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.
In 2004 following my only experience as a surgery patient, the doctor made a prediction that proved to be accurate. He said that I’d make a complete and relatively speedy recovery. In addition to good medical care he commented on several positive signs, including my overall good physical shape based on consistent exercise, the “spirituality” that he saw, a determination to get better, my sense of humor (it beats complaining), and the social support that came from family and friends. At times I thought of this while reading psychologist Susan Pinker’s fascinating book, The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter.
This is not a self-help book built on inspiration and subjective opinions. Pinker does include captivating illustrative stories but, in addition, she reports on her interviews with a variety of experts and ordinary people, plus references to an impressive body of scholarly research. For example, the book documents ways in which face-to-face contact contribute to athletic success, language learning, brain development, overall health, longer life, stronger marriage, spiritual growth and better recovery from surgery like mine over ten years ago. Pinker’s work demonstrates her wide knowledge of brain functioning and neurophysiology as these relate to everyday behavior, stress-management and life fulfillment. The Village Effect is written by one of those rare scholars who is able to engage readers, write clearly, and make empirical evidence interesting and relevant.
Here are summary conclusions adapted from comments on the book’s cover:
- People with tight circles of friends who gather regularly are likely to live an average of fifteen years longer than loners.
- Social contact at the beginning of life helps us cope with stress later on.
- The lowest rate of dementia appears in people with extensive face-to-face social networks.
- A hug or a pat on the back lowers one’s physiological stress response, which in turn helps the body fight infections.
- Women with breast cancer who have large networks of friends are four times as likely to survive as those with sparser social connections.
This is an impressive summary of what most of us suspect or know. But in what practical ways does this book’s message relate to your work, career, relationships and lifestyle? We’ll have more on this next week. Meantime, please feel free to leave a comment.
During my years as a public speaker, I got into the habit of listening to preachers and other speakers with two questions in my mind: what were they saying (their message) and how were they communicating (their methods)? I looked at how some speakers connected effectively with the audience and why other speakers rarely connected at all. Later I started doing something similar with writers. Why are some better than others? Maybe you have developed the practice of observing academic, business, political and pastoral leaders in the similar ways. If you want to be better in what you do, open your eyes, look, and learn from what others are doing well–or not so well.
Pope Francis is an example. This week a blogger critiqued the Pope’s leadership style as demonstrated on his recent North American trip. Francis had prepared well for his speaking, using illustrations and quoting leaders who would be known and admired by his audiences. Wherever he went, the Pope modeled his stated values. Away from the crowds, Francis apparently maintains a disciplined schedule, takes short rest periods to preserve his strength during each day, resists trying to do everything, and avoids pointless activity that drains his energy. And he’s not afraid to tackle difficult issues even if they are unpopular.
Everybody knows about the Pope but have you heard of Oscar Muñoz? His name appeared in the news last month when he was appointed new CEO of United Airlines. Last week Muñoz was interviewed about his new leadership role. He observed that United employees have become disenchanted, disenfranchised, and disengaged. These “three D’s” need to be acknowledged openly, then fixed. But United customers also need attention because they have been forgotten in a business that claims to be service-oriented. Muñoz added that “the key is not always improvement, which suggests doing things better, but innovation which means doing things altogether differently.” And like Pope Francis, Muñoz seems to be operating in accordance with his values.
Both of these leaders are working to change a culture: one changing the culture of an international church, the other changing an international corporation. Sometimes we learn from reading accounts from or about turn-around leaders like Howard Schultz at Starbucks or Steve Jobs at Apple. But there is much to be learned simply by looking around at leaders in front of our eyes. Please comment on this and share other examples.
Last week’s newsletter (#628) left me unsettled even though I wrote it. Looking back, it seems that the tone was too negative, presenting only one side of the book-publishing story. That newsletter was stimulated by comments in a business magazine that correctly pointed out the small and disappointing payoffs for the time and energy invested by most authors. This extends beyond books and includes the writing of blogs, newsletters, magazine articles and contributions to professional journals. We noted the difficulties of producing writing that is clear, unique and interesting. The newsletter alluded to the challenge of getting one’s written work published, marketed and then purchased.
But last week’s newsletter pushed me to re-evaluate my reasons for writing books at all, looking for the positives as well as what’s negative. From there I moved to doing something similar for my coaching and teaching. These were helpful exercises, building on a belief that periodically we all need to look critically at our work and calling. The negatives are easy to remember but a written list of the positives can be good to review whenever we are tired, discouraged, or tempted to quit.
Here’s a personal example. I continue writing because this:
- Provides the most effective way for me to impact others and to fulfill my life mission,
- Is an area of competence for me, a God-given ability, seemingly one of my spiritual gifts,
- Is one of the best ways for me to keep learning and be able to make decisions,
- Lets me be innovative and creative,
- Is something that I feel compelled to do, like some of you who are artists, teachers, or mentors and know in your hearts what you need to be doing.
In contrast to these reasons for writing, my thinking about teaching and coaching is producing different lists. If your work involves counseling, ministry, running a business or leading an organization, your lists would be different. But each list can help you decide whether to stay the course, change direction or refine what you are doing.
There is much in life that can’t or shouldn’t be changed. But reflective re-evaluations can increase our effectiveness and sense of fulfillment as we rethink our motives, abilities, competencies and circumstances. The same applies to our clients. Without ignoring the negatives, what is good about what you do in your life or career? Please leave a comment.
At some time in their lives probably most people dream about writing a book. I’ve gone beyond the dreaming, published some books, and have a couple of partially finished book manuscripts in my computer waiting to be completed. But is further book writing what I really want to do at this stage in my life? A recent article in Inc. Magazine (October, 2015) got me thinking about questions like the following that should be considered before anyone begins working on a book:
- What’s Your Motive? Good writing results from hard work, discipline, and usually more time than we anticipate. Write for money? Forget it. You won’t earn much from writing unless you are well known, have a big following, or are willing to launch an aggressive book-marketing effort. Self-publishing may even cost money. Write to build your ego or get fame? Inc. suggests that book-writing rarely accomplishes these purposes. Nevertheless, a book can increase credibility, especially for public speakers, academics building their resumés, or professionals looking for clients and business opportunities. Some people primarily write to synthesize ideas or develop something creative and innovative. For this group, fulfillment is in the process of writing, whether or not anybody sees or buys the end product.
- What’s Your Message? Do you have anything unique and valuable to say? Realistically, would anyone bother to read what you write? If not, writing may be a waste of your time, except for the fun or challenge of doing it.
- What’s Your Audience? It’s an old cliché that if you write for everybody, you’re unlikely to impact anybody. Clearly identifying your intended readers is at the core of any successful author’s work.
- What’s Your Expertise? Bluntly stated, some people are not engaging or clear writers, however hard they try. What’s the evidence that you are a good writer? Do you have the energy, determination and time to get through the writing, publishing and marketing process? Currently I’m working through Michael Hyatt’s course on publishing, primarily to tap into Hyatt’s knowledge about how the publishing industry is changing and what this means for writers today.
What’s your reaction to these thoughts? If you are determined to write anyhow, then probably you should. You might ask similar questions about other topics: “Do I really want to teach? Do coaching? Counsel? Go into ministry?” Ask a close friend to walk with you through this. And try to determine God’s will in the process. Please leave a 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.