In Silicon Valley, software engineers are encouraged to work together, in part because studies show that groups tend to innovate faster, see mistakes more quickly and find better solutions to problems. Studies also show that people working in teams tend to achieve better results and report higher job satisfaction. In a 2015 study, executives said that profitability increases when workers are persuaded to collaborate more. Within companies and conglomerates, as well as in government agencies and schools, teams are now the fundamental unit of organization. If a company wants to outstrip its competitors, it needs to influence not only how people work but also how they work together.
Five years ago, Google — one of the most public proselytizers of how studying workers can transform productivity — became focused on building the perfect team. In the last decade, the tech giant has spent untold millions of dollars measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives. Google’s People Operations department has scrutinized everything from how frequently particular people eat together (the most productive employees tend to build larger networks by rotating dining companions) to which traits the best managers share (unsurprisingly, good communication and avoiding micromanaging is critical; more shocking, this was news to many Google managers).
Our brains are hardwired to make much of modern life difficult. This is especially true when it comes to dealing with uncertainty. On the bright side, if you know the right tricks, you can override your brain’s irrational tendencies and handle uncertainty effectively.
Our brains give us fits when facing uncertainty because they’re wired to react to it with fear. In a recent study, a Caltech neuroeconomist imaged subjects’ brains as they were forced to make increasingly uncertain bets—the same kind of bets we’re forced to make on a regular basis in business.
Daniel Kim was the CEO at online game company Nexon America when he had a career epiphany that changed his life. His mentor Bill Moggridge, founder of the design firm IDEO, had recently passed away. It was at Moggridge's memorial service at Stanford in 2012 when Kim had a moment of clarity: What was most important to him wasn't being at the top of his field or making as much money as possible, it was doing meaningful design work—the kind of work he simply couldn’t do as CEO at a gaming company.
Kim did the math. If a design project takes three to four months and he had between 25 to 30 years left in his career, he realized he only had time for about 100 new projects. Put in those terms, time, he realized, was of the essence.
Tim Carr, an American working for a defense company based in the midwestern United States, was about to enter a sensitive bargaining session with a high-level Saudi Arabian customer, but he wasn’t particularly concerned. Carr was an experienced negotiator and was well-trained in basic principles: Separate the people from the problem. Define your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) up front. Focus on interests, not positions. He’d been there, read that, and done the training.
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