Ken Rona on How Reflection Informs Manager Career Growth

In Chapter 9 of 15 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, digital media executive Ken Rona answers "What Role Has Reflection Played in Shaping Your Personal Growth?"  Rona refers to fundamental attribution error, which is where you take credit for good things and blame bad things on the external world.  Understanding this bias helps Rona reflect and make sense of challenges and his choices to overcome them.  Ken Rona is a Vice President at Turner Broadcasting, where he leads teams across advertising sales, big data software development and business strategy.  Rona earned a BA and MA in Political Science from Stony Brook University and a PhD in Behavioral Economics from Duke University. 


Erik Michielsen: What role has reflection played in shaping your personal growth?

Ken Rona: You know, there’s that line about a self-reflected life is not worth living. I take some of that to heart. When I have a challenge, I try to think about what role I’ve played in creating it. Do you know what the fundamental attribution error is? 

Erik Michielsen: Tell me more about that.

Ken Rona: Sure. It’s a psychological phenomenon, right, that many people experience. And the notion is that when something good happens, it’s because I’m great.  Right? And when something bad happens, it’s because the world is against me. Right? Or you know, it’s your fault, basically. Right? So you blame good things on yourself—Or you take credit for good things, but for negative things, you attribute to the rest of the world. And that’s one where, you know, when I think about something, I really try to separate that out. I really try not to take too much credit for the good, nor try to put so much of the bad, some of the negative factors on the external world. I try to kind of have a much more balanced—I try to—because I know about this I’m biased. I try to think about how to have a really honest assessment about what my role in whatever the challenge was, was. And I found that helpful. 

And I actually—it’s actually my—almost my talking point for the year has been to tell people about this. Because I have been in a situation in business where it happened with a vendor, where they were blaming something on us that was—like their product failure. They’re like, well, you’re not using the product right. Look guys, it’s your product. Right? Like, you know, why would you not take ownership of your product, and like blaming your customer is not a good way to go, right? But—So I’d say that’s kind of the—how I think about reflection. I guess it’s an empirical question if I do it enough or not, it’s certainly it seems to be okay but I think that you have to—especially as you get more senior, as you get more senior, you really have to think carefully about what your role in things are. And to make sure that you’re having the appropriate amount of influence, how you’re doing that influencing, where you use more direct power, right? 

I used to be accused of being a bit -- my elbows were too sharp. My elbows are probably always gonna be too sharp for the level I’m at, but I think that my use of the elbows is much more surgical. Right? I’m not like whacking them around, I’m more like—I’m more just going… And it was funny, I have a staff member who works for me and he’s—I—Do you know this notion in a—like World of Warcraft in a multimassive, multiplaying—massively multiplayer role-playing game, you have roles, right? And one of the roles that people have is they’re called tanks, and a tank is basically like a character that is designed to take abuse, right? 

So that while everyone else is running around stealing the vorpal sword, you know, the enemy is beating on the tank. Right? He is that guy. People just beat on him and he just takes it and takes it and takes it. And he’s—has much more—much higher emotional intelligence than I have, right? His EQ is much higher. I think. Because he takes that stuff and he takes it with a lot of equanimity, right? He’s just like really cool about it. And somebody was taking advantage of him. And I said, dude, they’re taking advantage of you. He said, I know, what should I do? I said, you gotta throw the elbow, man. Like so there are times when like being the calm voice, right -- the tank, is not always the right thing, right? Sometimes you gotta go a little bit on the offensive. 

So I’ve tried to be more—I’ve tried to kind of take actually from him the “be cool,” right? And I’ve tried to be a little more tank-ish. But I’m much more surgical about my use of my elbows.