Choice Overload, Leadership Development and Girl Power

During an interview with Tim Wu about his book, The Master Switch, he discusses information empires and explains that although the empires have evolved from the telegraph to the telephone and now the Internet, all of them appear to be on a similar cycle. Wu argues that all of these information technologies started out exercising a lot of freedom but then are “tamed and caged”. This can happen due to regulation by the government. Wu also talks about the possibility of the Internet’s openness being temporary and how we might go back to having fewer options due to our desire for convenience.

Wu’s argument makes a lot of sense and although it’s very difficult for me to believe that the Internet will be “tamed” and limited, based on the history of these other technologies, it’s very likely to happen. I think we, the public, have a lot to do with that because we say we want options but then we can’t handle making a decision due to information overload. I remember reading an article a about behavioral economics and learning that people make quicker and more financially sound decisions when they are presented with limited options. So, the “sweet spot” might be somewhere in between and it is our job as producers to find out where exactly that is.

In Drucker’s article, Managing Oneself, he discusses the need to cultivate a deep understanding of yourself, which includes learning about your strengths, how you perform and what your values are. He goes on to say that only after we understand who we are, we can learn where we belong and what we can contribute. Once we do that, we must act on it and communicate this to our colleagues and superiors.

I’m fascinated and love to learn about leadership development. I took a strengths finder assessment last year and I have to say that at first I was very disappointed with the results. I didn’t think my top strengths were even qualities at all. However, upon reflection, I learned what I could do with my strengths and what I learned was life changing. I’ll provide an example. According to this assessment, my top strength is WOO or winning others over. At first, I felt discouraged but after learning the potential benefits I could reap, I decided to focus on exercising and refining this strength. I decided to co-chair a dying student organization on campus. After recruiting another WOO, we both set out to do what we do best. And we succeeded. After about 4 weeks, we had managed to recruit and grow our executive board and membership. Now, our organization is one of the most visible and active in my school. It was a true testament of the success one can have when we hone in on what we are good at.

Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, work, and the will to lead introduced the concept of the leadership ambition gap; the fact that more men than women aspire to senior jobs. She adds that the root of this problem comes from internal barriers that women put on themselves and compromises that they make. She states that conditions for women will improve when there are more women in leadership positions giving a story and a voice to their needs and concerns. Although I agree with Sandberg’s sentiment, I don’t think that some women have the circumstances to be able to act on her advice. She alludes to this in her book by saying that parts of it are more relevant to women who have choices about how much and when and where to work. This excludes most low-income, single, head-of-household women and mothers. While I do agree that more women in leadership roles can get us a step closer to equality, I think it’s most beneficial to teach women how to develop networks of support and relationships as a means to gain power.

Today’s guest in class was Sarah Penna, the co-founder of Big Frame and Awestruck. She spoke about her journey as an entrepreneur and how she found success after discovering audiences that were not being served and developing services or programming specifically for them. While on maternity leave, she realized that there was not enough worthwhile video content for new millennial moms so she brought this idea to her superiors and developed a new network to produce content for this underserved audience.

The advice we’ve heard and read about in previous articles tells us that we should focus on ideas that we know something about and where we have insights or expertise. We’ve also learned that we should go narrow and deep and think about something a small number of people want a large amount. I think our guest, Sarah Penna, is a perfect example of someone who did just that. But she had to go through a particular experience in order to gain insight and figure out the needs. I’m starting to believe that this is really the best recipe for developing ideas. Since I’m a public administration student, I am new to all these forms of media. I’m used to writing memos not blogs and full disclosure: the first time I listened to a podcast was in this class. I’m enjoying gaining this insight and I’m looking forward to integrating all my learning thus far to create innovative solutions to social problems. I’m also feeling a little more excited about one of my startup ideas and I’m thinking of giving Sarah a call…