What in the World?

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We have access to so much information, we should always be able to find precisely what we want to. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Sadly, this isn’t the case. We are bombarded with information on multiple fronts and for most of us, separating the wheat from the chaff is difficult, often extraordinarily so.

That’s why a recent report from the non-partisan World Economic Forum is so refreshing. In a few hard-hitting charts we learn important facts ranging from: The top ten global economies, to what countries are rising fastest, to global risks we need to be concerned about, to so much more.

Thought provoking? You can read the full report here.

Now What?

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Few writers can dissect an issue as well as The New York Times David Brooks. It’s no surprise then that he recently took to the op-ed page to discuss the woman’s march on Washington. Here is part of what he shared:

“The women’s marches were a phenomenal success and an important cultural moment. Most everybody came back uplifted and empowered. Many said they felt hopeful for the first time since Election Day. But these marches can never be an effective opposition to Donald Trump.

In the first place, this movement focuses on the wrong issues. Of course, many marchers came with broad anti-Trump agendas, but they were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear. As The Washington Post reported, they were “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.”

These are all important matters, and they tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities. But this is 2017. Ethnic populism is rising around the world. The crucial problems today concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.

All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.”

Here is where his message is compelling:

“Sometimes social change happens through grass-roots movements — the civil rights movement. But most of the time change happens through political parties: The New Deal, the Great Society, and the Reagan Revolution. Change happens when people run for office, amass coalitions of interest groups, engage in the messy practice of politics.

Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. They have a social experience with a lot of people and fool themselves into thinking they are members of a coherent and demanding community. Such movements descend to the language of mass therapy.”

Thought provoking? You can read the full article here.

King of the Court

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Roger Federer won the Australian Open men’s singles tennis title a week ago in an epic match against arch-rival Rafael Nadal. This five-set match was one for the ages, and marked the 18th Tennis Majors title for Federer, adding to his record setting majors trophy haul.

When Roger Federer broke on the tennis scene well over a decade ago, most sensed excellence and some sensed greatness. But one person saw the truly astonishing excellence we witnessed last Sunday.

David Foster Wallace, recognized as one of the greatest novelists of his generation, was also an avid tennis fan and an admirer of Roger Federer. In 2006, he captured Federer’s greatness in a sublime article in The New York Times Magazine entitled, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.” Here is part of what he said:

“Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men’s tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K.”

“This present article is more about a spectator’s experience of Federer, and its context. The specific thesis here is that if you’ve never seen the young man play live, and then do, in person, on the sacred grass of Wimbledon, through the literally withering heat and then wind and rain of the ’06 fortnight, then you are apt to have what one of the tournament’s press bus drivers describes as a “bloody near-religious experience.” It may be tempting, at first, to hear a phrase like this as just one more of the overheated tropes that people resort to to describe the feeling of Federer Moments. But the driver’s phrase turns out to be true — literally, for an instant ecstatically — though it takes some time and serious watching to see this truth emerge.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Best Year Ever?

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It’s nearly impossible to read a news story or hear a network or cable broadcast without coming to the conclusion that we’re moving backwards, and that, to use the now-trite phrase, the world is “going to hell in a hand basket.”

That’s why Nicholas Kristof’s recent New York Times op-ed is so refreshing. It turns this gloom and doom on its head and instead of relying on “alternative facts,” looks at where we stand in the realm of human progress. Here is part of what he said:

There’s a broad consensus that the world is falling apart, with every headline reminding us that life is getting worse.

Except that it isn’t. In fact, by some important metrics, 2016 was the best year in the history of humanity. And 2017 will probably be better still. Here, take my quiz:

On any given day, the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty:

A.) Rises by 5,000, because of climate change, food shortages and endemic corruption.

B.) Stays about the same.

C.) Drops by 250,000.

Polls show that about 9 out of 10 Americans believe that global poverty has worsened or stayed the same. But in fact, the correct answer is C. Every day, an average of about a quarter-million people worldwide graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures.

Or if you need more of a blast of good news, consider this: Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations, breast-feeding promotion, diarrhea treatment and more. If just about the worst thing that can happen is for a parent to lose a child, that’s only half as likely today as in 1990.

When I began writing about global poverty in the early 1980s, more than 40 percent of all humans were living in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 10 percent are. By 2030 it looks as if just 3 or 4 percent will be. (Extreme poverty is defined as less than $1.90 per person per day, adjusted for inflation.)

Want more? You can read the full article here.

A New Year Revolution

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Made any New Year’s resolutions yet? Most who do focus on improving their lives in some way. But is this the smart play. What about resolving to accept yourself the way you are. I just read a compelling New York Times article by Jennifer Weiner who suggests we do just that. Here is part of what she shared:

But here we are, once again, in the month of New Year’s resolutions; the month where even the staunchest believer in self-acceptance can find herself falling for the pitchmen and the first-month-free come-ons. This year, the notion of self-improvement feels especially seductive. Diets, and resolutions in general, are all about hope — hope that things can get better, hope that you are going to actually learn that new language, de-clutter that junk drawer, lose those 20 pounds for good.

No matter what bit of 2016 has left you feeling battered and bludgeoned and blue, the siren song of self-improvement has never sounded louder. We can’t heal the divides in the country, can’t stop violence, and can’t keep death from taking the artists and actors who defined our youth. We can’t magically extend the term of a president who did not tweet as if he was channeling a furious, academically challenged 12-year-old, but maybe we can at least squeeze into our jeans from the era before it all went wrong.

Thought provoking? You can read the full article here.

What do You Like?

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Mindfulness and mindfulness mediation have been around for a while now, with more and more practitioners finding value in living in the moment, not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. As one convert put it, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find out I didn’t show up for it.”

While millions have used this mindfulness discipline to help them in their personal lives, it has taken longer for it to take hold in the business world. But now, hard-boiled managers whose lives have been focused on the bottom line and returning shareholder value, have begun to embrace mindfulness in the workplace.

One example is the health insurer, Aetna, one of the hundred biggest companies in America. Its CEO, Mark Bertolini, has brought mindfulness meditation into his company for compelling reasons that help the company’s bottom line and increase shareholder value. In his own words:

We program C.E.O.s to be certain kinds of people. We expect C.E.O.s to be on message all the time. The grand experiment here has been how much of that do you really need to do?

Aetna is at the vanguard of a movement that is quietly spreading through the business world. Companies like Google offer emotional intelligence courses for employees. General Mills has a meditation room in every building on its corporate campus. And even buttoned-up Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and BlackRock are teaching meditation on the job.

The aims of such programs are eclectic. Some, such as Aetna’s, are intended to improve overall well-being; others to increase focus and productivity. Most of the programs — from yoga sessions for factory workers to guided meditations for executives — aim to make employees more present-minded, less prone to make rash decisions and generally nicer people to work with.

Adoption of these unconventional practices in the workplace coincides with growing interest among the American public. More than 21 million people now practice yoga, double the number from a decade ago, according to the National Institutes of Health. Nearly as many meditate, according to the N.I.H.

Want to deep-dive into the idea of mindfulness in leadership and management? You can read the full article here.

Nice & Happy?

Made any New Year’s resolutions yet – or have you broken them already. Most of us make good resolutions and then sometimes struggle to keep them.

One part of that struggle is asking yourself whether being “nice” in today’s world is something that will make you happy. We see too many cases where “nice” people are not looked up to.

But David Brooks challenges that notion in his NYT piece, “Nice People Really do Have More Fun. It spoke to me and I thought it might speak to you. Here is part of what he said:

Thought provoking? You can read the full article here

What do You Like?

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Michael Lewis has intrigued us with compelling ideas for a long time. His latest book, “The Undoing Project,” has gotten great reviews. It’s a great read.

But while the reviews have captured a great deal about the book, David Brooks’ recent piece in the New York Times has focused on the work of the book’s subjects, Kahneman and Tversky, and has gotten to the essence of what the book is all about, how we choose what we like. Here’s part of what he said:

“While most economics models assumed people were basically rational, Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated that human decision-making is biased in systematic, predictable ways. Many of the biases they described have now become famous — loss aversion, endowment effect, hindsight bias, the anchoring effect, and were described in Kahneman’s brilliant book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” They are true giants who have revolutionized how we think about decision-making. Lewis makes academic life seem gripping, which believe it or not, is not easy to do.”

“We don’t decide about life; we’re captured by life. In the major spheres, decision-making, when it happens at all, is downstream from curiosity and engagement. If we really want to understand and shape behavior, maybe we should look less at decision-making and more at curiosity. Why are you interested in the things you are interested in? Why are some people zealously seized, manically attentive and compulsively engaged?”

Want to deep-dive into how you decide? You can read the full article here.

Being Needed

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While most of us consider our lives busy – often too busy – at the end of the day what often motivates us to stay so busy is that we want to feel needed by others. But what if we aren’t?

I recently read an article co-authored by the Dalai Lama and New York Times columnist Arthur Brooks. It spoke about the dangers of not being needed. Here is part of what they said:

“In many ways, there has never been a better time to be alive. Violence plagues some corners of the world, and too many still live under the grip of tyrannical regimes. And although all the world’s major faiths teach love, compassion and tolerance, unthinkable violence is being perpetrated in the name of religion.”

“And yet, fewer among us are poor, fewer are hungry, fewer children are dying, and more men and women can read than ever before. In many countries, recognition of women’s and minority rights is now the norm. There is still much work to do, of course, but there is hope and there is progress.”

“How strange, then, to see such anger and great discontent in some of the world’s richest nations. In the United States, Britain and across the European Continent, people are convulsed with political frustration and anxiety about the future. Refugees and migrants clamor for the chance to live in these safe, prosperous countries, but those who already live in those promised lands report great uneasiness about their own futures that seems to border on hopelessness.”

“Why?” A small hint comes from interesting research about how people thrive. In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful. This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed.”

Read more of this insightful article here.

Happy Enough?

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The American Declaration of Independence speaks to the importance of, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s not an overstatement to say that most of us are zealous in that worthy pursuit. But once we’ve satisfied our basic wants in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when do we decide how much happiness is enough?

Hanna Rosin’s review of Ruth Whippman’s new book, America the Anxious: How our Pursuit of Happiness is creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks pulls back the curtain on this important question. In Rosin’s words:

“I had largely forgotten that slap in the face until I read Ruth Whippman’s new book, “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.” For us natives, reading this book can be an unnerving experience. Whippman, who is a transplanted British writer, moved to California when her husband got a job here. She spent much of her time settling in her family, but all the while she was watching us — how we read, eat, work, medicate, exercise and pray. And what she noticed the most was how the same subject comes up all the time: happiness.”

“Tuning into this alien internal monologue reveals her grand thesis about America: The problem with our quest for happiness is that, apparently, it’s making us miserable. After some idle Googling, her suspicions are confirmed. Various clever studies by psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, show that “paradoxically, the more people valued and were encouraged to value happiness as a separate life goal, the less happy they were.” When it comes to emotional temperament, America is the clumsy suitor of nations. We yearn and obsess and plot new elaborate strategies as the object of our desire shrinks ever farther away. It’s a little embarrassing.”

Want to tweak your pursuit of happiness and make it less frenetic?  You can read the full article here.