By Guy Higgins

Recently, I came across an article on Farnham Street, “Your First Thought is Rarely Your Best Thought: Lessons on Thinking.” The article meshes well with some work done by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman and described in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow. The article discusses how human beings very frequently seize on their first thought about something. That assertion aligns with Kahneman’s “thinking fast” or the reliance we all have on our “intuitive” thought process. Kahneman has found that humans rely to a very large extent on that intuitive thought process – a reliance on experience or narrative consistency (along the lines of, “This is like X, Y or Z.” or “That sounds right.”). Continue reading

Corporate Leadership Development

By Guy Higgins

I’ve posted about this topic in the past and was recently inspired to post again by an issue of QUARTZ Obsession (an email I get each day that explores some seemingly random topic). The email that inspired this post was titled, “The Peter Principle.” The email explained that the Peter Principle is the captured by the sound bite, “employees rise to the level of their incompetence” and discusses why that might be true. Continue reading


By Guy Higgins

Several years ago, I read a biography of Richard Feynman, the Nobel Laureate physicist. One thing that struck me was that, in his field, Feynman accepted no new data or results without duplicating the original work himself. If he was successful in duplicating the published results, and, if the published hypothesis was supported by those results, Dr. Feynman would integrate the new information into his model of the world. I thought that his approach was interesting, but that he also wasted a lot of time. Well, now I’m not so sure he wasted his time. His approach ensured that he really understood how the data and results were derived and whether or not they were valid or as broad ranging as the published articles stated. He knew!

Dr. Feynman’s approach was extremely important from his perspective because he maintained a mental model of how the real world actually works. Not beliefs about how the world works, but how he knew that it worked. That meant, to him (and, I have to assume, any rational person), that if new results and conclusions conflicted with his mental model, he had only two choices. He could demonstrate that the work, data, results, and conclusions were wrong or invalid, or, accept that the work, data results, and conclusions were correct he would be forced to change his mental model to conform to his new knowledge. That kind of rigor (and the ethics and willingness to change his mind), is extremely important. That was important for Dr. Feynman, and it’s important for leaders everywhere.   Continue reading

Improving Policies

By Guy Higgins

At the risk of appearing to be political, I want to talk about the demands for new gun control legislation in the wake of the horrendous shootings at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, because it prompted me to think about the value of adding new strictures to existing ones. I do not intend to debate or even mention existing, proposed or even possible legislation, but rather look at it from the perspective of corporate or organizational policies. Continue reading


By Guy Higgins

Last week, I posted about context and clarity in communication. As I was reading The Admirals (an excellent biographical overview of the four WW II Fleet Admirals, Leahy, King, Nimitz and Halsey) by Walter Borneman, it occurred to me that the exchange of messages surrounding a major WW II battle provided an excellent historical example of what can happen with the lack of clarity and context. Continue reading

Context and Clarity

By Guy Higgins

I recently saw, on social media, a political cartoon from 1941 with a question from the person who posted the cartoon juxtaposing the situation in the cartoon with a situation today. Unable to help myself, I commented, and I received a reply that said, “It was only a question and any implication you draw is yours only.”

That got me to thinking – was that true? Was I reading into the post something that wasn’t there? After much more consideration than I intended, I decided that, while it is remotely possible that I have been wrong in the past, I was not wrong about this. The post was not just a question. By referring to an extremely specific situation, the question was put into a specific context and projected onto a situation today. That’s important because the tacit (but only) purpose of any post was to communicate, and communication must be both clear and complete. Continue reading

The Best…

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article by Scott Page, an evangelist of cognitive diversity and professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The article, Why Hiring The “Best” People Produces The Least Creative Results, briefly discusses the advantages of applied diversity when contrasted to meritocratic practices. Dr. Page points out that the truly “interesting” problems facing organizations and society today are complex problems (balancing your college-age daughter’s checkbook after it has remained unbalanced for two years while missing four of the monthly statements is hard – but it is neither complex nor terribly interesting). Complex problems are, fundamentally, multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional, thus requiring diversity in the team developing the solution. He, therefore, goes on to discuss how, even given the need for a diverse team, members of the team cannot possess all of the knowledge of their discipline. Continue reading

Carpenter or Cabinet Maker

By Guy Higgins

I often have discussions about leadership versus management. Those discussions usually start because I complain that people use management (or manager) when I think that they should be using leadership (or leader). The pushback I get is that companies use “manager” to encompass the responsibilities of organizing a group of people to achieve the goals of the company. I agree – companies do use “manager” that way. That doesn’t make it correct any more than using the term carpenter when you’re referring to a person skilled in flawless joinery to produce an exquisite piece of furniture. I am not belittling carpenters – carpentry is an important skill and involves no small degree of structural engineering knowledge (albeit mostly informal). Cabinetmakers and carpenters use many of the same techniques – measuring, cutting, joining. That doesn’t mean that any carpenter can make exquisite furniture or that any cabinetmaker will appreciate the easy way to make all the decking pieces line up perfectly at the edge of the deck.

The same perspective applies to leaders and managers. They both use much of the same knowledge. The difference is that you “manage” things like resources and time (just try inspiring time to run more slowly and see what that gets you) while you “lead” people (see how well your team or workforce responds if you move them around like bricks or treat them like the proverbial mushrooms). Continue reading

Leadership in the Time of #MeToo

By Guy Higgins

I just recently read a Harvard Business Review article, In the Wake of #MeToo, Should Corporate Boards Hire Compliance Officers? The article was written in response to the recent spate of sexual harassment allegations and lawsuits.

I responded to that post at the time, but I thought that I would share my thoughts with my Noble Readers – since I think that this is an extremely important area of discussion.

The author of the article, Jim Heskett, gives his definition of the scope of this Compliance Officer: someone who reports directly to the corporate board, independent of the CEO, and who is responsible for “facilitating knowledge of what is actually going on in the organization.” While I think of a compliance officer as someone responsible for ensuring regulatory compliance, it seems to me that Dr. Heskett is discussing someone who understands and monitors the environment or culture or atmosphere of the organization. For simplicity, I’ll refer to that as the atmosphere. Continue reading

A Nobel Laureate’s Advice to Leaders

By Guy Higgins

I recently read a short article on Richard Feynman. The article is titled Who Is Richard Feynman? The Curious Character Who Mastered Thinking and Physics. The article briefly discussed Feynman’s approach to learning and included a few quotes from him. This post is going to look at three of those quotes:

  • “You can know the name of that bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird. You’ll only know about humans in different places, and what they call the bird… I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
  • “I think for lesson number one, to learn a mystic formula for answering questions is very bad.”
  • “The only way to have real success in science, the field I’m familiar with, is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what’s good and what’s bad about it equally. In science, you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty.”

So what do these quotations have to do with leadership? Let’s look. Continue reading