Radical Candor

Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor is a truly fascinating management book. You can tell it is a good book because it is hard to summarize. Each chapter is filled with insightful ideas and stories from her experience working as a top manager in Silicon Valley companies. Moreover, Scott’s theories are informed by her first-hand experience about what works in practice, unlike much academic prose (such as Barling’s The Science of Leadership, which despite the impressive title is just a literature review of hundreds of disparate and ultimately useless leadership theories invented by scholars.) This article only draws upon the first two chapters of Scott’s book, which address the following question: as a manager, how do you establish a trusting relationship with the people who report to you?

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The Art of Dealing with Difficult People

The modern relevance of Stoic ideas is beautifully explained by the American philosopher William B. Irvine in two of his books, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy and Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt, and Why they Shouldn’t. I here summarize some of the ideas espoused by the author, with a specific focus on the life advice that the Stoics had for dealing with conflict in human relations.

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Understanding Competition and Cooperation

Contemporary society literally surrounds us with a semantic mess when it comes to the way human interactions are to be “managed.” On the one hand, we are bombarded with terms such as collaboration, cooperation, and teamwork, usually on the grounds that they are ideals to be pursued; on the other hand, there is competition, confrontation, and conflict, which are associated with all kinds of unwanted behavior. How do we differentiate all these terms from each other? Do they really allow us to better understand the way we interact? How do we evaluate whether one or the other is in fact good or bad?

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The Art of the Sale

Economics tells us that selling is about understanding a customer’s needs and delivering a product to meet them. In the world of homo oeconomicus, the success of a transaction depends on what the customer is willing to pay, and the price at which the seller is willing to sell. As soon as there is a match, there is a sale. Management textbooks describe elaborate step-by-step sales procedures, as if sales were only about being organized and proactive.

In most real-world situations, however, sales are quite unpredictable. Potential clients must be courted, discussions must be initiated, trust must be gained, and unconscious needs must be satisfied. Successful sales thus depend on a variety of structural and psychological factors. This article intends to examine these factors in greater detail and incorporates different personal, professional and scholarly perspectives.

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On the Careful Use of Language

Although primates in general are among the most social of mammal species, very few primate groups are capable of supporting more than eighteen males. Beyond this threshold, interpersonal tensions and relations of hierarchical dominance become unbearable to individuals, causing the groups to split apart. But humans have been living in cities containing tens of thousands of individuals for several millennia, effectively making us the most sociable of all hominids. How did this happen?

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The Uses and Misuses of Competition

There is an interesting analogy to be made between today’s corporations and the mystery surrounding the construction of the ancient Egyptian Pyramids. How could a society build such colossal monuments some four and a half millennia ago?

The Greek historian Herodotus recounts that the Pyramids were built with “400,000 slave workers over 20 years.” Along with Biblical depictions of the Pharaos as ruthless despots, this has led to popular narratives portraying the Pyramids as the fruit of the effort of many unwilling slaves whose sole motivation to work was the whip. However, recent archeological excavations have suggested otherwise.

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On Office Politics

The exercise of power is not something that solely belongs to the realm of government. One could argue that nearly all organizations are prone to power games. Daily examples abound: someone took undue credit for your ideas; you were next in line for a promotion, but a colleague with less experience got the position instead; an unexpected project failure leads to widespread scapegoating; another department was able to persuade top executives to increase their funding at the expense of your own; a company merger brings up the possibility of downsizing in your division and colleagues suddenly start acting aggressively.

Why do people get involved in power games? How can we aspire to deal with them? I will attempt to answer these questions in the following article. We start by examining some classical theories of human nature.

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