"I Hate People": A New Workplace Mantra?

Jonathan Littman is the co-author of two very well-respected books on creativity and business—The Art of Innovation (co-written with IDEO’s Tom Kelley) and The Ten Faces of Innovation (again co-written with Kelley), among other titles. Marc Hershon is a branding expert who worked at Lexicon, the agency that created such ultra-catchy product names as “BlackBerry.” They’re former high-school classmates, and compliment each other like Yin and Yang, both sartorially and in conversation. Littman wears sleek, chic black and arty glasses; Hershon wears a retro hat and bowling shirt. They laugh a lot, together and at each other. Yet their new book might scare some readers off, as it’s called I Hate People: Kick Loose from the Overbearing and Underhanded Jerks at Work and Get What You Want Out of Your Job.

I met with the affable duo this week to talk about the book. It is both a self-help manual for people hoping to not only keep their jobs during the recession, but also possibly advance, as well as a taxonomy of office workers for managers, to help them make better staffing and team-building decisions. But it also is about innovation. Maybe not direct product innovation, but workplace and staffing innovation, as well as personal time-management innovation. Which of course can help lead people toward more inventive ideas.

And I couldn’t resist meeting Littman and asking him about the relationship between The Ten Faces of Innovation, which spelled out the ten types of people you want to have on your team (Experimenters; Collaborators), and I Hate People, which lists the ten types you don’t (Liar Liars; Stop Signs). I wanted to also sit down with Hershon, because who wouldn’t want to see how the mind of someone who helped come up with the winning “BlackBerry” brand works?

We had a lively discussion, and they both revealed that yes, the new I Hate People book was influenced by the Ten Faces of Innovation, for obvious structural reasons. Behind-the-scenes, though, Littman tapped some of the corporate contacts he made while working with IDEO to come up with compelling real-life narratives. For instance, through his previous work, Littman was able to persuade Procter and Gamble managers Karl Ronn and Debbie Vargo to open up for I Hate People. Ronn oversees 600 employees; Vargo has been at P & G for decades. Both discuss how challenging it is to be a "Soloist," or the independent, original, and successful type whom Littman and Hershon hold up as the "protagonist" of the book and the type to emulate.

Soloists are the likes of Craig Newmark, founder of the game-changing Web site Craig's List, Littman and Hershon say. Of course, not everyone can become one, or is born one. To this point, the authors said that managers should accept who employees are, even as unpleasant as they might be, and then re-configure existing teams. "Companies can create makeovers of groups, rather than makeovers of their physical offices," Hershon suggests. In other words, re-design who collaborates with whom according to personality type, rather than spend money on some of the fancy new chairs on the market that suggest they can offer better movement and help improve teamwork in meetings. Or instead of tearing down cubicle walls in an effort to become more transparent.

There are some trite -- but wise -- tips, too, such as the suggestion to eat well and exercise to become a successful soloist. But then there are some handy ones that are inventive and simple, such as using your e-mail signature for instant, meaningful-even-if-somewhat-generic replies for more efficient communication without wasting time.

While I Hate People is certainly a catchy title for a book, it could become a business for Hershon and Littman. They told me that they're considering consulting for big companies interested in their philosophies. They are also working on a reality show. It would be highly interesting to see how they would mix and match some of the "The Ten Faces of Innovation" and the types to avoid in I Hate People, in terms of re-designing teams within real corporations. Maybe all of the above will be fodder for their next book.

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