Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Lie of Selling Inputs...

In today's post at The Business Pundit, Rob May lists his Top 10 Business Post of 2006. I am particularly fond of #5 The Wisdom of Niches which covers his thoughts on experts and the wisdom of crowds.

I have to admit, I had the same revelation regarding crowds that Rob describes in his post. At first blush, the arguments presented in The Wisdom of Crowds are convincing. However, I believe this has more to do with the quality of the writing and the way the argument is presented more than it has to do with the quality, i.e. the reality of the argument. Please read Rob's post, he does an excellent job of point out why crowds are not the best source for good answers to difficult questions.

There is a point in Rob's argument I would like borrow. It addresses the foundational difference between the depth of expert knowledge and breadth of conventional wisdom. He borrowed the idea from Scott Berkun, so I hope he doesn't mind if I do the same.

The thought processes in your brain depend on two things, inputs and structure. Scouring the web all day reading a million blog posts changes your inputs. Mastering an idea and achieving a deeper level of understanding about something changes your structure. Structural changes will lead to the revolutionary ideas...

This is the basis of much of the problems I have with the products, the conventional wisdom, being sold as Leadership. The Leadership Industrial Complex takes the observable qualities, behaviors, etc... of "Great" leaders and sells them as Leadership. Inputs are being sold as structure and the crowds are buying and propagating the lie. When the lie fails to deliver the intended outcome, good people and organizations are hurt.

This is not to say that there is no value to studying great leaders. Rather, the fowl is in selling the attributes of leaders as Leadership rather than a component of the leadership development equation of study, training and practice.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of "Thin Slicing" or the ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. The time and effort that experts put into learning their craft, going beyond inputs into changing structures, enables them to thin slice the area of their expertise.

In many ways I see leadership as the expert skill of building a trust relationships between people, both leaders and followers that mitigates risk within the organization. Leadership is the skill of thin slicing events in such a way as to be able to be proactive in moving the organization in the direction of success. Also, it entails the ability to be reactive in such a way as to enable improvisation that keeps the the organization on track.

Like any other expert skill, this skill is developed over time through study, training and practice. It is the result of an internalized model of what works within a given organization and operational environment with a given follower base.

Leadership ability is a synergistic activity that is greater than the sum of its part and is the result of moving past the conventional wisdom of inputs and building new structures.

What are your thoughts?

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Enjoy and Happy New Year...

John


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