Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Finding Focus: 12 Leadership Focal Points « Leadership Freak

Finding Focus: 12 Leadership Focal Points

Ever end the day worn our but wondering what you accomplished. Coach Wooden warned, "Never confuse activity with achievement."

Life without focus is wasted.

Worse yet, wrong focus guarantees wrong results.

Don't focus on:

  1. Distant dreams.
  2. What you don't wanted.
  3. Problems.
  4. Failure.
  5. Fear.
  6. Excuses.
  7. Obstacles. "I don't focus on what I'm up against. I focus on my goals and I try to ignore the rest." Venus Williams
  8. Activity.

Achievement requires focus.

Focal points for leaders:

  1. Developing talent, both yours and theirs. The number one priority of all leaders is self-development. That's wise not selfish.
  2. Emotional environments. How do people feel at work? How do you make them feel?
  3. Creating clarity and simplicity.
  4. What you do for them, not what they do for you.
  5. Focusing the strengths of others.
  6. "Relationship before opportunity." Jeremie Kubicec
  7. High impact behaviors and activities.
  8. Activities that enhance energy.
  9. What you want. "The key to success is to focus our conscious mind on things we desire not things we fear." Brian Tracy
  10. Progress.
  11. Next steps.
  12. Solutions. "Spend your energies on moving forward toward finding the answer." Denis Waitley

Bonus: Giving and receiving feedback.

4 ways to create focus:

  1. Deadlines end dabbling. Set a timer for 12 minutes and focus on one thing.
  2. Use interruptions to clarify priorities and create next steps. (Thanks Doug Conant)
  3. Eliminate low priority activities.
  4. Complete a few easy tasks and use the energy to tackle something hard. Warning, too many easy tasks drain energy.

Added resource:

There are nearly 70 comments related to focus on my Facebook page as of 11/28/12.

Which of the 12 focal point should leaders focus on?

How do you find focus?


This entry was posted on November 28, 2012 at 6:13 am and is filed under DecisionsFeedback,LeadingMarks of leadersPersonal GrowthSuccessTaking others higher. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

The Great Discontent: Maria Popova

The Great Discontent: Maria Popova

Maria Popova

Maria Popova

Photo by Alissa Walker

About Maria

Maria Popova is the founder and editor ofBrain Pickings, has written for Wired UK, The AtlanticNieman Journalism Lab, the New York Times, and Design Observer, among others, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

Interview date: November 16, 2012

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Dear readers, you are in for a wonderful time. Find a quiet place to sit, grab a cup of coffee or tea—or something stronger, if preferred—and get ready to peek into the mind of Maria Popova, architect of Brain Pickings. Thoughtfully and with candor, Maria told her story of growing up in Bulgaria, how Brain Pickingsgot its start, the places she's traversed along the way, and why New York is where she truly feels at home. But that's not all; she also gave plenty to ruminate on when it comes to work, relationships, purpose, and our pursuit of creating things that are meaningful, intelligent, and beautiful. Of course, we hope you'll do more than just think on what she says—we hope you'll consider and then pursue something that fulfills you.

Describe your path to what you're doing now as an editor and writer.

I started Brain Pickings when I was still in college because I felt unstimulated by the experience of higher education. The enormous lecture classes of 400 people, professors who didn't know students' names, reading off of PowerPoint presentations, and assigning reading to be done at home—none of that was my idea of personal growth and enrichment. I started learning and reading about things on my own and Brain Pickings was a record of that.

At the time, I was also paying my way through school by working at a small ad agency, in addition to three other part-time jobs. I noticed that what the guys were circulating around the office for inspiration was stuff from within the ad industry and I didn't believe that was how creativity worked. I started sending out an email every Friday including five things that had nothing to do with advertising, but that I thought were meaningful, interesting, or important—and not just cool. I noticed that the guys were forwarding those emails to other people and I thought that maybe there was an intellectual hunger for that sort of cross-disciplinary curiosity and self-directed learning.

On top of my four jobs and full university course load, I enrolled in a night class to learn very basic web design and I took Brain Pickings online. That was before Wordpress was mainstream, so I was hard-coding static HTML pages every Friday, taking them down, and putting up the new ones. Eventually, I moved it over to Wordpress and it's grown pretty organically. I've never been too strategic about it and that whole game of social marketing is something I've never been deliberate about. To this day, I just write about things that interest and inspire me as well as things that I think are important to be preserved. That's that, I guess.

"To this day, I just write about things that interest and inspire me as well as things that I think are important to be preserved."

screenshot of brainpickings.orgMaria is the founder and editor ofBrain Pickings, a site which, in her own words, offers "cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers" and "things you didn't know you were interested in until you are." There's also anewsletter.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Bulgaria and grew up there. I moved to the US for college.

How was creativity a part of your childhood there?

I've always been very visually driven. Bear in mind that I grew up during communism and during my early childhood, there wasn't much available; I didn't have crayons or a lot of other things. Perhaps the best present ever given to me was from my uncle, who is an architect. Right after communism "fell", he gave me a drawing kit that came in a suitcase and had crayons, pencils, rulers, watercolors, and other paints.

I didn't read a lot myself, but my grandmother, who is very intellectual, would read to me. I was also very fascinated by her encyclopedias—she had a whole collection of them. With the Internet, I think we're losing the ability to learn about something random that we didn't know we were looking for. That's what encyclopedias are great at. 

Did you have an "aha" moment when you knew that editing and curating, for lack of a better term, was something you wanted to do?

Not at all. I also don't believe in the terrible, toxic myth of the "aha" moment. Progress is incremental for us, both as individual creative beings and together as a society and civilization. The flower doesn't go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst. It's just that culturally, we are not interested in the tedium of the blossoming. And yet that's where all the real magic is in the making of one's character and destiny.

"Progress is incremental for us, both as individual creative beings and together as a society and civilization. The flower doesn't go from bud to blossom in one spritely burst. It's just that culturally, we are not interested in the tedium of the blossoming."

I [Tina] really appreciate what you just said. We see people who are successful and often think it happened overnight, but that's usually not the case. Individuals, especially young people starting out, seem to believe that their careers should take off quickly and when that doesn't happen, they get discouraged. But there's a lot of hard work that has to be put in behind the scenes and no one is necessarily going to commend you or say, "Great job. Keep going." You just have to keep doing it.

Yeah, it's funny. Right before this interview, I was over at Hyperakt, the design studio. They do these great lunch talks and my friend Debbie Millman, who runs the wonderful Design Matters podcast, spoke today. At the Q & A after her talk, she cited this anecdote, which is basically what you just said. She had just given a talk at the Tyler School of Art and this young student asked, "How do I get people to visit my blog? I'm very frustrated with it." Debbie asked her, "How long have you been doing it?" and the student sincerely and earnestly replied, "A month."

I think if you have a great idea and are intelligent and articulate about it, people will gravitate toward it sooner or later. But also, I've been doing what I do for seven years and I never started it with the notion that it would be my life. It is my life now and it will continue to be, but I couldn't have predicted it. I don't believe that the best work happens when you gun for a specific outcome—I just don't think that's how it works.

You mentioned that you've been doing Brain Pickings for seven years. For our readers who might not be familiar with it, would you elaborate on how it's grown over the years?

Conceptually, it has changed very, very little. Granted, I've grown a lot as a person and because it's such a personal thing, my interests and my intellectual and creative curiosities have changed. However, the nature of what I write about and more importantly, why I write about what I write about has not changed. 

Technically speaking, the platforms have changed as it started with an email newsletter, went to an HTML site, and then to Wordpress with some cosmetic redesigns along the way. I also have a newsletteragain, which was almost an afterthought. In 2009, a friend nudged me to do it and now it's become pretty sizable. It's strange because the demographic of people who read Brain Pickings is very diverse, so I get high school students, but also—and I don't know why—I have a pretty large chunk of older people, including a large portion of retired educators. Now, many of the people who subscribe to the email newsletter are older and many of them don't realize the newsletter is based on the site or realize that the site even exists. 

Observing this organic journey has been very educational in understanding how people relate to knowledge and how they choose to absorb what they absorb. My philosophy and the one thing I've been strategic and deliberate about from the beginning is reader first—I don't want anything to tell people how to engage with what they want to engage with. I don't believe in slideshows, pagination, truncated RSS feeds, paywalls, and all these things that basically punish your most loyal readers. I'm just one person; I can't optimize everything to be perfect, but I've tried to make things as seamless and easy and digestible as possible. At the end of the day, Brain Pickings is about the ideas and content and not at all about the bells and whistles surrounding it.

I [Tina] like that you've made Brain Pickingsaccessible to everyone.

Yes. Well, I guess there are two things I've been very strict about since the beginning. The first I already mentioned and the second is that I don't run ads; I don't believe in ad-supported media and journalism, so the site is funded by readers through donations. I'm a big believer in the "pay what you will" model; if you see value in it, you give whatever value you see. I think this model incentivizes integrity and encourages people to do work they actually care about.

Have you had any mentors along the way?

Not directly that I can think of. There are people whose work I admire in different ways, but no "mentors" per se.

Susan Sontag on loveSusan Sontag on love(cropped), based on the second volume of Sontag's published diaries. Edited by Maria Popova and illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton.

"…I think you need to be a little in love—not necessarily in a romantic sense, although that helps—but to be in love with the reality of your own life in order to produce beautiful and meaningful and intelligent things creatively."

Has there been a point in your life when you decided you had to take a big risk to move forward?

Professionally, yes. When I graduated college out of the factory that is the Ivy League system, all the recruiters came to offer students big, corporate jobs. Of course, I had all these offers in marketing and management and banking. It was interesting because it was a risk in the sense that I grew up being really financially challenged and my family was still in Bulgaria, a country on a very different income scale, and they were not well off either. To them, getting a job offer with a big paycheck attached to it was a big deal. Those were numbers that would be a fortune in Bulgaria. But for me, the consideration was, "Do I want to bury myself in a corporate job that I'm going to spent 80% of my waking hours at, be miserable, and hope that the money it gives me will make the other 20% of my life better, even though I'm angry and tired and burned out? Or, do I want to do something that makes me happy to wake up to and happy to go to sleep having done and let the financial part figure itself out?" I turned down all the job offers to the shock of my family.

In fact, when I was first running Brain Pickings in my sophomore and junior years of college, I already had a bunch of job offers. What's funny is that I couldn't afford to take that basic web design night class I mentioned earlier. In order to pay for it, I saved money by eating store brand oatmeal and canned tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three weeks until I had enough money to pay for the class (laughing). That didn't feel like a sacrifice or risk at the time—it just felt like what I needed to do to be happy and I'm glad I did it. I can't imagine having done it any other way.

Where did you go to school?


Did you move to New York after school?

No. I stayed there for about a year working at that creative shop where I started Brain Pickings.

In the past decade, my life has been plagued by immigration bullshit and bureaucracy. In 2007 and 2008, there was this thing nicknamed Visa Gate, which was a government goof that affected two-thirds of people working on H–1B Visas here. That was the type of visa I was trying to get, so I was affected and had to pack up my entire life, say goodbye to my friends, and leave. I went back to Europe and lived in Bulgaria, but also spent quite a bit of time in London. I was in exile there for a little over a year until I couldn't take it anymore. Culturally, it was draining me; it was so negative and the people and ideas and events I wanted to be around were ten time zones away.

Eventually, I got an offer from an ad agency in LA and even though I didn't want to work in advertising, it was a way in. Also, it was so loose; they just basically wanted me involved and I was able to create my own job. They were really smart and good people, but I had a cognitive dissonance with being in advertising. So, I moved to LA without having ever been there and having always loathed it from a distance. On day two, I just knew it wasn't my thing. I've chosen not to drive; I don't want to learn. Instead, I bike. After being a cyclist in LA, I have a body full of marks to show for it. I also felt lonely, isolated, and unhappy there.

Laurie Coots, the CMO of TBWA—the agency—took me under her wing and helped me move to the New York office. She was so gracious about all of it and made sure I was happy. After I moved to New York, there was such a shift in my quality of life—there was creative stimulation and a massive exhale because I was no longer feeling isolated.

The other thing is that I love books. Between the time I left Philly and the time I moved to NY, I had lived in 12 apartments in five cities, on two continents and three coasts—all in less than two years. When you move that much, you can't have books. All my books were in storage and I wasn't getting new books. In the year I spent in Bulgaria, I couldn't even get eBooks; there wasn't an iPad then. I felt deprived. Once I moved to NY, I got all my books back and I started getting a ton of new books. Now, I'm buried in books.

So now you're staying put in NY?

Well, I just dealt with another immigration issue in the spring when I quit the ad agency and tried to transfer my visa to my new employer, an education startup called Lore. Transferring your visa is supposed to be a seamless process, but something went wrong and I lost it and had to leave again. Thankfully it was resolved fairly quickly.

It is a really disorienting thing to feel like everything you've built for yourself—your whole life—can be pulled out from under your feet by no fault of your own. It's an arbitrary force that's always there and it's really, really frustrating and disempowering. If it were up to me, I would never move away from NY, but I don't trust the immigration system at all, so I'm cautious.

"…I truly, truly believe that our first responsibility is to ourselves—to be true to our sense of right and wrong, our sense of purpose and meaning. That's how we contribute to the world. Anyone who is able to do that for him or herself is already contributing a great deal of human potential into our collective, shared pool of humanity."

Are your family and friends supportive of what you do?

My friends, the only important people in my life, I've met through what I do. They're absolutely supportive.

My family tries to understand it and they're always supportive, but I'm not convinced they actually getwhat it is I do. I don't even know how to articulate it to myself most days, but that's okay because I don't need to. I just need to do it and be fulfilled by it and for them, that's enough.

Are you at Studiomates?

I am in theory, although I'm so busy that I'm barely there. Tina jokes that I use it as my mail room (laughing). It's so close to where I live, but it's just that every second is accounted for somehow.

Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself? 

Well, isn't that every person's ultimate measure of happiness on some level, consciously or subconsciously? It's very challenging to talk about these things that are very deep and existential without it sounding contrived or dishing out clichés, but at the end of the day, the reason clichés exist is that they're true. That's all one big disclaimer to what I'm about to say, which is that I truly, truly believe that our first responsibility is to ourselves—to be true to our sense of right and wrong, our sense of purpose and meaning. That's how we contribute to the world. Anyone who is able to do that for him or herself is already contributing a great deal of human potential into our collective, shared pool of humanity. That's my litmus test, I guess.

Are you satisfied creatively?

Oh, completely.

That said, is there anything you're interested in exploring in the next 5 to 10 years?

Well, like I said, I don't believe in planning for things. I believe in doing what inspires you and seeing how it grows organically.

If you could give a piece of advice to a young creative starting out, what would you say?

Again, this is a cliché, but it's been true for me. Don't let other people's ideas of success and good or meaningful work filter your perception of what you want to do. Listen to your heart and mind's purpose; keep listening to that and even when the "shoulds" get really loud, try to stay in touch with what you hear within yourself.

You've talked a lot about New York. How does living there impact your creativity?

The novelist William Gibson has a wonderful term, "personal micro-culture", by which he means all the things you surround yourself with—people, books, and any kind of ideological input. Those things essentially shape what you think and care about. Living in NY, my personal micro-culture is that much richer. But mostly, I don't have a separation between work and life; I don't believe in the idea of work-life balance. The people in my personal life are also very much entrenched in what I do professionally and creatively. Being in NY and not feeling isolated is wonderful. Having true friends who are aligned with what I care about, but who are also different enough to broaden my curiosity and worldview, is enormous to me. I'm so grateful for it every day.   

It sounds like it's important to you to be part of a creative community of people? 

Yes, but I'm wary of the word "community" because it sounds very organized. I think there's a value in surrounding yourself with people who stimulate and challenge you, who don't just agree with you all the time. But I think the most important thing is to feel safe, seen, and understood by the people around you. I believe it was Bill Nye who said this—everyone in your life knows something you don't. And I believe it's important to live in that unknown and to welcome and celebrate it. That can only happen when you actually come into contact with people and not in superficial ways, but when you deeply connect with them. That's really important to me.

I [Tina] agree. It's about those meaningful, face-to-face connections, which have been really important for us since moving to New York and meeting people who we can connect with beyond online interactions. That's been life-giving for us.

I think that's so, so important. It's funny because, in the past year, I've been the subject of some online trolling and a lot of it tends to be personal rather than ideological. One thing people would throw out a lot is, "All this time on Twitter—you don't have a personal life," or conflating being active on the social web as reducing all of your social life to that. I kind of chuckle at that stuff because I am so profoundly grateful for my friendships and the deep relationships I have in my life are the reason for everything for me. Kurt Vonnegut said, "Write to please just one person," and I think you need to be a little in love—not necessarily in a romantic sense, although that helps—but to be in love with the reality of your own life in order to produce beautiful and meaningful and intelligent things creatively.

"Having true friends who are aligned with what I care about, but who are also different enough to broaden my curiosity and worldview, is enormous to me. I'm so grateful for it every day."

This might be a tough question. What does a typical day look like for you?

(laughing) Because the volume of what I need to get done in a day is so enormous, I'm super disciplined and there's a routine to my day that helps center and move me along. It's pretty much always the same day. I get up in the morning and preschedule some of my tweets and do very mild email. Then I head to the gym where I do my long-form reading on the iPad while on the elliptical. I come back, have breakfast, and start writing. I write three articles a day—usually two shorter ones and one longer—so I try to write the longer one in the first half of the day before things get too crazy. In the afternoon, I do more reading and preschedule the second half of my tweets. In the evening, I do yoga or meditation and then I usually have some sort of event or a one-on-one with a friend, which is my preferred mode of connecting. When I get home, sometime between 10pm and 1am, I write the remainder of what I haven't finished.

That's a very full day. Now for some lighter questions. Current album on repeat? 

Sugaring Season, the new Beth Orton album, is amazing. This isn't new anymore, but Love This Giant, the St. Vincent and David Byrne album has been on repeat for a long time. I'm also an enormous lover of covers. I've been on a kick of listening to covers of Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" lately.

You probably don't have time to TV or movies. Do you watch anything?


Oh, this is going to be the toughest question I [Tina] ask you. Do you have a favorite book?

I'm not answering that question (laughing).

Do you have a favorite book from childhood?

I do, but that's irrelevant because part of the beauty of intellectual life is that it's ever evolving. To anchor yourself with such certainty to something like an all-time favorite is the opposite of progress.

I will say this. I've been on a spree and really enjoying the diaries of Anaïs Nin and I know they'll be a big part of my life forever. She started writing when she was 11 years old and wrote until she died. There are 16 volumes and I'm only up to the fifth one. The diaries are personal, but she writes them as a nonfiction narrator and they're essentially philosophy and thoughts on creativity and life. She also meets all these historical figures and gives descriptions that get to the core of who that human being is. I am very moved by her writing.

Do you have a favorite food?

I eat the same things every single day. I wouldn't call them favorites—it's more of a functional thing. I do love all seafood except oysters.

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?

I don't really care about "legacy" per se. I want to be fulfilled while I'm living and when I die, it's what people make of it. I would hope it's something that's meaningful to other people, but I also think legacy is caught up in all this ideology of afterlife and culturally, we spend too much time expecting the next moment to bring what this one is missing. That distracts from, to use Anaïs Nin's term, "the art of living". I don't want to think about legacy; I want to think about doing things that are meaningful today and that's plenty for me. Above all, I wholeheartedly believe Larkin put it best: "What will survive of us is love."interview close

"Don't let other people's ideas of success and good or meaningful work filter your perception of what you want to do. Listen to your heart and mind's purpose…"

Thursday, November 22, 2012

4 Scientifically Proven Steps to Mastering Change - LDRLB

4 Scientifically Proven Steps to Mastering Change

This is a guest post from Matthew E. May. Matt is the author of the new book, The Laws Of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything, from which this story was adapted. You can follow him on Twitter at @MatthewEMay.

The mysteries of the mind and brain are many and complex. Neuroscience, through the magic of technology like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is just beginning to unravel some of them. Given that my livelihood revolves around creativity, I have become fascinated with neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the mind's ability to change the brain. Yes, you read that right. Neuroplasticity radically reverses ages of scientific dogma, which held that mental experiences result only from physical goings-on in the brain, and we can't do much about it. But extensive studies by neuroscientists confirm that our mental machinations do actually alter the physical structure of our brain matter. So, when you change your mind, you change your brain. This is great news for most of us.

The issue all of us grapple with is change. Whether it's kicking a bad habit, coming up with new and original ideas, shifting a business focus, getting unstuck, changing unwanted behaviors, changing company culture, or trying to change the world. At the heart of the issue is changing minds and mindsets–in other words, unlocking the brain.

My fascination led me to a number of visits to Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, a practicing neuropsychiatrist affiliated with UCLA, and author of a book called Brainlock. The reason I sought him out is that he deals with one of the most challenging and debilitating afflictions: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). And here's the thing: he doesn't use drugs to treat patients. He teaches them to rewire their brain by changing how they think.

I'm interested in Dr. Schwartz's methods not because I'm curious about OCD, but because if he can help people with that kind of mental rigidity, think what can be done with the mind that isn't all locked up. He created a successful four-step approach, and as he described it to me, it seemed quite obvious that his method could easily apply to anything we want to change.

Step 1: Relabel

The first step is to Relabel a given thought or feeling or behavior as something else. For example, an unwanted thought could be relabeled "false message" or "brain glitch". This amounts to training yourself to clearly recognize and identify what is real and what isn't, refusing to be tricked by your own thoughts. You step back and say, "This is just my brain sending me a false message." (For someone with OCD, for example, instead of saying, "I have to check the stove," they would start saying, "I am having a compulsive urge to check the stove.")

This sounds easy, almost a trite affirmation like what they give you at one of those all weekend long shut-in sessions where you transform yourself into the someone you always thought you could be. It isn't. It's hard. Focusing on something completely different when your brain is sending long-embedded directions at you with overwhelming force, is incredibly difficult.

Step 2: Reattribute

The second step is to Reattribute, which answers the question, "Why do these thoughts coming back?" The answer is that the brain is misfiring, stuck in gear, creating mental noise, and sending false messages. In other words, if you understand why you're getting those old thoughts, eventually you'll be able to say, "Oh, that's just a brain glitch." That raises the natural next question: What can you do about it?

Step 3: Refocus

The third step, Refocus, is where the toughest work is, because it's the actual changing of behavior. You have to do another behavior instead of the old one. Having recognized the problem for what it is and why it's occurring, you now have to replace the old behavior with new things to do. This is where the change in brain chemistry occurs, because you are creating new patterns, new mindsets. By refusing to be misled by the old messages, by understanding they aren't what they tell you they are, your mind is now the one in charge of your brain.

This is basically like shifting the gears of your car manually. "The automatic transmission isn't working, so you manually override it," says Schwartz. "With positive, desirable alternatives—they can be anything you enjoy and can do consistently each and every time—you are actually repairing the gearbox. The more you do it, the smoother the shifting becomes. Like most other things, the more you practice, the more easy and natural it becomes, because your brain is beginning to function more efficiently, calling up the new pattern without thinking about it."

Step 4: Revalue

It all comes together in the fourth step, Revalue, which is the natural outcome of the first three. With a consistent way to replace the old behavior with the new, you begin to view old patterns as simple distractions. You devalue them, really, as being completely worthless. Eventually the old thoughts begin to fade in intensity, the brain works better and better, and the automatic transmission in the brain begins to start working properly.

"Two very positive things happen," Schwartz says. "The first is that you're happier, because you have control over your behavioral response to your thoughts and feelings. The second thing is that by doing that, you change the faulty brain chemistry."

Schwartz confirmed that his methods could be used to create change in any are of business, work, or life. "Since it has been scientifically demonstrated that the brain has been altered through the behavior change, it's safe to say that you could do the same thing by altering responses to any number of other behaviors."

What all of this meant to me was that we can learn to improve our ability to defeat the traditional thinking traps we fall into when we try to change our view of whatever challenge we're facing. We can override our default. We can retrain our brain by invoking the Apple tagline: Think different.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Are We Nearing the Maximum Capacity of the Human Brain? | Brain Pickings

Are We Nearing the Maximum Capacity of the Human Brain?

16 NOVEMBER, 2012 by 

How "the cleverest organ in the known universe could suddenly become one of the dumbest."

"If you ever feel lazy or dull," neuroscientist David Eagleman wrote of the human brain, "take heart: you're the busiest, brightest thing on the planet." But are you, or at least are you for long?

Much has been said about the perils of information overload and what we can do about it. But what if the issue was not simply one of will over wiring? In The Ravenous Brain: How the New Science of Consciousness Explains Our Insatiable Search for Meaning (public library) — which also gave us this fascinating look at the science of "chunking" and how pattern recognition fuels creativity — Cambridge neuroscientist Daniel Bor turns to the potential hard-wired limitations of our human brains as they grapple with the rapidly proliferating influx of available information:

Human eyes have around 100 million photoreceptors, each of which can pick up about ten visual events every second, so our eyes are effectively receiving a billion pieces of information each second. If you include the information pouring in from our other senses, that's a staggering quantity of data for our brains to sift through every moment of our waking lives.


If we had an infinite resource of energy by which to crunch the numbers, and an infinitely fast brain by which to make the calculations, then there would be no problem, as we could analyze every scrap of data to its fullest capacity and never miss an opportunity or be caught by a threat. But, of course, in reality, it takes time to process anything, and human brains consume a frighteningly large proportion of our body's total energy resources.

Computing pioneer Charles Babbage's brain

Public domain image

Then, Bor adds in a footnote:

Even though the human brain is a mere 2 percent of total body weight, in newborns this single organ requires a staggering 87 percent of the body's total energy. A five-year-old has a brain that greedily guzzles nearly half of all the energy the child consumes, and even in adults this figure is at least a quarter, though that proportion can rise dramatically if we've had a mentally taxing day — for instance, when studying for exams. In fact, some biologists have suggested that the energy demands and complexity of a human brain are nearing the endpoint of what is biologically possible and that if you started trying to cram even more neuronal wires into the brain, the additional miniaturization that this would entail would turn all brain signal into random noise — and the cleverest organ in the known universe would suddenly become one of the dumbest.

Of course, for those of us who believe it's less a matter of what machinery the skull houses and more a matter of how we use it, this is merely of curiosity rather than of concern.

Babbage's brain image via Public Domain Review

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Friday, November 16, 2012

7 Habits of Highly Prolific Writers | Write to Done

7 Habits of Highly Prolific Writers

prolific writer

Are you eager to write?

People call me prolific.

Yet I don't spend all day writing.

You don't have to go "full-time" to be a prolific writer. And in this article you'll see why.

It comes down to being efficient.

Knowing what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.

I'll share my habits, and the habits of other prolific writers I know.

Let's dive right in.

1. Routine

Write daily.

Write often.

Even if you work full-time, you can make time for your writing.

I write in the mornings right now. That's my creative time. What's yours?

2. Outline

When you write, start with an outline.

Map out what you're going to write and what message you want to convey.

This is more true for non-fiction writers than fiction writers. When I wrote this article, I mapped out the 7 habits first, and then I filled in the blanks.

It makes my life much easier.

And it allows me to write the first draft for this article in 10 minutes or less.

3. First Draft

Once your outline is in place, it's time to write a horrible first draft.

New writers make the mistake of trying to edit while they write. It doesn't work, so don't even try.

When you write your first draft, it should be at lightning speed. You should get everything out of your head and onto paper. Let it flow uncensored.

Don't worry about editing or rewriting. That comes later.

4. Rewrite

After I've written my first draft, I rewrite.

But I don't rewrite right away. I let my article rest for 24 hours first.

I sleep on it.

And with each 24 hour cycle, my article gets better. I come back to it several times with a pair of fresh eyes.

Sometimes I'll rewrite an article three times over 3-4 days, and each time it improves.

5. Demon Bashing

This is a biggie.

When you write, you will run into your inner demons.

You'll run into that negative voice. It'll tell you how:

  • You're not good enough
  • You have nothing to say
  • You might as well give up

Whenever it pops up, say hi and keep writing. Writing isn't effortless for prolific writers. But they keep going anyway.

They sit down and write. Even if nothing comes out, they get things done, because they have a structure in place.

6. Confidence

When you first start out, you won't be very confident when you write.

And that's fine. It is as it should be.

When you write a lot, you get better, and you gain confidence.

I've written millions of words and thousands of articles. I started out horrible, but I'm getting better with each passing day.

There is no quick fix to finding your writing voice, or eliminating fear. It all comes down to sitting down and writing.

7. Read

Prolific writers read - a lot.

They gather inspiration from books. They observe the structure other writers use, and they steal what resonates with them.

For example, I help change makers build a thriving online business, so when I'm reading sales copy and it moves me to buy, I backtrack.

I go inside and look at what it was that moved me. Then I think about how I can use that in my writing and business.

The Wrap Up

If there's one thing I want you to take away from this article, it's this: sit down and write.

Being a prolific writer is all about refusing to listen to your own excuses. It's about eliminating any obstacles that prevent you from writing.

Writing never seems to be easy.

There's always some way you could procrastinate, but if you want to get your message out there, you have to just sit down and write.

The world needs what you have to share.

So write.

About the author:
Henri Junttila is a freelance writer and the founder of Wake Up Cloud, where he helps people turn their passion into a thriving online business. If you're interested in learning more, grab his free special report.
Image: Dog with Pencil from Bigstockphoto

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Can negative thinking be a positive? | Daniel Pink

Can negative thinking be a positive?

November 16th, 2012

Do we try too hard to be happy? Has the relentless pursuit of happiness and positivity poisoned our ability to live a meaningful life?

Oliver Burkeman thinks so. And he's given us The Antidote (AmazonBN.comIndieBound)  – a smart and entertaining new book that offers what he calls a "negative path" to happiness.

Because Pink Blog readers are interested in the broad array of subjects Oliver writes about in this book, l asked him to answer a few questions. Here's our interview:

1. You call our culture's "fixation on positivity" a "disease." But the cure you prescribe — drawn from the teachings of the Stoics, the Buddha, and other deep thinkers — is pretty challenging stuff. Where's the harm in positive thinking if it makes us happy?

Well, I'm not sure that it *does* make us happy: there's now plenty of psychological evidence to suggest that trying to make yourself think positive thoughts can backfire, leaving people feel worse. More practically, this focus on struggling to achieve the "right" emotional state – ie., constant grinning optimism — is a distraction from taking the actions that matter. (Plus, those people are pretty annoying.) The researchers and thinkers I met while researching my book, and the personal experiments I undertook, approached the matter differently. What if we learned to accommodate, even harness, uncertainty, insecurity, pessimism and failure, instead of treating them like they're radioactive?

2. "Goal Crazy" might be the most provocative chapter in the book. You could fill a library with all everything that's been written on achieving personal and professional goals, and yet you say that this relentless focus on goals is misplaced. What's so bad about setting, working toward, and achieving goals?

There's a role for goals. But the "overpursuit" of goals leads to all kinds of hazards. One major pitfall is that "you can never change only one thing" — and so focusing on a single variable risks distorting many others. (We probably all know people who've pursued a wealth goal, say, at the expense of their personal relationships, but that's only the most obvious example.) Another is that rigid plans for the future mean we don't hear when opportunity knocks softly. Research among successful entrepreneurs by Saras Sarasvathy, for example, suggests they choose what she calls "effectuation", instead of firm business plans. They don't behave like gourmet chefs, visualizing a perfect dish and then sourcing the ingredients.They're more like time-pressed home cooks, checking what's in the cupboard, then exploring ways to combine the resources at their disposal — ideas, materials, people. Then they just start, adjusting their target as they go: "ready, fire, aim", not "ready, aim, fire." (Another tip: choose "process" goals over "outcome" goals. Not "I'll write a great novel", but "I'll do 45 minutes every weekday".)

3. We've probably all seen the studies showing that people from some of the poorest nations on earth consistently rank higher in happiness than citizens of wealthy countries. In the book, you offer a counterintuitive explanation for why that may be so — could you briefly explain?

This is such a fraught topic. I don't mean to imply that poverty and disease are somehow unproblematic, simply because there's a higher incidence of depression in Manhattan than in some African slums. But what you realize when you visit places like the Kenyan township of Kibera outside Nairobi, and study the research evidence, is that people living in extremely fragile conditions do have one advantage. They're forced to face the fundamental insecurity of existence. They don't have the option of mistakenly believing that the next pay raise, the next promotion or a bigger house, will finally make them happy. They're compelled instead to find ways to live with insecurity — and to build the strong relationships with family and neighbors that are a crucial ingredient of wellbeing. We mustn't romanticize their situation. But as we've seen on the US east coast recently, all our lives, in different ways, are suffused with insecurity. Do we really want to embrace a philosophy of happiness based on trying to ignore that?

4. At the end of The Antidote, you talk a little about some of the techniques that have been most helpful to you. What continues to stick with you personally from your research? What could readers of this blog begin doing today — within the next hour, even — to get started on a more satisfying path?

If you're feeling daring, do what I did and deliberately embarrass yourself in public — a technique adapted from Stoicism that will transform your perspective on plunging into uncertain or scary situations. (Choose something legal and considerate of others! I spoke the names of stations on the London Underground out loud.) Alternatively, pick a project you've been procrastinating on, choose a useful next action, and — this is the critical part — *don't* try to stamp out the associated negative feelings of reluctance or fear or uncertainty. Acknowledge them, then act anyway. Another thing I've turned into a daily habit, albeit haltingly, is meditation. Learning to observe your thoughts and emotions without manipulating them is the opposite of positive thinking: paradoxical though it sounds, getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable is vastly more powerful than trying to stay positive.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Explore – Never open a book with the weather. Avoid...

  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said."
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control!
  6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Same for places and things.
  10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, synthesized byOpen Culture – a fine addition to our ongoing collection of writing advice and these timeless tips from history's greatest writers.

Neil Gaiman's 8 Rules of Writing | Brain Pickings

Neil Gaiman's 8 Rules of Writing

28 SEPTEMBER, 2012 by

"Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving."

In the winter of 2010, inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 rules of writing published in The New York Times nearly a decade earlier, The Guardian reached out to some of today's most celebrated authors and asked them to each offer his or her commandments. After Zadie Smith's 10 rules of writing, here come 8 from the one and only Neil Gaiman:

  1. Write
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you're writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you've never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you're allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But it's definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it ­honestly, and tell it as best you can. I'm not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

For more timeless wisdom on writing, see Kurt Vonnegut's 8 rules for a great story, David Ogilvy's 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller's 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac's 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck's 6 pointers, and Susan Sontag's synthesized learnings.

Image by Kimberly Butler

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Avoiding The Top 5 Leadership Communication Blunders « Linked 2 Leadership

Avoiding The Top 5 Leadership Communication Blunders

Communication Breakdown

Communication is the most important predictor of a team's success.  MIT has the data to prove it.  If you lead a team, this should command your attention.

Communication is Key to a Successful Team

"We've found patterns of communication to be the most important predictor of a team's success. Not only that, but they are as significant as all the other factors—individual intelligence, personality, skill, and the substance of discussions—combined."

Alex "Sandy" Pentland, leader of  MIT's Human Dynamics Laboratory, writes about this research in an HBR article, The New Science of Building Great Teams.

Communication. That's right, it's more important that intelligence and skill.  Are you maximizing the success of your team through effective communication?

Maybe not!

Take a look at these five common communication blunders – and how to avoid them.

Avoiding The Top 5 Leadership Communication Blunders

1. You are too focused on yourself

You will not get very far in your communication efforts if you are only focused on what you need out of the interaction.  You must start communication by beinggenuinely interested in others.  Take a moment and reflect on what all parties need from the dialogue.

Dale Carnegie captured this idea in How To Win Friends and Influence Peoplewhen he wrote: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

What should you do?

  • Don't interrupt – People will never be heard if you don't let them speak.
  • Don't volunteer others – Let people choose for themselves.  It shows you value their autonomy.
  • Seek common ground – Everyone is self- interested. Look for the intersection as a way to create a win – win.

2. You're keeping your door closed and the emails (or texts) flying

Face it, we frequently default to impersonal communication like email and text messages.

I see emails fly from people who sit 10 feet apart.

In a joint study, "The Psychology of Effective Business Communications in Geographically Dispersed Teams," Cisco and PearnKandola found that organizational effectiveness can suffer when e-mails go unanswered and team member (or managers) assume the non-responder is a slacker.

The report also stresses that email takes away critical nonverbal clues that make communication effective.

So what should you do?  Think about the best method of communication for your message.  Many times that will be face-to-face communication.

According to Dr. Pentland's research at MIT:

"The most valuable form of communication is face-to-face.  The next most valuable is by phone or video conference." 

The most successful teams had the most live communication.  Think about that before you send your next text message.

3. You talk more than you listen

Dialogue is a two-way street.  There is no dialogue if one person does all the talking.  In addition, great listeners show speakers that they have been heard and understood.

So what should you do?

  • Listen effectively – Focus on the speaker, shutting out external and internal noise.
  • Talk and listen in roughly equal measures to others in the conversation.
  • Make room for others to participate.  Ask questions if notice others are quiet or holding back.
  • Don't become defensive or change the subject with the conversation becomes sensitive.  That is the time to demonstrate that you are hearing and understanding.

This ability to truly listen is so critical that it appears on the Leadership Action Profile (LPI), a 360º assessment tied to The Leadership Challenge, by Kouzes and Posner.

After 25 years of research their findings indicate that an effective leader "Actively listens to diverse points of view."

Make sure that you are as well.

4. You ignore body language and facial expressions

Angry Person

Our nonverbal behaviors—the gestures we make, the way we sit,  how loud we talk, how close we stand, how much eye contact we make—send strong messages.

This is a huge part of communication.

If you want to know how your communication is being received you must interpret the non verbal part of the dialogue.

Are you getting the full picture?

You must be fully present in the conversation to notice and respond to nonverbal cues.  Dr. Paul Ekman, an expert on facial expressions, notes that most expressions are on someone's face for a few seconds.  This is long enough to recognize if you aren't distracted by your own thoughts.

So what should you do?

  • What does it mean when someone crosses their arms or blinks repeatedly?  Take the time to learn about non-verbal communication.
  • Resist the urge to spend your mental energy planning your next comment. Pay attention to what you see.  Look for signs that the non-verbals are out of synch with the spoken message.
  • Be aware of your own body language.

 5. You communicate primarily with close confidants

Frequent and open dialogue is key successful teams.    This is evident when you look at the research of Drs. Carew, Kandarian, Parisi-Carew and Stoner.  The created the HPO SCORES Model that presents the six elements evident in every high performing organization.

The very first item in their list is Shared Information and Open Communication.

This model is presented in the book Leading at a Higher Level.

"Sharing information and facilitating open communication build trust and encourages people to act like owners of the organization.  Encouraging dialogue lessens the danger of territoriality and keeps the organization health, agile, flexible and fluid."

And it yields real business results.  Back at MIT, Dr. Pentland recommended to call center management  that they send agents to break at the same time to increase communication.  The average handle time of calls fell by 20% on low performing teams.

The organization is making the change company wide and they project a $15 million per year productivity increase.  So what should you do?

  • Communicate frequently with all members of the team – solicit ideas and ask questions.
  • Don't wait for staff meeting.  Spend time communicating informally.  A lot of great, effective communication happens at break or over lunch.
  • Draw ideas from outside the core work group and bring those ideas back to the team.  Get a new conversation going.

In the spirit of great communication, I'd love to hear your thoughts!  What are you doing to promote good conversations on your team?  Do you feel that everyone is participating in the dialogue?  Do you think people are both speaking and listening?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Melissa Lanier

Melissa Lanier leads Global Talent Management for an S&P SmallCap 600 Firm
She is driven to build High Performing Cultures Aligned to Strategy
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