Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Colleges fail Americans who drop out in large numbers

While America was in the lead after WW II in setting a college degree as an achievable goal, it has fallen back since. In 2009, only 53% of college students graduated in 6 years or less. Over one third of US students drop out without graduating, and less than one third of the nation ever graduates, less than the UK, the Netherlands, Japan and South Korea. The drop out rate at the University of Cambridge is 0.01%. Americans have a very different attitude to a University education. Dropping out for periods of time is regarded very casually, and failing to complete your education is not the cause of any peer disapproval. The Universities themselves are quick to recommend that the undergraduate take time out for indeterminate periods of time if he or she has any reverses - from poor grades to death in the family. This is not the norm in other countries where perseverance is valued more.

Friday, April 23, 2010

We should value the mistakes people make

We learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. Our mistakes provide an opportunity for introspection and a need to understand what we did, and why. Successes tend, however, to breed self-congratulation and glossing over what happened. Yet, we often forget that mistakes are important to learning. When interviewing a job candidate, we ask about successes, but rarely about failures. In a resume, we list all our achievements, but not our learning opportunities. Probably, this will never change, but perhaps it will be at least a minor topic in interviews in time.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why are so many people such poor executives?

Some of the reasons include:
  1. Inadequate objectivity. Emotion and ego rule while data is neither sought nor considered.
  2. Favoritism. Views people they personally like as more capable than those with whom they do not feel comfortable.
  3. Too short term. Does not have a long-term perspective or believes that immediate results are what count even if they have harmful long-term consequences.
  4. Motivates by fear and criticism rather than by encouragement of productive activities.
  5. Inadequate knowledge and no recognition that there is missing knowledge, which results in over-simplification and over-confidence.
  6. No consideration of unintended consequences. Does not think it through.
  7. Too much managing upward. Sometimes results in the appearance of activity with little real personal risk-taking.
  8. Unwillingness to ask for advice and help. No recognition that other people may have important insights or recommendations.
  9. Impatience. Often goes with "ready, fire, aim."
  10. Narrowness of experience base. Breadth of experience may be more important than depth if it is in large quantity.
The above is a brief listing of reasons why executives have probably not improved in the past 50 years. The McKinsey Quarterly recently published an article which suggested that in CPG companies, the splitting up of responsibilities which used always to belong to the Brand Manager has been harmful.

Even though they usually lose, most resist change

History shows that people who resist change usually lose. Progress overall tends to win even if the conservative wins occasionally. This is particularly true with the adoption of new technology. Perhaps people do not have the broad perspective to understand that change is inevitable. The vacuum cleaner makers who turned down James Dyson though that they could stop it as the bagless cleaner would require them to change their business model. I see time and time again that companies and many individuals will not even listen to new technology. The adoption curve tells us that there are very few people on the leading edge as "innovators," and while a larger number, early adopters are very much a minority. I suspect that the laggards and those who fight a strong rearguard action against new technology are actually afraid that it will "expose" them. New technology, which they do not know, means that they become vulnerable to charges of ignorance. This is actually the wrong way to tackle the problem. The only way to avoid being seen as ignorant is to be at least an early adopter. New technology will not go away, and if anyone tries to ignore it, someone else will adopt it and make the resistors look foolish, as others have GM with electric and hybrid cars.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Corporate Training Programs are usually only Cosmetic

Most companies only pay lip-service to training and development of their employees. In the later part of the 20th Century, much effort went into this, but as the contract between employer and employee fell apart, companies started to rely on Business schools and other vocational schools filling the gap. Of course, they do not, so most employees are on their own as companies find it more convenient to hire from outside than promote from within. Since most appraisal systems are complex but not useful, this becomes part of a Kabuki theater performance, where masks are worn to communicate what you want. Managers frquently do not know how to evaluate subordinates, and data shows, again and again, that they rate highly those whom they like, rather than the really excellent. As a result, people soon work out that being liked is the most important and they soon suppress their real personalities and opinions to get ahead.