The Pile for February 16, 2010

The Pile is our weekly guide to what we’re reading to become better managers.

We’re still neck-deep in what we learned last week at TED and what TED has led us to, but here are some other articles we found useful:

We’ve become addicted to our smartphones, but are we getting anything out of them? In The Baseline Scenario, the blog he shares with Simon Johnson, James Kwak does a fine job of explaining how the global economy got into this mess and how we might get out of it. But in a recent post, The Myth of Efficiency, Kwak uses a Planet Money podcast as a starting point for a reasonable rant on how efficient we aren’t, capping it with a claim that “BlackBerry (and its competitors) have made a fortune off the myth of efficiency.” His four-point argument:

First, working on a BlackBerry is less efficient than working on a computer (it takes more time to get the same stuff done), so some of your benefit (time waiting in line) is wasted in lower productivity. Second, checking your email constantly causes you to respond to emails and deal with issues that you could have simply ignored had you waited until you got home or to your hotel (since questions or issues posed in email often resolve themselves if you simply wait a few hours). Third, having a BlackBerry causes you to spend more time on email than you need to, because you can. Fourth, the quality of work you do on a BlackBerry is lower than on a computer. For example, with a computer, you can answer a question by finding a specific data source and actually finding the answer; with a BlackBerry, you are more likely to give an unhelpful answer like “try looking at source X,” which you may have misidentified, and which is less helpful to the person asking the question. But people lobby their companies to pay for their BlackBerrys because they want them, and companies often agree because they think they’re getting a more efficient workforce.

The comments section on Kwam’s post is filled with people agreeing and disagreeing, none of them being particular efficient while doing so.

There’s another everything-you-know-is-wrong list at the McKinsey Quarterly, Five myths about how to create jobs. James Manyika and Byron Auguste survey the conventional arguments for job creation and stick a fork in each one. It’s a quick read, and a sobering one.

NYTimesFinally this week, Vineet Nayar, chief executive of HCL Technologies, an Indian outsourcing company, tells the New York Times that he doesn’t have all the answers:

Most C.E.O.’s are not as great as they’re believed to be. There are exceptions. There is Bill Gates. There is Steve Jobs. There is Larry Page. But I’m not one of them, and so many of us are not them. So, if you see your job not as chief strategy officer and the guy who has all the ideas, but rather the guy who is obsessed with enabling employees to create value, I think you will succeed. That’s a leadership style that evolved from my own understanding of the fact that I’m not the greatest and brightest leader born.

Humility? In a C.E.O.? Now that’s a novel management lesson worth paying attention to.