Pop science meets a business pep talk in a useful primer on building better organizations.
What’s the difference between a kindergarten class and a gaggle of business students? For one thing, writes talent-development guru Coyle (The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skill, 2012, etc.), although the business students have been filled with case studies and mantras on institution-building and teamwork, “in fact they are engaged in a process psychologists call status management.” While the grown-ups jockey for position, the children actually make things happen. They huddle closely in groups, grab things excitedly, quickly discard things that don’t work, and don’t invest much ego into the enterprise. From basketball teams to Navy SEAL teams and businesses, all of which provide case studies for Coyle’s consideration, the overriding takeaway might be the simple but nonetheless meaningful truism, “we are all in this together.” One aspect of any collaborative venture, whether a corporate marketing project or a startup coffee shop, is that the people in it must feel connected, well-led, and safe—i.e., treated respectfully and authentically. Coyle’s mantras (“Avoid Giving Sandwich Feedback,” “Listen Like a Trampoline”) are decidedly not your grandpa’s business school notes and may sometimes come off a little nonsensically, but they seem useful throughout, especially if working with younger people who aren’t accustomed to the usual brutalities of the workaday world. “Overcommunicate expectations,” urges the author, adding that in the most successful groups, leaders are persistent in articulating their goals and what each person needs to do to move along. Tough, cigar-chewing types may decry the implied hand-holding and trophy-for-showing-up implications, but there’s something to Coyle’s insistence that people do better when they’re treated well and managed thoughtfully; as one Pixar chief puts it, “it’s more important to invest in good people than in good ideas.”
Nothing world-shaking, but a good thing to stuff into the briefcase for the next train or plane ride.