Book Review: Management Rewired by Charles S. Jacobs

Management Rewired by Charles S. Jacobs
People often ask me, "what do you do in your spare time?" My first response is, "what spare time?" However, I do spend some time reading. Usually I read books that might help me with other things I am working on. I've recently finished reading Management Rewired by Charles S. Jacobs. Using Greek mythology, the latest brain science and a myriad of other approaches, Charles Jacobs's book is a whirlwind tour of concepts from organisational behavior.

About two-thirds of Management Rewired was familiar to me, from the courses I've taken during the MBA, so reading the book was a useful review of these concepts. The other third was insightful and really made me stop to think. It's difficult to do justice to the book. My key "take-aways" from the book follow.
  • We've all heard that when we make decisions, we tend to follow our emotional instincts and then rationalize why we've made those decisions. However, where do these emotional instincts come from? It transpires that past experiences carry an emotional charge that is encoded in our memories. A similar enough situation summons those past experiences and emotions. The emotions we feel in a situation are the culmination of past decisions and reactions - this is where our "instinct" comes from. So it is often reasonable to go with our emotional instincts.
  • Everything from exercise to our mood has the potential to change the way we think - to change the synaptic network of connections in our brain. After five repetitions, structural changes occur in this network to create long term memory. The world we know is a network of ideas that have been reinforced over time - high level networks are deeply held values and beliefs.
  • Stories are the way that the brain naturally thinks. Different points of view, relationships and motivations are built into the structure of stories, so stories do a better job of capturing human interaction than any other way of explaining something to another person.
  • Unsolicited feedback often does not work. We we receive such feedback, we will likely rationalize such feedback away. This is so that we can maintain the self-image we have of ourselves as competent and capable. Unsolicited feedback rarely causes us to change our world view.
  • Often people only think of the short-term gain in a situation. When we think of the long-term, we can understand relationship-effects that will occur. For example, if we reduce the price of our price products, we might reach next quarter's financial goals. However, customers will now expect lower prices. Competitors will lower their prices also. We become stuck in a prisoner's dilemma.
  • Our expectations of anticipated rewards and punishments greatly affects how we view the actual rewards and punishments we receive. For example, if we are rewarded a bonus of $20k when we expected a bonus of $50k, this "reward" could have the same effect as a punishment. On the other hand, a punishment that is tactically withheld could engender loyalty to you and have the same effect as a reward.
  • When a small reward is offered for changing a behavior, those changing their behavior attribute the reason for change to intrinsic motivation. When the reward is larger, the behavior is attributed to extrinsic motivation. To remove unwanted behavior, perhaps we should reward the unwanted behavior and then remove the reward? Conversely, when the punishment is mild, people are more likely avoid punishment and attribute the reason for change to intrinsic motivation.
  • Effective management of people is about supporting them, rather than controlling them. We must resist our hard-wired alpha tendencies. Organisations that do not have "I need to lead" alpha-types tend to be the most successful when coalitions are required to overcome large obstacles. People work most effectively in small, self-managed teams. Such teams work best when they believe they are motivated against external competition and are told stories that target the individuals' highest aspirations.
  • People who make decisions based on the long-term view, rather than the short term view, generally have more success in life (see this article).
  • Successful businesses eliminate frustrations, rather than attempt to meet needs.
  • People operate in paradigms - their own personal version of reality, with its own rules and cause-effects. When things happen, we try and fit the what has happened into these rules and cause-effects of our reality. So, for a person to really change as a person - to change their behavior - that person needs experience a counter-intuitive response to some action: a respone that does not fit the rules and cause-effects of their reality. Only then will a person rethink whether their version of reality is correct and formulate a new version.
  • To bring about change, we need to figure out the current rules of the reality that people hold. We then need to figure our the desired rules. Finally, we need to use stories to help people experience the counter-intuitive response that changes their understanding of the rules.
  • Most people operate through transactional leadership: I compensate you with $X in exchange for you doing Y. Transformational leadership is more effective. It paints for people a picture of a better future, and their role in making that happen. Transformational leadership gets the participation of those involved, creates an aspirational future, tells a story, shifts the paradigm of the game played and creates focus and urgency. In this respect, an idea is powerful and can be a motivational force.
  • While for leading people and for strategic thinking we need to think about the future and painting a picture of the future, our own personal long-term enjoyment will come from enjoying the present - enjoying the every day activities. "Happiness is a journey, not a destination". So we need two modes: one for when we lead, and another that enables us to get on with our everyday work.