Hurricane Dancing

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There are years that are watershed years, times where just extrapolating the present into the future isn’t enough.

For most of us, these years come and go and only in hindsight so we put it all together and take stock about what just happened.

It wasn’t until I read Tom Friedman’s article, “Dancing in a Hurricane,” that I was able to reflect that 2007 was such a year. Here is part of what he said:

What the hell happened in and around 2007? 2007? That’s such an innocuous year. But look again.

Steve Jobs and Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, starting the smartphone revolution that is now putting an internet-connected computer in the palm of everyone on the planet. In late 2006, Facebook, which had been confined to universities and high schools, opened itself to anyone with an email address and exploded globally. Twitter was created in 2006, but took off in 2007. In 2007, Hadoop, the most important software you’ve never heard of, began expanding the ability of any company to store and analyze enormous amounts of unstructured data. This helped enable both Big Data and cloud computing. Indeed, “the cloud” really took off in 2007.

In 2007, the Kindle kicked off the e-book revolution and Google introduced Android. In 2007, IBM started Watson — the world’s first cognitive computer that today can understand virtually every paper ever written on cancer and suggest to doctors highly accurate diagnoses and treatment options. And have you ever looked at a graph of the cost of sequencing a human genome? It goes from $100 million in the early 2000s and begins to fall dramatically starting around … 2007.

Read more of this short – but revealing – article here.

Brain at Work

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Many of us “of a certain age” recall school as a journey of memorization. Whether it was the table of elements, mathematical formulas, or the dates of historic events, paraphrasing the Nike ad, we “just did it.”

That has changed dramatically and from their earliest days of schooling, today’s kids figure they can just “Google it,” to uncover literally anything they want to know. Can we now just give oer brains a rest? Not so fast.

I was intrigued by an article in the New York Times entitled “You Still Need Your Brain.” Here is part of what it said:

Google is good at finding information, but the brain beats it in two essential ways. Champions of Google underestimate how much the meaning of words and sentences changes with context. Consider vocabulary. Every teacher knows that a sixth grader, armed with a thesaurus, will often submit a paper studded with words used in not-quite-correct ways, like the student who looked up “meticulous,” saw it meant “very careful,” and wrote “I was meticulous when I fell off the cliff.”

With the right knowledge in memory, your brain deftly puts words in context. Consider “Trisha spilled her coffee.” When followed by the sentence “Dan jumped up to get a rag,” the brain instantly highlights one aspect of the meaning of “spill” — spills make a mess. Had the second sentence been “Dan jumped up to get her more,” you would have thought instead of the fact that “spill” means Trisha had less of something. Still another aspect of meaning would come to mind had you read, “Dan jumped up, howling in pain.”

Read the full article here.

Moment to Moment

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Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation 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. The mindfulness movement is growing, both in our personal lives as well as in the workplace.

Some wonder why mindfulness hasn’t caught fire more rapidly. I wondered too, before I read an interesting piece in the New York Times entitled, “We Aren’t Built to Live in the Moment.” The writers lay out a good case for why we don’t embrace mindfulness more enthusiastically, and it goes directly to what makes us human. Here’s part of what they say:

What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we’re evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation. Other animals have springtime rituals for educating the young, but only we subject them to “commencement” speeches grandly informing them that today is the first day of the rest of their lives.

A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered — rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we’re prisoners of the past and the present.

You can read this interesting article here.

Making a Mark

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We all likely belong to one or more institutions. Some belong to many. I’d always wondered why I “stuck” with and to some institutions, while others faded out.

I wondered, that is, until I read David Brooks piece called, “How to Leave a Mark on People.” Here is part of what he said:

Some organizations are thick, and some are thin. Some leave a mark on you, and some you pass through with scarcely a memory. Which raises two questions: What makes an institution thick? If you were setting out consciously to create a thick institution, what features would it include?

A thick institution is not one that people use instrumentally, to get a degree or to earn a salary. A thick institution becomes part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person: head, hands, heart and soul. So thick institutions have a physical location, often cramped, where members meet face to face on a regular basis, like a dinner table or a packed gym or assembly hall.

Thin institutions tend to see themselves horizontally. People are members for mutual benefit. Thick organizations often see themselves on a vertical axis. People are members so they can collectively serve the same higher good.

In the former, there’s an ever-present utilitarian calculus — Is this working for me? Am I getting more out than I’m putting in? — that creates a distance between people and the organization. In the latter, there’s an intimacy and identity borne out of common love. Think of a bunch of teachers watching a student shine onstage or a bunch of engineers adoring the same elegant solution.

What about your institutions?

Want more? Read the full article here.

Here Comes the Sun

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Today is the day. The summer solstice. Most of us are at least vaguely familiar with this event, but that’s where it ends. So here is a bit more granularity.

At the summer solstice, the Earth reaches the point in its orbit where the northern hemisphere is most tilted toward the sun, which puts the latter higher in the sky at noon than at any other time of the year. This is also the day of the year with the longest daylight period and the shortest night.  In prehistoric times, the summer solstice was of great importance to aboriginal peoples.  The snow had disappeared, food was easier to find, and crops already planted would soon be harvested in months to come. From then on, however, the days would begin to shorten, indicating the inevitable return of the cold season.

Rules for Modern Living

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We live in an age of excitability, agitation and venting, thanks in large part to our unprecedented leisure time and astounding technology. Yet we also want happiness, serenity and meaning, which is why so many of us keep heading for the self-help section at the bookstore. One powerful way to reach those goals comes from the unlikely revival of the Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism—seemingly the farthest thing imaginable from our own anxious times.

You may associate Stoicism with suppressing emotion and enduring suffering with a stiff upper lip, a la Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. Not so: Stoicism is practical and humane, and it has plenty to teach us. The philosophy may have been developed around 300 B.C. by Zeno of Cyprus, but it is increasingly relevant today.

The Stoics had centuries to think deeply about how to live, and they developed a potent set of exercises to help us navigate our existence, appreciating the good while handling the bad. These techniques have stood the test of time over two millennia. Here are five of author Massimo Pigliucci’s favorites:

  • Learn to separate what is and isn’t in your power
  • Contemplate the broader picture
  • Think in advance about challenges you may face during the day
  • Be mindful of the here and now
  • Before going to bed, write in a personal philosophical diary

Stoicism was meant to be a practical philosophy. It isn’t about suppressing emotions or stalking through life with a stiff upper lip. It is about adjusting your responses to what happens, enduring what must be endured and enjoying what can be enjoyed.

Want to read more? You can read the full Wall Street Journal article here.

Popular?

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Most of us remember our angst as teenagers about wanting to be popular. But few of us realize that it’s something in something in our DNA.

Today some people feed that need via social media, and for too many it becomes something of an obsession.

That’s why I found this piece by Mitch Prinstein, “Popular People Live Longer,” so enriching. Here is part of what he says:

I often hear from teenagers that one of their greatest goals is to obtain more Instagram followers than anyone they know. Even some adults appear obsessed with social media, tracking the number of retweets on their Twitter profiles or likes on Facebook. This type of status-seeking might be easily dismissed as juvenile or superficial, but there’s more to it.

Recent evidence suggests that being unpopular can be hazardous to our health. In fact, it might even kill us. Yet most don’t realize that there’s more than one type of popularity, and social media may not supply the one that makes us feel good.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University, consolidated data from 148 investigations published over 28 years on the effects of social relationships, collectively including over 308,000 participants between the ages of 6 and 92 from all over the world. In each study, investigators measured the size of participants’ networks, the number of their friends, whether they lived alone, and the extent to which they participated in social activities. Then they followed each participant for months, years and even decades to track his or her mortality rate.

The results revealed that being unpopular — feeling isolated, disconnected, lonely — predicts our life span. More surprising is just how powerful this effect can be. Dr. Holt-Lunstad found that people who had larger networks of friends had a 50 percent increased chance of survival by the end of the study they were in. And those who had good-quality relationships had a 91 percent higher survival rate. This suggests that being unpopular increases our chance of death more strongly than obesity, physical inactivity or binge drinking. In fact, the only comparable health hazard is smoking.

Interested in learning more? You can read the entire article here.

“Engaged” at Your Job?

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Few would argue with the fact that productivity drives growth. Fewer still would disagree with the notion that a prerequisite for productivity is engaged employees.

That’s why I found Aaron Hurst’s short piece in the New York Times at once both intriguing and also profoundly disturbing. Here is part of what he said:

“In much of the nonprofit world, there are more volunteers than there are spots. Staff workers don’t have time to manage more volunteers. As one executive told me, “If I get another volunteer I am going to go out of business.””

“This demand to volunteer masks a broader problem in our society. It points to the lack of purpose that we experience in our jobs. As Jessica B. Rodell, a professor at the University of Georgia, has found in her research, “when jobs are less meaningful, employees are more likely to increase volunteering to gain that desired sense of meaning.” The numbers speak for themselves. In a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of American workers said they were not engaged with their jobs, or were actively disengaged.”

We cannot meet this demand by looking to “causes” as the primary driver in our careers and place the burden on nonprofits to fulfill this need. Instead, we need to look to ourselves and cultivate self-awareness to take ownership for creating purpose in our work.

Want to read more? You can read the full review here.

Who Owns Your Future?

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The world is full of “thought leaders” who want to tell us all manner of things about us, about the world and about everything under the sun.

Most of us have a short list of those we listen to because what they say makes sense, and because what they say has an uncanny way of happening.

New York Times best-selling author Tom Friedman has written about the future and specifically about how we can position ourselves to thrive in this ever-changing landscape. Here is part of what he said in his recent piece, “Owning Your Own Future:”

“Political analysts will long debate over where Brexit, Trump and Le Pen came from. Many say income gaps. I’d say … not quite. I’d say income anxiety and the stress over what it now takes to secure and hold a good job.”

“I believe the accelerations set loose by Silicon Valley in technology and digital globalization have created a world where every decent job demands more skill and, now, lifelong learning. More people can’t keep up, and clearly some have reached for leaders who promise to stop the wind.”

Want read more about how to shape your future? You can read this intriguing article here.

Love Work? Hate It?

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Many of us consider ourselves fortunate that we find our way to work that is interesting and fulfilling. That doesn’t mean that every day on the job is nirvana, but rather that, in general, we’re happy and engaged in our jobs. That’s why an article in the New York Times entitled, “Why You Hate Work,” spoke to me. Here is part of what the authors said:

The way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.

More broadly, just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.

Want more? Read this intriguing article here.