Monthly Archives: October 2008

Adam Jones

I was delighted to see Ivor Tiefenbrun featured in a text-and-video package in the FT. Mr Tiefenbrun is the founder of Linn Products, a Scottish maker of expensive hi-fi gear.

In the video, he shares his management philosophy and his passion for making things in a United Kingdom that at last seems to be realising that financial engineering cannot replace real engineering.

What the FT coverage didn’t mention was that back in the early 1980s, Linn was so fed up with the quality of the LPs it used to test its fancy turntable that it started making its own albums.

One of the first it released was A Walk Across the Rooftops by the Blue Nile. It’s a Marmite record: one either swoons over its urban melancholia or dismisses it as laboured melodrama. I’m still swooning.

Anyway, the record label lives on, proving that diversification can be sustained by passion as well as cold calculation.

Elsewhere:

Adam Jones

Turmoil in the financial and property markets has left buyers and sellers eyeing each other warily. Negotiating amid such systemic mistrust is far from easy.

Tim Cullen, head of the negotiation programme at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, says there are strategies that can help, however.

In a new FT Management podcast, he says good negotiators develop a full understanding of the other side’s agenda to identify areas where compromise might be acceptable.

In a downturn, he says it can be advisable for buyer and seller to break with convention by negotiating directly instead of through intermediaries.

Contingency agreements – linking payments to future variables such as interest rates, for instance – can be another useful tool for negotiators in uncertain times, he adds.

Previous podcasts include the Kellogg School of Management on “analysis paralysis” in marketing and Stanford Graduate School of Business on controlling emotions in a downturn.

All are available for free download through iTunes and can also be found by scrolling down the list of shows on the FT podcast player.

Stefan Stern

Last week the FT celebrated 10 years of publishing influential MBA league tables at a grand party in Mayfair, central London. The room was packed with distinguished business school heads and only slightly less distinguished FT staff. I was there too.

It had not escaped many guests’ attention that earlier that week the front page of the FT had featured the words “Blame it on Harvard” in bold type right at the top of the page, followed by the rhetorical question: “Is the MBA culture responsible for the financial crisis?”

(The article these words referred to was in fact reasonably positive towards the Harvard MBA.)

A week later colleagues produced a substantial special report on business education, with lots of important detail on the current (healthy) demand for the MBA qualification. It does not appear to have gone out of fashion just yet.

There seems to be quite a serious outbreak of cognitive dissonance going on here. The MBA continues to be pilloried by all sorts of clever and important people – Henry Mintzberg, Tom Peters. Some business leaders are dubious about their MBA-toting recruits. The media remains sceptical. And yet all over the world people are still lining up to get hold of one.

Why?

Adam Jones

All managers will have come across employees who believe their achievements deserve more credit than they merit. They are also likely to have worked with someone who thinks their every mistake is logged by superiors with dreadful efficiency.

The science of psychology is well aware of these traits. In fact, both can be linked to a phenomenon known as “the spotlight effect” explains Nick Epley, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

Prof Epley says the tendencies to claim too much credit or to fear that the world notices all our imperfections, however small, are both reflections of a basic psychological failing.

Because we are always conscious of our own thoughts, we wrongly think that others are paying us as much attention as we are ourselves. As a consequence, we expect too much praise in the workplace – or too much blame.

This phenomenon has been illustrated by an experiment in which people were told to don Barry Manilow T-shirts. Afterwards, they massively overestimated the extent to which others noticed their questionable fashion statement.

The spotlight effect is just one of the psychological insights that Prof Epley applies to management in three video lectures for FT Business School.

In ‘Making unbiased decisions’, he shows how managers unconsciously distort or omit vital information when choosing what to do. In ‘Mind reading at work’, he explains why it is so difficult to intuit what bosses, colleagues and underlings are thinking. Finally, in ‘Motivating staff’, he says cash is overrated as a way of firing up employees.

Previous FT Business School video lectures include Iese’s Pankaj Ghemawat on the limits of globalisation and their impact on corporate strategy, as well as Insead’s Herminia Ibarra on moving up to a leadership role – or moving out to a new career.

Stefan Stern

So, what colour is your parachute? Better still, do you know any parachute makers who might be able to send you a new one? The market in rapidly updated résumés has soared. It is the only market showing any signs of health at the moment.

You know what you have to do at a time like this. Get out there and network. Network as though your very life depended on it. Get some extra business cards printed, fill up the diary, take a deep breath and dive into that roomful of strangers.

And relax. Working the room is so 1980s. You might as well just stand there, pull out a 5kg “mobile phone” and extend its telescopic aerial as far as it will go. There are ways to build a more valuable network of personal contacts, but scattering cards at random is not one of them.

Where do people go wrong with networking? Some seem to think that it is all about them, a question of projecting a winning version of themselves on to a potentially hostile, or at least highly sceptical, audience. But this is a simplistic and ineffective approach.

The remainder of this column can be read here. Please post comments below.

Adam Jones

 As the Age of Debt draws to a close, New York and London have lost their all-conquering swagger. With Wall Street and the City reeling, the idea of a ”NyLon” global hegemony based on financial services seems a touch dated.

But the ideal of transatlantic twinning isn’t dead yet. The FT’s annual ranking of Executive MBAs has awarded top place to the joint programme offered by Columbia Business School and London Business School.

The top five Executive MBA courses:

  • Columbia/LBS;
  • Kellogg/Hong Kong UST Business School;
  • Trium (HEC Paris/LSE/NYU Stern);
  • Wharton;
  • IE Business School.

For full details, read the FT special report and interactive rankings. A panel of experts will also answer questions about Executive MBAs on Wednesday, between 14.00 and 15.00 GMT, on FT.com.

Adam Jones

Buyouts do better in US states that vote Republican. That’s the conclusion of research by HEC’s Oliver Gottshalg and NYU’s Aviad Pe’er.

Republican views are better aligned with buyout value-creation strategies (such as outsourcing labor, shutting down less efficient units, lower commitment to social responsibility, and deunionization) than Democratic views are.

I’ll file it next to ”Foxes Report Feeling Less Hungry When Hen Houses Left Open”.

Elsewhere:

Adam Jones

In recruiting Joel Podolny, the dean of Yale School of Management, has Steve Jobs just raised the bar for in-house management training?

Prof Podolny is to be dean of something called “Apple University”. He’ll be replaced by Sharon Oster at Yale.

So what is Apple University? Prof Podolny can’t talk about it. The Apple PR person hasn’t been blabbing either.

Yale Daily News reckons it knows, saying Prof Podolny’s role will “focus on executive education within the company”.

If so, it would be quite a coup for Apple’s personnel department.

Adam Jones

Those looking to know more about entrepreneurship  – and particularly the way it is taught at business school – might find an excellent new module on the FT’s MBA Gym site useful.

The MBA Gym gives registered users a free, interactive preview of topics covered on a typical MBA course. The new entrepreneurship module covers issues such as business plans, funding needs and the differences between entrepreneurs and managers. Other modules cover topics such as leadership, marketing, strategy, accounting and finance.

Adam Jones

The wisdom of Robert Shiller, described by the FT’s Clive Crook as ”one of the world’s outstanding economic thinkers”, is being brought to a wider audience.

Yale University, where he teaches, has just published online the 26 lectures that comprise Economics 252, his introductory course on financial markets. They can be viewed for free or downloaded as MP3 or video files. Transcripts are also available.

I’ve only had the time to dip into the lectures. Much has happened since they were filmed in the spring, so some of the content has inevitably been overtaken by events.

But if you look at lecture eight for instance – Human Foibles, Fraud, Manipulation and Regulation – there are lots of timeless insights into the psychological tics that influence investor behaviour (including one derived from a cruel experiment on pigeons).

Finally, if Prof Shiller’s lectures don’t appeal, you could always eavesdrop on a class discussion of Nabokov’s Lolita or a course of 24 lectures on France since 1871.

Technology – it doesn’t always make us more stupid.



About the authors

Stefan Stern writes a column on Tuesdays on management. He is winner of the 2010 Towers Watson award for excellence in HR journalism, and has previously won awards from the Work Foundation and the Management Consultancies Association.

Ravi Mattu is the editor of Business Life, the FT's management features section, and a former editor of the Mastering Management series. He joined the FT in 2000 from Prospect magazine

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