The Imperfectionists Book Summary - The Imperfectionists Book explained in key points
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The Imperfectionists summary

Robert McLean and Charles Conn

Strategic Mindsets for Uncertain Times

4.5 (30 ratings)
23 mins
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    The Imperfectionists
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    Strategic mindset 1: Curiosity

    In the 1970s, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M) made a pioneering change. While the rest of manufacturing America was intent on continuing assembly line productivity, 3M required employees to spend up to 15 percent of their paid hours away from core tasks. Why? Well, they wanted to imbue their organization with a spirit of curiosity. If people had time to pursue their interests, they figured, the result would be more innovation. Many similar companies have risen and fallen since then. Meanwhile, 3M has been in operation for over a century. (Decades later, Google upped the ante, requiring 20 percent unstructured time.)

    Curiosity is at the heart of innovation. Just take the Nespresso capsule, which was invented by a brilliant engineer named Eric Fevre. Fevre was curious about why there was a longer line at a particular coffee shop in Rome, Saint Eustacios. He investigated, and discovered how they created a remarkable “crema” on their espresso, which he later reproduced in the lab.

    Psychologists define curiosity as the desire to bridge the gap between our current knowledge and what we’d like to know. For McLean and Conn, it’s the most foundational strategic mindset. As much as we may rail against uncertainty, curiosity can’t exist without it. 

    We’re innately inquisitive beings. From the moment we’re born until about the age of five, our curiosity compounds. Case in point, researchers have found some toddlers ask 300 questions per day. 

    Researchers have also identified a curiosity “sweet spot,” where the level of uncertainty is neither too over- nor underwhelming. At this midpoint, we can tackle complex creative problems with relative confidence of success. 

    So why have studies found that only 24 percent of us experience curiosity at work? While certain deadlines and metrics need to be met, do we have to sacrifice questioning and experimentation to do so? Examples like 3M and Google show us the two aren’t mutually exclusive. 

    What might adoption look like in practice? There are three ways in. 

    The first is putting yourself in the path of stimulating people, places, and conversations. The second is not feeling afraid to pose rudimentary or absurd questions. Ask “why?” to everything without fear. And the third is cultivating conditions for “novelty, gestation, and safety” in your workplace to make creative thinking welcome – just as Nespresso did when it gave Eric Fevrethe time and space to be curious about the espresso crema. 

    The coming years will be bumpy for those who stick hard and fast to assumptions and the status quo. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” will become less a point of pride, and more a cause for serious concern. 

    By making small shifts in your life today, such as engineering an interaction with someone in another department, for example, or going for a walk during your lunch break to let your thinking percolate, you’ll be well on your way to cultivating the first strategic mindset our near future demands.

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    What is The Imperfectionists about?

    The Imperfectionists (2023) is a strategic guide to surviving – and thriving – in today’s uncertain world. As careers and lives continue to be disrupted at an unprecedented rate, individuals equipped with specific problem-solving mindsets will have a critical advantage. 

    Who should read The Imperfectionists?

    • Entrepreneurs committed to staying ahead of the curve 
    • Leaders in disrupted fields 
    • Anyone wanting to improve their creative problem-solving skills

    About the Author

    Robert McLean, AM, has held several leadership positions in the fields of business, conservation, and social welfare. Today, McLean is a director emeritus of McKinsey & Company, an Asia-Pacific trustee of The Nature Conservancy, and a director of the Paul Ramsay Foundation. 

    Charles Conn is a Canadian-American entrepreneur and conservationist. He cofounded the life sciences venture firm Monograph Capital in 2021, and has been a board member of Patagonia since 2008. Conn previously served as CEO of Oxford Sciences Innovation and of the Rhodes Trust. 

    The Imperfectionists is McLean and Conn’s second title together after their 2019 release, Bulletproof Problem Solving

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