
- aim for probabilistic, not for absolute…
- look for actively open-minded people.
- use decision observers
- aim for more structured systems (guidelines; conversations; meetings; deliberations; interviews; rather than less structured)
- follow a sequence of questions/inquiries; independently — Let’s start by defining much more clearly and specifically what we are looking for in candidates, and let’s make sure we evaluate the candidates independently on each of these dimensions.”
- train yourself to be in perpetual Beta mode — “the strongest predictor of rising into the ranks of superforecasters is perpetual beta, the degree to which one is committed to belief updating and self-improvement.” As he puts it, “What makes them so good is less what they are than what they do—the hard work of research, the careful thought and self-criticism, the gathering and synthesizing of other perspectives, the granular judgments and relentless updating.”
- We conclude by offering a system we call the mediating assessments protocol: a general-purpose approach to the evaluation of options that incorporates several key practices of decision hygiene and aims to produce less noisy and more reliable judgments.
And here are my five lessons and takeaways:
#1 – We allow too much noise into our decision-making processes.
#2 – We are oblivious – blind – to our own failures in this regard.
#3 – We can do better; with training, and decision hygiene, among other steps to take.
#4 – This failure has real-world consequences. In business, and in all aspects of life and society.
#5 – We might need help. (A decision observer, for example).
We have all made some bad decisions. (Okay – I have made some bad decisions. And, if I were a betting man, I would bet that you have also made some bad decisions). The more we reduce noise, and bias, the better we will get at making better decisions.
This book can help.
I have presented synopses of business books monthly for over 23 years. Our synopses are available for purchase. Each synopsis comes with my multi-page, comprehensive synopsis handout, plus the audio recording of the synopsis presentation (recorded at our First Friday Book Synopsis events).
You can order them from our web site. Click on the “Buy Synopses” tab above to search by book title. And click here for our newest additions. My synopsis of this book, Noise, will be available soon.