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Why Didn’t I Think of That? Intellectual Diversity

9 Feb

Bronwyn Fryer wrote an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review blog titled “Wanted: Idea Fusers”.  She uses examples such as Steve Jobs (everyone’s favorite example) and his fusion of calligraphy and technology in creating the Macintosh user interface.

In the closing paragraph, Fryer issues a challenge:

Now, take a good look at the people your company hires. Do they come from all kinds of different backgrounds and experiences? My guess is that there may be a diversity policy on the books, and that there are people of different genders and races. But we need more diversity than that. We need much more intellectual diversity, and we need to find ways to put unlike ideas together in new ways.

Connecting the dots here, I thought of my own family.  One of the things I always admired about my wife is how she encouraged our children to be self-sufficient and find their own way at a very early age.  They learned to make their own meals, do their own chores MUCH earlier in life than I would have expected.  I remember our youngest filling a pot of water and putting it on the stove to make tortellini when he couldn’t even see the top of the stove!

When the kids were frustrated, she would say “Use your words”.  When they were punished for some disgression, they would not be allowed out of “time-out” until they could present a ‘plan’ for how they would act in the future when faced with a similar situation.

I was more old school, resorting to “… because I SAID SO!” as a reason way too often.

Our children became independent thinkers, unafraid to present what we now call ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions.  All three of our children turned out to be great adults.

Ms. Fryer is really on to something with her comments.  Most organization do NOT gravitate toward people who think differently.

Our children took different educational paths when we moved to Cincinnati from Boston.  Our middle child started 1st grade in the local public elementary school, and followed the public school path through high school, the youngest was in Catholic school from Kindergarten on.   Regardless of the school choice, the boys (not as socially adept as their big sister) were sometimes a ‘challenge’ to the elementary school environment, due to their out-of-the-box independent thinking.  In both cases there were teachers along the way that saw their potential and nurtured it, but I sometimes wonder, what if my wife and I were BOTH “because I said so” parents?  What if our children’s educational experience had not included those teachers that saw their true value?

I think the same applies to business organizations.  We naturally gravitate towards people who think and act like us.  Free thinkers can be a burden.  They can be disruptive.  They’re not like us…

I believe that it’s a rare organization that can foster free thinking and idea fusing and survive over time.  Eventually the success of the free thinking culture is challenged by market forces, and management brings in a ‘proven leader’ to whip the organization into shape.  Think Apple during Steve Jobs ‘hiatus’.   The non-conformists desert, the company becomes another nameless, faceless organization and another ‘idea fusing’ start up kicks them out of the limelight.  What would Apple look like today if Steve Jobs had not returned?

It’s not enough to find idea fusers, you need to be able to foster their growth and understand that not all fused ideas will be winners.  It will be a wild ride, but definitely worth the journey!

– RTR

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The Brutality of Search

17 Jan

I have to thank Oleg Shilovitsky for the title.  In a comment in Jim Brown’s blog “A Maturity Model for Product Data Accessiblity?”, Oleg stated:

Think about differences between Google and Facebook. FB provides an additional angle of data access for individuals by trying to reduce “noise effect” created by brutality of search. 

The term set my head spinning.  I told Oleg I would use it (steal it)!

Two events, one historical, one personal, came to mind:

In 1948, Thomas E. Dewey and Harry S. Truman were locked in a battle to become President of the United States.  Truman was elected, and the most famous photograph of the campaign shows an elated Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune, with the headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN”.  The trusty pollsters working for the Trib did a telephone canvas and determined that Dewey would win by a landslide.   Truman was elected, predominantly we assume, by people who had no telephones…

In 1960, my baby sister was born.  As she moved from infant to toddler, we noticed that she wasn’t speaking (In a loud Italian family with 6 kids, that could be easy to miss).   After conferring with family doctors, my parents loaded us in the car and we drove down to Baltimore to visit a world renown expert in Aphasia at Johns Hopkins.  He thoroughly tested Cathy, and diagnosed Aphasia.  He pronounced that she could hear, but not speak.  My parents enrolled Cathy in a school that specialized in this condition. 

We found out later that Cathy was hearing-impaired.  She was bright and precocious, and seemed to ‘anticipate’ what the expert was looking for at Johns Hopkins.  I believe this was not difficult, because he already KNEW what he was looking for.  He was looking for Aphasia!

The moral of the story? 

You will find what you are looking for.  Not necessarily the truth.

-RTR

 

 

What is Networking for? Thought provoking post from the PLM Group on LinkedIn

21 Dec

Thanks to Jennifer Montez, Online Marketing Coordinator at New Grad Life for this one.  Unlike most of my blog ideas, this one sort of came out of  ‘left field’.  The referenced article struck me because of a combination of the holidays, thinking about family, and about my youngest, who will soon enter the job market.  The article’s provocative title:

“Networking means you’re looking to use people to achieve selfish goals, or opportunistically ask people for help.” – True?

That statement pushed me back in my chair.  Is that really what networking is?  Is that what I want my son to be doing as he enters the workforce?

A little introspection.  I like to jokingly say that I’m a ‘recovering engineer’.  When I was 22, I knew that I was really smart, and I wanted everyone else to know it, too.  Deep down, it was insecurity talking.  People that know me would probably not think of me as shy or insecure, but I talk a good game.  Always have.  Happy to give you my opinion.  At great length….

It has been a combination of tireless coaching by my wife, a bit of maturity, Dale Carnegie, and, strangely enough, the internet, that has started to turn me into more of a social being.  If I’m posting, I have time to be thoughtful, to edit, to think about how my comments would be received.  People that I have never met, from all over the world, become friends via shared interests (it’s also harder to interupt someone on the net).

So, what is networking for?  Is it shameless self-promotion?  For some, I’m sure.  For me?  I would be lying if I said it wasn’t an exhilirating feeling when someone responds to a blog, or decides to follow me on Twitter.  It makes my day.  But,  I don’t see it as self promotion, and it is fairly easy to see who’s interested and who’s promoting when I get responses and followers.

The best ‘networker’ I ever met was my mother-in-law, Nora.  I believe you could have parachuted Nora into a foreign country and in 24 hours she would have made a dozen new friends.  Her daughter (my wife, Mary) has the same trait.  When we go to a party, I tend to look for people I know.  We talk.  I run out of things to talk about, and I’m ready to go home.  Mary makes it a point to meet new people and find out about them.  When we drive home, she always has an interesting story about someone she met.  It’s a skill that I wish came naturally to me, but it’s something I have to work at all the time.

So what is the key to successful networking?  Dale Carnegie said it best:

“Become Genuinely Interested In Other People”

… or as the New Grad Life article quoted (also from Carnegie):

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

That is the advice I will share with my son, and the advice for anyone entering the job market.

-RTR