Good evening. I hope that the weather isn’t going to be too disruptive to your plans over the next few days. I’m kind of hoping we get trapped in the house for a couple of days, to be honest. I could use the time.
A lot’s been going on recently. I wrote the Letter on how we think about bureaucracy and good government before the government shut down—I had no idea that was going to happen—so there has been no shortage of illustration of what the government actually does for us. I tried to do a little digging to see if Michael Lewis had written anything about that, but I couldn’t find anything. I did, however, find this Vanity Fair article on data and the government, which you may like to read if you don’t have time to read The Fifth Risk. Or don’t, if it will just make you mad.
I’m working on a new section on trust for the coaching training materials that we use when we either host a training (looking at three Wednesdays in September for the next one) or take the training to a district (Bloomfield right now, Manchester in July). As always, when I have to write about a topic, even when I think I know a lot about it, I always make connections that I haven’t seen before. In this case, it was about the relationship between trust, feedback, and self-efficacy. And it re-affirmed for me how powerful coaching is in helping anyone–not just novices, not just teachers, but experienced, accomplished, senior people–improve. So, attached to this week’s Coaching Letter is my work so far on trust… Feedback, please! Needs work, I think. Not as conversational as I would like, and missing a punch. So I have to think more about the really key ideas—I think it is that trust is not a single, monolithic concept; that the way we talk about trust isn’t helpful; that we have to be willing to afford others the benefit of the doubt. Trust is clearly a huge issue for both leaders and coaches, so I think it’s important to have some clarity about the construct.
I’ve also continued to read and think about decision-making. And there’s so much about decision-making to read right now—the new issue of The New Yorker has this article on decision-making, for example. And Michael Lewis also writes about decision-making; here’s an article by him about Daniel Kahneman. And then there is the fs blog, which is all about decision-making—useful posting on how not to be stupid. But that lead me to a list of gifted books—I mean books given as gifts—and all the people on the list making recommendations were men, and most of the books were by men. Which got me thinking. I went back to Farsighted, and looked up the chapter on diversity, which talks about how important it is to have diversity on a team. It is a long-standing finding, going back at least as far as Groupthink, that homogeneous groups act as echo chambers. Here’s what I wrote about that for another paper: “In his book Groupthink, Irving Janis documented the tendency of group members to acquiesce to ideas being put forward by the group. This may be a tacit wish to “go along to get along”, a desire to fit in with the group, a need to be seen as a positive contributor rather than a naysayer, or the assumption that if there were problems somebody else would have spotted them. Janis posited that the more cohesive the group, the stronger its tendency to resist independent thinking, over-estimate the superiority of its thinking over that of other groups and individuals, and reinforce conformity to the thinking of the group.”
Diversity in the group is an antidote to that. So I looked in Farsighted for what the author means by diversity, and all kinds of diversity are good for group decision-making—the quality of the decision is better when made by a diverse team. But later in the book there is a line in that’s more specific: “Diverse groups make smarter decisions. Nowhere is the data on this clearer than in the research on gender and decision-making” (p.153). So then I look in the index for more on gender—nothing. So now I was annoyed—the most robust finding in the science of decision-making is that decisions are better when they are made by mixed-gender groups, but gender isn’t even in the index? Shouldn’t that be the whole book? There’s an irony here, don’t you think?—the finding that the best thing for good decisions is a mixed-gender group making them, but so much of the conversation on decision-making is being had by men. So I went looking for a book about women and decision-making, and found a great one: How Women Decide: What’s True, What’s Not, and What Strategies Spark the Best Choices. I highly recommend it. Here’s an interview with the author.
I’ve been sitting trying to figure out how to end this for the last hour. Then my son just came downstairs, asked what I was doing, and I told him I was trying to figure out how to end this. And he said, “you should just say, guys, I don’t know how to end this. That’s the kind of thing you would do.”