Behaviors of Charisma

Thanks to the many top-notch universities opening up their learning resources online, we have access to some great stuff. One of these is Stanford’s eCorner – their entrepreneurship resource center.

ImageThere is a great talk by Olivia Fox on “Building Your Personal Charisma”. What is fascinating is that she describes charisma as a set of behaviors that can be learned and executed. It’s not intrinsic, genetic or inborn as we tend to believe. This is a pivotal lesson about management and knowledge work in general – it’s a set of behaviors that can be learned and executed. Peter Drucker’s basic premise in “The Effective Executive” – probably the best management book ever – is that an executive’s job is to be effective and effectiveness can be learned.

Olivia says that we tend to believe that charisma – and similar attributes like leadership – are innate because they are shaped by circumstances very early in our lives. But they are just learnt – or not learnt – early. They are not innate. They can be learnt at any stage and adopted. Anyone can be charismatic – at least to some extent.

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Note better

Remember the university days with long lectures in even longer afternoons? Somehow a metric of being attentive was taking notes – lots and lots of notes. You looked busy and felt smarter. The more your scribbled the better you felt. You used to take notes with a propensity that could make a journalist who forgot his recorder at home envy you.

taking_notesAs the semester progressed, your notebook grew fatter and you happier. You felt confident that this mountain of text just needs a cursory glance at any time and the entire lecture would replay in your mind. After all you wrote it and there is so much of it. Heck, you can even give the notebook back to the professor as a souvenir. So you wade through the semester and slept in comfort with the knowledge that you have your savior.

The only problem was that when you actually reviewed your notes later they did not make much sense. You can recognize your handwriting – after all who can write that awfully bad. But you cannot understand it. You seem to be gazing at this mass of text that is coming out of the page and simply caressing those areas of your brain that deal with solving cryptographic puzzles.

Apart from many other things that can be contributing to this unsavory situation, a major one is the lack of structure in your notes. Your focus was on recording the words spoken – and that too as much as possible. More the better. While it started neatly left to right, top to bottom but soon you were patching white spaces – as if any white space left would mean something missed. You did not realize that your scribble speed was far less than the professor’s delivery, so there may be pieces of the lecture that you may have completely missed in your enthusiasm to fill the notebook. You are neither here nor there.


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Communication is what the listener does

My last post got me thinking about this even more: Communication is what the listener does. That’s what Peter Drucker told us.

We treat communication as talking, speaking, writing, emailing, posting, updating. We think of notice boards, bulletin boards, lectures, monologues, no-reply mass emails, broadcasts, multicasts and delivering messages.

So what is wrong with this? Well nothing – other than that it is at best incomplete and at worst misleading. Communication is all of the above – and much more. They are all necessary but not sufficient for communication. Image

A professor of mine told us once that his job – or for that matter job of any teacher – is first to get down to the intellectual level of his audience, the students, talk to them in a language they understand and make them ask questions. It is not easy to do so because it requires first knowing the intellectual level and capacity of those being taught and second to talk to them in a language and structure that they can absorb. A teacher talking at her intellectual level far above that of students in a class room is like a radio channel transmitting at a frequency that no one can tune to.

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Appearance matters!

An amazing research was conducted at The New York Times to measure the impact of Typography (font and related attributes that affect how the text appears) on how much we would believe in the content of the text. Conclusion: Typography does have an impact. Same statement presented in different fonts can be believed at different levels.

Readers of NYT were presented a passage arguing whether the Earth will be destroyed or not and asked to comment whether they believed it or not. The objective presented to research subjects was to determine whether he is an optimist or a pessimist. The hidden game was to measure how a particular font influences how much believable the statement in the text is. This was done by covertly changing the font for every visitor and analyzing the answers. Nice decoy!

The readers believed the text most when the font was Baskerville. When the font was Comic Sans or Georgia, they did not believe as much. Same statement with different fonts influences people differently.
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