Newsletter 598 – Depression and the Fear of Terrorism

PARIS EST CHARLIE 2One of my closest friends is Parisian. He has lived in Paris for most of his life and was there last week. Following the terrorist attacks he sent me an email message stating, in part: I’ve experienced the waves of terrorism in 1986 and 1995 in Paris. I’ve also experienced 9/11 in NYC. I know how to “protect” myself from these tragedies: I usually turn off the TV and limit my access to the media – non-stop media updates tend to format people’s minds and make them more anxious. I do not cut myself off but I deliberately watch less TV and listen more to the radio (to avoid the impact of images.) I listen a couple of times throughout the day – but do not keep the radio on all day long. The more we dwell on negative issues, the worse they get in our thinking and the more entrenched in our brains.

I thought of this when I read the November-December 2014 issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine focusing on depression. The authors write that despite diverse therapeutic treatments and anti-depressant medications (most of which work about equally well,) depression is increasing and becoming “the most important public health issue in the world.”

Even so, the “entire mental health establishment still regards the condition as an individual problem, confined within an individual skull.” Without criticizing individual therapies and medications, the PT writers note the massive evidence showing that individual depression is in reality “a vast and cultural problem inextricably linked to the basic habits, mores and expectation of our era.” These include our relentless competition, determination to attain unrealistic goals, and “unflagging desire for more–more money, more status, more power, more stuff and more happiness–all of which can create conditions for chronic low mood.”

Just as an unending (media or other) focus on terrorism can train the brain to be fearful, so too can brains be influenced and depression worsened by therapies that dwell on reciting symptoms or telling affected people that they have a solely genetic or brain disorder that is likely to persist. Maybe we need to get beyond the defect model, honor the strengths of depressed people, and help them learn how to get clear of the mood lowering impact of our changing social values and expectations.

It’s a paradigm change to view depression as a social as well as an individual and spiritual issue. What do you think? Please comment.

Newsletter 590 – The McDonaldization of Our Lives

McDonalds 2Perhaps you are familiar with the term McDonaldization. It was new to me until last week but, as you can imagine, it refers to our widespread values of hurry, convenience, efficiency and the desire for consistency. Franchised fast-food restaurants are controlled from the top with detailed policy manuals. Almost everything is predictable, including the seating, lighting, and color schemes that are designed to discourage lingering. One writer describes McDonalds and Berger King as drive-through calorie-filling stations that are all alike with consumer commodities that are packaged, marketed and sold. Their advertising focuses on meeting needs, immediately and quickly, like “you deserve a break today!”

Surprising, perhaps, this characterization was stimulated by a new book titled Slow Church. The authors, Christopher Smith and John Pattison, write thoughtfully about how the values which led to fast food restaurants have given rise to what one book calls The McDonalization of the Church. Many of us want churches that are efficient, entertaining, convenient, growing (the bigger the better), controlled by one or a few leaders at the top, and all similar. This is especially common in highly controlled denominations and megachurches with their satellite campuses. Too often they become spirituality-filling stations, specializing in quick step methods and convenience with minimal commitment.

Does this one-method-fits-all McDonaldization seep into our professions and academic institutions under the guise of maintaining standards for training, practice and accreditation? Certainly there is a need for guidelines to insure quality and prevent chaos. But do we risk McDonaldization in our work, classrooms and lives because that is what we want and/or because we have little alternative? Where is the place for innovation and creativity?

There are many ways to express our individuality and still abide by the laws of the land and the requirements of our professions. The Smith and Pattison book shows how we can trim down some of our McDonalized ways of doing church and become more biblical. Can something similar be done with our lives and work? Like many of you, I break out of the mold and use lots of innovation in my teaching, writing, and coaching. And, gradually, I am learning to slow down and cut some of the hurry from my spirituality, relationships, work and life.

How are you doing with this? Please comment.

Newsletter 585 – The Significance of Millennials

This week I read an interview with Bill Marriott, CEO of the hotel business that carries his family name. Now 82, Marriott is looking ahead, committed to launching a new hotel chain aimed at the so-called millennial generation, (people born in 1980 or after, now ages 18-33). In four years an estimated 60% of Marriott’s business will be geared for Millennials, with room features and amenities largely designed with input from people in the target group.

Millennials 1Scientifically valid research shows that this group is forsaking religious institutions in droves. Young adult Evangelicals, traditional Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims are all leaving their faith traditions and few seem interested in coming back. The challenge of adapting and connecting across generations applies as well to colleges, professions, counselors, and businesses, including hotels.

Literally for centuries younger generations have been misunderstood and criticized by those who are older. Time magazine once did a cover story on Millennials with the biased headline “Me, Me, Me Generation.” Isn’t that equally true of other generations? Much better is the current issue of CT (July/August 2014) that focuses on how many Millennials are leading the church. Here are randomly-chosen practical conclusions, some from the magazine:

  • Connecting with Millennials takes more than a coffee shop or hip place to hang out. They want involvement and responsibility. Too many who come to churches feel unwanted and not needed .
  • This generation longs for face-to-face interpersonal interaction more because so much of their interaction is online. They value community and spontaneity.
  • Like other generations, Millennials don’t like to be stereotyped. They want to be accepted and appreciated for who they are.
  • Many are spiritually starved but they want in-depth spiritual experiences, knowledge, and opportunity for discussion without being manipulated or forced into some theological or denominational mold.
  • Many Millennials are heavily involved in service to others. Many want to be successful in the arts, technology, business, and other careers. But they are less concerned about money, prominence or power.
  • They are not opposed to interaction with older mentors who respect them as they are and don’t try to imitate or look like them.
  • From a personal perspective, I have several twenty-something close friends. We appreciate, enjoy, accept and learn from each other.

What is your experience with Millennials? Please comment.

Newsletter 584 – The Future of Everything

future 4In 1989 the Wall Street Journal reached its 100th anniversary with predictions about what the future would look like twenty-five years later. That’s now. “We got some things right,” the newspaper commented. And got “a lot wrong.”

Last week (July 8, 2014) on its 125th anniversary WSJ tried again with an entire section of the paper labeled “The Future of Everything.” Leading thinkers, innovators and futurists shared their visions on where the world is heading. The editors admitted that this mostly is a form of entertainment but here are samples of their speculations. Before long:

  • Everyone in the world will be online.
  • Privacy will be gone, except for the very wealthy.
  • Cash also will be gone so the economy will be more global.
  • People will live longer and be happier and healthier in old age.
  • Education will be individualized. Students won’t advance from one grade to another. They will advance on what they know.

There are predictions about art, robots, automobiles, medicine, parenting, water and food supplies. There’s the good news that we still will drink coffee like we have since the 1530s. But I did not see anything about changing values, belief systems, terrorism or emerging generations.

Apart from curiosity why should anyone care? Next month I speak a group of doctoral students, leaders and mental health professionals. They all have completed years of rigorous training and skill building but their training is becoming outdated. A bigger question for us all is not what’s coming but how do we keep up?

In part the answer depends on your personality, field of interest, education, aptitudes, areas of expertise and health. Nevertheless, consider this:

  • Never stop learning. Always keep your brain active. Use your own learning style. Do whatever you can to uncover new information.
  • Apply what you learn to yourself and others. Taking in new information like a sponge is only part of the process.
  • Keep connected with others, including those who think differently than you and know what you don’t. I learn from people of different ages, backgrounds, expertise and values.
  • Find someone to help if you need expertise that you don’t have.
  • Take care of yourself. Exercise, rest, and healthy eating keep you sharp, creative, and alert.
  • Keep connected with God. He alone is able to predict and control the future. Trust him to show the way.

What would you add? Please comment

Newsletter 579 – Finding and Growing Talented People

Please consider this tough question: How do you chose an employee, company leader, team member, the best students for a class or academic program, or even a new pastor? Assume you want individuals who have talent and a high likelihood that they will thrive and succeed in their new roles.

Potential 1 To find talented people, most often we look at recommendation letters, past performance, intelligence, experience, test scores, personality traits and demonstrations of competence. All of these have relevance, according to a thought provoking, research based article in Harvard Business Review (June 2014). But no longer is past behavior the best predictor of future behavior. “In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment,” like the cultures where we now live, it’s not enough to have the right experiences, resumés, credentials and skills. More important is having the potential to adapt and learn new skills and competencies.

High potential is not the same as high ability to perform. HBR summarized data from the careers of  “thousands of executives” and identified five indicators of high potential. Measuring these is difficult but possible, according to two decades of research. High potential people possess:

  • Motivation characterized by strong commitment to the pursuit of unselfish goals. This is not a motivation to attain selfish goals. It is motivation that includes deep personal humility and ambition to do something big that will benefit many others, not just oneself.
  • Curiosity that involves “seeking out new experiences, knowledge, candid feedback, and an openness to learning and change.”
  • Insight, meaning the ability to gather and make sense of new information and possibilities.
  • Engagement with others that permits open communication, interpersonal connection and the ability to share a persuasive vision.
  • Determination to fight for difficult goals and to bounce back from adversity or missteps.

After high potential people are selected, they thrive and develop when they are treated well and given challenges that stimulate growth.

I wonder if we are using outdated criteria to select and grow high potential leaders. Please click on the comment button and leave your perspective.

Newsletter 576 – Controlling Distractions and Cognitive Overload

Interruptions 2How do you handle distractions and interruptions? According to one report “distraction costs billions of dollars a year in lost productivity.” Our lives are “being taken over by email texting, Facebook, Twitter, the Web, and other annoying electronic static.” One respectable research study found that “heavy online users….had less control over their attention and were much less able to distinguish important information from trivia…They’re suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.” And for increasing numbers of us, this cognitive overload gets worse the more we give in to it. These sobering assessments begin a fascinating article in Inc. Magazine (May, 2014). Does this sound familiar? I once had a bell sound on my computer whenever I got a message, including spam. Eventually I could not ignore that bell and felt compelled to check every time I got a message. This week I’ve been looking for a new cell phone, meeting sales people who gleefully explain how I should be getting up-to-date email wherever I go, 24-7. In the midst of useful technological advances, we are letting distractions, lack of focus and interruptions become “insidious productivity sapping maladies” that zap our energy and gobble up our time. Agreeing with this assessment is easy. It’s much harder to do something to control it. Probably you have read articles on controlling cognitive overload.In his recent book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman argues that “we must learn to sharpen focus if we are to survive in a complex world.” He suggests using mindfulness exercises (sometimes called attention training) and the development of new habits and skills to help us ignore and control the interruptions. In time we can train our brains to focus, to concentrate, and learn to bring back attention on demand. There also is value in blocking the disruptions by, for example, turning off those cell phone bells and vibrators that pull us away whenever new messages arrive. Try setting specific times to check messages. Then keep within those limits. Pull away from technology on a regular basis. Without this, cognitive overload controls us and innovation sinks. How have you dealt with interruptions and cognitive overload? Please comment.

Newsletter 571 – How Does Creativity Apply to You?

innovation and creativity 3Innovation and creativity are popular topics in the publications I read, especially the business magazines (like Inc., Fast Company and Harvard Business Review). I’ve also noticed these words in national newspapers, regular blog posts, and conference programs. Why is this so important among people who value progress, relevance and future trends?

Like it or not, most of us live in a fast-paced, competitive culture that includes churches and other Christian institutions. To thrive, and sometimes simply to survive, we may need to be appealing, attractive, fresh and “cutting edge.” In addition, many of us are invigorated by the process of discovering or creating new experiences, beauty, art, and even practical gimmicks that make our lives and products more fulfilling and useful. Think of the counseling, coaching or teaching that involve many of us. We want to encourage and bring positive change in the people with whom we work. We’re delighted if innovation and creativity make their lives better.

It is impossible to summarize the massive writings and research about creativity but here are some observations:

  • Despite the creations of innovators and inventors who work alone, there is value in creative people working together. In the Fast Company issue that focuses on creativity (April, 2014), editor Robert Safian writes that building on the ideas of one person can lead to thinking that is “narrow, predictable and boring….Collective creativity is far richer than any single source can provide.”
  • But corporate bureaucracy and rules also can deaden creative impact. Consider the churches, accrediting agencies, governments and individuals that are stalled in rigidity and unwilling or unable to move forward.
  • Any of us can shut off creativity and stay mired in the status quo, sometimes because this is personally beneficial or easier.
  • In contrast, creativity can be cultivated. A good starting place is to look at the creative efforts of others, to try new things, to take new risks. Creative people and ideas stimulate more of the same.
  • That said, there seems to be something innate in this. Some people are naturally less creative than others. Their personalities and background experiences limit their ability or desire to innovate. These people are very much needed to bring stability and grounding to our lives, society, churches and professions.

What have you learned about creativity? Please comment.