HOW Matters More Than Ever

HOW Matters More Than Ever


When HOW was first published in 2007, I argued in the book that we were entering the Era of Behavior.  Now HOW has been re-published by John Wiley & Sons in an expanded edition and over the last four years it has become clear that we haven’t just entered the Era of Behavior. We’ve plunged way deep in it.   Our behavior matters even more than I thought when I first wrote the book, and in ways I never imagined.

For example, when I evoked a world powered by vast networks of information that revealed us in unexpected ways, I didn’t realize that it would take a global financial crisis to expose the real nature and profound implications of our connectedness.

When I wrote about a New York City donut vendor who boosted sales by trusting his customers to make their own change, I had no idea that giving trust away would become a global business strategy used to forge deep connections in a connected world, or that even countries like Indonesia would adopt it as a tactic to fight corruption.

Indonesia has opened over 10,000 “Honesty Cafés” throughout the archipelago, and many “Honesty Canteens” in local schools. Honesty Canteens – like the New York donut vendor – have no cashiers. Instead, students take what they like from the shelves. They deposit payment in an open box and take change from another box. The theory is that honesty canteens will teach young Indonesians habits of probity that will discourage them from sliding into corrupt practices later in life.

When I analyzed the largest Ponzi scheme to date as essentially being about the abuse of trust, I did not anticipate the possibility of an epic abuse of trust that would reverberate globally far beyond the circle of investors that Bernard Madoff directly betrayed.

When I wrote about a pro golfer who disqualified himself from a championship tournament not because he thought he must but because he thought he should as a professional and as a personI did not anticipate that one of the greatest golfers of all time would fall from grace because he conducted his professional and personal lives in starkly different ways in a world where public and private behavior have become virtually indistinguishable.

In the first edition of the book, I described our world becoming interconnected because communications technology had shrunk the distance between people, countries and cultures. But I did not fully see the extent to which we also have grown interdependent, even morally interdependent. Moral interdependence is inescapable in a world where mortgage transactions in California can wipe out pension plans in rural Norway, and where global consumer demand for cell phones and videogame consoles fuels genocide in central Africa.

I’ve come to recognize that we’ve grown too comfortable describing the world using amoral terms such as flat, transparent, complex, uncertain, and (full of) risk. The world is certainly all these things – and more. Roughly two centuries ago, the Scottish philosopher David Hume observed that the moral imagination diminishes with distance. It follows that the moral imagination should increase as the world becomes smaller with the globalization of information and capital.

And so it has. We are no longer distant, and therefore, we need to reawaken our moral imaginations.

Behavior has become a powerful source of excellence and competitive advantage.  In the past, bosses could get away with telling subordinates, “Just get it done—I don’t care how.” The more progressive ones would implore their people to think outside the box, which in their minds was a compliment. In my mind, it’s an insult. If you trusted your people, you wouldn’t put them in a box in the first place. In our radically interconnected world, leaders need to flip the switch and replace task-based jobs (which are about what people must do) with values-based missions. In short, it’s about how we should get things done:  Of course, how we do what we do has always mattered. But today, how we behave, consume, build trust in our relationships, and relate to others matters more than ever and in ways it never has before.

The smart leaders are those who have found new ways to elicit peak performance in a world where traditional forms of power are rapidly losing sway. It’s all about rethinking the strategic significance of behavior, moving it from defense to offense.

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