February 2010


Last December, we started a post here about giving and receiving feedback with the words “I’m not a sociologist, nor even a psychologist, but I do sometimes wonder if human beings have an innate problem with two-way communication.”  I don’t know if Evan Davis was reading (ironically, he hosted a BBC programme we mentioned in the earlier post), but a BBC programme shown last night – The Day the Immigrants Left (available till 3 March on iPlayer, so click quickly) – made us wonder. Although it wasn’t the biggest thing that it made us wonder about. We had thought that giving feedback in a constructive, sensitive and timely fashion was an issue for line managers: we hadn’t realised that carpenters had a problem with it too.

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You may employ someone – or a few people – who you might use some of the following phrases to describe to someone else:

  • Fond of asking dumb questions, despite their intelligence
  • Arrogant when they know they know something, humble when they know they don’t
  • Highly self-critical
  • Often markedly introverted, but sometimes quite the opposite
  • Very honest about their own shortcomings or knowledge/skills gaps
  • Tend to see situations and issues in more complex terms than their colleagues.

You might be blunter, and throw in some other phrases: “hard work”, “difficult to handle”, “no business sense”. Or just plain “trouble”. Yet these traits are some of the characteristics of the highly creative, as identified by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Davidson Professor of Management at the Claremont Graduate University, California.

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As well as adding a new downloadable article in PDF format to the Elsewhere page in this blog (Anton Franckeiss’ Ahead of the Game, published in HR Director in February 2010), you can also read another recently published article by Anton – What should public sector organisations be doing to motivate top talent?– online at Changeboard.

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Popular science probably always needs to be taken with a pinch of salt (or, as we will see later, a weak saline solution), but Maurice du Sautoy’s Horizon programme last night, What Makes a Genius? (available on BBC iPlayer at time of writing), wasn’t entirely without valuable points for anyone interested in human development and maximising potential. Setting out to discover if genius – a troublesomely abstract concept – derives from genes, physical attributes of the brain, or from the range of diverse factors we might loosely bracket as ‘nurture’, du Sautoy was looking to see if we are yet able to answer his opening question: “Could anyone have a ‘Eureka’ moment?” While I reached the end of the programme without material improvement in my brain weight or IQ score, I did see valuable implications for my understanding of human potential for learning and the factors that can help to support it.

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A book about Wikipedia, Google, “Web 2.0” and Virtual Reality in a leadership and organisational development blog? Well, yes. Jaron Lanier’s book will be a demanding read for anyone who thinks Silicon Valley is a euphemism for part of a celebrity, or who glazes over at the first mention of ‘cloud computing’. But it will also be a challenging read – with powerful reasons – for not just the many millions who Google answers from Wikipedia and collect ‘friends’ on FaceBook, but for the many industries who derive their livelihood from human creativity (embracing not just the arts, but skills such as journalism) or from the value of proprietary information. And it’s an important read for anyone who uses systems and databases to arrive at judgements or evaluations. It’s not the best written or argued book in human history, but – importantly – Lanier has been an important player in the ‘digital revolution’ since its early days. Often sharply critical of the way our relationship with technology is evolving, this is not the rant of a Luddite: this is a rant of an IEEE Lifetime Achievement Award winner and one of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s 300 greatest inventors.

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We’ve previously written here about both privacy and anonymity: related but subtly different topics, both increasingly important in an increasingly monitored, documented, recorded and disseminated world. The ever-greater role of software systems for every aspect of business and online communication for every aspect of everything isn’t going to make these go away as topics either, so it was no surprise that a book about the unforeseen or more debilitating potential aspects of these developments – Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not A Gadget”, which we may well review shortly – should prod my thinking in a slightly different direction. Where I found my train of thought heading was very much ‘offline – towards ‘talking to strangers’ (a powerful taboo in my childhood) and the role of third-parties.

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Funny how some things can pass one by. Yesterday’s Today programme alerted me to something that it appears took place last July, which in turn took place in response to a well-honed question posed in November 2008. (It transpires that this made the news as the second chapter in the story has now been written – for which see later in this post). What it provides is a fine example of a leader – no less than the CEO of UK plc, HRH The Queen in this instance – recognising that there is a fine, and dangerous, difference between delegating and departmentalising. And that if the ‘walls’ of a portfolio are allowed to grow sufficiently high, it can become a silo. And there are some leadership lessons for a great many of us here too.

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