Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Does Working Right Trump Finding the Right Work (or Passion)?

We all have hobbies, and some of them we pursue with quite a bit of passion.  It’s been written that Charles Darwin, when he was young, was so intrigued by beetle collecting that when he had to make a choice between spending time with his girl friend or his hobby, he chose the latter – and ended up marrying someone else later in life.  Steve Jobs had a passion for music, especially for artists like Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead.  He once had a $100,000 stereo system installed in his home.

Now we’ve all heard the adage to follow your passion.  Yet if these individuals had simply followed their passion, we might not have benefited from their contributions to science and technology, and the world would have been poorer as a result.

I became intrigued with this especially after I read a book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, a Computer Science Ph.D.  He pretty much states unequivocally that following your passion is bad advice because career passions are so rare.  He cites studies that show that less than four percent of students who are asked about their passions mention anything related to work.  

Yet many of us probably know people who have decided that they are sick of the rat race, of the boring nature of their work, or that they are simply not interested in their chosen career that they get off the “treadmill” and decide to follow their dream – whether that is having their own business, pursuing a life-long hobby like tennis, playing the guitar, learning yoga, or writing a novel. Perhaps you have considered this yourself.

Newport, however, argues against our adopting this “passion” mindset, but instead suggests that we adopt a craftsman mindset.  For him, the passion mindset is about what the world can offer you, while the craftsman mindset is about what you can offer the world, what value you can create.  It is, ironically, the foundation for creating work that we love.

The craftsman mindset implies that we find those characteristics in the work that we are doing that taps into something that we enjoy, and that makes use of our talents.  Of course there may be conditions when you cannot apply the craftsman mindset (see page 56), such as when:
1.     The job presents few opportunities to distinguish yourself by developing relevant skills that are rare and valuable
2.     The job focuses on something you think is useless or perhaps even actively bad for the world
3.     The job forces you to work with people you really dislike.

So how do you become a craftsman?  Is it by following the 10,000-hour rule that Gladwell popularized in his book Outliers?  In that book, he cites research, for example, on what it takes to become a chess grandmaster.  Even Bobby Fischer took about ten years to become internationally famous.  But studies show that even among players who spent about the same amount of time – 10,000 hours – some became grandmasters while others remained at an intermediate level.  The answer seems to be that it is not just the time, but what you do with that time.  As Newport reports: “The researchers discovered that the players who became grandmasters spent five times more hours dedicated to serious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level.  The grand masters, on average, dedicated around 5,000 hours out of their 10,000 to serious study.  The intermediate players, by contract, dedicated only around 1,000 to this activity.”

This seems to be the key – serious study, or as Anders Ericsson and his colleagues said, “deliberate practice.”  This is “an activity designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual’s performance …  (It’s) an approach to work where you deliberately stretch your abilities beyond where you’re comfortable and then receive ruthless feedback on your performance.”

Of course deliberate practice is not always enjoyable.  You are stretching yourself, pushing yourself, and getting feedback from others. However, in a study published in the Journal of Business Venturing and as reported in the Wall Street Journal (January 26, 2015), entrepreneurs who founded a business based on a personal pastime lagged behind other founders initially, but after 45 months they more than caught up.  Perhaps those who did it based on a hobby were not as business-savvy, so they had to do a lot more groundwork at the beginning?  The authors of the study don’t address this but here is what they do say:  “Since they’re working on businesses that are closely related to their pastimes, sure they’re going to encounter some difficulties.  But what our data are showing is that they’re still making progress at a steady pace.  They’re doing something that they enjoy, so it’s not as likely that they’ll give up.  And because they’re doing it for reasons not necessarily related to them making a lot of money or growing a big enterprise, the reasons for giving up are not necessarily the same as they might be for conventional entrepreneurs.”

So some advice to help you with your passion mindset and your craftsman mindset:
First, figure out whether you have the talent in something you are really interested in.  If not, keep it a hobby.  Don’t expect to make a career of it.  If so, put in the practice so that you can become better before you decide to make this into a career.

Second, examine what you are currently doing in your job and figure out what aspects you enjoy the most.  For some, you may discover that you really enjoying developing people.  For others, you enjoy the analytic side.  Can you build on these in your current job?  Once you are in a job, you might discover a career passion.

Charles Darwin did not make beetle collecting into a full-time endeavor, but the skills he learned while on his hobby certainly helped him in his observational skills that led to the theory of evolution.  Steve Jobs did not become a rock star literally, but his passion for music led to the development of the iPod.

Interestingly, Amy Wrzesniewski has conducted research in which she has found that the more experience people have in a job, the more they are likely to love their work.   Newport suggests that “… it’s more important to become good at something rare and valuable, and then invest the career capital this generates into the type of traits that make a job great.”  

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. and Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review, 100 (3): 363-406.

Huston, C.  (2015).  First Comes the Hobby.  Then Comes the Startup.  And, Eventually, Profits.  Wall Street Journal, January 26.

 Newport, C.  (2012).  So Good They Can’t Ignore You.  New York:  Hachette Book Group.

Wrzesniewski, Amy, et al.  (1997).  Jobs, Careers and Callings:  People’s Relations to Their Work.  Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 21-33.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

For Corporations, Is It a Small (Global) World, After All?

In one of my overseas assignments some time ago, the global company I was working for had just hired Steve to run its IT center in Hong Kong.  Steve was a Singaporean who had worked at IBM for over twenty years, and had deep functional expertise and experience.  What struck me most about him when I met him, however, was his attire:  a pinstriped suit, white button-down shirt, rep tie and wing tip shoes.  Even though he had left IBM the month before, he (and others like him from IBM in those days) could not quite shed the IBM “uniform” he had worn for so long. 
Most of us are aware of the various practices that organizations implement to try to instill a common corporate culture.  Many Japanese companies with overseas subsidiaries used to require employees to wear uniforms and participate in morning calisthenics.  Wal-Mart had employees in many overseas locations gather around every morning for the Wal-Mart cheer.
These corporate artifacts and behaviors are at the tip of the iceberg that is above the water.  Corporate culture, like national culture, has visible and invisible aspects.  Edgar Schein refers to three levels of culture:  artifacts, values and basic assumptions.  At the tip of the iceberg are rituals and organizational practices, while underneath the water are those less visible attitudes, values and assumptions.
Most organizations, especially those that have a presence in many countries, are constantly looking to create the “glue” that will bind employees’ hearts and minds together.  And many of them focus on such practices.  Talk to managers in some of these multinational companies, and you will refer to the Ford Way, or the Unilever Way, or the Toyota Way.  Do these work?  Every corporation, like every individual, is to some extent a product of its national culture.  It makes assumptions especially around management practices that are in part based on values and beliefs of the national culture of its founders and executives.
Can a global corporation today create a culture that somehow transcends or trumps national culture?   Yes, but only if it focuses on what’s underneath the iceberg – on those values and traits that cut across cultures.

One of the most intriguing pieces of work in this area is by Professor Dan Denison and his colleagues.  Through their research, they have identified four organizational cultural values, or traits (as they put it), that are strongly related to organizational performance.  These are:
·      Involvement – empowering employees, building teams, and developing human capability at all levels to build a sense of commitment and belief that their work is connected to the goals of the organization.
·      Consistency – having leaders who “walk the talk” by role modeling core values, and a set of processes that are aligned with these values.
·      Adaptability – an organization that listens to its customers, takes risks, learns from its mistakes, and is constantly improving.
·      Mission – having a clear sense of purpose and direction, along with a vision of how the organization will look in the future.
Using data from this organizational cultural model that they have collected from 200 organizations in Europe, North America and Asia, along with other data from 218 organizations from seven countries (including Canada, Australia, Brazil, U.S.A., Japan, Jamaica, and South Africa), Denison et al. found generally high correlations between overall performance and these cultural indices:  “The link between company cultures and effectiveness appears to be both strong and consistent.  In addition, the scores for the culture measures are essentially the same for the samples of organizations in each of these … regions.” (p. 106)
What about practices, those behaviors that are above the water of the iceberg? Shouldn’t there be a relationship between these practices and cultural values?  In an interesting study, Fischer et al. surveyed 1239 employees from various organizations in six countries (Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia, New Zealand, Turkey and the United States) to analyze the impact of cultural dimensions on perceptions of organizational practices.  They focused on 71 practices, factor analyzed the data, and identified three factors:  employee orientation, formalization, and innovation.  Sample items for employee orientation included:
·      Managers give employees freedom to express their ideas
·      Employees have a say in matters that directly involve them
·      Managers encourage employees to speak up when they disagree with a decision.
Sample items from the formalization factor include:
·      Everything in the organization is done according to a previously defined procedure
·      What employees have to do is strongly determined by formal procedures
·      Control and centralization are important.
Finally, sample items for innovation include:
·      People are always searching for new ways of approaching problems
·      There is a lot of investment in new products in this organization
·      This organization frequently searches for new markets for existing products.
What they found were significant effects of cultural differences (e.g., individualism) on the degree of implementation of these organizational practices.  In general, cultural effects for their sample were significantly and consistently larger than any industry effects. 
There are two take-aways from these studies that I’d like to emphasize.  Number one, organizational cultural values at the abstract or “principle” level can generalize across cultures – which is good news for global organizations that are looking for this glue.  Specifically, taking Denison’s model into account, organizations that are attempting to create a culture of empowerment, consistency of word and deed among their leaders and with their processes, continuous improvement and risk-taking, and clarity of vision will find that these principles can resonate with their employees in different countries.  Not only that, but perhaps even more importantly, having these values in place seems to help companies gain competitive advantage.
Number two, organizations should be careful not to assume that these cultural values will translate into the same behaviors and practices in different countries. To build a universal corporate culture, organizations need to focus on corporate values such as the ones identified by Denison rather than specific practices that may be need to be adapted from culture to culture.  For example, “involvement” for companies based in North America might mean giving employees more freedom to make decisions.  For companies based in Asia, it might mean giving employees information about the company’s plans which will make them feel more included and part of the company – an important consideration especially in collectivist cultures.  “Adaptability” for companies based in North America might mean allowing individual employees to make mistakes and encouraging them to take risks.  For companies based in Asia, this might mean asking groups to find ways to continuously improve their processes.  
            Denison and his colleagues put it this way:  “ … a concept like empowerment is important around the world, but we would not argue that this means the same behaviors would necessarily constitute empowerment in a different national context … (this cultural) model probably says much more about the presence of a desirable set of traits than it does about how those traits are expressed.”

Denison, D., Haaland, S., & Goelzer, P.  (2004).  Is Asia different from the rest of the world?  Organizational Dynamics, 33 (1), pp. 98-109.

Fischer, R., Ferreira, M., Assmar, E., Baris, G., Berberoglu, G., Dalyan, F., Wong, C., Hassan, A., Hanke, K., & Boer, D.  (2014).  Organizational practices across cultures:  An exploration in six cultural contexts.  International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 14 (1), 105-125.

Schein, E.  (2010).  Organizational culture and leadership (fourth edition).  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Putting Yourself in Someone Else's Shoes (or Sandals)

We know from research that: there are two types of empathy - cognitive empathy and emotional or affective empathy, different parts of our brain are activated when we are using one versus the other, and each has a different impact on our behavior.

For example, Gilin et al. conducted some studies to determine the specific impact of each of these two types of empathy.  They defined cognitive empathy as perspective-taking, while emotional empathy is “the affective capacity to emotionally connect with others and experience sympathy and concern for others.”  Their hypothesis was that these two different types of empathy would work in different situations.  When you need to understand an opponent’s strategic intent, then cognitive empathy would be more effective than emotional empathy.  With tasks that require collaboration with others, on the other hand, emotional empathy would be more effective.  Their findings support their hypothesis and they conclude:

“ … Perspective-taking and (emotional) empathy can each promote understanding that can lead to individual and joint competitive gains, but only when the underlying structure or content of the task requires that particular competency.”  (p. 11)      
For global managers, both types are critical; in this piece, I’d like to focus on cognitive empathy.  Cognitive empathy, the ability to recognize and understand another person’s point of view and emotional state, is (as mentioned above) sometimes called “perspective-taking.”  When we are in a different culture, understanding how people from other cultures view things is obviously important.  Goleman has suggested that cognitive empathy is an outgrowth of self-awareness, and I think that makes a lot of sense.  For global managers, this also means being aware of how one’s own culture impacts your own behavior.  Managers who tend to be ethnocentric, and who believe that their style of managing is superior to other cultures’ styles, will find it hard to develop cognitive empathy because they may not even be aware that their style is at least partly driven by cultural assumptions.  

Specifically, cognitive empathy helps global managers by:  1) decreasing stereotyping, 2) helping to promote prosocial behavior or willingness to help, and 3) improving their ability to understand accurately the thoughts and feelings of others.

Let’s take the first benefit.  Research by Galinsky and Moskowitz has shown that perspective-taking might be a more effective strategy than stereotype suppression for decreasing stereotyping.  In an interesting set of experiments, here is what they did and what they found.  In their first experiment, participants were shown a photo of an elderly man and asked to write an essay describing a day in his life.  One third of the participants were given no explicit instructions, one third were asked to suppress any stereotypes, and the remaining third were told to take the perspective of the individual in the photograph when writing their essay.  The second group was told that “previous research has demonstrated that thoughts and impressions are consistently influenced by stereotypic preconceptions, and therefore you should actively try to avoid thinking about the photographed target in such a manner.”  The third group was told to “imagine a day in the life of this individual as if you were that person, looking at the world through his eyes and walking through the world in his shoes.”

Then they were asked to write an essay about a second elderly man whose photo they were shown.  As a third task, the participants were shown a photo of a young African-American man and asked to write a third essay.  The researchers wanted to find out not only whether perspective-taking or stereotype suppression was more powerful, but also whether the experimental instructions would generalize to a different social group.

Raters who did not know which of the essays came from which experimental condition rated both the overall stereotypicality of the contents as well as its overall valence.  The former is a standard measure used in research on stereotype suppression.  Valence was measured to determine how positive the participants rated the evaluations of the target.  What they found was that perspective-taking not only reduced the expression of stereotypical content, but also increased the expression of positive content, while stereotype suppression only affected the former and not the valence.  For the second photo, both perspective-takers and suppressors wrote less-stereotypically based essays than did control participants, while perspective-takers expressed more positive evaluations of the target than did suppressors and control participants.  No differences in stereotypical content were found for the third photo, because, as the researchers learned in a debrief, participants were sensitive to stereotyping by race (wishing to be politically correct, perhaps).  However, perspective-takers expressed more positive evaluations towards the African-American target compared with the elderly targets.

The researchers conclude that “ … perspective-taking is a successful strategy for debiasing social thought.  Perspective-taking tended to increase the expression of positive evaluations of the target, reduced the expression of stereotypic content, and prevented the hyperaccessibility of stereotype construct.”  (p. 720)

Now, let’s take the second benefit of cognitive empathy.  Based on several research studies, what happens in perspective-taking is that by considering another person’s perspective, we see that we and the other person are not so different after all:  “Perspective-taking results in the target becoming more ‘self-like’; after perspective-taking, the cognitive structures for the self and the target share more common elements, resulting in a merger of self and other.” (Galinsky and Ku, p. 596)

Some recent research has shown that perspective-taking helps to improve overall attitudes and evaluations of the target person’s group.  For example, in follow-up studies also using the photo of an elderly man, Galinsky and Ku found that those who were primed to take the elderly man’s perspective also started to evaluate the elderly more positively than a control group.  As the researchers pointed out, however, these findings may not generalize to collectivist cultures where individuals are “more likely to engage in outgroup derogation and intergroup bias … and more likely to be (overly) generous when dealing with friends.” (p. 602)

In another series of experiments conducted in Singapore and the United Kingdom, Wang and her colleagues (2014) built on this research and found that perspective-taking increased willingness to engage in contact with negatively-stereotyped targets, such as an “Ah Beng” (or local hooligan, in Singapore) and the homeless in the United Kingdom.  In one of these studies, participants were shown a photograph of a homeless man; those in the perspective-taking condition were asked to “take the perspective of the individual in the photograph and imagine a day in the life of this individual as if you were that person.” (p. 3) Participants in the control condition were simply asked to write a brief passage describing a typical day in the life of the individual in the photograph.  After this task, they were then shown a photograph of a different individual.  In the same-target-group condition, participants were shown a photograph of another homeless man.  In the different-target-group condition, they were shown a photograph of an African-American.  Consistent with results from previous research, they found that those who were primed to the perspective-taking condition were more willing to engage in contact with the target group (although not necessarily with a different target group).

A third benefit of perspective-taking, especially critical for global leaders, is the improvement in the accuracy of one’s understanding of what the other person might be thinking or feeling.  Ickes and his colleagues have even developed a methodology to study what they call empathic accuracy.  They first videotape target participants while they talk about some event, topic, or problem.  Then these participants watch their own videotape, stopping the tape when they remember some thought or feeling while they were talking.  They write these thoughts or feelings down and the times when they actually took place in the videotape.  Perceivers then watch the video, which is stopped at the times when the target had recalled the thought or feeling.  These perceivers then write down what they believe the target was thinking or feeling that these specific times.  The researchers then compare the perceivers’ responses to what the targets wrote down to obtain a measure of empathic accuracy.

Ickes and his colleagues found that the perceiver’s accuracy in understanding another person is not always a function of familiarity with the other person or his or her experiences, but also on the perceiver’s motivation.  This is somewhat reassuring for those of us working globally, for it suggests that our desire and interest in the other person are strong predictors in how well we can accurately assess their thoughts and feelings. 

One implication here is that global managers who believe that being empathic is important in their role may actually be more motivated to be empathic and can in fact be quite accurate in their perceptions of others’ thoughts and feelings – certainly a key advantage for succeeding as a global leader!

Are there limits to perspective-taking, especially when the person you are interacting with is very dissimilar to you in so many ways?  For example, say that you are a highly-educated, young Dutch female executive dealing with an elderly Nigerian male working in an oil pipeline.  How likely is it that you would be able to take the Nigerian’s perspective?  In my experience, with some effort, this can still work.  And in fact, some research supports this.  Lamm et al. used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine how subjects would react to patients under different conditions.  They found that empathy can be achieved, although with more effort from their cognitive executive functions.

So let’s say that you are faced with a cross-cultural situation that you may not fully understand, for example, individuals who are strangely quiet at a meeting you are conducting, or a team from a subsidiary who is continually late in meeting deadlines.  You could of course ask them questions to try to determine what might be causing the problem.  But you could also switch on your cognitive empathy mind-set by using some of these trigger questions to prime your perspective-taking: 

·      Imagine looking at this situation through their eyes and being in their shoes – how would you view this situation?
·      What might this situation look like from their point of view?  How would they explain this? 
·      What might be going on in their minds that could explain why they are behaving this way? 
·      What might some factors be in their situation that might drive them to behave in this way?

Galinsky, A. & Ku, G.  (2004).  The effects of perspective-taking on prejudice:  The moderating role of self-evaluation.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(5), 594-604.

Galinksy, A. & Moskowitz, G.  (2000).  Perspective-taking:  Decreasing stereotype expression, stereotype accessibility, and in-group favoritism.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(4), 708-724.

Gilin, D. et al.  (2012).  When to Use Your Head and When to Use Your Heart:  The Differential Value of Perspective-Taking Versus Empathy in Competitive Interactions.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 39(1), 3-16.

Goleman, D.  (2005).  Emotional Intelligence.  New York:  Bantam Books.

Ickes, W., Gesn, P., & Graham, T.  (2000).  Gender differences in empathic accuracy:  Differential ability or differential motivation?  Personal Relationships, 7, 95-100.

Lamm, C., Meltzoff, A., & Decety, J.  (2010).  How do we empathize with someone who is not like us?  A functional magnetic resonance imaging study.  Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 22, 362-376.

Wang, C., Tai, K. Ku, G., & Galinsky, A.  (2014).  Perspective-taking increases willingness to engage in intergroup contact.  PLOS One, 9(1) pp. 1-8.