Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Review: Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else

Author: Geoff Colvin
Publisher: The Penguin Group
MyRating: 5/5

‘Talent Is Overrated’ is not another book in the volumes of ‘Performance Improvement Tips’ that fills you with motivation while reading and then pushes you into the black-hole of repentance when facing real life situations.

It would not be exaggeration if I call this book as ‘research paper’ aiming to present the available facts in easiest words possible. This book is an inside story of all the great achievers of the world; be it an organization or an individual.

The world often mesmerizes with the great shots of Tiger Woods in golf arena. They praises it as god’s gift or hard work without realizing that fact that his father made him to sit and watch him hitting shots hours after hours when he was only seven months old. The author claims that there is nothing like ‘natural talent’ or ‘hard work’ that makes any performer as best performer but it is the ‘Deliberate Practice’.

The author, Geoff Colvin, is the senior editor at Fortune. He is the lead moderator for the Fortune Global Forum and he co-anchored ‘Wall Street Week’ on PBS for three years. According to the author, both the hard work and natural talent camps are wrong. What really makes all the difference is a highly specific kind of effort that few of us pursue when we are practicing golf, pianos or stockpiling. This book shares the secret of extraordinary performances and how to apply these principles to our lives and work.

The book is divided into eleven chapters breaking the all-prevailing myths. And explain the steps to deliberate practice. I fail to find any assertion in the book that is not supported by any research and example. Colvin explains deliberate practice is a large concept. It’s about: what exactly need to be presented? Precisely how? Which specific skills or other assets must be acquired?

Deliberate practice is very hard and in most cases it is ‘not inherently enjoyable’, then why do some people put themselves through it day after day for decades, while most do not? Where does the necessary passion come from? The question has been answered in the last chapter ‘Where Does the Passion Come From?’

The passion to put oneself into the deliberate practice comes from intrinsic motivation. The intrinsically motivated state is conducive to creativity, whereas extrinsically motivated state is detrimental. To explain this author has used may illustrations, one of them is: ‘For most of the mathematicians, the joy of discovering a new way of solving problem was more important than a high test score or receiving good grade’.

But not all the time extrinsic motivations that do not work. It has been observed in many cases that extrinsic motivation stimulated intrinsic motivation. Like, “if you don’t do your piano practice we’ll sell the piano” or “If you do not go to swimming practice we’ll take you off the team”. If the child truly didn't care about the piano or swimming these threat wouldn't work but if he cares about them these threat will work for him.

Chapter five and six explains about what deliberate practice is and isn't and how deliberate practice works. How can we apply it in our lives and in organizations is addressed by section seven and eight in the book. There are three models of practice; the music model, the chess model and the sports model which can be applied in different arenas of practice.

No question is left unanswered by the end of this book. It is not that book that is entirely read in one deep breath. It is serious intervention in the personal and organizational performance set-up. The book is written in easy and racy (exciting and interesting) style. I recommend this book to everyone who struggled to perform well and to those who are in the field of training and development. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Book Review: The Heart of Change

Author: John P. Kotter
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
MyRating: 4.8/5

Significantly changing the behavior of a single person can be exceptionally difficult task. Changing 101, or 10,001 people can be a herculean task. Yet organizations that are leaping into the future succeed at doing just that.

Turbulence will never cease but winning organizations will continue to deal with this fact by following certain steps of transformation. The transformation means the adoption of new technologies, major strategic shifts, process engineering, mergers and acquisitions, restructuring into different sorts of business units, attempts to significantly improve innovation and cultural change. To understand why some organizations are leaping into the future more successfully than others, one need to see the flow if effective large-scale change efforts. And this flow is often a set of eight steps that few people handle well.

The story of ‘The Heart of Change’ starts with the Author’s first book ‘Leading Change’. Leading Change describes the eight steps people follow to handle large-scale change for any transformation in the organization. According to the author, a few questions were unanswered, especially about how more specifically achieved what was described in that book. John Kotter, author of this book, got the invitation from Deloitte Consulting to work on a follow-up project by massive interviewing and to collect stories that could help people me deeply understanding the eight-step formula. The Heart of Change digs out the core problem people face in all of those steps and to successfully deal with that problem.

John Kotter is internationally regarded as the foremost authority on the topic of leadership and change. Kotter is the Konosuke Matsushita professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and a graduate of MIT and Harvard. Most recently Kotter was involved in the creation and co-founding of Kotter International. He has authored eighteen books, twelve of them are bestsellers.

This book is extending the scope of eight-step process by explaining how they can be implemented using various case-studies from different industries. Kotter’s main finding is that the core of matter is always about changing the behavior of people and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people’s feelings. So, See-Feel-Change mechanism is more powerful than Analyse-Think-Change, asserts Kotter. The pattern of Seeing-Feeling-Changing is applied in all steps to steer the emotions of the people.  

The book is divided into eight chapters, each explaining the proceeding steps of change, supported by convincing conclusion. The book has been written in easy and racy style, full of zest and strong quality that would make even a lay reader to sit-up and think.

The first step contributes to the idea of creating urgency among relevant people. Too much complacency, fear, anger, or all three can undermine change. A sense of urgency gets people off the couch and ready to move which is succinctly explained though ‘The Videotape of the Angry Customer’, a case. When employees watch the video of angry customer, most employee were surprised, some became fearful, many find false pride dropping a notch and a sense of urgency growing within them and they start listening to the customer and management. Now they talked about the need of change. When urgency turned up, in step two, the most successful change agents pull together a guiding team with the credibility, skills, connections, reputations, and formal authority required to provide change leadership. This group learns to operate with trust and emotional commitment. In the best cases, the guiding team creates sensible, clear, simple uplifting visions and set of strategies, this comes under step three. Detailed plans and budgets, although necessary, are insufficient in large-scale change. A vision shows an end state where all the plans and strategies will eventually take you.

Step four narrates the importance Communication of the vision and strategy, which is simple, heartfelt messages sent through many unclogged channels. The goal is to induce understanding, develop a gut-level commitment, and liberate more energy from a critical mass of people. Step five is all about removing the key obstacles that stop people from acting on the vision. People are Empowered with information and self-confidence to work for the vision. In less successful situations, people are often left to fend for themselves despite impediments all around. So frustration grows, and change is undermined. Obstacles in the form of system barrier, barriers of the mind and information barrier disempower people. The author cautions trying to remove all the barriers at once.

The most interesting and important step is short-term wins, which is step # six. The wins are critical. They provide credibility, resources, and momentum to the overall effort. Without sufficient wins that are visible, timely, unambiguous, and meaningful to others, change efforts inevitably run into serious problems. Initial wins consolidate early changes and that should not declare victory prematurely, warns author in chapter seven. The most common problem at this stage is change efforts is sagging urgency. Success becomes an albatross. “We’ve won”, people say and you have problems reminiscent of those in step one. Finally, step eight concludes the change process my making the change stick. Change leader make change stick by nurturing a new culture. A new change - develops through consistency of successful action over a sufficient period of time. Appropriate promotions, skillful new employee orientation, and events that engage the emotions can make a big difference.

Because the world is complex, some cases do not rigidly follow the eight step flow, but the eight steps are basic pattern associated with significant useful change. This book is not a textbook of management school but a handbook for professional manager. It is the outcome of industrious research and insightful results to make any large-scale-change a real and long term success.