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Published: November 28, 2007

 
 

Best Business Books: Human Capital

A cooperative mind-set and boundary spanning lay the foundation for Hot Spots, but are not sufficient to trigger them. The third element needed, Gratton writes, is igniting purpose. Managers trained in the command-and-control style of management are generally taught to tell their people clearly what is expected, and then drive them to deliver. However, to ignite purpose, managers need to do the reverse. For instance, she says that ambiguous questions and tasks are more interesting and motivational for people than step-by-step instructions.

Ratan Tata asks his managers to think about questions such as, What does it take to build a safe passenger car for only US$2,000? or Isn’t it possible to have a functional, clean hotel room for the Indian business traveler for $20 per night? At Tata, I have witnessed how our managers explore these questions with vigor, and find the answers.

The fourth element is productive capacity. “The latent energy of cooperation has been ignited through purpose, and the boundary spanning has created the potential for innovation. But will the Hot Spot be productive?” asks Gratton. She then outlines five key productive practices, which follow a specific sequence and assume different levels of importance as the Hot Spot develops — appreciating talents, making commitments, resolving conflicts, synchronizing time, and establishing a rhythm. It seems a bit like the efforts of a sports captain or symphony conductor to consistently elicit the best performance from his or her team.

Mind over Matter
Five Minds for the Future, my choice for the best book in this category, comes from a noted and sometimes controversial psychology–neuroscience researcher. The author, Howard Gardner, the John and Elisabeth Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, has written almost a dozen scholarly books before this one. (See “Howard Gardner Does Good Work,” by Lawrence M. Fisher, s+b, Summer 2007.)

In Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, published in 1993, Gardner posited his theory of seven autonomous intelligences. Five of these are cognitive, such as logical, bodily-kinesthetic, and musical. The other two are forms of interpersonal intelligence, which Gardner says are “not well understood, elusive to study, but immensely important.”

The seven intelligences are abstract threads from the looms of Gardner’s mind, and are of limited use to the real-world manager. But in his latest book, Gardner weaves those threads into a whole fabric. The five minds for the future consist of three cognitive minds (“disciplinary,” “synthesizing,” and “creating”) and two minds that concern our relations with other human beings (“respectful” and “ethical”). Insightful and sometimes dense, Five Minds for the Future nonetheless tempts the reader to return to, and reflect on, many passages throughout the book. This is a hallmark of great scholarly writing. One example: “In studies of teams involved in cardiac surgery, [researchers] have documented that successful teamwork depends more on the management skills than the technical expertise of their leaders.” Another example: “The ultimate ethical stance encompasses both the workplace as well as the surrounding community…. What do I owe others, and especially those who — through the circumstances of birth or bad luck — are less fortunate than I am?”

Discipline is defined as a distinctive way of thinking about the world, informed by facts and figures we can memorize. Facts are useful, argues Gardner, but experimentation with such knowledge must follow. As Plato remarked, “Through education we need to help students find pleasure in what they have to learn.”

Like many other management scholars, Gardner points out the information age’s growing complex­ity and the need for a synthesizing mind to knit together into a coherent whole all the information that is available from different sources. When I began my career 40 years ago, it seemed possible to master most of the facts about my industry. When I was a young marketing manager, my boss goaded me to know more than anybody else in the company about my brand. Only then would I be ready for a promotion. Today’s marketing manager needs to understand the big picture, well beyond the knowledge of his or her brand.

 
 
 
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