Culture and Leadership Connections Podcast

Peter Cappelli – The Art of Being Counterfactual

November 21, 2023 Marie Gervais Season 6 Episode 22
Culture and Leadership Connections Podcast
Peter Cappelli – The Art of Being Counterfactual
Show Notes

Peter Cappelli is the George W. Taylor Professor of Management at The Wharton School of Business and Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources. He is also a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, MA.He is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and writes a monthly column for HR Executive magazine.


"Psychology is the most closed field, in terms of arguments that have to be internally consistent, and they have to fit with what we've done already."

Episode Highlights:
Children ask questions, but Peter Cappelli's degree of questioning was at another level. He was always counterfactual and bombarded his mother with "what if" questions. All along, nobody knew he had ADHD, and this could have been the reason why he was highly counterfactual. In the end, his ability to question turned out to be a strength for him.

In this episode, Peter shares his experiences and how his studies at Oxford, MIT, and in the Soviet Union affected his leadership style.

Childhood Incidents:
As a child with ADHD, Peter was always getting into trouble and had difficulties working on tasks with multiple steps and paying attention to details. In high school, Peter vividly recalls how his chemistry titration was a different color from everyone else. When Peter got to college, things got more complex, and he would lock himself in dark libraries to ward off distractions.

Cultural Influences:
Peter grew up in his father's family who were first-generation Italian-Americans. He vividly recalls his family discussing topics loudly in Italian, but not understanding the language.

Peter's home was 10 miles from a strategic air force base. Duck and cover drills were part of his life. According to Peter, this experience created a sense of urgency and purpose.

Influential Groups:
At 21, Peter moved to Oxford; to him, it was a more verbal place than what he was used to, and English society felt more hierarchical, with a class system that he wasn’t accustomed to as an American.

Oxford was a wonderful social experience. Students spent much time talking and learning about each other. For example, during lunch and dinner, there was a rule that they had to sit next to whoever was in line in front of them. Mixing up with all these other people gave students a chance to develop many friendships.

Temperaments and Personality:
As a child, Peter was argumentative and counterfactual. Earlier in his career, he made strong efforts not to be argumentative. Even so, he retained his love of questioning and finding truth.

Cultural Epiphanies:
When Peter meets people from the same class and background, he feels more at ease. It is harder for him to deal with the concept that somebody from a different background thinks about the world differently.

What Brings Out the Best in Peter:
Peter loves novel questions with rich information. He also enjoys interacting with people who share similar experience and interests.

Soapbox Moment:
Peter has authored a book called Our Least Important Asset. It focuses on showing businesses how they make bad decisions when they base them on financial accounting alone. His books provide alternatives for how businesses can approach issues from human perspectives.

Tagline: Do you ask questions when you are not happy with something?

Support the show