A modest proposal: eliminate email

The concept is simple. Employees no longer have personalized email addresses. Instead, each individual posts a schedule of two or three stretches of time during the day when he or she will be available for communication. During these office hours, the individual guarantees to be reachable in person, by phone, and by instant messenger technologies like Slack. Outside of someone’s stated office hours, however, you cannot command their attention. If you need them, you have to keep track of what you need until they’re next available.

On the flipside, when you’re between your own scheduled office hours, you have no inboxes to check or messages demanding response. You’re left, in other words, to simply work. And of course, when you’re home in the evening or on vacation, the fact that there’s no inbox slowly filling up with urgent obligations allows a degree of rest and recharge that’s all but lost from the lives of most knowledge workers today.

This is from an HBR article by Cal Newport. You can and should follow his blog.

I want to hear what you think… particularly the ways in which you can make this (or some version of it) work. Drop me a note using the “Contact me” button on the ruler.

Because you don’t hire half a person

“That one can hire only a whole man [or woman] rather than any part thereof explains why the improvement of human effectiveness in work is the greatest opportunity for the improvement of performance and results”.

– Peter Drucker

We’re all rational decision makers? Think again.

We say we make decisions based on an assumption of a rationality that maximizes. In reality, we are imperfectly rational creatures who make sub-optimal decisions. Time to re-visit our assumptions.

The model of rational choice makes several assumptions. It assumes that our goal is to maximize self interest. It assumes that different dimensions of our decisions are “commensurable” (that is, comparable on a common scale—say a “utility” scale). And it assumes that we act with complete information and can meaningfully assign probabilities to every outcome. (…)

What modern research tells us is that we are imperfectly rational in two different respects.

  • One is that we do the “math” wrong; we are bad at thinking about uncertainty and at creating relevant and accurate spreadsheets in our heads.
  • The second is more important: we often want the wrong things.

We mispredict how much satisfaction, or utility, a given outcome will give us. We discount future consequences of decisions too steeply (and thus eat and spend too much, and exercise and save too little). And we mispredict how long a given decision will satisfy us. That is, we tend to ignore the fact that we get used to good things so that they provide us with satisfaction for a much shorter time than we imagine.

The model [of rational choice] is not fine. Virtually all of the assumptions built into it about human beings and the world are false:

It assumes that people are self-interested. Well, yes and no. Self-interest is certainly part of what moves us, but we are also interested in the welfare of others (…), and even the world. And we are also interested in doing what’s right (…).

It assumes that there is a common scale of value on which everything can be compared. There isn’t. Sure, we can assign value numbers to things like salary, colleagues, being close to our families, and the like, but in doing so, we are only kidding ourselves that these numbers actually represent a common underlying metric. Tradeoffs are hard to make, and often can’t be made formulaically. (…).

It assumes that we can attach meaningful probabilities to outcomes. Sometimes we can, but life is not a roulette wheel or a series of coin flips, in which probabilities are well defined. The world is a radically uncertain place, and we deceive ourselves if we think we can always attach numbers to our uncertainty.

via Barry Schwartz.

Want to Be a Leader? Keep a Journal.

 

Research has documented that outstanding leaders take time to reflect. Their success depends on the ability to access their unique perspective and bring it to their decisions and sense-making every day.

Extraordinary leadership is rooted in several capabilities: seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act. A leader’s unique perspective is an important source of creativity and competitive advantage. But the reality is that most of us live such fast-paced, frenzied lives that we fail to leave time to actually listen to ourselves.

Gaining access to your own insight isn’t difficult; you simply need to commit to reflecting on a daily basis. Based on research (my own and others’) and many years of work with global business leaders as a consultant and international management professor, I recommend the simple act of regularly writing in a journal.

 

 

Holding a meeting of people from different cultures

In one of the People and Business Management workshops that I facilitate we ask participants to outline how they would approach their first meeting as the manager of a multicultural team. I’m always pleasantly surprised by the imagination and inclusiveness of the responses.

This article in the Harvard Business Review provides useful guidance. Here’s an excerpt:

Do

  • Study up on the variations that exist among cultures and how those differences play out in the workplace
  • Create protocols and establish norms so that your colleagues understand how meetings will run
  • Incentivize colleagues to step outside their cultural comfort zones by institutionalizing rewards around what you’re trying to motivate people to do

Don’t

  • Be hung up on how people from certain cultures are supposed to act—remember, people are capable of adapting and adjusting their cultural default
  • Force a perfect dynamic in meetings—solicit colleagues’ opinions in other venues and encourage people to provide feedback in different ways
  • Overlook the importance of team bonding—encourage colleagues to get to know each other outside of meetings so that cultural differences won’t seem as glaring

 

Visualizing empires decline

I am observing a surge in the management and organizations literature on the life and survival of corporations. I’m keeping a watchful eye on it and will report when relevant. In the meantime, here’s a visual refresher on the life and survival of empires.

The dissident leader

I found this quote in my notes. And it coincides with my current reading of Tomas Sedlacek‘s Economics of Good and Evil. Sedlacek was an economic advisor to Vaclav Havel. Although I have not finished reading the book, I can already recommend it. More on the book and its thesis in a future post.

[Vaclav] Havel embodied the guidelines of creative defense with wit, wisdom, and the shortcomings of a man. He inspired people with a bold algorithm, a mantra really: living in truth. In an era of cryptic truths, so too was the very notion of “living in truth”. After 1989, he became the first anti-political president of the Czech Republic and the planet; he remains so to this day the bearer of a political legacy not so much shrouded in failure as indifference to power. Yet, he was never powerless, not for a moment.

Who in New York, Baku, or its affiliate, well-to-do cities of East and West dares brave the consequence for something greater than a slogan, or greater than themselves? To be a dissident has reached the point of cliché if only because human rights is all too often the case of a competing elites, alienated from “the people”; to be imprisoned does not necessarily mean you speak for human rights, but it does mean, if only for a moment, that you spoke for yourself.

Yet in many societies, this remains a grave crime. To do so creatively, brilliantly, and in a way in which the humor never fades from the voice, the laughter never subsides, and the constant cackle is one that echoes in the executioner’s chamber as opposed to in society, the inmate’s cell and among those who have struggled to know the difference between the two — this is the gift Havel gave.

via The New Inquiry.