“Curious as to how leaders could “think more like women,” we asked half our sample — 32,000 people around the world — to classify 125 different human characteristics as either masculine, feminine or neither, while the other half rated the same words (without gendering) on their importance to leadership, success, morality and happiness. Statistical modeling revealed strong consensus that what people felt was “feminine” they also deemed essential to leading in an increasingly social, interdependent and transparent world.” - Harvard Business Review

Why don’t successful people and organizations automatically become very successful? One important explanation is due to what I call “the clarity paradox,” which can be summed up in four predictable phases:

Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.

Curiously, and overstating the point in order to make it, success is a catalyst for failure.

—  Harvard Business Review's Greg McKeown, synthesizing insights from Jim Collins’s How the Mighty Fail
Train Your Brain to Focus

Next time you are sitting in a meeting, take a look around. The odds are high that you will see your colleagues checking screens, texting, and emailing while someone is talking or making a presentation. Many of us are proud of our prowess in multitasking, and wear it like a badge of honor.

Multitasking may help us check off more things on our to-do lists. But it also makes us more prone to making mistakes, more likely to miss important information and cues, and less likely to retain information in working memory, which impairs problem solving and creativity.

Over the past decade, advances in neuroimaging have been revealing more and more about how the brain works. Studies of adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) using the latest neuroimaging and cognitive testing [PDF] are showing us how the brain focuses, what impairs focus — and how easily the brain is distracted. This research comes at a time when attention deficits have spread far beyond those with ADHD to the rest of us working in an always-on world. The good news is that the brain can learn to ignore distractions, making you more focused, creative, and productive.

Here are three ways you can start to improve your focus.

Tame your frenzy.

Frenzy is an emotional state, a feeling of being a little (or a lot) out of control. It is often underpinned by anxiety, sadness, anger, and related emotions. Emotions are processed by theamygdala, a small, almond-shaped brain structure. It responds powerfully to negative emotions, which are regarded as signals of threat. Functional brain imaging has shown that activation of the amygdala by negative emotions interferes with the brain’s ability to solve problems or do other cognitive work. Positive emotions and thoughts do the opposite — they improve the brain’s executive function, and so help open the door to creative and strategic thinking.

What can you do? Try to improve your balance of positive and negative emotions over the course of a day. Barbara Fredrickson, a noted psychology researcher at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, recommends a 3:1 balance of positive and negative emotions, based upon mathematical modeling of ideal team dynamics by her collaborator Marcial Losada, and confirmed by research on individual flourishing and successful marriages. (Calculate your “positivity ratio” at www.positivityratio.com). You can tame negative emotional frenzy by exercising, meditating, and sleeping well. It also helps to notice your negative emotional patterns. Perhaps a coworker often annoys you with some minor habit or quirk, which triggers a downward spiral. Appreciate that such automatic responses may be overdone, take a few breaths, and let go of the irritation.

What can your team do? Start meetings on positive topics and some humor. The positive emotions this generates can improve everyone’s brain function, leading to better teamwork and problem solving.

Apply the brakes.

Your brain continuously scans your internal and external environment, even when you are focused on a particular task. Distractions are always lurking: wayward thoughts, emotions, sounds, or interruptions. Fortunately, the brain is designed to instantly stop a random thought, an unnecessary action, and even an instinctive emotion from derailing you and getting you off track.

What can you do? To prevent distractions from hijacking your focus, use the ABC method as your brain’s brake pedal. Become Aware of your options: you can stop what you are doing and address the distraction, or you can let it go. Breathe deeply and consider your options. Then Choose thoughtfully: Stop? or Go?

What can your team do? Try setting up one-hour distraction-free meetings. Everyone is expected to contribute and offer thoughtful and creative input, and no distractions (like laptops, tablets, cell phones, and other gadgets) are allowed.

Shift Sets.

While it’s great to be focused, sometimes you need to turn your attention to a new problem. Set-shifting refers to shifting all of your focus to a new task, and not leaving any behind on the last one. Sometimes it’s helpful to do this in order to give the brain a break and allow it to take on a new task.

What can you do? Before you turn your attention to a new task, shift your focus from your mind to your body. Go for a walk, climb stairs, do some deep breathing or stretches. Even if you aren’t aware of it, when you are doing this your brain continues working on your past tasks. Sometimes new ideas emerge during such physical breaks.

What can your team do? Schedule a five-minute break for every hour of meeting time, and encourage everyone to do something physical rather than run out to check email. By restoring the brain’s executive function, such breaks can lead to more and better ideas when you reconvene.

Organizing your mind, and your team members’ minds, will yield a solid payoff in the year ahead. Adding “high-quality focus” is a great place to start. Try holding a no-multitasking meeting and see what happens when everyone in the room gives their undivided attention. Have you ever tried this in your organization? If not, do you think it would fly?

By Paul Hammerness, MD, and Margaret Moore via Harvard Business Review

Ouch: A Year's Worth of Occasionally Disturbing Research on How to Get Ahead

Via: posted by Andrew O’Connel, December 23, 2011 at HBR Blog Network

Researchers in the fields of business, economics, and psychology maintained their relentless pursuit of knowledge in 2011, discovering, among other things, that a joke can get you a raise and that it’s OK to mimic your customers. In my search during the past year for statistics to publish in HBR’sDaily Stat newsletter, I found a few memorable pieces of research-based advice on how to get ahead in an unforgiving world:

First, remember “A-B-D” — always be disagreeable:

People who are disagreeable earn more than people who are agreeable, and the gap is biggest among men, according to an analysis of four surveys spanning almost 20 years. Men who are significantly less agreeable than average earn 18.31% more than men who are significantly more agreeable than average, while the comparable figure for women is 5.47%, says the study, led by Beth A. Livingston of Cornell. Men’s disagreeable behavior “conforms to expectations of ‘masculine’ behavior,” the authors say.

To improve performance, get someone to wish you luck:

Activating a positive superstitious belief can boost people’s confidence, which in turn improves performance: In an experiment, a dexterity task that normally took more than 5 minutes was accomplished in just over 3 minutes, on average, if participants were wished good luck before they started it, according to research led by Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne in Germany. Before trying to roll 36 little balls into little holes in a transparent plastic cube, the participants were told by a researcher, “I press the thumbs for you,” the German equivalent of “My fingers are crossed for you.”

To generate ideas, run electric current through your brain:

Research subjects who received electrical stimulation of the anterior temporal lobes of the brain were 3 times more likely to come up with the fresh insight needed to solve a difficult, unfamiliar problem than people in a control group, according to Richard P. Chi and Allan W. Snyder of the University of Sydney. The researchers say they envision a future when noninvasive brain stimulation is briefly employed for solving problems that have evaded traditional cognitive approaches.

To enhance your recall, try gazing at a dead cat:

People who viewed an image of a dead cat (or something equally negative) after recalling a newly learned Swahili word were better at later remembering the word than people who viewed a neutral image, say Bridgid Finn and Henry L. Roediger III of Washington University. The viewers of negative images remembered 57% of what they had previously recalled, compared with 44% for people who saw neutral pictures. An emotionally arousing event may enhance “reconsolidation” of memory because the brain’s emotional centers have close connections with the reconsolidation region, the researchers say.

Live in sin:

People who cohabit with just one person and then marry that person go on to accumulate wealth at double the rate of people who marry without cohabiting, according to a study of U.S. couples by Jonathan Vespa of The Ohio State University and Matthew A. Painter II of the University of Wyoming. About one-third of married people in the U.S. have cohabited, in most cases with just one person (relatively few people are serial cohabiters).

And postpone procreation:

Postponing motherhood leads to an increase in women’s earnings of 9% per year of delay, according to Amalia R. Miller of the University of Virginia. It also leads to an increase in wages of 3% and a rise in work hours of 6%, with the wage advantage being largest for college-educated women.

When you’re negotiating salary, try this joke:

Job candidates who jokingly requested ridiculously high salaries received 9% higher wage offers than candidates who made no such jokes, according to a simulation conducted by Todd J. Thorsteinson of the University of Idaho. In the experiment, students applied for imaginary jobs as administrative assistants, stating that their previous salary level had been $29,000; those who kiddingly said they’d like to earn $100,000 were offered an average of$35,385, compared with $32,463 for the nonjokers. In a negotiation, an initial offer — even one offered in jest — can serve as an “anchor,” affecting the eventual outcome, Thorsteinson says.

And remember, threatening works:

Across a range of industries, 74% of new hires in a recent study chose to negotiate their compensation, and they increased their starting salaries by an average of $5,000, say Michelle Marks of George Mason University and Crystal Harold of Temple University. The most effective tactics included persuasion, threats, and even misrepresentation; compromising and accommodating approaches to negotiation were not associated with any negotiated salary gains, the researchers say.

Don’t overgroom:

For women, an increase in personal grooming time is associated with lower earnings; for example, if a nonminority woman doubles her daily grooming from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, her earnings drop an average of 3.4%, say Jayoti Das and Stephen B. De Loach of Elon University. Men differ significantly by race: Grooming has no effect on nonminority men’s earnings, but for minority men, a doubling of daily grooming from 40 minutes to 80 minutes yields a nearly 4% increase in average earnings. The researchers say grooming signals social identity, and while it has adverse consequences for highly groomed women, it may counter negative stereotypes of minority men.

If you’ve earned a professional degree, avoid nonprofits:

Among Gen Y employees, professional degrees are much more common in nonprofits than in the corporate world, but they’re worth less: In comparison with a bachelor’s, a professional degree gets you about 23% more salary in a for-profit company, but just 18% more in a nonprofit, according to research by Jasmine McGinnis of Georgia State and Georgia Institute of Technology.

If you’re a waitress, become a close-talker:

Waitresses can increase their tips 22.6% by standing 0.6 meters closer to patrons (0.15 meters away versus 0.75 meters), according to Celine Jacob and Nicolas Gueguen of the University of Southern Brittany in France. The researchers say close proximity is one of four nonverbal ways for waitresses to boost tips, the others being smiling broadly, touching customers briefly on the arm or shoulder, and squatting next to the table when introducing themselves.

Keep reading

I’d say that in about half of my business conversations, I have almost no idea what other people are saying to me. The language of internet business models has made the problem even worse. When I was younger, if I didn’t understand what people were saying, I thought I was stupid. Now I realize that if it’s to people’s benefit that I understand them but I don’t, then they’re the ones who are stupid.

Abstractionitis: We have forgotten how to use the real names of real things. Like doorknobs. Instead, people talk about the idea of doorknobs, without actually using the word “doorknob.” So a new idea for a doorknob becomes “an innovation in residential access.” Expose yourself repeatedly to the extrapolation of this practice to things more complicated than a doorknob and you really just need to carry Excedrin around with you all day.

Acronymitis: This is a disease of epic proportions in the world of charity. I was at a meeting just two days ago at which several well-meaning staff members of a charity were presenting to their board, and the meat of their discussion revolved around the acronyms SCEA and some other one that began with “R” that I can’t recall. In the span of three minutes these acronyms must have been used eight times each. They were central to any understanding of the topic at hand, but they were never defined. So I had not the vaguest idea what the presenters were talking about. None. Could have been talking about how to make a beurre-blanc sauce for all I know.

Valley Girl 2.0: My partner and I were at a restaurant in the San Fernando Valley five years ago, and a real-live Valley girl was sitting in the booth behind us talking on her cell phone. We couldn’t stop listening to her. She had a world-class ability to string together half-sentences devoid of any substance whatsoever. And yet you felt as if something important were being discussed! “And she was like, ummm, and I was just like, you know, umm, no way, really, like, yeah, and when she was like that, I was just like..umm….” She could go on in this way for extended periods of time without mentioning any actual people, actions, or thoughts. There’s a business version of this illness. It involves the use of words such as “space,” “around,” “synergy,” and “value-add” with a healthy dose of equivocators like “sort of” and “kind of” to ensure that there is no commitment to anything being said: “I’m in the sort of sustainability space around kind of bringing synergistic value-add to other people’s work around this kind of space.” Oh, OK, that explains it.

Meaningless Expressions: I wrote about the phrase ”thinking outside the box” recently and how overused and utterly misunderstood the expression is. There are many more. Another term that has lost its meaning is “Let’s exceed the customer’s expectations.” Employees who hear it just leave the pep rally, inhabit some kind of temporary dazed intensity, and then go back to doing things exactly the way they did before the speech. Customers almost universally never experience their expectations being met, much less exceeded. How can you exceed the customer’s expectations if you have no idea what those expectations are? I was at a Hilton a few weeks ago. They had taken this absurdity to its logical end. There was a huge sign in the lobby that said, “Our goal is to exceed the customer’s expectation.” The best way to start would be to take down that bullshit sign that just reminds me, as a customer, how cosmic the gap is between what businesses say and what they do. My expectation is not to have signs around that tell me you want to exceed my expectations.

Abstract Valley Girl 2.0 Acronymitis Using Meaningless Expressions: This is when you combine the four diseases above. So you get phrases like, “You should meet this guy with the SIO. He’s sort of this kind of social entrepreneur thinking outside of the box in the sustainability space and working on these ideas around sort of web-based social media, and he’s in a round two capital raise in the VP space with the people at SVNP.” How many times have you heard what you now recall to be precisely this sentence?

It’s a common misperception that responsible or sustainable investments are all in the hug yourself, warm feeling, good intention category, the inevitable consequence of which is diminished investment return. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Companies that Invest in Sustainability Do Better Financially - Gerrit Heyns - Harvard Business Review

My prediction is that EVERY company and every business person and politician or public official will be gauged by what they do to be truly sustainable, privately and otherwise, within the next 5 years. Living and acting unsustainably will become the next ‘smoking’ - people still do but it’s not welcome in most places:)

Whom would you choose for the workplace?

Even though many might like to believe they’d pick the competent jerk to work with, more often than not they went with the lovable fool. It turns out if people are disliked it’s almost irrelevant to us how competent they may be:

Ask managers about this choice—and we’ve asked many of them, both as part of our re- search and in executive education programs we teach—and you’ll often hear them say that when it comes to getting a job done, of course competence trumps likability. “I can defuse my antipathy toward the jerk if he’s competent, but I can’t train someone who’s incompetent,” says the CIO at a large engineering company. Or, in the words of a knowledge management executive in the IT department of a professional services firm: “I really care about the skills and expertise you bring to the table. If you’re a nice person on top of that, that’s sim- ply a bonus.”

But despite what such people might say about their preferences, the reverse turned out to be true in practice in the organizations we analyzed. Personal feelings played a more important role in forming work relationships— not friendships at work but job-oriented relationships—than is commonly acknowledged. They were even more important than evaluations of competence. In fact, feelings worked as a gating factor: We found that if someone is strongly disliked, it’s almost irrelevant whether or not she is competent; people won’t want to work with her anyway. By contrast, if someone is liked, his colleagues will seek out every little bit of competence he has to offer. And this tendency didn’t exist only in extreme cases; it was true across the board. Generally speaking, a little extra likability goes a longer way than a little extra competence in making someone desirable to work with.

Of course, competence is more important than likability in some people’s choice of work partners. But why do so many others claim that to be the case? “Choosing the lovable fool over the competent jerk looks unprofessional,” suggests a marketing manager at a personal products company. “So people don’t like to admit it—maybe not even to themselves.”

Source: “Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks” from Harvard Business Review

Know Your Unwritten Plan

via Harvard Business Review

"When preparing for the future, you need two plans—one you write down, and one that’s unwritten, fluid, and evolving. This blueprint exists in your mind as a living, changing understanding of where you’re going, why you’re going there, and how you’re going to get there—all based on your current understanding of how the future will unfold. While your written plan includes specific objectives, action steps, and clear assumptions, the unwritten one consists of gut feel, general direction, and broad priorities. Over time, as you gather information and test ideas, you’ll move many of these elements from hazy and unspoken to focused and written."