Wi13 Presenter Morten Hansen on How to “Do Less, Then Obsess” at Work

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    Morten T. Hansen, author of the forthcoming book Great at Work: How Top Performers Do Less, Work Better, and Achieve More (Simon & Schuster, January 30), will lead an advanced education session on “working smarter” at the 2018 Winter Institute in Memphis.

    Great at Work coverHansen, a management professor at the University of California, Berkeley, will present “Do Less, Then Obsess — Recognizing Your Store’s Strengths and Making the Most of Them” for owners and managers who want to learn how to maximize their time.

    Formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and INSEAD in France, Hansen holds a PhD from Stanford Business School and has worked as a manager at the Boston Consulting Group. He is also ranked as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50.

    Hansen’s interactive workshop at Winter Institute will explain how bookstores and booksellers might find more success not by doing more work, but by identifying the work that their bookstore does best, and then effectively obsessing about it. He will also share his “Seven Work Smarter Practices” and provide an opportunity for booksellers to identify ways to apply them to their daily business lives.

    His new book, a longitudinal study of more than 5,000 managers and employees, has already been hailed by organizational psychologist Adam Grant as “the definitive guide to working smarter.” Hansen is also the co-author of Great by Choice (Simon & Schuster) with Jim Collins.

    Hansen’s advanced education session will take place from 10:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. and again from 2:10 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. in Room L14 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center on Tuesday, January 23.

    Bookselling This Week recently spoke with Hansen about his seven “Work Smarter” practices, why the quality of learning is more important than the quantity, and his local indie bookstore, Books Inc.


    Bookselling This Week: What topics and ideas will you be covering in your advanced education session and how will the session be structured? What do you hope the owners and managers in attendance will take away from the session?

    Morten HansenMorten Hansen: In my research for the book Great at Work, I studied 5,000 managers and employees in order to discern the work practices that lead to better performance. A key part is focus. The best performers generally are extremely focused in what they seek to accomplish — they narrow the scope and then they go all in to do exceptional work in those areas. For owners and managers, this may mean focusing on a few key activities in bookstores and not trying to spread the stores too thin across activities. 

    BTW: What are some ways that booksellers specifically can use the “Seven Work Smarter Practices” you identified through your five-year research study to make their stores more successful?

    MH: If you are going to focus, the question becomes, what to focus on? And that’s the second key practice we found in our research: pursue value, not goals. We found that many managers don’t really pursue value, that is, focusing on making contributions to others (including customers and the local community) and not reaching their own internal metric. I will try to be a bit provocative here: Have you created value by selling a book to a customer? My answer would be, no, not necessarily. We will do a valuable exercise in the session to unpack this concept. 

    BTW: What is the most common misconception people have regarding the correct method and mindset it takes to perform well at work? Where do you think this perception comes from? 

    MH: There are many misconceptions! Here’s one. It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Malcom Gladwell popularized that idea in his terrific book Outliers. But it is incomplete and even a bit misleading. If you look at the research behind that, and if we look at my research on work, it’s not about the hours of practice. Quality — and not quantity — of learning matters far more. I call it the learning loop: Top performers focus on key skills and then engage in a “do-measure-feedback-modify” loop to improve. It’s about learning smart, not mindless repetition. Many managers can improve on this. 

    BTW: Do you personally apply the principle of “Do less, then obsess” to your own life and work? If so, how?

    MH: When I did research with Jim Collins on our book Great by Choice, which was a sequel to his book Good to Great, Jim always said, “OK, we have to find this idea — do we apply it ourselves?” So I have kept asking myself that question. Of the seven practices, I do a few well, and I have much to improve on some. I am a good collaborator. I can do better focusing. I tend to spread myself too thin, like so many others. It’s a work in progress!

    BTW: What have your experiences with indie bookstores been like?

    MH: They are terrific! I love books and I just love going into a bookstore and browsing the shelves. My local store is Books Inc. in Laurel Village in San Francisco. Indie stores can do special things for the local community. For example, two years ago, my daughter, who was 14 at the time, wrote and published a novel about the life of a seventh grader. She went to our Books Inc., talked to the staff, and they promoted and displayed the book, which she felt terrific about. That’s touching the community in a small way. 

    Hansen’s education session will take place from 10:40 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. and again from 2:10 p.m. to 3:10 p.m. in Room L14 at the Memphis Cook Convention Center on Tuesday, January 23. Preregistration for Hansen’s sessions is closed.

    Winter Institute 13 is made possible by the generous support of lead sponsor Ingram Content Group and from publishers large and smallSee the full Winter Institute program here.