The dog saw… what?

While running yesterday night I listened to Malcom Gladwell’s book “What the dog saw”. I love listening to audiobooks when I am running. Of course the fact that Malcolm Gladwell is an amazing writer and reader makes the experience more enjoyable…

Despite the fact that several psychologists or scientists have criticized Malcolm Gladwell for his empirical work and what they have called simplistic generalizations and conclusions, I like his books because they raise intriguing questions about our beliefs. He makes me think and question much of what I was told and taught.

I wanted to share with you a couple of quotes that struck me during my run yesterday. As I was running I could not take notes, therefore I am sharing the quotes from memory. So @Malcolm: if some day you happen this blog, please accept my apologies if I misquoted you.

The first one is:

Talent does not make an organization succeed but the other way around.

Isn’t it amazing? Don’t we all chase talent when interviewing employees? Haven’t we all believed even once only that smart people are the solution to our problems? To any problem? If they are smart wouldn’t they find a way to do anything, everything? Haven’t we seen counter examples? Throughout the years, my experience has shown me many counter examples: smart people failing over and over and then quitting. A few years ago I was in-between jobs: my boss knew that I would not stay in my job and I did not have a new boss yet. No-one was paying attention to me. I was still in transition in the same company but somehow disconnected from the system and the “organization”. During that time I decided to work on what I really wanted to do, things that I deeply believed in. I got shocked by how much I could do because I was disconnected. I suddenly realized how much the “organization” had prevented me from being effective and efficient. I realized how much others were struggling like I had been. I became grateful for having had the opportunity to get out of the system and see how much damage a broken organization can do to whatever talent. I had decided that in order to nurture or even create talent I would always strive for creating a supporting organization.

Malcolm Gladwell gives the example of Southwest Airlines, which does not hire talent but grows talent by providing an organization that makes them work hard, efficiently and proudly. He also talks about Enron which, despite the fact that they hired tens of the best MBA students every year, got killed by its culture.

Only if you create the right organization, your people and company will succeed.

The second quote relates to the first:

If you feel the need to ask all your employees to think out of the box, you better fix the box.

Who has not been asked to think out of the box? Is it a good thing? Yes, right? I would even claim that it is necessary that all of us practice out of the box thinking. Some people are better than others but the good news is that all of us can get better at it. One practice that I have been using is that I occasionally give myself out of the box thinking challenges where I force myself to question all assumptions, principles, anything that I may take for granted.

Now Malcolm Gladwell says that if out of the box thinking is not a remedy to bad organizations. Out of the box thinking might help one or two to avoid the organization and its processes but unless the “box” is fixed, nothing is permanently fixed.

I hope that next time you ask or are asked to think out of the box you’ll question the box… I will.

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