And She Called on Robin …
And the Heavens Parted

In Intuition, a stunning novel about the politics of science by Allegra Goodman, "Marion," see below, is the head of a department where some powerful research is being conducted. Among many other things, near the end of the book, correctly or not, one of the post-docs becomes a whistle blower—and creates a godawful mess. As I said, the allegations may or may not have been warranted, but in a flash (below) the psychological problem which led to the post-doc's meltdown becomes clear, after years, to super-logical, demanding boss Marion. The play here is subtle. This may do nothing for you, but I carry the quote around with me. In my case, it is-was a bombshell upon 3rd or 4th reading, and its strength only grows—I've probably read it, no kidding, 50 times now.

Give it a shot:

Marion ... glanced at the raised hands [she was presenting a paper] and enjoyed the interest in her work. She ... gazed at her former post-doc, her rebellious child with her hand raised. 'What do you need now?' she asked herself. Strange, she'd never posed the question that way before. She'd always considered what her post-doc demanded, what she did or did not deserve. What did she need? That was the puzzle, but as was so often the case, framing the question properly went a long way. What did she need? In that calm, clear, nearly joyous moment after her talk, the answer began to come to Marion. Ah, yes, of course, she thought with some surprise. And she called on Robin.

Obviously (but not obviously to blunt Marion for years), the post-doc "simply" needed recognition. And I think there is an enormous message here. A lot of bosses are Marions. And a lot of employees are kin to our post-doc. Of course, you may just think I'm nuts about this one wee paragraph. Fair enough.

Tom Peters posted this on August 16, 2010, in Leadership.
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