28 Mar Introduction to The Mosaic Newsletter
I’ve spent much of the last few years researching, writing and speaking about my book The Mosaic Principle: The Six Dimensions of a Remarkable Life and Career. In doing so, I’ve drawn upon my own professional experiences – 30 years at McKinsey, followed by Albright Stonebridge and Brunswick. And now I get to learn from students and faculty as a Professor of the Practice at Georgetown University.
I’ve learned most from the people I’ve met and interviewed along the way – people who have lived remarkable lives of breadth and range. Some of them have developed what I have come to think of as cognitive diversity – new ways of thinking about problems that reflect different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. This has enabled them to become what we need most in today’s world – tri-sector athletes and integrative problem-solvers equipped to tackled society’s most complex problems. They are the people who live Mosaic Lives.
In this regular newsletter and the accompanying blog, I’ll showcase such people, and explore what we can learn from their lives and careers. I’ll also address the challenges facing our leading institutions – starting with business schools and other academy organizations – and explore breadth as a matter of equity and access in education and the world of work.
There’ll be much more about all this on my website at www.nicklovegrove.net – this newsletter will just summarize the highlights and provide the relevant links.
The Mosaic Principle – A Thesis Affirmed
When I wrote The Mosaic Principle I aimed to revive and refresh the intuitively compelling concept of a broad, well-rounded life – to suggest to readers that life, both personally and professionally, is best lived as a mosaic, encompassing a rich, colorful, and diverse set of experiences, relationships, and sources of perspective. Here’s the link to the prologue of the book, which lays out my thesis.
Since the book’s publication, it’s become ever more apparent that we need to treasure the benefits of breath in a world sold on depth – and to be wary of the risks we run when we rely on ultra-specialized expertise; to understand why the technical experts keep getting it wrong; and to chart a better way forward both for our own lives and careers and for those of future generations.
As I noted in the book, all too many people have responded to our ever more complex and interconnected world by trying to master one small sliver of it, hoping that the rest will be taken care of by somebody else. This stance reflects a growing sentiment across society – that generalists may know a little about a lot, but that they don’t know enough about anything in particular.
But experience tells quite a different story of what happens when we have the experts on top, rather than on tap. First of all, we get lousy predictions of future outcomes. As one writer wryly observed of the last couple of years, “Apart from the UK elections, Brexit, the Cubs winning the World Series, and Trump’s election victory, it’s been a great time for experts.”
But, the shortcomings of this model go well beyond a few errant predictions. Of course, experts have contributed to extraordinary advances in the physical sciences, medicine, computer technology and so much more. But as an organizing concept for our society, our leading institutions, and for each of us as individual human beings, ultra-specialization has so far proved to be deeply flawed in a number of ways: not only is it remarkably error-prone and perpetually at risk of obsolescence, but it is also woefully inadequate for tackling today’s most vexing problems, let alone those of the future.
I interviewed more than 200 tri-sector leaders in my research for The Mosaic Principle and most of them understood this – resisting the siren call of ever greater specialization and moving instead toward breadth and diversity as they pursued careers across government, business, and social enterprise.
Though this pursuit came naturally to them, it didn’t always come easily. And when it didn’t, they drew upon six transformational assets that allowed them to manage change and to flourish no matter the circumstances – a moral compass, an intellectual thread, transferable skills, contextual intelligence, extended networks, and a prepared mind. Below is a one-page profile, which you can use to assess where you stand on each dimension. I’ve become more convinced than ever that bolstering these transformational assets should be a core mission of academy organizations.
The Munich Challenge
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Munich to speak at the annual conference of European Business School Deans. I took the opportunity to lay down a challenge – business schools need to decide whether they’re going to be part of the solution or part of the problem. They can educate their students narrowly to be narrow-minded business leaders, or they can help them prepare to tackle the complex multi-dimensional challenges of today’s society. Since then, I’ve turned my Munich challenge into two short articles: Article 1 – Challenging the Management Academy and Article 2 – Renewing the Mission of Management Education.
Many years ago, Rebecca Henderson and I shared a small office as fledgling analysts in McKinsey’s London Office. Since then, Rebecca has built a career of academic distinction and is now a University Professor at Harvard. Among her many innovations has been an MBA course entitled Reimagining Capitalism, which has become one of the most popular electives at HBS. This is the kind of thing I had in mind when I laid down my Munich Challenge to business school deans. I hope a course like this might become a staple of every business school curriculum.
Kennedy School Alumni Rallying to the Cause
Of course, HBS’ cousin across the Charles River, the Kennedy School where I studied more than 35 years ago, has always aspired to tackle society’s most complex and vexing problems. Although its founding mission has been to strengthen the effectiveness of governments around the world to do so, increasingly it has come to appreciate the benefits of tri-sector leadership – and what professors Jack Donahue and Richard Zeckhauser call Collaborative Governance. So, it was a particular pleasure to speak recently to Kennedy School alumni in Washington, DC about the benefits of a tri-sector approach. Here is a link to a TED Talk-length video of what I said.
Are you naturally and intrinsically broad or deep? If you’re not sure, do what thousands have now done, and take the Mosaic Self-Assessment Instrument (MSI), which will help you assess how you view this central dilemma of our times. Here’s a link to the self-assessment.
I’ll be back soon with further details of this exciting journey. Until then, very best wishes.
Author of The Mosaic Principle and Triple-Strength Leadership; and Georgetown University Professor of the Practice.