Thursday, August 19, 2010

Getting Through To Kids, by Michael Josephson

Getting Through To Kids 684.5:

A listener wrote to say she was selecting some of her favorite commentaries to put into a notebook for her 12-year-old son. She said she was going to underline portions she thought were particularly pertinent.

I love it whenever someone wants to share my thoughts, especially with children, but I've come to realize how difficult it can be to successfully pass on what we think is great wisdom, especially to our own children.

I hope you'll write with your ideas, but drawing from lots of unsuccessful efforts with my own children, I have some thoughts:

1. While it's a parent's job to positively influence attitudes and behaviors of their children, any form of preaching with a 'you should' message or tone is generally ineffective. It invites an attack-the-messenger tactic: 'You don’t live your life perfectly, so what makes you qualified to tell me how to live mine?'

2. Most young people get very defensive very quickly when they think advice is simply disguised criticism. And when they get defensive, they don’t process advice in a constructive manner.

3. Though it's easier said than done, the most effective and rewarding method is to convey or elicit information and insight in the setting of a discussion. Ask an open-ended question as to what the child thinks, knows, or has observed about issues raised in a news event, movie, or a comment. Be sure the question is not just another masked way of conveying a criticism.

4. Don't try to convey the encyclopedia of wisdom in one sitting. Break up your 'lesson plans' into small pieces and be very selective as to the time and place you begin the discussion.

5. If you want real progress, tell the child about your own shortcomings and challenges both past and present. Moral humility invites reflection.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Effective Communication Begins with a First Impression, by JD Schramm

Effective Communication Begins with a First Impression:

110-jd-schramm.jpgThe speaker had just been introduced. A slide behind him had his name and institution on it. A program in each member of the audience's hands had the same information. And still, how did he begin?

'Good Morning, my name is Gary Anderson and I'm a managing director at Acme and I'm here today to talk about...' Yet again the chance to make a powerful first impression by a presenter was lost. The audience settled in for another mediocre presentation, and they were not wrong. All too often business leaders forget the classic adage 'you never get a second chance to make a first impression.' In both written and oral communication it's just too easy to begin with the mundane, the uninspired, and the ordinary.

As we're designing presentations or crafting emails or letters, it's acceptable, perhaps even easier, to start by writing the heart of our content. How will we shape it? What flow makes sense? What matters most to my audience? What aspects must be included and what elements are optional if time, or space, allows? But once the draft of your communication is complete, then step back and consider the total package you are delivering to your reader or audience and decide carefully how you wish to begin.

Each year we likely see hundreds of presentations at work or professional conferences. The speaker who commands our attention from their first breath is one we want to listen to. At TED 2009, Elizabeth Pisani, an AIDS researcher with unconventional methods of field research, did just that. She looked out at the audience and began 'People do stupid things; that's what spreads HIV.' She had us. She then went on to discuss four distinct groups of people (drug users, sex workers, gay men, and health policy nerds) and what each found to be rational. Her talk, from her very first breath, was brilliant, well-designed, and powerful. It began well and just got better.

In this era of double-digit unemployment, many of us are either job-hunting or helping friends and colleagues who are searching for employment. After crafting a cover letter, set it aside, do something else as a distraction, and then return to it with fresh eyes. Imagine you are the hiring manager and this has landed on your desk or in your in-box. Does the letter capture your attention from the very first moment?

All too often the letters I see are all about the applicant. 'I found your ad on my favorite job website and I think I'd be great for...' Consider who are you writing to and how you can make a first impression that gets out of your world and into his or hers. 'Your need for a motivated self-starter (from the job description) matches my desire to move from product sales to selling service.' The point is to think of the recipient's desk, his priorities and needs and address those. Your name is on the return address portion of the envelope, at the top of your resume, and at the top of the cover letter, so resist beginning with 'My name is Beth Jones and I want...' Consider the reader.

While we may only see scores of business letters in a year, we see thousands of emails. There, the first impression is obvious: the subject line. Pause from this post for just one moment and glance through your inbox right now. Don't open and answer any emails, but just see how many actually capture your attention with the subject line. I'm guessing fewer than 10%. Worse yet, many subject lines give us no clue what's contained in the email. 'Follow-up from yesterday' or 'update on project' do nothing to capture our attention or give us a sense of what's in the email. So many executives read and respond from their BlackBerries or iPhones, we need to make every single character count.

The key to writing a powerful subject line is to do it last, right before you hit send, not before you've written the email. Yes, I know, that requires returning to the top of the email to fill in the subject line after you've finished writing the email. But only then do you really know what you're saying in the body of the email. It's also a fantastic opportunity to double-check that you have the correct recipients listed on the email (not too many, not too few).

We have hundreds of opportunities each week to make a first impression. Whether it's a formal presentation to hundreds of strangers, a cover letter to a firm we'd like to hire us, or an email to a group of coworkers about next week's company picnic, consider that first impression and make it count.

JD Schramm, Director of the Mastery in Communication Initiative at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, teaches a variety of communication course to MBA students. He can be reached at and is more likely to respond if the subject line captures his attention.

Six Fundamental Shifts in the Way We Work, by John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, HBR

It's been a while since we posted here because of all the craziness surrounding the launch of our book, The Power of Pull, but we are happy to announce that we're going to be resuming a regular schedule of postings to build on the themes in our book. We thought we would kick off our new postings by summarizing some of the ideas from Pull that resonated the most in our many conversations from the last few months. from The Power of Pull.
The Red Queen was optimistic. Nearly everybody in management is familiar with the Red Queen effect, taken from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass: this is the notion that "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."
It turns out the Red Queen represents an optimistic view of the world. Despite long-term increases in labor productivity, the average return on assets (ROA) of US companies has steadily fallen to almost one quarter of what it was in 1965. We're running faster, but still losing ground. There is no sign of this long-term erosion flattening out, much less turning around.
The conclusion is inescapable: our management practices and corporate institutions are fundamentally broken. The good news, if you can call it that, is that this isn't sustainable for much longer: the trend line on ROA approaches zero in 2020. If you believe that markets spur innovation, however, it does bring up a conundrum: Why haven't companies yet figured out how to compete more successfully? One reason is because...
Value ain't where it used to be. Competition is not onlyintensifying (pdf), it's changing the source of value creation from stocks to flows of knowledge, and the means for value creation from push to pull. These changes require such fundamental shifts in mindset and approach that most executives are unable to make the leap from their current ways of seeing and doing. Thus their companies remain mired on the downward slope of performance.
Asia is the new global center of innovation. But some companies and executives are figuring it out. The bad news for the US is that these leading-edge companies and executives tend to be in China and India. Westerners generally have a narrow view of innovation, limiting it to breakthrough technology and product innovations. We need to expand beyond product, process, and even the management innovation called for by Gary Hamel to a broader notion of institutional innovation, which redefines roles and relationships across large numbers of institutions.
Where is institutional innovation most advanced? In China's open production and design models and in India's open distribution models. We've written about both of them before. Unfortunately, the concept of institutional innovation — as yet anyway — is all but invisible to most Western executives.
The collaboration curve supplants the experience curve. We may, for the first time, have an opportunity to turn diminishing returns performance improvement into increasing returns.
The BCG experience curve is one of the most enduring ideas in business. Unfortunately, it'scharacterized by diminishing returns: The more experience accumulated in a specific industry, the longer it takes to get the next increment of performance improvement. As competitive intensity rises, these diminishing returns are a serious obstacle to performance.
As it becomes increasingly possible to scale the number of connections and interactions between participants in a given environment, however, a new kind of performance curve is emerging: thecollaboration curve. This is characterized by increasing returns: the more participants — and interactions between those participants — you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement accelerates.
The collaboration curve helps explain the rise of network-centric efforts ranging from open source software development to "crowdsourcing" to "creation spaces." In nearly all of these group efforts, rapid leaps in performance improvement arise as participants get better faster by working with others. The evidence for the collaboration curve is still admittedly fragmentary, but one place to look for it is in the online game World of Warcraft.
The "Dilbert Paradox" holds the key. Companies will not be able to fully harness the potential of collaboration curves until they resolve the Dilbert Paradox.
Here's the paradox. Ask CEOs about their top priorities and inevitably they will cite talent as one of their top priorities. If this is the case, how do we explain the enormous popularity of Dilbert and The Office, which so eloquently describe the stultifying effect of our work environments on talent?
In part, the paradox arises because executives tend to focus on talent acquisition and retention, but do not invest much time on talent development throughout the firm. When they think about talent development, they spend time designing training programs rather than re-thinking the work environment to accelerate talent development. If they took on-the-job talent development seriously, they would reassess all aspects of the firm - strategy, operations, organization and information technology platforms - to find ways to foster even more rapid talent development.
Passion is everything. Management can only do so much. All of us are responsible at a personal level, too — for reintegrating our passion into our profession. What is passion? More than simple satisfaction, passion is when people discover the work that motivates them to achieve their potential by seeking extreme performance improvement. Their job becomes more than a mode of income.
Yet our survey in the 2009 Shift Index showed that passion levels are low across all US industries. In most of them there are fewer than 20 percent of employees that say they are passionate about their work--and no industries have more than 25% that say so. Furthermore, passion levels are inversely related to the size of the employer: the larger the company, the lower the passion levels.
Why is passion so important? Because it drives a questing disposition that is essential to employee performance as they react to the inevitable unexpected challenges today's work environment presents. It also drives more connection. Our Shift Index found that passionate workers participate much more actively in knowledge flows that are the new key to value creation. If you can help make your employees more passionate, you can create value in today's economy.
Book writing has many purposes, but surely among the most important is to spark conversation, and maybe even controversy. What did we get right? More importantly, where did we go wrong? What can we do to sharpen and refine these propositions?

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Whatever Happens Is Normal, by Joe Calloway

Whatever Happens Is Normal: "Leadership Nuggets

Prepared Mind of a Leader
One of the most valuable ideas I’ve ever discovered in terms of creating calm in the midst of a storm, and helping me keep my head when those about me are losing theirs, is the idea that whatever happens is normal. Not that whatever happens is always desirable or even acceptable, but that it’s almost always normal. A simple example of that would be having a flight canceled because of bad weather. Now this might wreck your schedule and cause you to have to completely rethink your plans, but, as a very, very frequent flyer, let me assure you that canceled flights are normal indeed.

Because I see canceled flights as normal, I don’t go into a tailspin when it happens. I know what to do to either find an alternate way of getting there or, at the very least, minimize, the damage that may come from not getting where I wanted to be at the anticipated time. All around me I see people, some of whom are obviously seasoned travelers, going into complete state of panic and anger over what is really a very common occurrence. I wonder if they just haven’t been paying attention for the past 20 years.

This idea that “whatever happens is normal” is what separates those who handle change effectively from those who go ballistic at the slightest deviation from what they had expected. We’ve all seen both types. On the one hand are the people who, if you tell them that there’s been a change in plans, policy, schedule, the menu, or virtually everything else, will quite completely lose it. They will either sink into a fuming funk or launch into a screaming rant. Either way, they don’t do well when the plans change.

The other end of the spectrum are the people who, regardless of what kind of changes you throw at them, seem to handle problems almost effortlessly. These people tend to be among the most valuable in an organization. The value of a person with the ability to perform well under pressure cannot be overestimated in a world where constant pressure is the norm.

Adapted from Becoming a Category of One by Joe Calloway.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ethics Codes Don't Make People Ethical, Commentary by Michael Josephson

Ethics Codes Don't Make People Ethical 684.1:

In the wake of a continual parade of scandals, there has been a lot of talk concerning codes of ethics. I've written dozens of codes and have a healthy respect for their value as an element of a corporate culture, but I wince at the unreasonable expectations attached to these documents.

First of all, ethics codes don't make people ethical. They don't make bad people good. Nor do they make people with bad judgment wise. Most of the very bad behavior we've seen in recent years would not have been prevented by an ethics code.

You see, there are two aspects to ethics: discernment – knowing right from wrong – and discipline – having the moral will power to do what's right. A code can help define what's right and acceptable and provide a basis for imposing sanctions on those who don't follow it. But unless it reinforces an established ethical culture, it won't do much to assure that people do what's right.

It's proper and prudent to clarify obligations under existing laws and establish standards of conduct in areas not governed by law. In effect, ethics codes transform one perspective of a moral obligation into a binding rule. For example, it's helpful to set clear parameters for the use of e-mails, private information, or company property; hiring or doing business with relatives; and the acceptance of gratuities. In more complex cases, codes can mandate disclosure or certification and forbid or restrict transactions such as loans and reimbursements that could create real or apparent conflicts of interest.

To the extent we need more clarity, we need more codes. To the extent we need more character, we need a lot more.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

5 Leadership Lessons: Scott Berkun on Public Speaking

5 Leadership Lessons: Scott Berkun on Public Speaking

5 Leadership Lessons

Even if you don’t speak professionally, you will find Scott Berkun’s Confessions of a Public Speaker, helpful in navigating any speaking situation. Berkun is refreshingly candid about his own mistakes and successes. It is an entertaining and practical behind-the-scenes look at the speaking profession; the good and the bad. He shares what has worked and what hasn’t in getting over the fear of speaking, creating a talk that people want to hear, and what to do when things go wrong.

1  Most people listening to presentations around the world right now are hoping their speakers will end soon. That’s all they want. They’re not judging as much as you think, because they don’t care as much as you think. Knowing this helps enormously. …The things speakers obsess about are the opposite of what the audience cares about. They want to be entertained. They want to learn. And most of all, they want you to do well. Many mistakes you can make while performing do not prevent those things from happening. It’s the mistakes you make before you even say a word that matters more. These include the mistakes of not having an interesting opinion, of not thinking clearly about your point, and of not planning ways to make those points relevant to your audience. Those are the ones that make the difference.

2  No matter how much you hate or love this book, you’re unlikely to be a good public speaker. The marketing for this book likely promised you’d be a better speaker for reading it. I think that’s true on one condition: you practice (which I know most of you won’t do). Most people are lazy. I’m lazy. I expect you’re lazy, too. There will always be a shortage of good public speakers in the world, no matter how many great books there are on the subject. It’s a performance skill, and performance means practice.

3  The easiest way to be interesting is to be honest. People rarely say what they truly feel, yet this is what audiences admire most. If you can speak a truth most people are afraid to say, you’re a hero.

4  All good public speaking is based on good private thinking. …This means the difference between you and JFK and Martin Luther King has less to do with your ability to speak—a skill all of us use hundreds of times every day—than it does the ability to think and refine rough ideas into clear ones.

5  Avoiding Boredom. A speaker must set the pace for the audience if he wants to keep their attention. … Think of your opening minute as a movie preview: fill it with drama, excitement, and highlights for why people should keep listening. Be confident in what you say and do. If your talk consists of several problems important to the audience, and you promise to release the tension created by those problems by solving each one, you’ll score big. 

Filling Holes, Commentary by Michael Josephson

Filling Holes 683.5:

Sam, a supervisor, was dumbfounded as he watched Bill diligently dig holes while Chuck, after waiting a short interval, filled them. When he demanded an explanation, Bill was indignant: 'Chuck and I have been doing this job for more than 10 years. What’s your problem?'

'Are you telling me that for 10 years you’ve been digging and filling empty holes?' Sam replied.

'Well, not exactly,' Bill said. 'Until a few months ago, another fellow put a bush in the hole before Chuck filled it. But he retired and was never replaced.'

'Why didn’t you tell somebody?' Sam sputtered.

'My gosh,' Bill answered, 'You're management. We figured you knew.'

While management is ultimately to blame when employees systematically waste time and money in thoughtless unproductive activity, we can’t let Bill and Chuck off the hook. Sure, it's easy to hide behind the assumption that the stupidity of management has no bounds, but responsibility is a personal burden everyone carries for himself or herself.

Too many organizations are weighed down by practices equivalent to digging and filling holes because too many workers and managers engage in or ignore inefficient and ineffective activities.

Whether unaccountability is fed by laziness, ignorance, or fear, employees who surrender to the negative momentum of the workplace not only demean the value of their work, but they increase the likelihood that they will someday be out of work.

We can avoid our responsibilities, but we can't avoid the consequences of avoiding our responsibilities. All of us are accountable for what we allow as well as what we do. If we want to make our lives more meaningful, we should be sure our work is meaningful.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Leading Blog: A Leadership Blog: Ten Truths about Leadership

Leading Blog: A Leadership Blog: Ten Truths about Leadership


Ten Truths about Leadership

In the last 30 years James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the highly regarded leadership classic The Leadership Challenge, have studied leaders all over the world. They understand leadership.

The question they get time and time again is “What’s new in leadership?” They answer that while the context of leadership as changed dramatically, “the content of leadership has not changed much at all. The fundamental behaviors, actions, and practices of leaders have remained essentially the same since we first began researching and writing about leadership over three decades ago. Much has changed, but there’s a whole lot more that’s stayed the same.” That is probably the fundamental truth of leadership development. With that understanding, we can develop leaders in all contexts and weed out fact from fiction.

Based on thirty years of research—more than one million responses to their leadership assessment—Kouzes and Posner have gathered together in The Truth about Leadership, the ten truths that have stood the test of time and they hold true both globally and cross-generationally. They devote a chapter to each of these ten concepts:

Truth #1 You Make a Difference. Before you lead you have to believe that you can have a positive impact on others. When you believe you can make a difference, you position yourself to hear the call to lead.

Truth #2 Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership. If people don’t believe in you, they won’t willingly follow you. You must do what you say you are going to do. This means being so clear about your beliefs that you can live them every day.

Truth #3 Values Drive Commitment. You need to know what you believe in because you can only fully commit to the organization or cause when there is a good fit between what you value and the organization values. This is true too, for the people you lead.

Truth #4 Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart. You have to be forward looking; it’s the quality that most differentiates leaders from individual contributors. You need to spend time reflecting on the future. Big dreams that resonate with others inspire and energize.

Truth #5 You Can’t Do It Alone. Leadership is a team sport, and you need to engage others in the cause. You need to enable others to be even better than they already are.

Truth #6 Trust Rules. To enlist others, you need trust. Build mutual trust; you must trust others too.

Truth #7 Challenge Is the Crucible of Greatness. Great achievements don’t happen when you keep things the same. Change invariably involves challenge, and challenge tests you. It introduces you to yourself. It brings you face-to-face with your level of commitment, your grittiness, and your values. It reveals your mindset about change.

Truth #8 You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All. You have to go first as a leader. That’s what it takes to get others to follow your lead.

Truth #9 The Best Leaders Are the Best Learners. Learning is the master skill of leadership. Leaders are constant improvement fanatics.

Truth #10 Leadership Is an Affair of the Heart. Leaders love what they’re doing and those they lead. Leaders make others feel great themselves and are gracious in showing their appreciation.

These truths should form the basis of any leadership development program. Even more, they are the motivation behind the right kinds of behaviors that go into the formation of good and sustainable leadership.
There are no shortages of problems and opportunities…. Leadership is not about telling others they ought to solve these problems. It’s about seeing a problem and accepting personal responsibility for doing something about it. And it’s about holding yourself accountable for the actions that you take. The next time you see a problem and say “Why doesn’t someone do something about this?” take a look in the mirror and say instead, “I’ll be the someone to do something about it.”

Using All Your Strength, by Michael Josephson

Using All Your Strength 683.3:

A young boy was walking with his father along a country road. When they came across a very large tree branch, the boy asked, 'Do you think I could move that branch?'

His father answered, 'If you use all your strength, I'm sure you can.'

The boy tried mightily to lift, pull, and push the branch, but he couldn't move it. Discouraged, he said, 'Dad, you were wrong. I can't do it.'

His dad said, 'Try again.' This time, as the boy struggled with the branch, his father joined him and together they pushed the branch aside.

'Son,' the father said, 'the first time you didn't use all your strength. You didn't ask me to help.'

This is an important lesson. There are many things we can't do alone, but that doesn't mean we can't get them done. We all are surrounded by resources that can be mobilized to help us achieve our goals, including family, friends, and faith. Sometimes we fail to ask for help because of pride or stubbornness. Sometimes we think it's a sign of weakness to admit we need a hand. And sometimes we don't even think about asking for help. Whatever the reason, it's a waste.

It's important that we learn to use all our strength; this includes inner resources such as discipline, courage, and even love. But it also includes outer resources. Just as we should be willing to help others, we should be willing to ask the help of others. It's one of the great things about being human.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

*The story is derived from a story told by David Wolpe in Teaching Your Children About God (Harper Perennial 1995).

Monday, August 9, 2010

9 Helpful Tips To Deal With Negative People - Stepcase Lifehack, Celestine

9 Helpful Tips To Deal With Negative People - Stepcase Lifehack

Do you have any friends or colleagues who are negative? If so, you’ll know they aren’t the most enjoyable people to be around. Negative people can be real downers in any conversation. No matter what you say, they have a way of spinning things in a negative direction. Some negative people can be so negative that it feels draining just being around them.

I’ve dealt with a fair share of negative people in my life. When I was in junior college, I was basically surrounded by a college population of negative students and teachers. My school wasn’t the best of the lot, so most people inside were disgruntled by virtue of being there. While I was initially taken aback by negativity of the people, I eventually learned to manage it and channel it into conscious action.

Today, I deal with negativity on-and-off in my personal development work, especially if there are readers or coaching clients in distress. Rather than be affected by others’ negative energy, I’m now able to consciously deal with it. Here, I’ll share with you 9 tips to deal with negative people in your life:

1) Don’t get into an argument

One of the most important things I learned is not to debate with a negative person. A negative person likely has very staunch views and isn’t going to change that just because of what you said. Whatever you say, he/she can find 10 different reasons to back up his/her viewpoint. The discussion will just swirl into more negativity, and you pull yourself down in the process. You can give constructive comments, and if the person rebutts with no signs of backing down, don’t engage further.

2) Empathize with them

Have you ever been annoyed by something before, then have someone tell you to “relax”? How did you feel? Did you relax as the person suggested or did you feel even more worked up?

From my experience, people who are negative (or upset for that matter) benefit more from an empathetic ear than suggestions/solutions on what he/she should do. By helping them to address their emotions, the solutions will automatically come to them (it’s always been inside them anyway).

3) Lend a helping hand

Some people complain as a way of crying for help. They may not be conscious of it though, so their comments come across as complaints rather than requests. Take the onus to lend a helping hand. Just a simple “Are you okay?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you?” can do wonders.

4) Stick to light topics

Some negative people are triggered by certain topics. Take for example: One of my friends sinks into a self-victimizing mode whenever we talk about his work. No matter what I say (or don’t say), he’ll keep complaining once we talk about work.

Our 1st instinct with negative people should be to help bring them to a more positive place (i.e. steps #2 and #3). But if it’s apparent the person is stuck in his/her negativity, the unhappiness may be too deeply rooted to address in a one-off conversation, or for you to help him/her unravel it. Bring in a new topic to lighten the mood. Simple things like new movies, daily occurrences, common friends, make for light conversation. Keep it to areas the person feels positive towards.

5) Ignore the negative comments

One way to help the negative person “get it” is to ignore the negative comments. If he/she goes into a negative swirl, ignore or give a simple “I see” or “Ok” reply. On the other hand, when he/she is being positive, reply in affirmation and enthusiasm. Do this often and soon he/she will know positivity pays off. He/she will adjust to be more positive accordingly.

6) Praise the person for the positive things

Negative people aren’t just negative to others. They’re also negative to themselves. If you already feel negative around them, imagine how they must feel all the time. What are the things the person is good at? What do you like about the person? Recognize the positive things and praise him/her for it. He/she will be surprised at first and might reject the compliment, but on the inside he/she will feel positive about it. That’s the first seed of positivity you’re planting in him/her and it’ll bloom in the long-term.

7) Hang out in 3’s or more people

Having someone else in the conversation works wonders in easing the load. In a 1-1 communication, all the negativity will be directed towards you. With someone else in the conversation, you don’t have to bear the full brunt of the negativity. This way you can focus more on doing steps #1 (Empathizing) and #2 (Helping the person).

8) Be responsible for your reaction

Whether the person is negative or not, ultimately you’re the one who is perceiving the person is negative. When you recognize that, actually the negativity is the product of your lens. Take responsibility for your perceptions. For every trait, you can interpret it in a positive and a negative manner. Learn to see the goodness of the person than the negative. It may be tough initially, but once you cultivate the skill, it becomes second nature.

9) Reduce contact with them / Avoid them

If all else fails, reduce contact with them or avoid them altogether. If it’s a good friend, let him/her know of the severity of the issue and work it out where possible. It’s not healthy to spend too much time with people who drain you. Your time is precious, so spend it with people who have positive effects on you.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wendell Berry and the Great Economy | Front Porch Republic

Wendell Berry and the Great Economy | Front Porch Republic

Wendell Berry and the Great Economy


I confess that until now I have never read anything by Wendell Berry. In fact, I deliberately avoided reading anything by him, or indeed by any agrarian writer. There was a strategic reason for this. The bulk of my work is devoted to explicating distributism in purely economic terms, and distributism is often accused of being “merely” an agrarian system and therefore an exercise in nostalgia and romanticism. Hence, I have been at great pains to show distributism’s scientific basis and its industrial examples, which are many, and avoiding any imputation of being (oh horror!) a “mere agrarian.” But now, with two books under my belt, and hardly an agrarian to haunt the bibliographies, I feel I can safely add these authors to my reading list. And so, when the University of Dallas chose Berry’s latest collection of essays,What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth, as the book for its Faculty Book Discussion, it came as a providential opportunity.

The aversion that so many modern economists have to agrarianism is somewhat strange, given that the generally acknowledged founder of modern economics, Adam Smith, considered himself to be an agrarian. Book IV of The Wealth of Nations discusses “Systems of Political Œconomy,” which he divides into mercantilist and agricultural systems. In chapter IX of that book, he renders his verdict:

[The Agricultural] system…is, perhaps, the nearest approximation to the truth that has yet been published upon the subject of political œconomy, and is upon that account well worth the consideration of every man who wishes to examine with attention the principles of that very important science.

Concerning the mercantilists (who are the original globalists), Smith says,

[B]y encouraging manufacturing and foreign trade more than agriculture, [he] turns a certain portion of the capital of the society from supporting a more advantageous to supporting a less advantageous species of industry.

For Smith, the wealth of a nation is firmly rooted in its fields and farms, and manufacturing justifies itself by its ability to lower the costs to the farmer of the things that cannot be produced on the farm, or can be produced only with great difficulty. There is a clear priority given by Smith to the farm, and it is just this priority that Wendell Berry seeks to revive.

What Matters is a collection of essays written over a long period of time, and hence not a systematic presentation of some economic “system”; there is not a single chart or table in the whole work. Rather it is an extended critique of the failures of modern economists to comprehend the true nature of their science. This is a rich and pithy critique, one that defies easy summation by a reviewer. For example, Berry has the best one-line summary of the cause of the current crisis, namely the willingness of the banks to sell “a bet on a debt as an asset.” That summarizes several books on the subject.

Berry points out that current economics have severed all connection with the real economy, which he calls “The Great Economy.” More of that economy in a moment, but what really occupies most of our “economists,” he points out, is not really economics at all, but chrematistics. Economics (from oikonomia, “household management”) is about the material provisioning of society; chrematistics is about individuals amassing abstract wealth in the form of money, and has no necessary connection with the material well-being of society, that is, with the production of real goods and services. And although chrematistics is poorly connected to real world oikonomia, its predominance over the real economy can bring that economy down, as it has now and many times in the past. And as long as we practice chrematistics rather than real oikonomia, it will continue to bring the economy down until there is no economy left to raise up. “Our economy,” Berry notes, “has become an anti-economy, a financial system without a sound economic basis and without economic virtues.”

So where does the real economy begin? As for Smith, this real economy begins in the natural order, which means that it begins on the farms, along with the forests, fisheries, fields, and mines. These are the gifts of nature upon which our livelihoods depend. This natural order must be used according to its own nature, which Berry calls “The Kingdom of God” or “The Great Economy.” Berry gives us five principles of the Great Economy:

  1. It includes everything, even the fall of a sparrow. There is nothing outside this economy. “We are in it whether we know it or not or whether we wish to be or not.”
  2. It connects everything to everything. Things within The Great Economy are not so much parts as a participation in the whole, with each thing reflecting the whole.
  3. The Great Economy comprehends humans, but humans cannot give a complete or even adequate description of this Great Economy, nor perceive the whole order by which its elements are connected.
  4. Nevertheless, we cannot violate for long the patterns of this Kingdom without incurring severe penalties.
  5. There is no end to the Great Economy; we cannot by “scientific” or other means get outside of it.

We are commanded to seek the Kingdom of God first, but not exclusively. Doing that would leave the field open to people who seek other kingdoms. Indeed, within the Kingdom of God, the Great Economy, we must build “little economies” by which “we can carve out a narrow circle within which things are manageable by the use of our wits.” These little economies originate, manage, and distribute the secondary values that human work and wit can add to the primary values of the Great Economy. But they must receive these primary values “gratefully and use them in such a way as not to diminish them.” The little economies must be run in harmony with the Great Economy, which means, among other things, that there must be a “law of return,” a law which dictates that anything taken from nature must be given back; “The fertility cycle must be maintained in a continuous rotation.” Of course, some commodities cannot be given back because they are consumed, things such as oil. These must be used conservatively and not for frivolous purposes, or on the assumption that supplies are inexhaustible.

But we also consume things that we should be renewing; soil, for example. Topsoil is something we cannot make. We have no substitute for it, and in fact it escapes scientific description:

For, although any soil sample can be reduced to its inert quantities, a handful of the real thing has life in it. It is full of living creatures. And if we try to describe the behavior of that life we will see that it is doing something that, if we are not careful, we will call “unearthly”: it is making life out of death. Not so very long ago, had we known about it what we know now, we would probably have called it “miraculous.”

Berry is right to use soil as the example, since peak soil rather than peak oil may turn out to be our greatest problem. We can learn to do without oil, but not without soil. Topsoil is disappearing at an alarming rate, and not being replaced; the law of return is being violated. Further, the soil that remains is being poisoned with toxic chemicals, which then leach into the groundwater. Indeed, some forms of industrial farming use soil only as something to hold the roots and not as a real source of life or nutrients; they would replace it with styrofoam or some other dead substance if they could. This violation of the law of return means that “[t]he industrial economy is based on invasion and pillage of the Great Economy.”

This pillage reduces the Great Economy to “raw materials” which have only a price, not a principle that needs to be conserved. The price is set by the cult of competition, whose main sentimental tenet is that greed is sufficient to produce the good, merely by producing the goods. Within this cult, every transaction involves a winner and loser. But competition, elevated to the status of a cult, does not result in the common good. Inevitably, the class of winners narrows and that of losers widens. The winners are not only so in the economic realm, but in the political realm, where they are able to obtain more and more privileges and subsidies for themselves. Such a cult can only lead to dominance by the strongest. Not indeed, the “strongest” in the moral sense, but purely in the economic sense.

Communities cannot survive the cult of competition:

The great fault of this approach to things is that it is so drastically reductive; it does not permit us to live and work as human beings, as the best of our inheritance defines us. Rats and roaches live by competition under the law of supply and demand; it is the privilege of human beings to live under the law of justice and mercy.

Global economy seeks only to make things where they are cheapest and sell them where they are dearest. But this divorces producers and consumers and means that there can be no responsibility. Only the community can care for its environment, and for its young. For the community that merely exports its natural resources to someone else will end up exporting its young. The first thing a community must do is protect its productive capacity. The economy must look first to local needs, and only then, and from its surplus, to export. It does not import what it can make for itself. But we have reached the state where we cannot actually make anything for ourselves, where we cannot supply our own necessities. If we needed shoes, for example, we no longer have the means to make them. “’Outsourcing’ the manufacture of frivolities is at least partly frivolous; outsourcing the manufacture of necessities is entirely foolish.” The local economy is built on neighborhood and subsistence, and neighborliness requires that we export only after we have met the needs of the community’s subsistence.

Berry gives us a list of 14 assumptions of the “free” market (a market that largely guarantees freedom to some by depriving others) which are dubious at best. A sample of these assumptions:

2. That there can be no conflict between economic advantage and economic justice.

5. That it is all right for a nation’s subsistence to be foreign-based, dependent on long-distance transport, and entirely controlled by corporations.

11. That an economy is a machine, of which people are merely the interchangeable parts.

13. That stable and preserving relationships among people, places, and things do not matter and are of no worth.

14. That cultures or religions have no legitimate practical or economic concerns.

At this point, one must make a fundamental decision. The very terms that Berry proposes are foreign to economic discourse. Terms like “Kingdom of God,” “Great Economy,” “values,” “justice,” “mercy,” and so forth are not ones normally encountered in economic texts. Can economics subject itself to such terms and still remain a “science”? And since Berry proposes no systematic approach to economics, it might be difficult for economists to translate Berry’s terms into their own science. So we must ask, “Should the science of economics be subject to the terms that Berry proposes?”

Two points are relevant here. The first is that in the 19th century, “political economy” tried to remake itself into the “physical” or “deductive” science of “economics.” But clearly, economics is neither a physical nor a deductive science; it is a practical, humane science, one that deals with the human relationships that are necessary for the material provisioning of society. As a humane science, it is subject to higher sciences of human relationships—psychology, sociology, politics, philosophy, and ultimately theology—and these sciences all culminate in a study of justice, which is the natural standard of human relationships, and in love, which is the supernatural standard. Economics cannot divorce itself from these terms and still remain a science.

And in fact it doesn’t. In fact, economics has become a totalizing system claiming the power to explain all things. It is as much a religious system—by another name—as is Berry’s Great Economy. It is a substitute religion with its own creed and its own myth. Its creed underlies all things and its myth, like all myths, explains all things. The central tenet of its creed is that all things are private property—even life forms—have price, and are for sale. Its myth is that given enough time, the market will correctly price all things and provide all with liberty (usually undefined or inadequately defined), and that justice will prevail. This is the sentimental capitalism that justifies all current difficulties in the name of ultimate justice, but a justice that is always deferred to the future. Here sentimental capitalism shares its myth with sentimental communism, which is always justifying the present horrors of the gulag in the name of the ultimate—but always deferred—victory of the proletariat.

In Berry’s Great Economy, the future is not deferred, but is made present in the care and conservation of the community and its resources, which have to be passed intact and improved to the next generation. The critique that he presents no system is certainly justified, but misses the point. He sets out the terms that any system must observe if it is to be a true science of economics, and not mere chrematistics. For unless economics is pointless (in which case, why bother with it?), it must serve the real needs of humans and their necessary communities. Chrematistics cannot do this, and economics generally will not do it, as presently understood. In fact, it functions by externalizing the natural and humane orders; it is a totalizing system that leaves out almost everything.

The last word in this should go to Berry, from the last words in his book:

A total economy, for all practical purposes, is a total government. The “free trade,” which from the standpoint of the corporate economy brings “unprecedented economic growth,” from the standpoint of the land and its local populations, and ultimately from the standpoint of the cities, is destruction and slavery. Without prosperous local economies, the people have no power and the land no voice.

Are You a Hundred Percent Leader? by Michael McKinney

Are You a Hundred Percent Leader?

Research done by Leadership IQ indicates that 77% of leaders believe their employees are not giving 100%. Employees don’t seem to argue the point. 72% of employees admit that they in fact aren’t giving 100%. 

If you want your employees to give 100%, you need to be the kind of leader that creates Hundred Percenters—a 100% Leader. In Hundred Percenters, Mark Murphy, CEO of Leadership IQ, says that the “two most important differentiating factors in separating exceptional from average leaders are Challenge andConnection.” Challenge is the extent to which a leader pushes his or her people. Connection is the strength of the emotional connection they build with their people. You need to decide how much you want to challenge your people and how tight an emotional bond you want to build with them.
The age-old question plaguing leaders is whether it’s better to be loved or feared. What our research seems to suggest is that while fear doesn’t lead to superior results, it’s also true that if being loved means you don’t push people, that’s not so great either. The balance seems to be that leaders should be loved, but they should be loved for pushing people to give 100%, not for coddling or appeasing them.
The degree to which you challenge and connect with your people will determine the results you get. Based on their research, Murphy has divided leaders into four basic types: Appeaser, Avoider, Intimidator and 100% Leader. With the challenges leaders face, appeasing, avoiding or intimidating can seem like necessary approaches; the path of least resistance. But they don’t produce fully engaged and accountable people. In practice, the four types are described this way: 

100 percenters

Working for the Appeaser. You’re given enjoyable assignments, you’re allowed to spend most of your time on work that plays to your strengths, your boss gives you lots of positive feedback, and your boss seems to care most about making sure you’re really happy. 

Working for the Intimidator. You’re given seemingly impossible assignments; you don’t feel like you’ve got all the skills you need to complete those assignments; when your boss gives you feedback, it’s usually pretty harsh and critical; and your boss seems to care most about achieving his goals no matter who’s with him at the end. 

Working for the Avoider. Your boss doesn’t really force too many assignments on you, you’re not really required to learn new skills, your boss lets you figure out for yourself how you’re doing, and your boss seems to care most about not getting in your way. 

Working for the 100% Leader. You’re given really challenging assignments, you’re required to learn new skills even in areas you might not consider to be your natural strengths, your boss gives you lots of constructive and positive feedback, and your boss seems to care most about pushing you to maximize every ounce of your potential. 

What kind of leader are you?