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Do really clever people need a special kind of management? If so, what is it and how does it differ from what the rest of employees receive?

Authors Rob Goffe and Gareth Jones, who launched the provocative question that regularly reduces executives to a stunned silence: “Why should anyone be led by you?” have produced a new book called Clever.

It explores the implication of leading your smartest, most creative people—those with special skills or talent. Of course this raises fundamental questions such as those listed above and not everyone would agree with the authors’ assertion that the Clevers, as they call them, need handling in a special way.

Treating Clevers as somehow different would not be welcome in certain more inclusive companies who feel that the sort of insightful management provided to the the Clevers ought equally to apply to all other employees.

Perhaps because I help run a company full of Clevers I did not find a great deal of new thinking in this book to draw on. Even so, much of what the authors say about handling Clevers makes sound sense. For example the strong emphasis on emotional intelligence is hardly debateable.

Similarly, issues concerned with meaning, providing clear and simple rules and offering genuine care all fit with personal experience of what it takes to get the best from talented people at work.

In particular, the authors draw attention to the growing importance of the ability of leaders and managers to synthesise, that is, being able to make sense of the flood of information, to know what to ignore and how to put it together so that collaboration becomes more likely.

The ability to synthesise takes pride of place in a rather more compelling book by Daniel Pink, whose A Whole Mind makes the case that the future belongs to the right-brainers. These are people whose mental approach to the world contrasts strongly with those who are left brained. The latter are good at analysing, breakings things down and dissecting them to produce answers.

Right brainers tend to be good at seeing the context of a situation, putting lots of diverse facts and information together and creating a pattern that makes sense first to them and then to others, in other words to synthesise.

To over simplify, the left hemisphere of the brain handles what is said, while the right hemisphere focuses on how it’s said, the non-verbal, often emotional cues delivered through gaze, facial expression and intonation.

A Whole Mind is a roller coaster of an argument whose basic premise is that organisations until recently thrived on analysis, logic, discipline and number crunching. You could sum up this approach as using Scientific Method.

The essence of the scientific method comes down to left brain thinking in which rationality rules. Fluffy concepts such as emotion, intuition, empathy, meaning, fun, play and the ability to synthesise disparate and often unconnected information to produce new insights are given short shrift in the grand order of things.

The world will soon belong to those who are adept at right brain thinking says Pink. It is the kind of thinking that artists, poets, and writers do which allows them produce unexpected insights.

In case your scepticism is now running rampant, Pink points to a senior figure in the motor industry who has declared that his company does not exist just to make cars but to make art. Such a claim would surely be fully endorsed for example at Apple where great design has as much if not more influence on what products it sells than what the computer engineers can concoct.

Others too have also recognised the significance of the shift to right brained directed thinking. For example, at least one major article the Harvard Business Review—always a touchstone of the zeitgeist—pointed out that people with an arts background are being sought out by companies even more that those with an MBA.

To put right brain thinking further into context it is the kind of thinking that copes best with complexity. Organisations are now routinely compared to organic entities such as bee hives, ant hills and rivers. The complex adaptive systems are best understood or manipulated if you can handle ambiguity, uncertainty and lack of predictability.

Nobody, and certainly not Pink though would argue just for left or right directed thinking. We do need both.

In a purely selfish way what I like about Pink’s book is that so much of it resonates with the way Maynard Leigh tries to operate. For example, he predicts that we are likely to see a rise in spirit in business—a growing demand from individuals for work places that offer meaning as well as money. That is exactly what it will take to unlock people’s potential.

Clever by Rob Goffe and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Press, 2009

A Whole Mind by Daniel H. Pink, Marshall Cavendish, 2008

Talent Engagement, How to Unlock People’s Potential, UK seminar on 25 November 2009.

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