Humble Inquiry

Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling

by Edgar H. Schein

Retired MIT Sloan School of Management professor Edgar Schein asserts, “Without good upward communication, organizations can be neither effective nor safe… Your organization may be underperforming because various employees or groups do not recognize the degree to which they are, in fact, interdependent.” The gist of this book is about creating a trusting environment with open communication across hierarchical boundaries. This entails less telling, more asking, and better listening.

“The U.S. culture is strongly built on the tacit assumptions of pragmatism, individualism, and status through achievement… Given those cultural biases, doing and telling are inevitably valued more than asking and relationship building. However, as tasks become more complex and interdependent, collaboration, teamwork, and relationship building will become more necessary. That, in turn, will require leaders to become more skilled in humble inquiry.”

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Simple Complexity: a Management Book for the Rest of Us, a Guide to Systems Thinking

Simple Complexity: a Management Book for the Rest of Us, a Guide to Systems Thinking

by William Donaldson

This book provides the cure for myopic management. It is about applying the principles of complexity and systems thinking to management. “Every organization is a system—in fact, a system of systems, perfectly designed to get the results it is getting today… Systems thinking is the unifying discipline that brings clarity to all of the other disciplines at work in your enterprise… The key, defining concept of systems thinking to remember is that nothing in the system is ever unconnected.”

Donaldson emphasizes the importance of context. “You have to ensure everyone has shared mental models of the enterprise and its management system… Remembering that context can enhance learning and comprehension by 50-100 percent, you must give employees context for both the part of the system they play a role in and the whole system.”

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Using Systems Thinking to Solve Real-World Problems

Using Systems Thinking to Solve Real-World Problems

by Jamie P. Monat and Thomas F. Gannon

“Systems thinking focuses on the relationships among system components and the interactions of the system with its environment, as opposed to focusing on the components themselves… Those relationships typically dominate the behavior of systems.” As an antidote to myopia, systems thinking takes a holistic and integrative approach.

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It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business

It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business

by Rick Nason

This book may fundamentally change the way you think. Or it may give you a framework to understand why you intuitively know that conventional management practices are sometimes incongruent with reality.

“This book is about systems thinking, and more specifically the important distinction between simple, complicated, and complex systems as applied to common business problems… The world of business is usually complex rather than complicated. That may seem like word play, but the difference between ‘complicated thinking’ and ‘complexity thinking’ is profound. This important distinction is well accepted in the scientific community but is virtually unknown in business.” Nason explains, “The ability to manage complexity is the key to competitive advantage.”

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101 Things to Learn in Art School

101 Things to Learn in Art School

by Kit White

“Artists assimilate a whole range of psychological, aesthetic, political, and emotional data points, and they then make forms to organize and give meaning to them. That takes skill and practice, working in tandem with intelligence and keen observation… Basic form-giving skills help the student make the bridge between thought and embodiment.”

Kit White is an associate professor in the MFA program at Pratt Institute. Here’s a sample of his insights:

“Art is continuing a dialogue that stretches back through thousands of years. What you make is your contribution to that dialogue. Therefore, be conscious of what has come before you and the conversation that surrounds you. Try not to repeat what has already been said. Study art history and stay alert to the dialogue of your moment.”

“Composition is the foundation of image making. It is the spatial relationships between all of the parts in an image. Whether a drawing, a painting, a sculpture, a photograph, a video, or an installation, how a thing is composed determines its look, its feel, and its meaning. Compositional variation, like musical tunes, is limitless.”

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Team of Teams

team-of-teams

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

by General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell

When General Stanley McChrystal took command of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in 2003, he was fighting a 21st-century war with a 20th-century military. This engaging book is about the reconfiguration which  led to faster decisions and greater results. McChrystal’s mission was to defeat Al Quaeda in Iraq (AQI), but his leadership insights are applicable to business as well. Continue reading

Art in the Age of Emergence

art-in-the-age-of-emergence

Art in the Age of Emergence

by Michael J. Pearce

Michael J. Pearce is an art professor who experienced a light bulb moment when he attended a talk in the philosophy department on the topic of emergence by guest speaker Philip Clayton. “Emergence, which describes the characteristics of forms that come out of complex systems, could apply especially well to how we experience art, how we understand aesthetics in relation to our evolving mind, and how we understand the creative process of making representational art… I suddenly realized that considering the relationship between emergence and consciousness could lead to a description of what distinguishes art objects from other things as we perceive them through our senses. Emergence allows us to define art!”

This book presents an interesting framework for thinking about art, although it is written in a dense academic style. Continue reading