Monday, March 21, 2011

EGOnomics, by David MARCUM and Steven SMITH

This book was recommended to me by Suzanne LUCAS, the great HR blogger also known as The Evil HR Lady. You can follow Suzanne on

The Power, and Danger, of Ego

For MARCUM and SMITH, ego affects the bottom line of any organization, because it is both an asset and a liability: it gives us confidence to use our strengths, but also turns them into weaknesses.

Four early warning signs help us notice when ego starts to have a negative impact:
  1. Being comparative: when we can't stop comparing ourselves to competitors, giving up our potential in the name of becoming better than someone else.
  2. Being defensive: when, instead of openly debating to cover every angle of a debate before we make a decision, we defend our positions as if we're defending who we are.
  3. Showcasing brilliance: when we try to make our talent the center of attention, instead of using collective intelligence, which is much more powerful.
  4. Seeking acceptance: when we become oversensitive to what people think of us, which keeps us from being true to ourselves.

To keep ego working like an asset rather than a liability, one should follow three basic principles:

1) Humility

Humility makes us see collective interests before our own individual ones: it is 'we, then me'. It makes us aware that nothing is perfect, so there is always one more thing we can do: that state of mind is called constructive discontent and is the key to greatness. It also makes us acknowledge that we can be knowledgeable and at the same time ignorant, strong and weak, capable and incomplete.

Humility can help us manage the level of intensity in a debate: vigorous debates require a heavy investment of humility to keep intensity productive. It keeps vigor from becoming violence, and also keeps us from being lulled into courteous but meaningless exchange.

2) Curiosity

Curiosity can be a state or a trait. The few people blessed with that trait have a rare blend of order and openness. Whatever innovation process we use and no matter what we design, the level of curiosity has a profound impact on the brilliance of the outcome. When trying to innovate or testing an idea, we can ask four questions to spark curiosity:
  • What do we mean? (clarity)
  • What are we seeing? (context)
  • What are we assuming? (assumptions)
  • What does that lead to? (consequence)

3) Veracity

Veracity is defined as the habitual pursuit of, and adherence to, truth.

Most people believe truth telling is risky. This is partly due to a common belief that dissent is disloyalty, which makes us close our mind when in fact, more often than not, there's positive intent behind a negative comment.

If we want those "above" us to hear what we have to say, we need to speak with humility. The three steps we should follow are 1) establish permission 2) make our intentions clear and 3) be candid.

How Is This Book Useful to an HR Professional?

I think we can use the insights and tools provided by MARCUM and SMITH for a variety of HR-related purposes, such as:
  • Managing change and innovation
  • Handling conflicts
  • Making meetings and debates more productive
  • Managing 'difficult' employees


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