Extraordinary Minds

Traits of genius

In his latest book, Extraordinary Minds, Howard Gardner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a winner of a MacArthur Prize, often called “the genius grant,” says that leaders share a significant number of characteristics, regardless of culture.

The one most striking to me today is the ability to tell stories that engage others and compel them to act or feel.

In an interview with Strategy + Business, Gardner says: “…leadership involves the creation of powerful narratives that are much more than mission statements or messages. They are actually stories where there are goals and obstacles, where good and bad things can happen along the way and where the people involved feel part of an enterprise that’s trying to end up in a better place.

But here’s the part where most Radio “leaders” we know of miss the boat…

In order for a story to be effective in the long run, it must be ’embodied.’ The individual or institution that bears the narrative must behave consistently with it.

It’s a bit hard to tell a story of mutual sacrifice in hard times when the guys at the top continue to earn tens of millions of dollars, when CEOs can take companies into bankruptcy and emerge on the other side with huge new stock option plans.

And check this part out…

…what makes this a non-trivial theory…is my realization that everyone has millions of stories in their minds already, and that for a new story to have any impact, it has to win a Darwinian kind of contest: It must slay the competing stories. That’s very difficult to do, and most of the time it won’t work. Either the story will be assimilated into something that is already known or it will be seen as being so at odds with what’s already known and believed that it won’t have any impact.

The best storytellers are those who can tell a story that’s strange enough to get people’s attention but not so strange that the people can’t eventually make it part of their own consciousness.

This book is full of gems.

People have a real thirst for stories that give them a better sense of how they belong.

I’ve believed for years now that the first radio company that embodies some of the wisdom that this book imparts will have the best talent and brains begging to be hired.

The only question is, who will stand up to lead us?

Who has the vision to create something totally new for our industry?

Who has the patience and wisdom to invest for our future, even if its at the expense of current profit?

It won’t be one of the big companies. They’re run by Wall Street, not radio guys, and definitely not leaders. They’re run by guys looking for the quickest cash-out, the fanciest corner office, the coolest private plane.

But if the right person, with the right resources, and the right story emerges, sign me up.

And if you’re looking for a great business book, buy this one.