Digital Companies Need More Liberal Arts Majors 


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Digital Companies Need More Liberal Arts Majors



 

In today’s digitally driven world, companies are competing ferociously for technological skills. They believe the ability to create the hard code that makes a product come to life is at the heart of their success. Without code, after all, you merely have ideas on a napkin or a dream in your head.

It’s the same with data analysts and business intelligence engineers. What’s more important than taking the massive amounts of data that a company receives every day and making sense of it? Decoding this data, everyone tells us, will help companies pinpoint exactly what each consumer wants and will inform a product’s creation in turn.

The current emphasis on these skills seems totally rational, as nothing happens without them and no company can ever hope to be successful in their absence. But what companies forget is that this won’t be true forever. In fact, it won’t be long before these very skills become commoditized. In the future, computers will take over more and more of these tasks, including programming and data crunching. The things that are foundational to a company’s success today will be replaced and automated by a machine tomorrow.

But there will be a limit to how far computers can replace human capabilities, at least in the near long term. What can’t be replaced in any organization imaginable in the future is precisely what seems overlooked today: liberal arts skills, such as creativity, empathy, listening, and vision. These skills, not digital or technological ones, will hold the keys to a company’s future success. And yet companies aren’t hiring for them. This is a problem for today’s digital companies, and it’s only going to get worse.

Insight Center

Corporate Culture for a Digital World
Sponsored by Accenture
How technology is changing the way we work.

For example, launching a product with a mediocre user interface or unintuitive user experience is currently OK, if not encouraged as best practice. It’s part of the old Silicon Valley mantra: launch a product that barely works and iterate, iterate, iterate. But as more companies move to the digital space, they’re discovering that “launch and beg for patience” doesn’t hold true anymore. Ask Twitter how hard it is to gain new users, or ask anyone over 40 how to use Snapchat. You’ll see that neither service is designed for the mass consumer.

But as consumers begin to lead a digital life, companies must meet them where they are, regardless of their tech savvy. Companies with easy-to-use interfaces and intuitive functionality will win every time over companies that create any roadblock to using a product.

That’s where liberal arts skills come in — and where liberal arts students will finally have their day in the sun. Soon, companies will rush to hire these skills in the same way that they compete for coders and engineers today. And, perhaps not unsurprisingly, certain skills will be even more in demand in the leaders of the future:

Creativity: One of the core skills is the creative thinking that will help a company attract and engage users. Every company will need to figure out how to get consumers to use its product. What does the consumer want? How does the consumer feel? How can we make this product intuitive for the consumer? Creative thinkers will help companies create an easy-to-use, non-intimidating product that everyone can access. Simplicity is hard. If it were easy, anyone could and would do it. But only people with specialized creative skills — honed from years of thinking, reading, writing, and creating — have the talent of making the complex simple and the difficult accessible.

Leaders will need to both hire for more creative talent and create the type of culture in which creatives thrive. Employees will value cultures that are supportive, understanding, fluid, open, and dynamic. It stands to reason that these are the very same traits that a leader will need to demonstrate in order to create and support such a culture. Culture creation, then, will be a prized competency of future business leaders.

Empathy: It’s the core of a creative’s passion. For companies to truly understand the needs of the customer, they must be able to think and feel like a customer would. And for a business to be successful, knowing how its customers think and feel is everything. You can’t outsource that to a computer. You need to hire for it.

Empathy is just as important, if not more so, for the business leader running a company. Once a company has outsourced any manual work or task work to computers, drones, or a 3D printer, knowledge workers and creatives will make up the bulk of any future digital company. And these same employees will have higher support requirements from their leaders than they do today.

Business leaders with heightened senses of empathy will be rewarded in this environment. Not only will they be able to understand their customer better, they will also be required to lead their workforces through a breakneck pace of innovation. And how better to do so than by truly understanding their people and what drives each of them (emphasis on “each”)? One-size-fits-all will be a thing of the past. Employees will expect a leader to understand and meet their particular needs and wants.

Listening: If empathy is at the core of creativity, then listening is at the heart of empathy. And that is exactly what liberal arts majors have been prepared to do. It’s through listening that you make sense of the world. Knowledge workers who are able to truly hear and understand what is being said — and, equally important, what is not being said — will have a powerful impact on their organizations. By listening deeply, employees build substantive relationships with each other, as well as with customers. In doing so, they can perpetuate a more powerful culture and even increase sales.

Equally, leaders will have to stop talking so much and instead listen more — much more. Their smart employees have a lot to say and expect the forum in which to say it, and they want to make sure that they are fully understood. Speaking down to or patronizing these workers won’t be acceptable. They will expect to be treated more as equals, with greater disclosure of information and fewer hidden agendas. Similarly, using stilted company jargon or being opaque in communications is a sure-fire way to lose the respect of your most valuable employees. A leader has to have the capability not only to listen hard, but to demonstrate by their actions that they can turn what they’ve heard into action.

Vision: Finally, companies in the future will need all their employees, not just their leaders, to be visionaries. Employees will need to be able to take in massive amounts of information in a world that’s changing ever faster and then make sense of it all in a way that a computer can’t. A computer can factor in objective data, but a worker must take that data and then overlay it with subjective understanding that can’t always be quantified. The ability to understand the world through different lenses and turn competing or disparate viewpoints into a compelling narrative is an art, not a science. It requires an intuitive understanding of the world that comes from a deep immersion in the liberal arts.

Companies today should begin preparing themselves to be the powerhouses of tomorrow by bringing in more employees with liberal arts skills. Rather than scorning philosophy or history majors who have spent years wrestling knotty theoretical issues and then explicating them in precise details, companies should understand that the skills these students possess will help them become the leaders and CEOs of tomorrow. Begin building a culture that tells your most critical future employees, “Your creativity, empathy, listening skills, and vision can thrive here. We’re open for business, and you’ll be the main driver of our success.”

https://hbr.org/2016/01/digital-companies-need-more-liberal-arts-majors

Secrets of the Superbosses

What do Ralph Lauren, Larry Ellison, Julian Robertson, Jay Chiat, Bill Walsh, George Lucas, Bob Noyce, Lorne Michaels, and Mary Kay Ash have in common?

Certainly all of them are known for being talented and successful—even legendary—in their respective fields. All have reputations as innovators who pioneered new business models, products, or services that created billions of dollars in value. But there’s one thing that distinguishes these business icons from their equally famous peers: the ability to groom talent. They didn’t just build organizations; they spotted, trained, and developed a future generation of leaders. They belong in a category beyond superstars: superbosses.

I started researching this cohort of managers a decade ago, when I noticed a curious pattern: If you look at the top people in a given industry, you’ll often find that as many as half of them once worked for the same well-known leader. In professional football, 20 of the NFL’s 32 head coaches trained under Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers or under someone in his coaching tree. In hedge funds, dozens of protégés of Julian Robertson, the founder of the investment firm Tiger Management, have become top fund managers. And from 1994 until 2004, nine of the 11 executives who worked closely with Larry Ellison at Oracle and left the company without retiring went on to become CEOs, chairs, or COOs of other companies.

Eager to learn the secrets of these star makers, I reviewed thousands of articles and books and conducted more than 200 interviews to identify 18 primary study subjects (definite superbosses) and a few dozen secondary ones (likely superbosses). I then looked for patterns—common tastes, proclivities, behaviors—anything that might help explain why these people were able to propel not only their companies but also their protégés to such great heights.

I found that superbosses share a number of key personality traits. They tend to be extremely confident, competitive, and imaginative. They also act with integrity and aren’t afraid to let their authentic selves shine through.

But far more interesting (and more important for teaching purposes) were the similarities I saw in the “people strategies” that superbosses employed. Their remarkable success as talent spawners was not the result of some innate genius. These leaders follow specific practices in hiring and honing talent—practices that the rest of us can study and incorporate into our own repertoires.

Unconventional Hiring

Superbosses begin by seeking out unusually gifted people—individuals who are capable not merely of driving a business forward but of rewriting the very definition of success. As Lorne Michaels, the longtime producer of Saturday Night Live, has said, “If you look around the room and you think, ‘God, these people are amazing,’ then you’re probably in the right room.” Here’s how he and others do it.

Focus on intelligence, creativity, and flexibility.

Superbosses value these three attributes above all others. C. Ronald Blankenship and R. Scot Sellers, both protégés of real estate guru Bill Sanders before they became CEOs of leading property companies themselves, remember how Sanders would brag about bringing in so many people who were “four times smarter” than he was. He would insist that if you weren’t going to hire someone great, you shouldn’t hire anyone at all Superbosses begin by seeking out unusually gifted people.


Superbosses want people who can approach problems from new angles, handle surprises, learn quickly, and excel in any position. Norman Brinker, the casual-dining innovator who founded Steak and Ale, was a good example. As Rick Berman, who worked under him before founding a successful lobbying firm, recalls, Brinker “wasn’t a fan of hiring people to play first base; he just wanted to hire a good baseball player.” That emphasis on versatility helped give rise to a generation of top leaders in the restaurant

ndustry, including the CEOs of Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s, and Burger King.

Find unlikely winners.
Superbosses consider credentials, of course, but they’re also willing to take chances on people who lack industry experience or even college degrees. According to Marty Staff, who worked for Ralph Lauren before becoming CEO of Hugo Boss USA, Lauren once made a runway model the head of women’s design “for no other reason than she seemed to get it—she got the clothes.” At health care giant HCA, Tommy Frist sometimes set even physical therapists on a path to the C-suite, simply because he spotted something in them.

Because they reject preconceived notions of what talent should look like, superbosses often show greater openness toward women and minorities. Mary Kay Ash, in fact, expressly designed her company to empower women, holding sales conferences where the message was “If she can do it, so can I.” Walsh started a fellowship program in the NFL for minority coaches, giving participants a fast track into the league and himself a chance to tap into a vast new source of talent.

Superbosses often dispense with the conventional interview process, too; instead, they pose unusual or quirky questions or use observation as a tool. When Ralph Lauren met with job candidates, for example, he would ask them to explain what they were wearing and why. Sanders would invite prospects to hike a 7,000-foot peak on his New Mexico ranch with him and other managers. “We learned a whole lot about these kids on the hikes,” recalls Constance Moore, who worked for Sanders at Security Capital before becoming CEO of BRE Properties. “After, we would all sit down and talk about each of them and figure out which ones we wanted to ask to join.”

Adapt the job or organization to fit the talent.

Superbosses opportunistically tailor jobs and sometimes even their organizations to new hires. As an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, Walsh had to invent a new offense to enable the backup quarterback to excel after an injury brought down the team’s starter. Because the second-stringer had more accuracy than arm strength, Walsh designed an unusual strategy around short passes—which later became known as the West Coast offense (when Walsh was with the 49ers). Lorne Michaels lets his ensemble’s ideas and abilities constantly shape and reshape their contributions to Saturday Night Live. Writers sometimes become performers, and performers or assistant directors sometimes become writers. At Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’s employees didn’t even have job descriptions. They were assigned tasks on various projects according to what was needed and who was available. All these examples run counter to traditional HR practices, but they reflect an innovative mindset that superbosses bring to virtually everything they do.

Accept churn.

Smart, creative, flexible people tend to have fast-paced careers. Some may soon want to move on. That’s OK with superbosses. They understand that the quality of talent on their teams matters more than stability, and they regard turnover as an opportunity to find fresh stars. Consider how Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks reacted when, in 1997, his second in command, Richard Allen, was asked to become the head of National Geographic’s for-profit arm. Hendricks would have loved to have kept Allen but never tried to hold him back, realizing that he’d rather have a friend leading his rival than anyone else. “It was a real indication of his generosity of spirit,” Allen says.

industry, including the CEOs of Outback Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s, and Burger King.


Find unlikely winners.

Superbosses consider credentials, of course, but they’re also willing to take chances on people who lack industry experience or even college degrees. According to Marty Staff, who worked for Ralph Lauren before becoming CEO of Hugo Boss USA, Lauren once made a runway model the head of women’s design “for no other reason than she seemed to get it—she got the clothes.” At health care giant HCA, Tommy Frist sometimes set even physical therapists on a path to the C-suite, simply because he spotted something in them.

Because they reject preconceived notions of what talent should look like, superbosses often show greater openness toward women and minorities. Mary Kay Ash, in fact, expressly designed her company to empower women, holding sales conferences where the message was “If she can do it, so can I.” Walsh started a fellowship program in the NFL for minority coaches, giving participants a fast track into the league and himself a chance to tap into a vast new source of talent.

Superbosses often dispense with the conventional interview process, too; instead, they pose unusual or quirky questions or use observation as a tool. When Ralph Lauren met with job candidates, for example, he would ask them to explain what they were wearing and why. Sanders would invite prospects to hike a 7,000-foot peak on his New Mexico ranch with him and other managers. “We learned a whole lot about these kids on the hikes,” recalls Constance Moore, who worked for Sanders at Security Capital before becoming CEO of BRE Properties. “After, we would all sit down and talk about each of them and figure out which ones we wanted to ask to join.”

Adapt the job or organization to fit the talent.

Superbosses opportunistically tailor jobs and sometimes even their organizations to new hires. As an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals, Walsh had to invent a new offense to enable the backup quarterback to excel after an injury brought down the team’s starter. Because the second-stringer had more accuracy than arm strength, Walsh designed an unusual strategy around short passes—which later became known as the West Coast offense (when Walsh was with the 49ers). Lorne Michaels lets his ensemble’s ideas and abilities constantly shape and reshape their contributions to Saturday Night Live. Writers sometimes become performers, and performers or assistant directors sometimes become writers. At Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas’s employees didn’t even have job descriptions. They were assigned tasks on various projects according to what was needed and who was available. All these examples run counter to traditional HR practices, but they reflect an innovative mindset that superbosses bring to virtually everything they do.

Accept churn.

Smart, creative, flexible people tend to have fast-paced careers. Some may soon want to move on. That’s OK with superbosses. They understand that the quality of talent on their teams matters more than stability, and they regard turnover as an opportunity to find fresh stars. Consider how Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks reacted when, in 1997, his second in command, Richard Allen, was asked to become the head of National Geographic’s for-profit arm. Hendricks would have loved to have kept Allen but never tried to hold him back, realizing that he’d rather have a friend leading his rival than anyone else. “It was a real indication of his generosity of spirit,” Allen says.

 

https://hbr.org/2016/01/secrets-of-the-superbosses

 

How to Prevent Overbilling

Overbilling and other kinds of fraud are rampant. But it may be possible to induce vendors, contractors, and employees to become more ethical just by changing how you ask them to account for their work. Focusing on units (hours needed, tasks performed, widgets produced) rather than overall price encourages accountability in providers.

That’s the finding from new research involving university students, online participants, and auto repair garages. Across four studies, people were 26% to 59% less likely to overbill if they were required to report the volume of work completed or projected before stating the amount of money due, rather than the other way around.

In one study, participants were paid for doing sets of numbered tasks. Because their pay was based on their own reporting, everyone had an opportunity to cheat, and many did. But people were less likely to cheat (42% versus 66%), and the average amount of overbilling was lower (55 cents versus $1.38), if they were required to first note the number of tasks completed and then request the amount they were owed.

In another study, one group of mechanics asked to come up with a charge for replacing brake pads and resurfacing rotors was instructed to first provide a cost estimate and then to enumerate the parts and labor needed; another group was instructed to do these things in the reverse order. The second group’s cost estimates were 14% lower, on average, and mechanics in this group projected significantly less labor time—suggesting that at least some mechanics in the first group had engaged in “defensive bolstering,” or fudging the details in hindsight to match the initial cost estimate.

The behavior comes down to what the researchers call “felt accountability”—a sense that someone is carefully monitoring the details. When vendors or employees are asked to specify the units of work or time required for a job, they may feel that the buyer or employer is paying close attention and might ask them to justify the price. And that appears to have a palpable effect on their ethics.

https://hbr.org/2015/12/how-to-prevent-overbilling

 

 



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