Sunday, March 2, 2014

"David and Goliath" Is a Masterful Game-Changer

I got absolutely hooked on Malcolm Gladwell's "David and Goliath" and its focus on confronting problems. Part of it is Gladwell's style, which is so simple yet so thoroughly researched. More than that, though, is the forceful way in which he delivers major messages with such gentle force.

Here's some background: I led YourHub, the grassroots journalism arm of the The Denver Post, and I used "David and Goliath" as a focus for how we would confront our challenges. Gladwell's subtitle is "Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants." I find that very fitting for YourHub. We lost six employees to reduction-of-force moves within the past year or so. We still must handle a hefty list of tasks even with this smaller staff.

I think that qualifies us as a potential David, and I urged my employees to think about ways "to create David" and learn to conquer our giants. I made a daring move during my last staff meeting as the head of YourHub (I since have taken on new responsibilities within The Post newsroom). I gave my employees all the power to make suggested changes. I told them that everything from team meetings to approving page proofs for publication to whatever was in their hands, and they had the power to make things happen. I told them that this was the moment when they could lead in the most democratic manner they will probably ever have during their work careers. I know it's not standard managerial procedure, but I am sometimes a little daring.

I thought the radical idea might engender some radical ideas. I asked for feedback. When that feedback arrived, I realized my move was more of a litmus test for my employees. Some said the extra responsibility was somewhat difficult, but they took it in stride. Those comments were in line with "it was manageable" to "it is what it is." Some grumbled, sometimes with a lot of grumbling. The grumblers felt I had abandoned my leadership at a key time.

A chance like this comes along once in a lifetime for most employees. If I were on the receiving end of my offer, I would have grabbed it. So far I have heard one concrete idea: One employee suggested that we have one big team meeting with all five teams present rather than having five small meetings, which is the policy I inherited and retained. Maybe there were other ideas, but none were given to me. Maybe they were to my successor, but I don't know.

Anyway, back to "David and Goliath" and its impact. It challenges the reader to think differently. It isn't just a repeat of "think outside the box." It is more about constructing a new box. It is about seeing the challenges and constructing strategies that put the power for change in YOUR hands as a staff. But that's just the power of this book. It not only gets you thinking, but it entices you to make bold moves ... and then see where the chips fall.

WHAT I AM READING NOW: "Live by Night" by Dennis Lehane. The author hooked me with "Moonlight Mile," and add the fact this book won the Edgar last year (over "Gone Girl" and others) made this a must-read for me. I just started the book, but Lehane's opening of the first chapter is classic. Take the time to pick up the book (I had to wait for a long time before any copy showed up again at my Barnes and Noble store), or simply read the opening chapter online. Amazon provides links to first chapters on a number of books, as do most authors' websites.

So, off to write some in my second Daniel Pace novel and then enjoy the Oscars tonight. I will do a followup blog on the Academy Awards tomorrow.