In this week's review of great business books: How deep work drives peak performance; turning an organization of hoarders into sharers. Also: what your parents' favorite book teaches you about excellence.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Grand Central Publishing
The quantity of work still matters--but increasingly, quality matters more.
Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, describes deep work as especially needed in cognitively demanding jobs that deliver high value and must be performed distraction-free. Deep work is required to master the kinds of complicated tasks that can't be outsourced to a computer program.
And while quality trumps quantity, deep work actually produces a much higher level of output as practitioners hunker down for a few intense hours. Shallow work is what it sounds like: the not worthless but far less valuable busyness of email flurries, pointless meetings, and social media babble.
As deep work grows in importance and the ability to do it becomes more rare, the laws of supply and demand suggest that professionals will push focus to the forefront.
"To leave the distracted masses to join the focused few, I'm arguing, is a transformative experience," writes Newport. "The deep life, of course, is not for everybody. It requires hard work and drastic changes in your habits."
Those changes include embracing boredom (it takes strength of will to resist electronic stimuli at the slightest lull in mental activity) and dumping social media. At one point Newport proposes that we can "connect this sacredness inherent in traditional craftsmanship to the world of knowledge work."
It's a lovely idea: that humans can apply the care and technical mastery of, say, a clockmaker or stone carver to the intangible, abstract realm in which we dwell.
* * *
Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster
Ken Blanchard, Jane Ripley, and Eunice Parisi-Carew
I'm guessing it was a management consultant who appropriated the word "silo" from agriculture and applied it to organizations. Now the term is a metaphor for functions, teams, or other groups or structures that hoard information.
Silos may communicate with one another but they never cooperate, much less collaborate. Hence, the need for busting. Blanchard (The One Minute Manager) is lead author on this book, so not surprisingly it follows his popular parable format.
In this case, our hero is Dave Oakman, the head of a project that recently ran aground on team members' self-interest. Dave seeks advice from his HR executive sister-in-law who explains collaboration as a three-step progression from the heart ("who you are as a collaborator") to the head ("what you know") to the hands ("what you do--your actions and behavior during collaboration").
Blanchard's title acknowledges that collaboration is the responsibility of everybody in the business, "from the CEO to the person at entry level." It's an important message to every business leader worried that her own silos may someday become mausoleums.
* * *
Entrepreneurs in their 20s who dismiss 7 Habits as their parents' self-help book should give it a chance. It is timeless, and it preaches the importance of aligning oneself with timeless principles ("true north," in Covey's lexicon).
Covey argues that the "Personality Ethic"--the friend-winning, people-influencing approach promulgated by networkers and the media--is less important than the "Character Ethic," which comprises "basic principles of effective living" such as integrity, humility and fidelity.
Some of the habits may seem trite ("be proactive," "prioritize"). Others ("seek first to understand, then to be understood," "begin with the end in mind") should be learned, or re-learned, by every leader.
Aristotle tells us that "excellence...is not an act, but a habit." Covey laid out that process for the generations.