Thinker in Residence: G. Richard Shell on Business and Books

Sally Haldorson

September 07, 2013


In our final Thinker in Residence installment with G. Richard Shell, author of Springboard, we asked Dr. Shell to share with us the business question that most inspires his work and what books have most influenced him.

In our final Thinker in Residence installment with G. Richard Shell, author of Springboard, we asked Dr. Shell to share with us the business question that most inspires his work and what books have most influenced him. Read on and enjoy his take On Business and Books. Q: What is the one unanswered question about business you are most interested in answering? GRS: For me, the biggest question for business is how best to harness the power of self interest in solving the huge collective action problems we face as a civilization – problems such as environmental degradation, human rights, and ideological extremism and violence. How do you harness the most powerful, reliable lever in human motivation (self interest) to create solutions to the problems that threaten to bring an end to our civilization? I am a long, long way from addressing those issues myself. But that is the question I am looking for business leaders and innovators to help us answer. Q: You have copiously studied self-help and personal development literature: what are your three must-reads for anyone interested in the topic? GRS: In the personal development area, I tend to like first-person stories rather than advice books. Here are three books that have inspired me:
1. The first success book in American literature, The Autobiography of Ben Franklin. This is the first rags-to-riches story, the first book on how good character leads to sustainable success, and a truly amazing tale of a gifted entrepreneur making it big by creating value for everyone around him. 2. Charles Lindbergh's The Spirit of St. Louis. This one won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction in the mid-1950s. Lindbergh was an amazing and controversial person. His book is about a period of less than one year in his life – between 1926 and 1927. It shows how the powers of the mind and imagination can make something that everyone thought was impossible – crossing the Atlantic in a single-engine plane – happen. 3. Most recently, Sonia Sotomayor's My Beloved World, which tells the story of how a young Latino girl living in the projects ended up as a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. I love that she was inspired to be a judge as a young girl while watching episodes of the old T.V. show Perry Mason. You would think that she would be inspired to become a trial lawyer from watching that show. But Justice Sotomayor loved watching the judge make his rulings on evidence
Q. What is the business book you wish you had written and why? GRS: Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Robert Cialdini is one of the best, most widely published social psychologists of his generation – and I would love to have his publication record as well as his instinct for creating great research programs. But even more important to me is Cialdini's gift as a storyteller and writer. His book brings the subject of interpersonal influence to life with vivid examples, world-class research he did himself (which distinguishes him from Malcolm Gladwell), and solid, useable recommendations about how to make your life work better. Q. What business book are you reading right now? GRS: Chade-Meng Tan's Search Inside Yourself. Meng Tan is a top engineer at Google who has created a great program for helping employees renew themselves through mindfulness meditation. He has a great sense of humor about this (his job title at Google is "Jolly Good Fellow") and his book is basically about my favorite subject: self awareness as a pathway to success.
G. Richard Shell is the Thomas Gerrity Professor of Legal Studies, Business Ethics, and Management and the Chair of the Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he has taught since 1986. He also led the School's most recent innovation process to completely redesign its MBA program. Professor Shell is an internationally recognized expert in negotiations, persuasion, and strategy, as well as an award-winning teacher. He describes his work this way:
In my work, I help students and executives reach peak levels of personal and professional effectiveness through skilled negotiation, persuasion, influence, and the discovery of meaningful life goals. Three beliefs permeate everything I teach and write. First, success begins with self-awareness. Second, success progresses through excellence in practice. Third, success demands adherence to the highest standards of integrity.
He is the author of Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People (2nd Edition, Penguin 2006) and The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas (Penguin/Portfolio 2007) (with Mario Moussa) and, most recently, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success (Penguin/Portfolio 2013) in which he presents a series of self-assessments and profilers (as well as inspiring stories) to help people articulate their own definitions of the word "success" and determine how to use their own unique talents and strengths to achieve their long-term life goals.
Revisit this introduction to G. Richard Shell and our take on his new book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success.. Read our Q&A with G. Richard Shell about Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success.

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