Become Focused by Failure

Great WSJ article by Prof. Ken Bain that takes the Cub Scout motto of “Do Your Best” to the next level. 

It also hits home personally.  I was often praised for being “smart”, which is like being congratulated for being “lucky.”  The implication is that I didn’t have much to do with it.  That approach wasn’t too “smart” it turns out.  As Prof. Bain notes, for about 25 years social scientists have developed:

key insights into how successful people overcome their unsuccessful moments—and they have found that attitudes toward learning play a large role from a young age.

The most important attitude is a “growth mind-set”: the idea that knowledge comes from trying, learning, and yes, failing at, new things.  

Prof. Cain also references research that our brain makes more and stronger connections after exposure to novelty.  While he presents the research obliquely — as part of a psychology experiment about priming learning attitudes  — my understanding is that there is real neuroscience to support this insight.

I wouldn’t rely on the priming approach solely.  If you believe in priming, whatever you do don’t read this Nature article by Ed Yong on the problems with social science experimental design!

Did you see this WSJ review of “Wait”?

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more comment on this WSJ review of “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay” by Frank Partnoy. 

With all the emphasis on being “first”, it is good to hear someone praise “the gift of hesitation.”  Goodness knows that I could have used this advice more than once!   Of course, Partnoy’s book could be dangerous in my hands.  Now I’ll have art and science in hand to rationalize away my next procrastinations.

By the way, the review itself is sharp.   Christopher Chabris alludes to his own experience and insight in a way that qualifies him, but doesn’t make the review all about the reviewer.

Matt Ridley on Gut Feelings and the Writings of Gerd Gigerenzer

Merry Christmas!  Here’s the gift of a little science for all you “gut” deciders. Matt Ridley posted this yesterday, pointing to research that suggests that…

more detailed analysis does not necessarily improve a decision, but often makes it worse. He believes, in effect, that less is more: Extra information distracts you from focusing on the few simple aspects of a problem that matter most.

Just don’t call it a hunch, call it a heuristic.

Scott Adams on a “real” college education

The Dilbert creator writes occasionally for the Wall Street Journal and has had some great pieces.  This past week’s entry hit on the mismatch between college student and curriculum:

I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature. The kids in this brainy group are the future professors, scientists, thinkers and engineers who will propel civilization forward. But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That’s like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach B students something useful, like entrepreneurship?

The entrepreneur’s knack — “the strange art of transforming nothing into something”  — is exactly what a clever, but not brilliant, person should cultivate.  Adams helpfully includes a list of behaviors this B-student curriculum should foster: Combine Skills, Fail Forward, Find the Action, Attract Luck, Conquer Fear, Write Simply, Learn Persuasion.

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How Managers Exert Influence

I run hot and cold on Henry Mintzberg, but I was taken with his thoughts in a Monday interview (published in the most recent “MIT Sloan” special section of the WSJ, here). 

Mintzberg’s observations on influencing action — and the limits of that influence — are particularly acute. He outlines three “planes” of influence: through direct action, through other people, and through information.  This last approach comes in for some withering criticism.  Per the example below, it is apparent that Mintzberg believes managing through information is what often passes for leadership these days:

Today I think we have much too much managing through information—what I call “deeming.” People sit in their offices and think they’re very clever because they deem that you will increase sales by 10%, or out the door you go. Well, I can do that. My granddaughter could do that; she’s four.

He also touches on the “Manager vs. Leader” question I’ve posted on here. Work calls, however, so I’ll get to that in a later post.

WSJ Interview on “The Experience Trap”

FYI, a Wall Street Journal article (“Dangers of Clinging to Solutions of the Past”) based in part on interviews w/ yours truly came out today (link here, page B4 in the paper).  Thanks to Kishore Sengupta of INSEAD for pointing the WSJ my way and to Phred Dvorak of the WSJ for conveying the perils of experience so well and so succinctly. 

As I’ve noted to a couple of colleagues, it is hard to believe that only 250 words of copy came out of two hours of interview time.  Insert your own joke re: my verbosity here…

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