Fascinating (And Favorite) Business Articles
As the final days of 2015 tick away, out come the yearly retrospectives and Best Of countdowns. If you’re anything like us, this a welcome opportunity to load up your Read Later buffers with some quality reads and or your Netflix queue with some quality cinema.
We join in the celebration with our own Best Of roundup — and yes, we just might have saved the best for last. These are longer-form — or just extra thought-provoking — business articles that we just couldn’t not share with you.
Have you given much thought about how you think? Do you know a surefire way make an idea interesting? What about the idea of viewing work experience as a liability, not a boon — or really taking the time to understand the deep effect computer code — yes, code — has on your life (and we don’t just mean the incomprehensible way it can autocorrect)?
Freshen that cup of coffee and put your feet up on the desk (if the boss is out of the office). These are articles with some meat on them. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
How Your Team Thinks
Leading a team? You can try to out-produce and out-hustle the competition. But what if you want to out-think them, too?
There are lots of management tools to help understand team personalities and skillsets — but sometimes what you really want to assess is how we think. Mark Bonchek, founder of SHIFT Thinking, and Elisa Steele, CEO of Jive, set out to remedy that, and the fruits of their research are presented in “What Kind of Thinker Are You?” featured in the Harvard Business Review.
Thinking about how teams think — and how to align team membership in order to optimize and complement strengths — is both novel and necessary. Boncheck and Steele’s three-step method delivers the goods for understanding how this critical function plays out on your team.
Once you determine your thinking style — just answer two quick questions and plot your answers on a matrix — it’s enlightening to see how your personal style contrasts with others. Get fellow team members to determine their style, and it’s easy to see how team dynamics form. Even just reading the different style descriptions can shed light on your recent team discussions (especially ones that went down a rabbit hole) — and why they went the way they did.
Boncheck and Steele speak of creating a “heat map” of results for your team — identifying which strengths cluster together and which parts of the matrix are underrepresented. If you’re forming a new team, or facing a new challenge, it’s a handy tool to help choose the headcount.
How do you think? How does your team think? Let this quick diagnostic spark a whole new way to assess your team’s strengths. We think you’ll clip this article and return to it as often as we have — it’s as practical as they come.
How to Become Interesting
Does the phrase “spellbinding nonfiction” sound like an oxymoron to you? Writing compelling nonfiction can’t be easy, and attempting to do so surely can spawn as many doubters as believers. Enter Malcolm Gladwell. He and his many bestsellers seem to polarize as much as they fascinate — but he and his stories sure get talked about.
In “Why Malcolm Gladwell’s Ideas Are So Interesting, Whether or Not They’re True,” Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant investigates why so many of us find Gladwell’s work so interesting and — more importantly — how we can use Gladwell’s formula to create compelling stories for our own businesses and brands.
To unpack Gladwell’s popularity, Professor Grant turns to sociologist Murray Davis, whose groundbreaking work in the 1970’s classified specific ways a person could challenge conventional wisdom. Gladwell, it turns out, has mastered nearly half of the list.
Grant explains the list and turns it into a primer on how to be interesting. One example: taking what appears to be a negative and showing a surprising positive side to the phenomenon — like when data suggests that having dyslexia also means having an increased ability to problem-solve. The list is full of other Gladwellian spins that readers of his books will immediately recognize. As Grant walks through the list, he shows us why each “contrarian formula” piques our curiosity.
Grant rounds out his article with tips for those of us who will want to use these strategies to create content for our brands — including some pointed advice on what not to do as we attempt to harness Gladwell’s success for our own.
Gladwell’s ability to sell a story is proven. This peek behind the curtain of how he gets that done is both entertaining and educational. Not only is it fun to see how Gladwell constructs his bestsellers, it give us the building blocks to try it out ourselves.
How to Course Correct
Is the devil really in the details? Or is it safe to let small habits slide and attend to the more pressing things life throws at us?
Psychologist Benjamin Hardy argues that the art of keeping small things small is to constantly — and consistently — course correct. “Small things — if not corrected — become big things, always.”
As a pilot sticks to a flight path when turbulence nudges her plane off-course, so Hardy says we should attend to steady corrective action to important issues in our own lives.
His article for Medium “If You’re Too Busy For These 5 Things: Your Life Is More Off-Course Than You Think” itemizes what he thinks those are, and why they’re so critical to keep on our daily radars.
He makes a persuasive case. While his list doesn’t contain any surprises for most of us — staying organized, setting goals — his pointed questions in each section can elicit some uncomfortable squirms and his matter-of-fact style creates some (welcome) urgency.
He also peppers his list with helpful advice — on creating habits that stick, on making better progress by stopping bad behaviors than by starting good ones. Call it a wake-up-call, with bonus benefits.
The end of the year is a time of reflection for many of us. Cue up this article as you consider your New Year’s resolutions. It’s a diagnostic and a call-to-arms that will get your new year started right.
How to Understand What Code Is
We all use computer code. Most of us don’t even get through breakfast without encountering software in some form — our clock, our phone, our programmable coffeemaker — and once we get to work, well, code is king.
But other than knowing that software can be buggy, many of us don’t really know much about code. Given its ubiquity in our lives, that might seem a strange thing. As writer/programmer Paul Ford says “Code has been my life, and it has been your life, too. It is time to understand how it all works.”
If that sounds ambitious, fasten your seatbelt, because his piece for Bloomberg “What Is Code?” aims to deliver on that promise. The result is a spirited tour of nearly every code-related topic you could think of — and many you couldn’t — from programming languages, to syntax, to the male-dominated programmer culture, to…how international coding conferences can get a little wild (really, who knew?).
This is a mighty read — 38,000 words — and a long, thoughtful look at the DNA of most of the tools we use and, indeed, many of the things we touch throughout our days. It attempts to answer existential questions such as Where Does Data Live? and practical questions such as How Do Apps Get Made?
Not a coder? You’re the target audience for this article. The user-friendly language — and the sympathetic point of view — are intended to make sure we don’t get lost.
It’s also full of nifty little applets interspersed with the article text — such as a Tinder-like applet where you can render quick judgement on code snippets (beware, the applet might disagree with your answer) — and plenty of graphics to illustrate his points.
“If coders don’t run the world, they run the things that run the world,” says Ford, and it’s hard to disagree. Code surrounds us and binds our galaxy together. If you’re ready to dig in to learn what that means, this article has it all.
How to Be Like a Beginner
Liz Wiseman has a fresh perspective on experience. When she thinks back to her first corporate job — she joined Oracle at 17 and went on to found Oracle University and lead their global HR — she sees clearly how her inexperience made her the ideal candidate.
“My real value didn’t come from having fresh ideas. It was having no ideas at all. When you know nothing you’re forced to create something,” says Wiseman, now an executive trainer.
Intrigued? “Execute Like a Rookie, Lead Like a Multiplier” by management company First Round features Wiseman’s work and provides a deep look into the value of beginner’s mind — and how expertise can often derail innovation.
Bolstering her first-hand experience, Wiseman also researched how experienced people handled tasks and found that experience can create blind spots, while ignorance can actually drive exceptional performance. Her evidence and explanations are thorough and interesting — and her bottom line is positively revolutionary: rookies out-perform veterans, even in specialized fields.
Once she presents her thesis, Wiseman turns her attention to another pressing matter: advising veterans how they can compensate for their liability of experience. There’s a deliberate ritual they can perform to get them back to their “rookie roots.” She also has tips for managers to get the most out of their teams, veterans and rookies alike.
It’s a provocative and interesting claim, and excellent food for thought. Whether you’re a veteran or a rookie, this is an engaging look at what drives performance and innovation. What you learn might surprise you.