The Pile for November 8, 2009

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Last week, we inaugurated The Pile, a guide to what we’re reading to become better managers. Here’s this weekend’s installment.

The most useful management reading over the past week comes from Gina Trapani, the founder of the Lifehacker website, over at Harvard Business. In A More Practical Creative Sabbatical, Trapani takes on something that has bothered us and makes sense of it. We’re big fans of the work of designer Stefan Sagemeister, but a recent TEDtalk about how he takes off every seventh year to concentrate on experiments was troubling. His presentation was effective and inspiring, but it’s not particularly replicable: not many among us can abandon our jobs so regularly. Trapani recognizes this and, in her usual make-every-moment-count approach, walks through ways to create “micro-sabbaticals,” habits we can work into our normal workdays. Her advice is modest — maximize your commute time, find some freedom in a repetitive physical activity, get away from your desk — but her underlying argument is a welcome one: you don’t have to take a full-blown sabbatical to give yourself some space to grow.

In the current economic climate, however, too many of us are stuck on forced sabbaticals. And it has become a truism in management circles that a downturn is no time to stop investing in research and development. Our recent special report on managing in the downturn covers this. So does Success and the Power of Research from the latest issue of Design Mind, the magazine about business, technology, and design from the Frog Design consultancy. In the article, Henry Tirri, head of the Nokia Research Center, argues that investing in R&D in an economic downturn isn’t just a good idea: it’s critical. He makes the usual arguments and looks back at how Finland’s business R&D’d its way out of its deep early-’90s recession. Most interesting is when he elaborate on his notion that the very purpose of research is to give companies choices:

“The question then becomes, which choices should be made? As in a game of speed chess, where players have to make their best move within a strict time limit, research teams working in a downturn must focus on choosing the best opportunities they have within the constraints presented to them.

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The Pile for November 15, 2009 - Improvisations - MIT Sloan Management Review
[...] weekly guide to what we’re reading to become better managers. You can find earlier installments here and here. Some of the resources we point to may require registration or payment to [...]