Thursday, June 19, 2008

Shifting frame of reference

Learning & Innovation - June 21, 2008

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM

Shifting frame of references

One of the best things that happened at the 2008 ASTD International Conference & Exposition in San Diego early this month was having Malcolm Gladwell as a keynote speaker. Again Gladwell astonished the attendees with his precise and sharp observations of a lot of things we don't usually give a second look, analyze them with his thoughtful journalist mind and come up with a conclusion that is at once simple and profound.

His first two book were the thought-provoking bestsellers, The Tipping Point: How little things can make a big difference and Blink: The power of thinking without thinking. Gladwell was named by Time in 2005 as one of its most influential people.

In his keynote speech, Gladwell talked about his upcoming book (for release this November), The Outliers: Why some people succeed and some don't, where he explains the roots of achievement. "We pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from; that is, their culture, their family, their generation and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing." He writes about two kinds of innovators and creativity. He used the metaphor of artists Picasso and Cezanne to explain his point.

He called the Picassos of this world as conceptual innovators. They have one big bold notion, but they are not able to replicate their original audacious idea. He recalled that when Picasso was young, he produced such imaginative and overconfident artwork, but as he grew older his work became less remarkable. On the other hand, Cezanne took a long time to master his art, but along the way he developed deep knowledge and technical expertise and produced significant works of art after decades of patient toiling and continued to do so in his old age. Gladwell referred to Cezanne as an experimental innovator.

For sure, there are Picassos and Cezannes in our midst. There are those who show a lot of promise early on and there are those who bloom late in their careers or personal life. The experimental innovator loves to experiment, uses the trial and error method, pursues a series of technical experiences and grows on the job. The conceptual innovators dazzle with their genius and soon run out of ideas.

One big implication of this shift in frame of reference forwarded by Gladwell is for business leadership, people management and parenting. This new theory renders aptitude tests as useless. This theory proposes a greater flexibility in assessing people to avoid mismatch of people and actual demands of the job. Leaders need to regard people as blank slate and trust in their abilities. Among successful people--how many opportunities did they get? How many lucky breaks?

On the other hand, Gladwell said that parents don't have to be amazing; they just need to be not bad. Children don't need to go to the best school to succeed, they just need one heroic help.

One other implication, according to Gladwell, is the futility of planning, What is needed is business is flexibility, structure and a very powerful nurturing culture. Companies must be willing to wait and take chances.

This new way of looking at things will surely give us lots of food for thought and completely shake some of our firm beliefs.; innovation

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