Monthly Archives: September 2007

The Problem With Speed-Reading

Do you tend to scan or speed-read through material to figure out what it’s all about? Go straight to the Executive Summary, then stop? You might be saving time, but you may be missing out on some of the most interesting content.

In the 2001 DNA-sequencing race between the the government and Craig Venter’s Celera Genomics, victory was declared when only one half of the genome was sequenced (a haploid). In other words, they only sequenced what was inherited in one half, not the other.

Now the J. Craig Venter Institute has decoded the other half of Venter’s DNA and discovered that 44% of known genes displayed variations (between the versions inheritied from each parent). Additionally, after the sequencing of the first genome (actually a composite from 5 individuals) scientists had estimated that about 99.9% of all human genomes are identical. Looking at the other half, however, yielded a 46% increase in these locations from 2.8 to 4.1 million, lowering the 99% identical estimate down to the 98% to 99% range.

…the bulk of time, work, attention, and money first goes to “problems” rather than to opportunities, and, secondly, to areas where even extraordinarily successful performance will have minimal impact on results.

Peter Drucker in Managing for Business Effectiveness, 1963

The Topple Rate: How Fast Do Leading Companies Fall?

Patrick Viguerie, a McKinsey & Co. consultant, has developed what he calls the Topple Rate: a measure of how many market-leading companies lose that status during the next five years. In the early 1970s, he says, it was about 8%. By the 1997-2002 period, it had climbed to 16%. Rigorous data for the past few years aren’t yet in, but Mr. Viguerie believes the rate has held steady or perhaps even climbed.

– From the Wall St. Journal in a story about Countrywide’s fall from its #1 spot, and its still-possible collapse

Life Affects Performance, Even for CEOs

My father would say, “I didn’t need a study to tell me that.” CEOs are human like the rest of us. Their performance suffers

  • about 21% for the two years following the death of a child
  • about 25% for the three years following the purchase of a mansion or an estate
  • a less predictable but definite decline in the afterglow of Superstar recognition from major awards or publications
  • from higher risk-taking and wild swingsin profitably for those who are narcissistic

As the WSJ’s(subscription may be required) Mark Maremont notes in his blog, the devastation of losing a child does not usually result in a rededication to doing our best at work. These studies remind us of our humanity, and help us to put our arms around how much impact it really has. My father was right; we did know that. What we didn’t know was how much it mattered.  

The thought from branes: Organizations ARE the people that are in them. Refusing to isolate the human from the task not only makes the workplace a more respectful place to be, it makes it a more successful place to be.

We spend a lot of time teaching leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I have met don’t need to learn what to do. They need to learn what to stop.

Peter Drucker, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith