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Jeffrey J. Fox on the Future Transformative CEO

Recently, I had the great pleasure of hosting a podcast with Jeffrey J. Fox on Total Picture Radio. Over the years, Jeffrey’s books have been a tremendously positive influence on me.  He did the crisp and clear short book to perfection before it became fashionable and without losing meaning.  As I study the book business and art and craft of making a book myself, I’ve become further impressed by not only his achievements but also his longevity.

I’m excited about his most current book for a variety of reasons:

– Leadership – For a long, long time many have focused on doing the same activities harder, better or with tiny improvement. This book gives permission to do something in a different way.

– Inspiration – Leaders need to be inspired to take that first step to lead change consistently. The first step is often the hardest.

– Permission – Leaders need permission to know that letting go of the past to take another path is OK. All too often this serves as a roadblock.

Why else am I excited about this book? Put simply, this book’s message stimulates demand for the services and abilities I have to offer businesses align their operations and business models to grow revenue, cashflow and market share. It is an exciting time in that regard.

The Board of Directors, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of all companies need to take immediate action to start the long  journey of recreating customer focused organizations that serve a need, in a way that is better than anyone else in their industry, do it in a way that is effective and empowers people across the organization to make incremental, real-time decisions. This is the model and culture that existed at BlackRock during it’s hypergrowth phase and it the the model culture that any organization can strive to build.

There is a long journey ahead, it will be successful for those who take action while others stand still. It is time for the Transformative CEO. I look forward to traveling with those who chose to go on it.



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Book Interview Dan Ariely – The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves

Dan Ariely - The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone - Especially Ourselves

New York Times bestselling author Dan Ariely recently released another thought-provoking book, The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves. Dan was kind enough to answer some questions. If you are not familiar with Dan, you should read his bio fully so that you understand the unique life experiences that formed his frame of reference.

Dan’s research on dishonesty is so wide-ranging that one could write several books on the topic! As such, a number of my questions are outside of the content of the book in order to stimulate further conversation.

The book opens with a discussion of Enron and how you first became interested in the subject of dishonesty. In Chicago, where Arthur Andersen was once based, the issue of Arthur Andersen’s demise while McKinsey survived with barely a scratch is still a frequent conversation topic. Did your initial research indicate anything about this specific topic?

As in the case with Enron, the consequences of our actions are frequently unclear; it could just as easily have been McKinsey to take the fall, but there was no indication of who would be responsible at the time that the dirty dealings were taking place. What is clear, however, is that when we make the decision to be dishonest, we are not thinking about consequences. When we see our peers cheating and getting away with it, and even being rewarded for less-than-angelic behavior, it begins to feel like an acceptable modus operandus. In other words, cheating becomes the new moral standard. In our studies on dishonesty, we find that the risk of being caught is largely irrelevant to people’s actions and that they can even ignore them altogether – especially when the consequences are vague and undefined.

You mentioned Marilee Jones, former admissions dean at MIT who encouraged people not to overstate their credentials while misrepresenting her own. Scott Thompson, former CEO of Yahoo!, was recently dismissed for an inaccurate bio. What forces are at play with these kinds of incidents?

With all acts of dishonesty, there is a motivation to benefit from our dishonest actions. On top of that, I suspect that there are all kinds of fuzzy rules about what is acceptable and what is not (and in CVs, particularly, there are no official guidelines dictating the rules). We are incredibly adept at justifying our actions (i.e., if I am working on an academic paper, does it count as a “Working Paper”?), and one justification quickly leads to the next. Once you’ve gotten away with the first dishonest step, escalation comes easily. These rationalizations add up and we wind up sliding down the slippery slope.

What is a person with a tendency to be more honest than average to do in this environment?

I think that that some people may be generally more honest than others, but even the most honest people succumb to the temptation to cheat when they are placed in the right circumstances. To reduce the likelihood that we will fall prey to these forces, we can create rigid and precise personal rules that guide our actions, particularly when we are in situations that tempt us to cheat. If we think we may be more likely to likely to lie to our significant others after a grueling day at the office, we can remind ourselves to be more honest when we walk through the front door in time for dinner. In the professional realm, we can try to reduce (and when feasible, eliminate) conflicts of interest.

With the incidents that you admitted to in the book (MENSA test on airplane, Air India, etc), has anyone perceived you differently or treated you differently due to your writing about them?

I am sure everyone loves me and no one thinks anything bad about me.

How has writing this book changed your behavior in terms of perceiving others and/or your own personal actions?

There is a high personal cost to thinking about dishonesty all the time. I am now excruciatingly aware of the conflicts of interest that my advisors (like doctors, dentists, etc.) face, and find myself being more suspicious of them. This becomes particularly unpleasant when the social aspect of preserving a relationship suffers because of a focus on such conflicts. I know that a treatment being prescribed by my doctor may benefit my doctor more than it benefits me, and my research has forced me to question every piece of advice that may be plagued with a conflict of interest.

I have also created stricter rules for myself in this regard. For example, in an effort to avoid any conflicts of interest in my own life, I refuse to do consulting for example.

I lived in the New York City area (Hoboken, NJ to be completely honest) during the 1990’s when Rudy Giuliani implemented the Broken Windows Theory with the New York City Police. I personally experienced the positive impact it had on lowering crime rates. You stated, “Although the Broken Windows’ Theory has been difficult to prove or refute, its logic is compelling.” Can you please elaborate on your thoughts on this difficulty?

I rely on experiments as a way to support or refute my intuitions about how we think and how the world works. Experiments are useful because, when done right, they can provide insight into our behavior in ways that mere observation simply can’t. There are many factors that could have contributed to the decrease in crime when the Broken Windows Theory was implemented in NYC, and we have no way of knowing whether the intervention was, in fact, the cause. While the regulations could have had an effect on crime rates, it also could have been another incidental change (or expectation) that corresponded with the timing. There could have been demographic shifts, economic changes, improvements in other areas, and so on that may have contributed to the decrease in crime. However, imagine that Giuliani had implemented the Broken Windows Theory randomly in some parts of the city and not in others, and then followed the crime in each area separately. If we saw a decrease in crime where it was implemented, we could reasonably conclude that the Broken Windows Theory was the cause. However, without this type of controlled experiment, there is simply no way to fully understand the root of the shift.

Some of your observations are statistical, while others are purely personal observational, like students promising to not visit non-class related websites during class and then violating the promise. There is a famous quote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” In your opinion, is it possible that some disciplines rely too heavily on statistical analysis instead of basic common sense observations causing potential undesirable effects?

There are undeniable flaws in the shifty use of statistics (and they can be easily manipulated when put in the wrong hands), but if I had to choose between observations and experimentation, I would take data over personal observations any day. I do believe in the strength of personal observations, as it gives facts both depth and illustration, but I would be highly concerned about any arguments that are based solely on observations.

Google (GOOG) prices Google Adwords internally and self-reports it for each individual merchant with little or no outside checks and balances. Much has been written about the potential issues of click fraud. Based on processes with no transparent check and balance mechanism, what are the incentives for one to be more honest or dishonest?

I am not an expert on Adwords, but an environment where actions are multiple steps removed from money and are about clicks – and without transparency – seems like danger zone to me.

In your research, did you find anything regarding the detection of dishonesty? Would a Bernie Madoff sized lie typically be harder to detect than a little white lie?

The question regarding the probability of being caught and the size of the potential punishments are very important. We looked so far only at the probability of being caught and found that it has no effect on the amount of dishonesty. Next, I hope to also study the effect of potential punishments.

Some have asserted that the issues of honesty and/or lack of detection of financial inaccuracies have played a role in overpricing events surrounding certain Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) of stock in the Internet era. Could you please share your thoughts and / or research in this area?

Without giving any particular example (and without any explicit research to support my opinion), I suspect that under-regulation of these “inaccuracies” is certainly a factor in the continuance of dishonesty in the workplace, and the social environment where some banks define the acceptable level of behavior for other banks is another contributor. In these situations, workers have lots of room to rationalize, they see their peers taking advantage of the flexibility, and they see no disadvantages to overpricing. There are no losers, and no one gets hurt.

Since sending the final draft of this book to the publisher is there anything you would like to add knowing what you know now?

Since finishing the book, I have had the opportunity to talk to a few “big cheaters” – people who acted very badly, got caught, and wound up in prison for a long time. My discussions with these individuals shows very clearly how good people can get trapped in bad situations and take one step in the wrong direction, rationalize their actions, take another step, and so on. And although they only take one misstep at a time, the trend escalates and at some point they find themselves in terrible situations with no escape.

From an outside perspective, we can easily look at the sequence of actions and say to ourselves that we could have never found ourselves at the end of these paths. But the big cheaters did not start stealing millions or misleading their shareholders. They started with one wrong step, and this is something that under the “right” conditions we could all engage in.

What advice would you give to new nonfiction authors seeking to write successful books?

I’m not sure that I am in any position to give advice, but what works for me is a mix of social science research, stories that link these to our daily realities, and implications for daily life.


I would like to thank Dan Ariely for his time and thoughtful answers. It would be interesting if everyone reading Dan’s book watched the classic movie Used Cars (Rated R) on DVD and used it to discuss the concepts in the book. It is possibly the best movie on trust and honesty issues ever made – back when movies still had a plot. It can create a basis for creating a larger dialogue about the issues in Dan’s book! Go purchase a copy of the book to read now! I look forward to learning more about his important research in this arena.

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Suddenly in Charge : Roberta Chinsky Matuson Book Interview

Suddenly in Charge by Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Suddenly in Charge by Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Suddenly in Charge by Roberta Chinsky Matuson

Recently I read Roberta Chinsky Matuson’s Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down and Succeeding All Around(Niocolas Brealey). Really unique book, especially the managing up part, as I’ve never seen extensive writing about that issue previously. Insightful stuff. Roberta was kind enough to grant an interview.

In the chapter on Office Politics you mention the three issues power affects most: allocation of resources, administrative succession and organizational structure. Some assert that many offices are becoming more political overall. If that were true in an individual case what is generally causing that and what should executive teams do to start to rectify it?

There is a direct correlation between resources and office politics. When resources are plentiful, there is no need to go to battle for what you believe should be yours as there is plenty to go around. Of course the opposite is true as well. When resources are tight, savvy workers will do what is necessary to claim the resources they need to get their jobs done and to obtain highly prized promotions.

It’s funny that you should ask what executive teams should do to rectify this as those on the executive team are often the most political. That being said, executives can make sure people have the resources to do their work. They should also promote people based on ability, rather than on likeability.

In Chapter 5 of the Managing Up portion of the book you discuss the concept of positive self-promotion. Could you elaborate on why you consider this concept to be so important?

In today’s workplace, there is so much competition for attention. You have to toot your own horn to be heard in a sea of cubicles. Pump up the volume and make enough noise so people in the organization know who you are and what you are capable of doing.

Operating under the assumption that your work will speak for itself is wrong. If that were the case, then why is it that so many great artists never got noticed until they died? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be recognized and rewarded while I’m alive.

Two chapters later you mention how to handle those who might seek to cheat shareholders and how to deal with them…what advice would you give to someone in a less explicit situation such as someone protecting a pet project or seeking to maintain funding for an activity that is no longer optimal for most organizational stakeholders?

Do you really have all the information you need and the expertise to determine if a project is optimal for most organizational stakeholders? If the answer is no, then I would recommend you continue to work on the assignment. If the answer is yes, then you have to weigh out your options. The person who is protecting a pet project isn’t going to be easily swayed by someone challenging their project, so most likely you will have to go above their head. You will need to examine what might happen if you do so, before you take your case further.

Roberta Chinsky Matuson - Human Resource Solutions
Roberta Chinsky Matuson – Human Resource Solutions

Why do organizations struggle to hire the optimal people with the right skills?

There are many reasons why organizations struggle to hire the optimal people with the right skills. In my new book, The Magnetic Workplace: How to Attract Top Talent that Will Stick Around (Nicholas Brealey, 2013), I talk about how there has never been a better time to hire top talent, but employers are taking too long. Many are operating under the assumption that nothing has changed in the employment landscape. In my book, I discuss the importance of removing barriers that may be slowing your company down in the hiring process, as in this new economy; speed will be of utmost importance.

Employers focus too much on skills and not enough on fit. You can train the right people to do most skills, but you can’t really train a forty-year old to play nice with others or to be extremely detail oriented. I recommend hiring on fit and training for skill.

Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of people how to hire for fit. It’s a skill that is easily learned. Like most skills, the more you practice, the better you get.

In your acknowledgement section you state, “My deepest gratitude goes to my mentor, Alan Weiss, who has offered guidance and support throughout my consulting practice.” (I’ve interviewed Alan Weiss previously.) Could you please expand on type of mentorship he has provided to you and how it has impacted you?

I have been a part of Alan’s community for years and have enrolled in his mentoring program numerous times. Having access to someone who has achieved what you are trying to achieve is priceless.

Through my work with Alan, I’ve learned that mentorship and coaching is one of the fastest ways to create change and to help people reach their full potential. I now offer these services to my clients and am always thrilled to see how quickly they are able to attain the results they seek. I believe this is so because they are fully committed to their personal and professional growth. Of course having someone to help keep them accountable certainly doesn’t hurt!

What did you learn from the process of publishing a book?

I learned many things from the process of publishing a book. Here are a few of those things in no particular order.

Determination is key. If you want something bad enough and you are willing to put in the work, then anything is possible.

When you engage an agent, it’s a partnership. You have to trust that your agent knows what he or she is doing and that they have your best interest in mind. If you don’t trust your agent then look for another agent.

Bigger isn’t always better. In my dreams, I always imagined I would be with a big publishing house. But in the end, it was a small publisher who agreed to publish Suddenly in Charge: Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around. In retrospect, being with a smaller house gave me opportunities that I never would have gotten with one of the larger publishers. For example, I was the one who suggested we flip the book (one side of the book is on managing up and the other side is on managing down.) Rather than discard the idea, my publishing team said they would see if it was possible. The unique format of Suddenly in Charge has helped my book stand out from a crowded field of management books.

Many people don’t realize that publishers pay for the space in airport bookstores. Of course the authors who don’t need all that much visibility (e.g., Danielle Steele, Marshall Goldsmith, etc.) are the ones who the publishers are willing to make that kind of investment in. My publisher invested in me, and my book was distributed at WH Smith Stores in airports and train stations around the globe. I still recall the day when a colleague snapped a photo of my book next to Sir Richard Branson. His book was charting at number nine and mine was number ten!

The process of writing a book is only the beginning. Just as you catch your breath you receive the edits, which may require some rewrites. You take another breath and it’s time to find people who are willing to endorse your book. Next comes the promotion of the book, which is usually on the shoulders of the author. And then it all starts again when you decide like me to write another book.

What are the three trigger events that should lead to someone contacting you about your services?

1. Your company is experiencing growth and you recognize that the people you have on board don’t have the skills needed to take the business to the next level.

2. You or someone on your team has just been tossed into a leadership role.

3. Your company is going through an acquisition or a merger.

For more information, please visit Roberta’s website,