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How people feel is not determined by the actual amount of the gain or the loss. That’s not what determines its value. Rather, the value of an outcome depends on what they expected, or their own personal “reference point.” Any outcome lower than what they expected will feel like a loss—even if it’s technically a gain.
This is a sentence from Tom Rieger’s new book, Breaking the Fear Barrier: How Fear Destroys Companies From the Inside Out and What to Do About It, and it’s a great introduction to the theme of the book. When people are afraid, afraid of loss, afraid of change, they build barriers, either personally or in groups. Those barriers presumably keep those inside safe, but can cause many problems for those on the outside. Those problems, in turn, create more fear, which inspire outsiders to create their own set of barriers. Multiply this throughout a large organization, and you can understand the scope of the problem that Rieger is addressing.
As Rieger points out, not all fear is necessarily bad. It is natural, and often inspiring to be held accountable and feel the challenge to perform to the best of one’s ability. But fear of losing respect, power, or anything that one feels entitled to can cause people to shut down, doing as little as they need to stay unnoticed. This, of course, does not produce growth or innovation.
Rieger calls for “barrier busting” where leaders identify what people are trying to protect, and work to shift their focus to the greater good rather than the local process. The results of this might cause some people to leave, but that’s okay—maybe even necessary. As Rieger states, “Imagine a company that is fearless. And then imagine the fear its competitors would feel.”
Fear is an issue that both large and small organizations experience. Breaking the Fear Barrier can help people understand how to deal with it before too many barriers get built, and how to maintain good policies and actions that don’t produce fear in the first place.
We were big fans of Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s 2007 book, Off-Ramps and On-Ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success. Hewlett is a prominent gender and workplace issues expert and, in that book, she took a much-needed look into a critical problem in our business world: the current career model and its lack of flexibility for talented women. In her new book, Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets, written with Ripa Rashid, she turns her attention to the hiring and retention problems inherent with emerging markets and the multinational corporations they spawn, and how women can be the solution to those problems.
The situation and challenges for working women in each of these countries varies greatly. In the first half of Winning the War on Talent, the authors analyze the economic, societal, and hegemonic trends in each country, then present sub-sections including “A Complex Web of Pulls” that enumerates the particular challenges of women in each culture, and “Push Factors at Work” that illustrates the demands of work in that particular country, including expected hours, commute times and challenges. In Brazil, women must balance the expectations that come from a machismo culture that still judges a woman’s value by her contribution in the home and by her attention to her appearance. Russia is quite the opposite. Its Socialist history established an expectation that women always work and girls were educated and trained alongside boys. As a result, it is perhaps more difficult for Russian women to create a healthy home life (due to high divorce rates and high cost of living) than a productive work life, though they are still expected to respond to extremely long work hours and an inadequate transportation infrastructure. China is yet another wholly different situation with elite education highly regarded, and work highly encouraged, but the demands of contributing to the livelihood of aging parents as well as parenting high achievers is a nearly untenable situation. In the UAE, despite an increase in women working outside the home, there is still “a formidable range of social and cultural prohibitions” that deters most women. (When your culture discourages you from speaking to male strangers, and requires someone to accompany you, it makes traveling to an offsite meeting rather difficult.)
The second half of the book looks at eight “talent magnet” organizations whose policies attract and retain highly qualified and ambitious women throughout these emerging markets: Bloomberg, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Google India, HSBC, Infosys, PepsiCo India, and Siemens. These companies have done the three things the authors suggest in their Action Agenda:
- becoming a talent magnet, i.e., establishing a reputation for being a standout employer of talented women … by tapping into unconventional talent pools or targeting disciplines where they are underrepresented
- claiming and sustaining ambition among talented women … by making women feel valued and providing them with targeted skills and opportunities they need to succeed
- dealing with pulls and pushes, keeping in mind the priorities for women in the emerging markets context
While you may not work or live in one of these emerging markets, or work in a multinational corporation’s human resources department, this book is a fascinating examination of the lives of women in these very complex and fast-changing societies, and should appeal to anyone interested in attracting and keeping women employees who have different cultural and personal pulls than their male counterparts in every society.
The Internet did not exist in most offices or schools 15 years ago; today, most of us couldn’t do our work without it. It has changed how we do almost everything. Or has it? Cathy N. Davidson makes a strong case in Now You See It that the structure of our educational system and workplace, designed for the industrial age, need badly to be updated—that what made us so efficient in the past is becoming irrelevant and obsolete in the always-on information era.
What she attempts to do in her book is offer “a systematic way of looking at our old twentieth-century habits so that we can break them,” and she does so by looking at the latest brain science concerning attention.
If attention suddenly has our attention, it’s because we live in a time when everything is changing so radically and so quickly that our mental software is in constant need of updating. We have heard many times that the contemporary era’s distractions are bad for us, but are they? All we really know is that our digital age demands a different form of attention than we’ve needed before.
This is an important and necessary addition to the conversation about how the Internet is affecting our brains and our culture, and what we can and should do about it. And, though I’m fascinated by the debate between the usual cheerleaders and naysayers, Davidson gladly eschews their dichotomist positions to examine the more complex middle ground of everyday reality and how we can work in it most effectively.
The era we are living in is way too complicated to reduce to the current “Internet is making us stupid” argument or its utopian counterpart (“Internet is making us brilliant”). We all know that neither generalization tells the whole story of our working lives.
Business readers will be most interested in the third section of the book, “Work in the Future.” There, Davidson examines how the increase in MBAs and the proliferation of management philosophies affected the literal rise of the hierarchical modern workplace in skyscrapers, with the importance of the corner office and the higher floors where the executives reside, the ubiquity of the middle-manager, and the entry of females into the workforce in lower positions and for less pay than their male counterparts.
That world is slowly fading, but unless you work at a place like Google, the workplace doesn’t look all that different for most of us. Now You See It does a fine job of examining how the structures that exist in our society came into being, how they are (or are not) serving us now, and how to best restructure our own lives, our education system, and our workplaces to take advantage of the digital revolution and how our brains work, and adapt to a new paradigm.