Leadership vs Management: that old question

January 31, 2008

I am designing a conference program at the moment around the topic of leadership.  Looking around, i noticed this little quote by Steve Denning:

Managers are expected to accept whatever the organization wants and to make that happen. By contrast, leaders often challenge what the organization says it wants and create new goals.

That’s a nice little distinction that I am sure to use time and time again. 

Knowing How We Think – Representation Formats

January 25, 2008

Reading an interesting book at the moment by Stephen Pinker How the Mind Works.  Only part of the way through it but he is pushing some good logic about the computational theory of the mind and how humans have evolved to be amazingly smart at doing quite complex things.  And that a lot of how we think can be attibuted to how our brains have evolved and the brain’s role in dealing with its environment.

 Pinker (page 89) talks about four major formats of representation that the brain uses. These are:

  1. Visual image: two-dimensional picture-like mosaic.
  2. Phonological: a stretch of syllables we play like a tape recording – using it for short-term memory like a phone number before we dial it.  It lasts between one and five seconds and can hold from 4 to 7 chunks. 
  3. Grammatical: nouns and verbs, phrases and clauses etc arranged into hierarchical trees determining what goes into a sentence and how we play with language.
  4. Mentalese: the language of thought in which our conceptual knowledge is couched – the medium in which content or gist is captured.  For example, after you put down a book, you don’t remember the words or typefaces or location of parts but you remember the content, storyline and themes. 

I like this simple categorisation as it clearly shows how we construct knowledge and make sense of situations.  If I say “Picture a scene of water cascading down a waterfall”, do you see a picture of it, memorise the exact wording of that phrase,  think of the phrase grammatically (and whether I have asked you to paint it, imagine it, recall it, etc) or recall a particular waterfall that you have visited or a scene from a story, etc. 

These are all different representations that use different parts of the brain to make sense of that phrase.  And your mind can chop and change from one form of representation to another in the blink of an eye (or the activation of a synapse!) if you are asked to. 

More on this book as I delve deeper into it.

Newton’s Laws of Experts

January 2, 2008

Interesting article over the past couple of days by William York in Online Opinion.

He has reframed Newton’s Laws of Motion into new Laws of Experts.  The original laws from Sir Isaac Newton are:

  • First Law (Law of Intertia): every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force;
  • Second Law (Law of Acceleration): the rate of change of momentum is directly proportional to the applied force; and
  • Third Law (Law of Reciprocal Actions): for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

York’s reframed Laws of Experts are:

  • First Law: every expert persists in his state of rest or opinion unless acted upon by an external grant;
  • Second Law: the rate of change of opinion is directly proportional to the applied grant; and
  • Third Law: for every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.

I thought these reframed laws were very good – particularly how grant guidelines dictate the opinions of particular experts and create an environment where dissent is actively discouraged (as it does not meet the guidelines) and hence the need for the third law.  But perhaps some slight changes to the laws would make it more interesting if we add in some comment on how new knowledge can change expert opinion:

  • First Law: every expert will steadfastly maintain his current opinions unless acted upon by an external grant or irrefutable new knowledge;
  • Second Law: the rate of change of expert opinion is directly proportional to the amount of external grants and sharing of irrefutable new knowledge; and
  • Third Law: for every expert opinion, there is an equal and opposite expert opinion.
  • Of course, all this talk about Newtonian physics depends on one’s frame of reference – and that perhaps these laws are only valid in an inertial frame of reference.  If we are aware of how the wider context is changing, then the laws may not stand up to scrutiny.  I think that Einstein had something to say about that with his theory of relativity!

    Happy New Year everyone and all the best for 2008.