Thursday, 31 May 2012

Read 4 life

I've been a devoted, even fanatical reader of fiction my whole life, but sometimes I feel like I'm wasting time if I spend an evening immersed in Lee Child's newest thriller, or re-reading The Great Gatsby. Shouldn't I be plowing through my in-box? Or getting the hang of some new productivity app? Or catching up on my back issues of The Economist? That slight feeling of self-indulgence that haunts me when I'm reading fake stories about fake people is what made me so grateful to stumble on a piece in Scientific American Mind by cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley extolling the practical benefits to be derived particularly from consuming fiction.

Over the past decade, academic researchers such as Oatley and Raymond Mar from York University have gathered data indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness. For instance, in fMRI studies of people reading fiction, neuroscientists detect activity in the pre-frontal cortex — a part of the brain involved with setting goals — when the participants read about characters setting a new goal. It turns out that when Henry James, more than a century ago, defended the value of fiction by saying that "a novel is a direct impression of life," he was more right than he knew.

In one of Oatley and Mar's studies in 2006, 94 subjects were asked to guess the emotional state of a person from a photograph of their eyes. "The more fiction people [had] read," they discovered, "the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes, and...correctly interpreting social cues." In 2009, wondering, as Oatley put it, if "devouring novels might be a result, not a cause, of having a strong theory of mind," they expanded the scope of their research, testing 252 adults on the "Big Five" personality traits — extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness — and correlated those results with how much time the subjects generally spent reading fiction. Once again, they discovered "a significant relation between the amount of fiction people read and their empathic and theory-of-mind abilities" allowing them to conclude that it was reading fiction that improved the subjects' social skills, not that those with already high interpersonal skills tended to read more.

Theory of mind, the ability to interpret and respond to those different from us — colleagues, employees, bosses, customers and clients — is plainly critical to success, particularly in a globalized economy. The imperative to try to understand others' points of view — to be empathetic — is essential in any collaborative enterprise.

Emotions also have an impact on the bottom line. A 1996 study published in the journal Training and Development assessing the value of training workers at a manufacturing plant in emotional management skills — teaching employees to focus on how their work affects others rather than simply on getting the job done — found that union grievance filings were reduced by two-thirds while productivity increased substantially. And a study of a Fortune 400 health insurance company conducted by Peter Salovey, a psychology professor at Yale, looked at the correlations between emotional intelligence and salary and found that people rated highest by their peers in emotional intelligence received the biggest raises and were promoted most frequently.

To bring the subject home, think about how many different people you interact with during the course of a given day — coworkers, clients, passing strangers, store clerks. Then think about how much effort you devoted to thinking about their emotional state or the emotional quality of your interaction. It's when we read fiction that we have the time and opportunity to think deeply about the feelings of others, really imagining the shape and flavor of alternate worlds of experience. Right now, I'm in the middle of Irene Nemirovsky's posthumously published novel about France's fall to the Nazis in 1940. Her simple sentences sketch a sense of uncertainty, moral ambiguity, and heartbreak — feelings I certainly wouldn't want to dwell on in "real" life, but emotions I'm better off for having taken the time to consider.

But nourishing empathy doesn't require such grimness. And if you want your diet of fiction, as it's shaping your mind to be more emotionally acute, to be specifically relevant to work, there is a body of great literature about business and organizational behavior. For instance, Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now, inspired by 19th century financial scandals among the British elite, resonates powerfully today. In his autobiography, Trollope wrote that "a certain class of dishonesty, dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, has become at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seems to be reason for fearing that men and women will be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to be abominable. If dishonesty can live in a gorgeous palace with pictures on all its walls, and gems in all its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into Parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel. Instigated, I say, by some such reflections as these, I sat down in my new house to write The Way We Live Now." Seems fairly au courant to me.

From now on, I'm going to feel less like an escapist slacker when I'm engrossed in a new novel. In addition to the Trollope, below are some of my favorite books to get you started.

Kurt Andersen, Turn of the Century — set in 2000 and 2001, a successful TV producer husband and digital entrepreneur wife, trying to balance the demands of work and life, wind up pitted against each other as executives in a U.S. media empire. His mistrust grows when she becomes a favorite of the Rupert Murdoch-like chairman. Meanwhile, their hedge-fund-manager best friend is involved in big-time stock manipulation. (Full disclosure: my husband is the author)

Jane Austen, Sandition — in this unfinished fragment of a novel, Austen departs from her typical marriage plot to describe the zealous entrepreneurialism of a real estate speculator. While we can never know how the novel would have ended, we can be pretty sure his housing bubble will burst.

Charles Dickens, Bleak House — Dickens' tenth novel explores the human cost of prolonged litigation through the eyes of Esther Summerson, who is caught up in a multi-generational dispute over the disposition over an inheritance. Anyone who has ever been entangled in a lawsuit will revel in the characterization of the process. At the time of publication, 1852–1853, public outrage over injustice in the English legal system helped the novel to spark legal reform that culminated in the 1870s.

William Gaddis, JR — in the 1976 National Book Award winner, the 11-year old protagonist, JR, secretly trades penny stocks, using the tools of the trade at the time — money orders and payphones — to build a fortune. Written entirely in dialogue, the absurdity of a precocious child's feat satirizes as Gaddis put it, "the American dream turned inside out." His description of dysfunctional boards and the corrosive effect of corporate takeovers and asset stripping are as current today as they were 30 years ago.

Joseph Heller, Something Happened — Heller's stream of consciousness second novel follows a regular-joe middle manager as he prepares for a promotion. The messy interweaving of his thoughts about his job, family, sex, and childhood perfectly distill how complicated the selves we bring to work really are.

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Cause and effect

"Cause and effect is as absolute and undeviating in the hidden
realm of thought as in the world of visible and material
things. Mind is the master weaver, both of the interior garment of
character and the outer garment of circumstance."

James Allen

B60
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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Clint Eastwood effect

40-50 years ago, Clint Eastwood was a highly successful actor making classic spaghetti westerns and the classic Dirty Harry series. It was a recipe that worked. It was highly entertaining and highly commercially successful, and made a unique contribution to classic cinematography. But Clint Eastwood is not just a cog in someone else´s machine. He never was. He is a highly creative, innovative individual. Now he is 80, and he has done some of his best work in the last 10 years or so. That is what creative people do. They just get better and better, and work till they die. Think of Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, or Hereafter, in my opinion a masterpiece.
 But now think of the mindset of today´s employers. Creativity and innovation have never been more important than they are today, in industry, services and education. But what is the recruitment philosophy of most employers? Do we want creative and innovative people? Are we hiring the people who can deliver that calibre of work? No, we aren´t. We are hiring people who are CHEAP and COMPLIANT. Cheap and compliant is fine if what you are trying to do is sell a mediocre product using first-class marketing. But what we really need to be doing now is delivering first-class products. If Clint Eastwood was a teacher, or a company executive in a corporation, he would have been on the scrapheap for the last TWENTY-FIVE YEARS! Instead, because he is self-motivating and self-regulating, he is now doing the best work of his life. He´s still doing things he has never done before. We could all be doing what he is doing. So why aren´t we?


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The Clint Eastwood effect


40-50 years ago, Clint Eastwood was a highly successful actor making classic spaghetti westerns and the classic Dirty Harry series. It was a recipe that worked. It was highly entertaining and highly commercially successful, and made a unique contribution to classic cinematography. But Clint Eastwood is not just a cog in someone else´s machine. He never was. He is a highly creative, innovative individual. Now he is 80, and he has done some of his best work in the last 10 years or so. That is what creative people do. They just get better and better, and work till they die. Think of Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, or Hereafter, in my opinion a masterpiece.
 But now think of the mindset of today´s employers. Creativity and innovation have never been more important than they are today, in industry, services and education. But what is the recruitment philosophy of most employers? Do we want creative and innovative people? Are we hiring the people who can deliver that calibre of work? No, we aren´t. We are hiring people who are CHEAP and COMPLIANT. Cheap and compliant is fine if what you are trying to do is sell a mediocre product using first-class marketing. But what we really need to be doing now is delivering first-class products. If Clint Eastwood was a teacher, or a company executive in a corporation, he would have been on the scrapheap for the last TWENTY-FIVE YEARS! Instead, because he is self-motivating and self-regulating, he is now doing the best work of his life. He´s still doing things he has never done before. We could all be doing what he is doing. So why aren´t we?


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The Clint Eastwood effect

40-50 years ago, Clint Eastwood was a highly successful actor making classic spaghetti westerns and the classic Dirty Harry series. It was a recipe that worked. It was highly entertaining and highly commercially successful, and made a unique contribution to classic cinematography. But Clint Eastwood is not just a cog in someone else´s machine. He never was. He is a highly creative, innovative individual. Now he is 80, and he has done some of his best work in the last 10 years or so. That is what creative people do. They just get better and better, and work till they die. Think of Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino, or Hereafter, in my opinion a masterpiece.
 But now think of the mindset of today´s employers. Creativity and innovation have never been more important than they are today, in industry, services and education. But what is the recruitment philosophy of most employers? Do we want creative and innovative people? Are we hiring the people who can deliver that calibre of work? No, we aren´t. We are hiring people who are CHEAP and COMPLIANT. Cheap and compliant is fine if what you are trying to do is sell a mediocre product using first-class marketing. But what we really need to be doing now is delivering first-class products. If Clint Eastwood was a teacher, or a company executive in a corporation, he would have been on the scrapheap for the last TWENTY-FIVE YEARS! Instead, because he is self-motivating and self-regulating, he is now doing the best work of his life. He´s still doing things he has never done before. We could all be doing what he is doing. So why aren´t we?


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http://www.amazon.co.uk/Moldavite-ebook/dp/B007FS0YM4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-te...

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Sunday, 13 May 2012

Mistress Moldavite

http://www.smashwords.com/books/search?query=Mistress+Moldavite
Adult Edition of Moldavite now available on Smashwords at introductory price! And of course the abridged version is still available. Click on the icon below. Have a great day

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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Kung Fuk What?

My new book KFU, is coming out soon, and is now in the final copyediting stages! More later,
Meira

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Sunday, 6 May 2012

Nilofer hits the nail on the head

When you write online, no one checks to see if you have a journalism degree before they start to read. If you experience an earthquake and want to report on its danger or safety, no one asks your credentials before you report to Ushahidi. And if you were interested a creating a new company, you can simply initiate the idea and get funding through Kickstarter or Indie GoGo.

The gateways of power have changed.

Or have they?

When I look around, I see a culture that honors being prepared, doing the right things to get ahead, and achieving more and more, starting with our education — we need to go to the right high school to get into the right college, to get the right job after college. Our culture also honors fancy titles and brand affiliations, as visibly celebrated by the first question most Westerners ask on meeting someone new: "And who are you?" It's as if knowing one's title and affiliation will let you know if a person's ideas are even worth considering. And of course, premiere venture capitalists talk with pride about "pattern recognizing" for success, signaling that they typically fund a 23-year old from Stanford over say, women, people of color, or those with a more diverse life experience. All this, even though research shows creativity and innovation peak later in life.

So, which is it?

I'd like to explore this topic with you by sharing two arguments about what defines power today.

Argument 1: You Are Powerful Beyond Measure

Academic degrees, once a status differentiator, are no longer required to create good ideas. After all, Peter Thiel pays kids to leave school. Title and status are no longer essential. Opportunities that were once vetted opportunities — limited to a select few — are now available to many.

Case in point: Crowdsourcing solutions often allow us to include voices and talent we've never heard before. One such "game," Fold It, allows any individual to work with sequencing amino acids to figure out how that protein is going to fold. This particular work is very important to research and medicine, and is usually conducted by scientists with PhDs. But when Fold It studied who was the best protein folder in the world, it wasn't someone they "expected" to see. Instead, it was someone who is an executive assistant by day — a woman — and is the world's best scientific protein folder at night. This individual, driven by her own skills and passions, is not being assigned the work, nor being vetted to do the work, but is simply doing the work.

The Social Era unlocks new doors of both who can contribute and what can be created, and thus changes the very source of power itself. Crowdsourcing, SaaS models, open source, social networks, virtual workforces and other new meshy processes, tools, and business models have enabled new ways to create value. And, just as the Social Era shifts how an organization can create, deliver and capture value across its business model, it shifts — of course — the source of power for each of us, too.

The ingredient level of the social era starts with and is built off a single unit, that of a social human. Where the industrial era rewarded accreditations and employee numbers, the Social Era will reward those with the ability to connect, create, and contribute. As it stands, work has been freed from jobs, and each of us can find many ways to have impact without someone else telling us "we are allowed."

Argument 2: Power is a Limited Commodity

We still live in a world where being part of a powerful, exclusive group gives you power, whether that group is educational (the Ivy League, Skull and Bones, Harvard Law), professional (McKinsey, Google, Exxon Mobil), or demographic (white, male, straight). Who would argue that such affiliations no longer confer some degree of power?

I was recently talking to someone (a white male) who I considered a friend and fellow management thinker. I went to him for help crisping an idea; he gave me this advice:
"As a brown woman, your likelihood of being heard above the noise is next to nothing. For you to do so, you need to be way more edgy. But if you are too edgy, you're not safe. As a brown woman, you need to be safe for people to hear your ideas. And so don't be too edgy."

I asked him if there was any specific way that any human being could actually do what he suggested. He stared at the floor, and then shook his head.

Now here's the embarrassing part. After a couple of days of retelling this story and receiving only blank stares or uncomfortable silence in return — with no one saying anything close to "this advice is stupid" — within a day or so I started to believe... that it was true. I started to believe my skin color wasn't right to be seen as a management thinker. I started to believe that my ideas were not right because my history wasn't right. I started to believe that what mattered was not the power of these ideas, but whether I fit the mold of a "powerful" person enough for these ideas to be seen.

Reconciling the Two Points of View

So, let me ask you: Is power that thing assigned by others? Is it about getting top grades in the right school, and having the right titles and rank at work? Is it about being born to the right parents, into the right gender, in the right country? Are you more powerful if you are on the top org chart, or less powerful if you're at the bottom of the ladder? Do these external assignments define any of us as more or less powerful?

Or is power something that each of us manifests by knowing our purpose, applying it to what we create, and using that to define how we see ourselves in the world?

Power has been defined in terms of the ways in which you can have control over others — by paying them to do things, to direct activities, by allocating resources. In this view, some people have power and some don't. It's a win-lose construct.

But, the Social Era shows us that power can also come from how we create with others. In this way, power can be about what we can each affect. It comes down to contributing based on what we can each uniquely bring, something I've called owning our "onlyness." When each of us recognizes our own agency, we have power enough to each create and contribute what we can.

What I see is a shift in the nature of power and influence. And I wonder if we might want to call out two specifics:

  1. Power is open. Power used to be the thing that got things done, and influence used to be the thing you used to try and get things done. But today, the power of connections, community, and shared ideas offer a different lever in what can be accomplished. It is open-source software and encyclopedias written by crowds and revolutions seeded on Internet portals. It is Kickstarter, Meetup and Ushahidi and any number of other platforms that allow disparate, diffuse strangers to marshal the kind of influence that once only centralized institutions could. This power is different than the traditional classification of hard and soft power. It is networked, engaged power.
  2. When power is assigned from the outside world (based on others' opinions or on status), then it is power that can also be taken away by that world. But by granting ourselves agency — a power that comes from understanding our individual ability to contribute to the world — we give ourselves a power that cannot be taken back.
The traditional definitions of power suggest that power is binary, situational, or limited. The Social Era is showing us a fuller truth about power. And it is this:

It does not define you. No. You define it.

There is a cost to defining power in the traditional, limited way. If we keep defining power in the same way, we end up staying in place. Look around. There are plenty of signs that suggest that what we've used so far isn't working. The act of reimagining our own notion of power might very well be central to what happens next, in our own lives, in our organizations, and in the economies in which we live.

Oh yeah! M.

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Fork it!

I can´t tell you how much time and energy I have wasted over the years trying to persuade people to look at things differently or do them differently. It used to eat me up that some people, even people you would think were quite bright, just couldn´t or wouldn´t see something that was staring them in the face.
Being a basically reasonable person, I assumed that most people out there were also basically reasonable. This is the mistake we all make. We all think that everyone else thinks the way we think. We reinvent the universe in our own image  and then wonder why it doesn´t seem to make sense. I found out the hard way that some people are incredibly unreasonable, often wilfully so, but more than this, the more you try to reason with them, the more unreasonable they become. This might actually be a good working definition of what being unreasonable means.
So the question is: what do you do about your opposition? What do you do when you just KNOW that you have a great idea, a great plan, a great design, a great book, or whatever, but all you get is the brick wall?
Forget about persuasion. There is no known force in the universe that can persuade an idiot not to be an idiot. If you could persuade an idiot not to be an idiot, they wouldn´t be an idiot. It´s that simple.
This is where the fork comes in. It has two prongs, but to be effective, it´s aimed at delivering success, not at eliminating the opposition. The more you oppose your opposition, the more you feed it, and the more you starve yourself.
Forget about the opposition. Ignore it, it´s wallpaper. If you are right, then your time and energy should be spent delivering the better alternative. It´s a fork motion. One prong is to ignore the opposition, the other is to blow it out of the water with something better. That´s what they are really afraid of.

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Friday, 4 May 2012

Make yourself redundant

A good teacher has the same mindset as a good parent. She is a turkey passionately voting for Christmas. The better she does her job, the less she is needed. This has never been more true than it is today, with the need for young people who can articulate, think for themselves and be empowered to know what they need to know in their own way. The best relationship between a student and teacher, as with parent and child, is almost a nostalgic one, with both laughing about the times when the guidance was still needed. Dare to make yourself redundant.


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