Seeing More Clearly by Seeking Disconfirmation

Margaret Heffernan, author of Willful Blindness, discussing an interesting psychological aspect of the News of the World scandal with Marketplace's Kai Rysdall (July 20, 2011):

Read an excerpt from Marketplace's The Big Book blog"The very size of the organization may be part of the problem. It's virtually impossible to have any kind of clear line of sight across all the operations of a [53,000-person organization]. In addition, you have to take into account what we know about human psychology. People are obedient; they will follow instructions even when they're unethical. This is what the New York psychologist Stanley Milgram proved in the '60s, and the data has been robust ever since. You can add to that other experiments we know about conformity: given the choice between giving a wrong answer that keeps you part of the group, or a right answer that makes you an outsider, most people would rather give a wrong answer. There is enormous psychological pressure on individuals to do what the organization wants and what their boss wants.

I think we all need, as managers and executives, to learn to be very good at negotiating conflict. The people who see most clearly are those who seek disconfirmation. They want people who are prepared to argue with them. They want data that challenges their beliefs. That's how they keep alert, paying attention -- because if you're surrounded by a lot of yes men and women, the chances are, they will all keep you blind to the stuff that collectively you just do not want to see."

Listen to the whole interview here...

Body Building for the Brain

Excerpt from “Management as Meditation,” by Dominique Haijtema, Ode Magazine, Spring 2011:

More and more businesses and managers are becoming interested in meditation, according to Rob Brandsma, founder of the Dutch Institute for Mindfulness and Management. The word no longer conjures images of vagueness or flakiness, but is increasingly seen as a practical method for stress reduction. And that’s hardly a luxury in these times of recession, job insecurity and economic turmoil. Many employees and managers fear for their jobs, or for their company’s survival, and those who are still employed are confronted with increasing workloads and increasing stress levels.

Many view meditation as a way to keep calm, cool and collected in uncertain times. According to Time magazine, 10 million people meditate daily in the U.S. No hard figures exist on the number of businesses that offer meditation. However, organizations such as Google, Deutsche Bank, AOL Time Warner and Apple let workers meditate. Meditation’s role in maintaining physical and mental health is also increasingly backed up by scientific research. According to researchers at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, meditating regularly results in lower blood pressure and less insomnia. Using MRI scans, neuroscientists at Harvard Medical School found that meditation boosts the immune system, lowers heart rates and improves circulation. Golf star Tiger Woods and Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson claim meditation is partly responsible for their sporting accomplishments.

Interest in the practice in countries like Norway, Australia and the U.K. is picking up, too. According to research from the Identity Foundation, even in conservative Germany, 10 percent of managers consider it “body building for the brain”; whereas sports train the body, meditation trains the spirit.

[I would say mindfulness practice develops the skills of attention and intimate familiarity with sensory experience which together foster well-being that is less dependent on the constantly fluctuating conditions of life. ~ Daron]

The cliché image of Indian hippies and incense persists, according to Susanne Hauptmann, a German meditation teacher and yoga instructor who works with businesses, but once people give mindfulness a try, they’re usually convinced. “The positive effects, like relaxation, are quickly noticeable,” she says. Managers in particular report that meditation helps them achieve greater insights and make better decisions.

Read more…

[Thanks, Kit!]

Compassion for Fun and Profit

“The first step is attention training. Attention is the basis of all higher cognitive and emotional abilities. Therefore, any curriculum for training emotional intelligence has to begin with attention training. The idea here is to train attention to create a quality of mind that is calm and clear at the same time. And this creates the foundation for emotional intelligence.”

Chade-Meng Tan

Procedural Voyeurism

Excerpt from "The Art of the Deal as Entertainment," by Walter Kirn, New York Times (July 20, 2010):

LeBron James Mural Comes Down (Cleveland Plain Dealer) In the contemporary entertainment business (and also, increasingly, in sports and in politics), it’s the business that’s the entertainment and the art of the deal that’s the art that draws most notice. We have become a society that is fixated on process and absorbed by the slippery, complex machinations of the middlemen, brokers and executives who conspire offstage to determine what takes place onstage. Call this outlook “procedural voyeurism” — a redirection of mass attention from the spectacle of the game itself to the circus of the game behind the game, as when LeBron James, the N.B.A. superstar, commandeered the TV sets of umpteen thousands of sports bars, not to mention the better part of the Web’s bandwidth, to tell us, months before the season’s first tipoff, that he was moving from Cleveland to Miami to take advantage of the new team’s “cap space,” a slangy term for the ability teams have to add new strings of zeros to coveted players’ salaries.

You might also think back to last winter’s late-night-talk-show feud, its battlefield swarming with lawyers, go-betweens, snitches, seducers and propagandists, that pitted Conan O’Brien against Jay Leno for the desk that the senior comedian nobly ceded to the younger and then, as if by tugging on a lasso encircling the desk’s legs, rudely jerked away. This orgy of Jacobean backstage backstabbing wasn’t televised directly, but rumors about its intrigues captured our imaginations anyhow, stirring extensive discussions of ratings numbers, severance payments, contractual etiquette and viewer demographics...

Procedural voyeurism grants us an illusion of control over realities that we secretly fear we have no power over — sometimes correctly, as with the BP oil spill, whose coverage has been rich in process and until recently short on meaningful developments. The Romanian religious philosopher Mircea Eliade wrote about mesmerizing narratives that he called origin myths. He said they helped people feel a sense of authority over an otherwise chaotic world. Today our origin myths are more mundane, but we still see the deal as a primordial act. We might do well to call these decadent versions “LeBron Announcements” or “Conan-Leno Matches”: rituals of symbolic participation in games-within-games that are way above our heads and occur within heavily guarded inner circles that we can peek into but never truly penetrate.

Read the entire essay…

That Spark Will Never Be a Commodity

Excerpt from “America’s Real Dream Team,” by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times (March 21, 2010):

Photo by Felipe T. Marques In today’s wired world, the most important economic competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before — as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.

If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use to handle fulfillment. I can use to find someone to do my logo and manage by backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea.

[See also: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell and The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You've Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong by David Shenk]

Producers of Knowledge and Doubt

Excerpts from “The University’s Crisis of Purpose,” by Drew Gilpin Faust, New York Times (September 1, 2009):

John_Harvard_statue_at_Harvard_UniversityHigher education is not about results in the next quarter but about discoveries that may take — and last — decades or even centuries. Neither the abiding questions of humanistic inquiry nor the winding path of scientific research that leads ultimately to innovation and discovery can be neatly fitted within a predictable budget and timetable.

Universities are meant to be producers not just of knowledge but also of (often inconvenient) doubt. They are creative and unruly places, homes to a polyphony of voices. But at this moment in our history, universities might well ask if they have in fact done enough to raise the deep and unsettling questions necessary to any society.

Since the 1970s there has been a steep decline in the percentage of students majoring in the liberal arts and sciences, and an accompanying increase in preprofessional undergraduate degrees. Business is now by far the most popular undergraduate major, with twice as many bachelor’s degrees awarded in this area than in any other field of study. In the era of economic constraint before us, the pressure toward vocational pursuits is likely only to intensify.

As a nation, we need to ask more than this from our universities. Higher learning can offer individuals and societies a depth and breadth of vision absent from the inevitably myopic present. Human beings need meaning, understanding and perspective as well as jobs. The question should not be whether we can afford to believe in such purposes in these times, but whether we can afford not to.