Malcolm Gladwell, Atul Gawande on Connection

Several writers at The New Yorker understand how important the force of human connection is to help people thrive.  I’ve previously written about Ken Auletta’s masterpiece “The Howell Doctrine,” and, of course, there’s Jim Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds.  Two other writers at The New Yorker have made significant contributions on this topic.

In Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto, we learn that disconnection (the failure to communicate and connect) is the primary cause of aircraft accidents and a major contributor to medical errors.  Gawande, a surgeon, prescribes checklists to help improve performance as the work we do becomes increasingly complex.  Here’s one example.  Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital learned that surgical teams performed better when, prior to surgery, each member of the team introduced him or herself and shared any foreseeable concerns.  When surgical teams did this, lower status members were more likely to speak up if they saw mistakes being made.  This became a step on Gawande’s checklist he and his team developed for the World Health Organization.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s most recent book, Outliers: The Story of Success, connection is a theme throughout.  In the introduction, we learn that several research studies found residents of the town of Roseto, Pennsylvania were healthier and lived longer solely because they were a more relationally connected community.  In the next chapter, we learn that 10,000 hours of intentional practice is required with coaching (i.e. connection) to achieve expert level performance.  Although Gladwell doesn’t explicitly make this point, the support of family and friends is necessary to persevere through the inevitable difficulties of  practicing for 10,000 hours, which is 10 years of practicing for 20 hours a week.

In a chapter on geniuses, Gladwell concludes they are often not very successful because they fail to connect with other human beings and it renders them less effective at getting things done.  Similar to Gawande’s book, we learn that the key to airline safety is to reduce human error by making sure pilots, co-pilots and air traffic controllers are connected in both a rational and emotional sense.  Gladwell describes how the crash of a Columbian Airlines flight a few years ago because it ran out of fuel was attributable to a failure of communication between the co-pilot, pilot and air traffic controller at JFK Airport in New York.  The problem was that the plane’s co-pilot used “mitigating speech” to be respectful to those he perceived as having great status and authority.  When he needed to communicate the urgency of the situation he should have been screaming like a New York cab driver to make his point clear.

Finally, we learn from Gladwell about the success of the KIPP charter schools in low income urban neighborhoods.  Eighty percent of KIPP students go on to attend college.  KIPP students learn a protocal called “SSLANT” which stands for smile, sit up, listen, ask questions, nod when being spoken to, and track with our eyes.”  All of these behaviors help kids connect with others.  Brilliant, isn’t it.  KIPP teaches its students academic competence and relationship competence.  It was so inspiring to read how KIPP was giving these kids hope for a bright future, I wanted to stand up and cheer.

I very highly recommend both of these books.  They are utterly fascinating and well written, so much so that I couldn’t put them down.

Five Languages of Appreciation at Work

Five languages of appreciation at work

Let me tell you about a new book that I’m recommending to leaders. It makes a great book for your leaders to read together as part of a book group.

Human Value is one of the elements of a Connection Culture that I teach leaders to create if they want to engage the people they lead to give their best efforts.  The definition of Human Value is when everyone in the organization understands the needs of people, appreciates them for their positive, unique contributions and helps them achieve their potential.  As the definition states, appreciation is essential.

Unfortunately, appreciation is frequently expressed in a language that is foreign to the individual on the receiving end.  This is a source of frustration when one individual expresses appreciation in his or her language (which is usually the case) and the recipient experiences appreciation in a different language.  Learning to express appreciation in ways that resonate with people is an important skill for all human beings, and especially for leaders.

The Heart of Starbucks’ CEO

A leader I know and much admire is Howard Behar, the former president of Starbucks North America and Starbucks International. Howard tells about the time 14 years ago this month when he received a call in the middle of the night at his home in Seattle alerting him that three Starbucks employees at the Georgetown store in Washington, D.C. had been shot and killed, including an 18-year who had just recently begun at Starbucks, his first job.   Behar immediately called Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, who was in New York on vacation at the time.

What Schultz didn’t do, says a lot about his character.  He didn’t call Starbucks’ public relations people or lawyers.  Instead, Schultz chartered a plane and headed straight to Washington, D.C.  When he arrived, he spoke with the police then proceeded to the store to get the addresses of the three murdered Starbucks employees. He went to each of their homes, told their families he was sorry and shared in their tears.

The Collective Wisdom of Relationship-Centered Networks

When individuals feel like valued members of a group, it boosts a host of positive outcomes including superior decision-making, employee engagement, employee motivation, strategic alignment, organizational learning, cooperation, productivity, innovation and overall performance. This applies to groups of all sizes including classrooms and schools, families, business and government organizations, hospitals, sports teams and the social sector.  Strong relationships are key for any group to achieve the benefits enumerated above.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the University of Chicago research on relational trust that I learned about from my friend Parker Palmer.  For those of you who are interested in relational trust and the wisdom of crowds, I encourage you to check out this fascinating interview my friend Robert Morris, the freelance writer, did with Alan Briskin, co-author of The Power of Collective Wisdom. In the interview, Briskin and Morris discuss relationship centered networks that tap into collective wisdom.

For those of you who read Robert Morris’ book review and interview, you will see why I believe he is among the very best at what he does.  In addition to being a well-organized, clear writer, Morris is a Renaissance man who always sprinkles his writings and interviews with thoughtful insights drawn from remarkably diverse fields of knowledge.  Check out his book reviews and interviews at this link and you’ll see what what I mean.

Don’t Miss “All Hands on Deck: Building a Culture of Ownership”

Joe Tye's Book

I’m a big fan of Joe Tye.  He understands the importance of culture and has tremendous wisdom about values-based leadership.  His new book entitled All Hands on Deck: 8 Essential Lessons for Building a Culture of Ownership sounds wonderful. Although I’ve not read it yet, I plan to.  Joe has a special offer if you purchase All Hands on Deck this week.  You can learn about it at this link and be sure to watch the video of Joe talking about his new book while you’re there.

Leaders of the New Century

On June 23, I’ll be filming a few video segments for the Leader to Leader Institute’s “Leaders of the New Century” project that includes Allan Mulally of Ford, Sir Richard Branson and Tony Hseih of Zappos. Next week the Summer edition of the Leader to Leader Journal comes out. It includes an article that Jason Pankau and I wrote entitled “To Boost Productivity and Innovation, Connect with the Core.” The article is about how great leaders don’t just focus on star performers, they are intentional about connecting with employees at large. Examples in the article include Ret. U.S. Chief of Navy Operations Admiral Vern Clark and Bono, the lead singer for the rock band U2.

Book Review: Do More Great Work

Do More Great Work

Looks can be deceiving. At first glance,
Do More Great Work by Michael Bungay Stanier looks like yet another small, simple, beautifully-designed book. Oftentimes, books of this sort lack anything new or insightful. A few pages in, however, I realized this book was an exception. Do More Great Work gets to the heart of the work each of us should aspire to do — work that makes us feel fully alive and brings us joy. The author, who was named Canadian Coach of the Year in 2006, walks the reader through a series of maps and questions that provide valuable career guidance. As a result of reading this book, I made a change to my business so that I would do more great work and devote less time to merely good work. That’s the measure of a valuable book: it changes the reader in a positive way. I’m happy to report that Do More Great Work met that standard for me and, as such, I highly recommend it.

Note: There is a bonus if you buy the book by this Tuesday, February 23. Michael has an eBook Be Courageous (regularly $25) which he’s giving away with proof of purchase. If you’re curious, you can check it out just by sending a blank email to: For additional information click on this link.

Diversity 2.0

Andrés Tapia has a compelling vision. Tapia believes demographic changes and the complex set of problems facing humankind will force the integration of knowledge from the silos that much knowledge resides in today. As an example, Tapia points to the field of behavioral economics that integrates knowledge from the fields of psychology and economics. As part of this trend, Tapia argues that the physical and social separation of people based on their differences will also move toward integration. He describes this vision as Diversity 2.0.

What’s Your Work “Experience of a Lifetime”?


This is the mother ship, or at least that’s what I’ve always called  the world headquarters of Morgan Stanley located in New York City’s Times Square. It was here that a significant moment in Wall Street history occurred on June 30, 2005.  John Mack had been reinstated as Chairman and CEO by the firm’s board. On that day, when Mack and his wife Christy appeared at a meeting with hundreds of Morgan Stanley employees, they gave him a standing ovation. They knew this was an inflection point in the storied firm’s history.   The man standing before them embodied their collective hopes that the firm would return to its former self by restoring a culture that was its greatest asset and the primary source of its competitive advantage.

Mack’s departure  in early 2001 had come about as a result of Morgan Stanley’s merger with Dean Witter in 1997.  Phil Purcell, Dean Witter’s CEO, became CEO of the combined firm and eventually pushed Mack out. Morgan Stanley’s reputation and culture suffered as a result of Purcell’s leadership style.  I experienced the culture  change first-hand. The book Blue Blood and Mutiny: The Fight for the Soul of Morgan Stanley describes this period in great detail and Joe Nocera of The New York Times wrote an excellent article about it entitled “In Business, Tough Bosses Are the Ones Who Finish Last.”  Thanks to the vocal opposition to Purcell put up by former and current employees of Morgan Stanley, he was thrown out.