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Simple Habits for Complex Times


Finely tuned and richly written. A welcome, insightful take on what it takes to be a highly competent leader.

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Two leadership consultants offer an enlightened view of how leaders must adapt to the complexities of business.

“Complexity, ambiguity, volatility, and uncertainty” are pervasive, according to Garvey Berger (Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World, 2013) and Johnston. Their thoughtful book is a kind of guide for grown-ups; it touts simple habits one can develop but acknowledges there are no simple solutions. First tackling how things have become more complex, the authors weave the start of a cleverly constructed fictional story—about managers who face a crisis—with observations about strategies needed to deal with complexities. They immediately set the tone by suggesting an approach that encourages expansive thinking: “Trying to figure out what questions you’re asking and making an intentional shift to different questions opens up new avenues for exploration in an uncertain and volatile world.” “There is power in knowing the other perspective,” they write, “not just to use it against a person in some way but also to learn from it.” Garvey Berger and Johnston cover accepted leadership practices, such as obtaining feedback, skilled listening, and expressing a clear vision, but their unique value added is the manner in which they broaden the discussion. When the authors address listening, for example, they suggest most people think good listening answers the question of “What does this message mean to me?” In reality, the authors say, excellent listeners should be asking, “What is this person’s purpose, intent, hope in delivering this message? What does this message mean to him?” As for vision, the authors write, “It turns out that a leader in a complex world needs a vision that is directional without imposing too much (or too little) constraint on people.” Such nuances differentiate this book from the typical leadership tome. In the end, the authors impart excellent advice without the sugarcoating of easy implementation, because “being a leader under conditions of complexity is dripping with paradox.”

Finely tuned and richly written. A welcome, insightful take on what it takes to be a highly competent leader.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2015

ISBN: 978-0804788472

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Stanford Business Books

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2015

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

A helpful guide to working effectively with people from other cultures.

“The sad truth is that the vast majority of managers who conduct business internationally have little understanding about how culture is impacting their work,” writes Meyer, a professor at INSEAD, an international business school. Yet they face a wider array of work styles than ever before in dealing with clients, suppliers and colleagues from around the world. When is it best to speak or stay quiet? What is the role of the leader in the room? When working with foreign business people, failing to take cultural differences into account can lead to frustration, misunderstanding or worse. Based on research and her experiences teaching cross-cultural behaviors to executive students, the author examines a handful of key areas. Among others, they include communicating (Anglo-Saxons are explicit; Asians communicate implicitly, requiring listeners to read between the lines), developing a sense of trust (Brazilians do it over long lunches), and decision-making (Germans rely on consensus, Americans on one decider). In each area, the author provides a “culture map scale” that positions behaviors in more than 20 countries along a continuum, allowing readers to anticipate the preferences of individuals from a particular country: Do they like direct or indirect negative feedback? Are they rigid or flexible regarding deadlines? Do they favor verbal or written commitments? And so on. Meyer discusses managers who have faced perplexing situations, such as knowledgeable team members who fail to speak up in meetings or Indians who offer a puzzling half-shake, half-nod of the head. Cultural differences—not personality quirks—are the motivating factors behind many behavioral styles. Depending on our cultures, we understand the world in a particular way, find certain arguments persuasive or lacking merit, and consider some ways of making decisions or measuring time natural and others quite strange.

These are not hard and fast rules, but Meyer delivers important reading for those engaged in international business.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61039-250-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2014

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