Several months ago a friend introduced me to a blog titled Farnam Street Brain Food: www.Farnamstreetblog.com. This is a weekly posting on diverse topics, many on leadership, education, psychology, books, and unusual Internet commentary all compiled and written by Shane Parrish who lives in Canada (Ottawa Ontario). In his most recent post he mentioned that Farnam Street takes hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars a month to sustain. It is widely read and free of cost, supported by readers who make donations in response to periodic low-key requests for donations. Probably there are many subscribers like me who don’t have the time (or take the time) to read everything but it is worth checking out. There is no Christian emphasis and you won’t agree with everything, but it’s a good way to sample the huge world of blog posts, many of which deal with topics or sources that most of us would not see otherwise. Here are examples:
The November 27, 2015 post listed mini-articles titled “Your Brain is Programmed to Reach False Conclusions,” “The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Art,” and “Ten Qualities of Creative Leaders.” The latter was taken from a well-known advertising executive named David Ogilvy. Sometimes described as “The Father of Advertising,” he never wrote a book although last year his friends and family published The Unpublished David Ogilvy, a collection of Ogilvy comments and lists compiled long after his death in 1999. People who knew him confirmed that Ogilvy personally lived out the succinct list of qualifications that he sought in the creative leaders he hired:
- High standards of personal ethics.
- Big people, without pettiness.
- Guts under pressure, resilience in defeat.
- Brilliant brains — not safe plodders.
- A capacity for hard work and midnight oil.
- Charisma — charm and persuasiveness.
- A streak of unorthodoxy — creative innovators.
- The courage to make tough decisions.
- Inspiring enthusiasts — with trust and gusto.
- A sense of humor.
Be honest with yourself. Which of these do you have? Which do you want? How could you develop these? Please comment on the list or on the Farnam Street blog.
Should you take time to read Susan Pinker’s book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter? For me, Pinker’s book isn’t a “must read” but fits the “recommended reading” category if you work with people. Last week’s newsletter (#631) introduced the book but here are several subjectively-selected, potentially-practical conclusions. Like most of the book, each is documented by easily-understood research summaries and the author’s face-to-face interviews.
- Internet training programs can be useful but contact with a skilled teacher is better. Consider this: “Policy-makers get a lot more from parent and teacher training programs than from investing in expensive—highly perishable—classroom technology.” Does this apply to on-line training or college courses? Surely the best distance learning includes conversations with instructors and peers as opposed to watching video lectures passively. [Personal perspective: I have taught both approaches. The interactive courses involve more engagement, more active participation, and undoubtedly more effective learning for both teacher and student.]
- “Even though we all need face-to-face contact, one approach does not fit all.” What does this say about church programs that expect everyone to grow equally in identical pre-programed small groups?
- Live human contact has major business implications. There are benefits to letting employees work from home on individual schedules but this needs to be limited. Without face-to-face interaction at work, productivity and creativity go down. Even Google has designed a headquarters where workers have opportunity to ‘bump into colleagues and have real conversations [because without this] innovation and social cohesion take a hit.”
- When companies cut costs by reducing the number of employees, eliminating training, paying “basement-level wages,” or blocking benefits and opportunities for advancement, profits can drop and customers often move elsewhere. Same with companies where cost-cutting involves “deploying robots or foreign call centers whose agents know nothing about the business and are paid per call so they try to make it fast by passing you off to someone else.” There’s a price to be paid for replacing human contact.
The book has implications for counseling, leadership, education at all levels, marketing, family therapy, ministry, health, stress management and the ability to recover from disasters. You get the point. “Despite the clear advantages of the Internet, if we want to be happy, healthy, long-lived, [productive] and clever, then we need to find ways to spend more time with each other face-to-face.” How does this apply to you? Please comment.
Recently I completed a newspaper questionnaire promising to reveal my “career type.” Designed by Universum with at a least minimal scientific support, the tool identifies seven types of careers. Each of these is described if you click on comments below. I was identified as an Internationalist, somebody who is enthusiastic about building cross-cultural connections. In addition I would have liked to fall into the Leader or Entrepreneur categories but a Wall Street Journal article (August 24, 2015) shows the one big obstacle that paralyzes entrepreneurs and maybe others who are attracted to creative, innovative entrepreneurial work.
That obstacle is fear. The WSJ report describes research by Phillip K. Berger at University of Bremen in Germany. Here are highlights from Berger’s surveys and interviews with 600 entrepreneurs who talked about their start-up worries:
- People are less fearful if they have leadership experience.
- Same applies when there is intrinsic motivation. Fear is lower and perhaps success comes more often when there is a high determination to reach an entrepreneurial goal.
- Initial fear is seen more often in women, but women and men are equally successful when they move forward and build enterprizes.
- Cultural differences also play a role. The American culture seems to be more accepting of failure, especially because of the widespread “get up and try again” attitude. In other cultures there is more criticism and less acceptance of entrepreneurs who fail. That increases start-up fears.
- Fear is lower in people with a very high estimation of their ability to succeed. That might be expected. But these high-confidence entrepreneurs often lack the skills and qualifications to succeed so they’re more likely to fail.
- As might be expected, fear lessens when potential entrepreneurs can find partners, business professionals or others to join the venture.
- Fear also goes down when the entrepreneurial project can be broken into smaller steps so failure along the way is less catastrophic.
This was not in the article, but it would seem that fear would decline and confidence could grow when entrepreneurs have social support. Likewise, might fear be less in people, like Joshua in the Old Testament, who believe that their ventures are from God and who trust him to lead? Please click on comment to share your perspectives and experiences.
Some of you may remember that Relevant is one of my favorite magazines. Written mostly for people in their twenties (probably I’m one of their oldest readers), Relevant is described as a publication “on faith, culture and intentional living.” It includes interviews and reviews of music, books, and movies that aren’t part of my world, along with frequently insightful articles about living and contemporary issues. It assumes that its millennial readers are determined to “reject apathy” and make a difference in the world without sitting around waiting for someone else to initiate change.
Consider a two-page article on leadership by a young pastor named Aaron Loy (July/August issue). Simple and basic, the article gives only five traits of innovative leaders. But these are good reminders that apply to any of us:
- Learn to follow first. Loy writes that “the idea of leading can sound pretty sexy. Aspiring to lead can play to our pride, but following develops humility…. Learning how to follow is an important part of becoming a leader worth following.” Besides, following is a biblical principle (1 Corinthians 11:1).
- Find a mentor. Even the very best leaders at the highest levels of companies or organizations often have coaches and mentors to help them learn and improve. As a side note, the September/October issue of Relevant has an article titled “Why You Need a Mentor” regardless of your age. I have several mentors, all of whom challenge me and speak into my life.
- Finish what you start. Creative and passionate people tend to jump from one idea or project to another. This breaks trust with others who expect follow through and do not get it. Good leaders, beginners and old pros, do all they can to complete what they begin.
- Decide what you want to be (or do) and act accordingly. In the long run, “you will be who you have decided to be, whether actively or passively… Your life will be a reflection of the decisions you make over time”.
- Don’t wait for permission. Get going on your plans as soon as you can. Dreaming and talking about the future can distract many of us from taking steps to get things done.
What do you think of this list, written for young adults? Does it apply to you like it does to me? What would you add? Please comment.
If the title of this newsletter sounds dull, please keep reading, at least this paragraph. Exactly one year ago Nadine Kaslow, then-president of the American Psychological Association, gave a talk titled “Translating Psychological Science to the Public” (published in American Psychologist, July-August, 2015 issue.) Dr. Kaslow makes a compelling and engaging case that applies whatever your area of expertise and interest. Too often we talk with like-minded colleagues and rarely attempt to translate what we know to outsiders in other fields.
As coaches, pastors, professors, or leaders of any other specialties, how do we communicate and impact people outside of our own specialties? Much of my work has involved translating practical findings from psychology to non-psychologists, including ministry leaders who lack up-to-date training in psychology or counseling. This newsletter/blog is a translation piece, converting information from selected articles or books into language and summaries that might be of value to others. We all know Christian leaders who seek to translate basic theological concepts into words that reach people who otherwise might be uninterested. Here are some of Kaslow’s conclusions geared for psychologists but with far broader implications:
- Translation means conveying some message “in a comprehensible, memorable, and relevant manner so the audience appreciates what it means and what difference [the information or message] makes.”
- To whom do we translate? It depends on our message. For example, it may be relevant to various professionals, policymakers, students, therapy patients/clients, or the general public.
- How do we translate? Be succinct, accurate, and with writing that holds interest and anticipates how recipients may respond to the message.
- What methods do we use? Obviously utilize articles, books, and traditional media like magazines, verbal presentations, radio and television. But focus too on using websites and social media. Many people are best reached through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, podcasts and other channels including, of course, blogs. And don’t overlook the arts, museums, or public education campaigns.
- What gets in the way? First, common attitudes, especially in professionals or academic circles where there is concern about inaccuracies or disdain of “popularizers” who may even be devalued professionally if they produce anything for popular audiences. Second, logistical barriers in those who don’t know how to reach beyond their own fields. One example, do you know how to get a magazine article or popular book published?
Thanks for reading beyond the first paragraph above. Now please leave a comment about your translating.
New leadership books appear almost every week. But it’s unique and refreshing to read a new, in-depth volume, based on both experience and research, setting a new paradigm for leadership in the twenty-first century. Such is the new book by General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Co-authored with two former U.S Navy SEAL officers and a very articulate scholar currently at Cambridge University, this book describes how old models of leadership, popular and successful for centuries, have been forced to change in an era of instant Internet communication and terrorist tactics. The book describes how the military has needed to change but demonstrates how these changes must apply equally to corporations, professions like medicine, organizations and anyplace else where leadership occurs.
This book is too rich, innovative and stimulating to summarize in a few sentences. Here is the background: McChrystal was put in command of what undoubtedly was one of the best-trained and disciplined military forces ever assembled. But the enemy terrorists kept winning, manned with relatively untrained individuals and small groups who appeared from nowhere to blow up shopping malls, military installations, schools and other targets. Then these perpetrators would be gone. They had mastered the use of free and accessible technology to communicate instantly before they died or disappeared. Almost overnight the elements of warfare that McChrystal learned in the military academy were largely powerless against a new kind of cyber-sophisticated and connected enemy. Especially irrelevant was the old micromanagement and chain of command that defined the military and still dominates so much of our culture.
As I read I thought of leadership in higher education and adult learning, including ministry and counselor education. So-called leaders still micromanage, set visions and expect others to comply, follow the rigid innovative-squelching guidelines of accrediting agencies, and fail to see that a new technological age requires new methods, skills and leadership. This is reflected in the title of the book by McChrystal and his colleagues: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Commands and guidelines from the top of a hierarchy are too slow. Models for counseling, ministry or coaching don’t always work. Individuals, teams and groups of teams throughout the system must be equipped and empowered to make quick decisions on their own. They need a new kind of leadership.
Have any of you read this new book? Even if you have not, please comment.
To hear an interview with General McChrystal go to: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24529530/TFS_M4_Stanley.mp3
Robots have never much influenced me. Of course we’re all aware of the role of robots on assembly lines, in routine cleaning activities, or in search and rescue operations where humans cannot go. Movies built around robot characters have never interested me, but my curiosity was triggered by a series of featured articles in June 2015 Harvard Business Review. Built around the theme of human-machine interaction in business, the articles describe the impact and effectiveness of computers and robots that:
- learn and utilize basic knowledge and skills with extraordinary speed,
- replace the need for many skilled workers,
- often know much more than any one human being could know or remember,
- “are beginning to make inroads in areas involving creativity, dexterity, and emotional perceptiveness,” and
- even can be used as employee supervisors (one HBR article is titled “When your Boss Wears Metal Pants.”)
The magazine shows how robots and people can collaborate and do things that neither could do on their own. And there’s evidence that robots can be more influential and are more trusted when they look like humans (like the robot pictured. To see it move and talk, click the link at the end of this post.) This caused me to wonder how robots – can be used in ministry, management, leadership and even counseling.
Some interesting Internet searches followed. They revealed, among other examples, how robots can be used in guidance counseling, physical therapy, improving mood and quality of life in dementia patients, providing therapy for autistic children,assisting students with learning difficulties and even doing basic marriage counseling and psychotherapy. Robots can be good diagnosticians when they are programmed to pick up verbal and movement cues that can help diagnose different psychological disorders.
Probably none of us is into robot therapy, robot leadership or robot development, but research in these areas may point to interesting and potentially useful alliances between humans and machines. Potential ethical implications of all this will arise when sophisticated machines are used to impact other human beings maybe in destructive, harmful ways. All of this can have potential for care-giving, leading and people-developing. I have wondered if Jesus or the early churches would have cared about this? Should we? Please comment.