“Books are a uniquely portable magic” – Stephen King
It is difficult to over-estimate the impact that books can have on both an individual and an organisation. Thankfully as we move closer to the end of the year more spaces open up to do that long awaited reading we have been promising ourselves. So in our pursuit to be a learning organisation, we thought we would combine the usual year end book list with a reflection on the books that have had the most influence on the Foundation’s journey. It was E.P. Whipple who said that “books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.” In looking back at the waters that we have covered so far, these are the “lighthouses” in the development of the Foundation:
This is an undisputed classic and was the starting point for the Foundation’s own pursuit of effectiveness. One of the early workshops we conducted took people through the seven habits and it became a rite of passage into the Foundation to have to complete this training.
Another classic and unsurprisingly another workshop for the entire Foundation. Over the years we continue going back to exploring the nature of the hedgehog principal for the Foundation or assessing ourselves against the benchmark of Level 5 leadership. The essence of a Hedgehog Concept is to attain piercing clarity about how to produce the best long-term results, and then exercising the relentless discipline to say, “No thank you” to opportunities that fail the hedgehog test. We respond to this concept by saying we want to be best in the world at: “Activating the entrepreneurial potential of individuals in Africa”
This book quickly became part of the language of the Foundation and was the perfect launching pad for helping people understand the mindset to which we wished to expose theme. “Giving people an A” and “Rule Number 6” became part of the modus operandi of our final selection camps over the last nine years.
A more recent work from an old expert, helped to re-energise the way that the Foundation worked with its people. It was as a result of this book that we dumped the description employee and termed everyone working at the Foundation talent. As Tom says “Talent – I love that word! So different from ‘employees’, so different from ‘personnel’.”
Finally some local content! The strategic approach explained by Clem and Chantell was incredibly helpful in thinking about future scenarios in an increasingly complex world. It pushed us to better understand what it would take to achieve what became known as our “October Sky” scenario rather than being dragged down into “Finding Nemo”. We were so taken by this learning that the offering for the Circle of Excellence Principals one year included being taken though the Mind of a Fox workshop with Chantell.
The Foundation was inspired by this book to join the strengths revolution, convinced that building on people’s strengths was a far more effective approach to building a great organisation than trying to improve on their weaknesses. Strengths are now a way of life at the Foundation forming part of induction and even the performance evaluation process. Everyone knows their top five strengths and tries to bring them to the fore in their daily work. It hasn’t stopped with Talent either. All Candidate Fellows are assessed and know their strengths as part of the Fellowship journey.
The Foundation is determined to activate high impact responsible entrepreneurs and while there is no magic formula for pursuing high growth and innovation, one of the most robust frameworks we have come across for evaluating potential opportunities is the blue ocean strategy. Many South African business are fighting in the fierce competition of “red ocean” while the real opportunities lie in finding the uncontested space of blue ocean. The analytical tool of the strategy canvas has proved very helpful for us to try and better understand our distinctive value proposition.
When one is in the business of developing talent, any clues as to how to better do this are gratefully received and one of the most exciting of these clues is the work of Carol Dweck in understanding the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. Essentially her work revolves around two meanings for ability, not our previously understood single meaning: firstly a fixed ability that needs to be proven, and then a changeable ability that can be developed through learning. The latter being a growth mindset and the link between this mindset and future achievement is becoming increasingly clear.
Continuing on this theme of talent and tied to the implications of the growth mindset, there has been an increasing body of evidence suggesting that talent is not so much the result of winning the gene pool lottery but much more about effort and hard work. As Gladwell explores the dynamics and explanations for people that out-perform, so called outliers, one of the fascinating principles he comes across is the fact that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become world class in any activity. We thus encourage the Allan Gray Scholars, Candidate Fellows and Fellows to discover their chosen field of interest and start the journey to 10,000 hours.
As the Foundation’s Association of Allan Gray Fellows has started to take definition over the last few years we have tried to better understand how this community should interact and structure themselves. The book that has had the most influence on this aspect of the Foundation has been Start Up Communities – to such an extent that we now conceptually see the Association as a start up community and look to find ways to demonstrate the “give before you get” philosophy promoted by Feld.
That completes the list of the 10 books that have most influenced the Foundation’s journey – so far. Next month we will look at another list of books that have the potential to most influence the future stages of the Foundation’s journey. In the meantime happy reading and please tell us about books that have influenced your organisations’ below.