Management is a language--and fluency requires practice, but also some outside instruction. Few writers describe successful business concepts as clearly as Daniel Coyle. The New York Times best-selling author of The Culture Code and The Talent Code is known for identifying spot-on analogies in unlikely groups--a gang of jewel thieves, a kindergarten class--to offer relevant lessons for the manager and the managed alike. We snatched three teachable moments from Coyle's work to put together this test of your know-how. Each right answer earns 10 points.

1. In The Culture Code, Coyle uses which phrase to describe the method, concept, or quality that allowed four-person teams of kindergartners to outperform four-person teams of business school students in a contest?

A. The power of play
B. Iterative design strategy
C. Trying a bunch of stuff together
D. Failing fast

Answer: C

Coyle uses this plain-as-Twain phrase to describe how kindergartners bested B-schoolers at Peter Skillman's Marshmallow Design Challenge. Now director of design at Amazon Web Services, Skillman created the contest for his postgrad research at Stanford, and then popularized it in a 2006 TED Talk.

In The Culture Code, Coyle explains that Skillman "challenged each group to build the tallest possible structure using ... 20 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, one yard of transparent tape, one yard of string, [and] one standard-size marshmallow." There was just one rule: "The marsh­mallow had to end up on top."

The children's towers averaged 26 inches in height, while the B-schoolers' measured less than 10. Why? Among the kids, "there's no discussion about who's going to be CEO of Spaghetti Corporation," Skillman joked in his TED Talk. The adults, conversely, overplanned and only appeared to be collaborating when they were really engaged in "status management," Coyle writes. The kids just grabbed the materials and began building. No talk was wasted: "Here! No, here!" Their entire technique, he adds, was "trying a bunch of stuff together."

2. The type of team member most destructive to a group's performance is the:

A. Jerk
B. Slacker
C. Downer
D. All of the above

Answer: D

In The Culture Code, Coyle presents an experiment by Will Felps, associate professor at Australia's University of New South Wales Business School. Felps put together several groups to write a marketing plan for a startup, secretly infecting each with an actor named Nick playing a Jerk ("an aggressive, defiant deviant"), a Slacker ("a withholder of effort"), or a Downer ("a depressive Eeyore type").

In almost every group, Nick's behavior "reduces [performance] quality by 30 to 40 percent," Felps told Coyle. Nick's negativity influenced others to act like Jerks, Slackers, or Downers as well.

One group, however, did manage to stay on task­--because it had a leader, Jonathan, who was able to neutralize Nick and maintain control. "Jonathan reacts instantly with warmth, deflecting the negativity and making a potentially unstable situation feel solid and safe," Coyle writes. "Then Jonathan pivots and asks a simple question that draws the others out, and he listens intently and responds. Energy levels increase; people open up and share ideas, building chains of insight and cooperation."

The key to Jonathan-like leadership is creating safety for the group. "Safety is ... the foundation on which strong culture is built," Coyle writes.

3. In The Talent Code, Coyle cites which concept or behavior as the most critical to ensuring greatness in just about any endeavor?

A. Deep practice
B. Unconscious learning
C. Fear fasting
D. A sense of where you are

Answer: A

Coyle writes: "Deep practice is built on a paradox: Struggling in certain targeted ways--operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes--makes you smarter. Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you're forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them--as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go--end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it."

He cites Robert Bjork, chair of psychology at UCLA, who noted that NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal might have improved his awful performance as a free-throw shooter with a form of deep practice. "[He] should [have practiced] them from odd distances--14 feet and 16 feet, not the standard 15 feet," Coyle writes. The real problem, though? Shaq, one of the greatest cagers of all time, never cared about free throws. He was just fine with hitting a dismal 52.7 percent of his attempts before retiring in 2011.


0-10: Here's a lapel pin. You tried.

20: You did well.

30: If smart managers had a Mensa society, you'd be a candidate--after you scored 30 on six more of these quizzes.

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