Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

My Reading LifeMy Reading Life by Pat Conroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear.” – in the chapter “Why I Write” in My Reading Life (more…)

The Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They ShapedThe Artist, the Philosopher, and the Warrior: The Intersecting Lives of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia and the World They Shaped by Paul Strathern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was very interesting for several reasons. It caught my attention because the idea of Da Vinci, Machiavelli, and Borgia’s lives being intertwined with each other seemed far-fetched because of the vast differences in these three people as individuals.

And yet, for several months in 1502 and 1503, the artist (serving as military engineer), the philosopher (officially representing Florence, imperiled economically and militarily, yet paralyzingly indecisive over political allegiances), and the warrior indeed were together as Borgia made his eventually-doomed move, with his corrupt and debauched father, Pope Alexander VI, pulling the political strings in the background from the Vatican, to begin the quest to rule a united Italy. (more…)

Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel KahnemanThinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can usually read and absorb things – even those unfamiliar to me – quickly, but Kahneman’s book demands that you slow down (and, at times, stop altogether) and consider what is discussed here.

This book takes a detailed look at how our minds work. Or, surprisingly to me, in most cases how they don’t.

The mind is composed of two “systems,” as Kahneman labels them.

System A, the fast system, is the dominant mind system we employ the majority of the time.

System A is a flaky system, powered by emotions and impressions (many of which reflect our inherent biases and prejudices, which we’ve over time come to accept as universally true in every and all situations).

System A is also a faulty system that routinely makes errors, but rarely knows and even more rarely cares. System A deals with exactly what is in front of it, never worrying – or wondering – about what’s missing, what’s askew, or what else is needed before coming to a conclusion. Instead, it assumes what is there is all there is and makes up things to make what is there palatable and/or logical and then blithely moves on to the next thing, not missing a beat and never looking back.

Additionally, System is hopelessly gullible and is easily deceived. When we fall for lies and believe them until they become “truth,” we are running exclusively on System A. And we all have a much greater propensity toward this than we can even fathom (Kahneman’s book is full of examples of this and the numbers behind the research he and others he’s worked with over the last 50 are eye-opening).

System B, the slow system, is the system that does critical thinking.

System B is deliberate, analytical, and problem-solving, asking questions, seeking all the information, testing and proving answers based on solid evidence and comprehensive knowledge. All this work takes a lot of time, compared to the non-work of System A, expends a lot of glucose – energy – in the brain (the more hungry we are, the less likely we’re going to use System B at all), and is much harder than what System A does.

It turns out that System B is also extremely lazy: knowing how much effort, time, and resources are involved, System B routinely just lays low and lets System A field and handle everything. Except when System B has no choice but to get involved (retaining information for recall and working with math and numbers are two common examples of System B at work).

System A and System B don’t work together. The easiest way to deceive System A is to give System B something to do at the same time. While System B is diverted and occupied, System A will believe anything, no matter how outrageous or untrue it is.

Marketers and advertisers are the most notorious for exploiting this defect in our minds and they routinely suck most of us in as a result (and have lots of money and loyalty in the process), but we shouldn’t be fooled into believing that it doesn’t happen everywhere else in life as well.

This book really highlights how much we should be using System B for the stuff that matters in our lives – no matter how high the cost – instead of defaulting to (which we tend to do automatically) and relying on System A.

There is a lot to learn here and to use System B to really think about and understand, so it won’t be a quick read (no doubt, by design). But it is well worth the time and investment that we all are in need of making a concerted effort to do.

For those of us who are striving to become quintessential leaders, using System B dominantly is not just an option, but an imperative.

Whether we are building trust and being trustworthy depends upon our use of System B. How we lead our teams in every part of our lives depends upon our use of System B. The example we set for not only our teams, but everyone whose lives intersect with ours depends upon our use of System B.

How are we doing?

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The Age of American UnreasonThe Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I find the author, at times, aggressively and assertively pushing the same extremist edges that this book exposes and denounces in American society today, in general, I agree with the basic premise and areas in which she exposes how Americans, in general, are consciously proud of abandoning intellect (both in educating themselves with facts and knowledge) and critical thinking (proving or disproving everything they see, hear, read, and encounter in life).

As a society, Americans in general have embraced dumbing down in every aspect of our lives. Because we choose to remain ignorant (educationally and otherwise), we have become slaves to our emotions, which makes us fair game for the ignorance that abounds in the society around us. We don’t know how to tell truth from untruth. We don’t know the difference between facts and opinions. We are so deficient in basic knowledge and the ability to think deeply about anything that we fall easily and compliantly for “junk” in everything that comes our way (we are also more biased and prejudiced against knowledge and intellect, in general, so we reject anything that sounds too intelligent because it’s just confusing us with the facts).

We don’t read, for the most part, preferring images (sound bites, videos, anything that can stimulate us visually), and because we don’t read, we don’t know anything (visual – and I would suggest that just audio falls in this category too – is quick in and quick out – I avoid video or listening to just audio anything because I need to see words in print to understand them, to process them, to think about them, to have a record to go back to when the words or images change – which they inevitably do every single time, but it’s easier to hide with video and audio than it is with print – to compare and contrast).

Therefore, when all this junk comes at us, we’re fair game because it’s couched in an “aw shucks, we’re just one of you folks” lure that engages the emotions, the biases, the prejudices, and, quite frankly, the deceitfulness of our own hearts and pulls us right into the unreason the pervades every part of American society, including all of our “sacred cows.”

The interesting thing is that even some of us who realize this refuse to admit it, because admitting it means admitting we’re wrong and we need to change. And change is the hardest thing for any of us to really do. Oh, we talk about it a lot, but the fruit of actually doing it is rare to non-existent.

And yet change we must.

Unreason exists because we allow it to exist.

We need to read – even authors like this with whom I found some of the same characteristics that she is exposing and with whom I disagree wholeheartedly on some things – and we need to know and understand with our own two eyes and our own brains fully engaged what is real and what isn’t, what is true and what isn’t, what is fact and what isn’t, and we need to be able, in our own words (not parroting someone else’s words), to explain what is real, what is true, and what is fact with depth and thought that shows we have actually done the mentally-challenging work ourselves and not abandoned out brains to the plethora of junk that’s out there ready – and, in many cases, has already to a great degree – to move in and fill up the increasing empty space we leave upon our abandonment.

There are no voids in the universe, so if we don’t use our brains, there is plenty of garbage out there that is more than happy to rent the space, at the highest cost imaginable.

For quintessential leaders, this supreme cost not only negatively affects us, but it also negatively affects our teams and our organizations.

When we stop reading, we stop learning. When we stop learning, we stop critically thinking. When we stop critically thinking, we stop understanding. When we stop understanding, we stop discerning.

When we stop discerning, we lose the ability to distinguish between truth and lies, facts and opinions, and reality and fiction.

Quintessential leaders can’t afford – nor can their teams and organizations – to allow this to happen.

How are we doing?

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The Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing UsThe Glass Cage: How Our Computers Are Changing Us by Nicholas Carr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As with The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr has brought the role of technology in our lives into focus with another aspect that I doubt many of us really understand in its pervasiveness in our everyday lives and what it is costing us, not just in obvious ways, but in ways that are fundamental to being human and be uniquely skilled to productively and expertly interact in and with the world of opportunity and possibilities we’ve been given.

The subtitle of this book is “Automation and Us,” and how automation has infiltrated every aspect of our lives and what we’re losing in the process is Carr’s subject in this book.

Automation, of and by itself, is not bad. It is the things we’ve automated and our relationship to automation (serving it instead of letting it serve us) that turns what could be a good thing into something that is destined to destroy us – our unique human abilities, skills, and talents – unless we take control and do something different.

One of the points that Carr makes in this book is that we have offloaded critical thinking skills, technical acumen, analysis, and creativity to technology. By doing this, we gradually lose the ability to operate successfully manually (without the technology) and use judgement, intuition, experience, and knowledge to navigate our lives and our professions.

Carr looks at the impact of automatic in the airline industry (specifically looking at how autopilot has degraded the skills of pilots to successfully deal with emergencies and crises when flying), in business (stock market, accounting, business decisions, human resources, hiring, etc., which have all been relegated to software to handle, with no human factors involved, resulting in the global financials messes we now deal with and with a loss of talent because there’s no human contact or intervention to recognize the talent), in medicine (with the advent of electronic medical records in most medical facilities, software is now making the decisions that doctors used to make and because the software adds procedures and tests, the costs, which were supposed to go lower, have actually increased exponentially) and in manufacturing.

He also looks at us and how we’ve turned over our brains to automation. We depend on social media to decide who and what we like (or don’t) and who we’re friends with (and who we’re not – anyone who chooses to limit this exposure disappears and becomes invisible because they simply don’t exist outside the virtual world) and we have chosen willing to live in this virtual world more than we actually interact with the real word.

We’ve given control of our lives to our electronic devices: to do lists, calendars, phone numbers, etc. We let our software do things we should be doing ourselves: spell-checking, grammar-checking, basic math functions, etc. We have fallen for the myth that automation gives us more power, when instead it erodes our power and our humanness.

People are much more extreme in their polarization of love and hate (nothing in between) in an automated world. It often seems that empathy, compassion, care, concern and love – all unique human abilities – is absent in the presence of a world that is automated. We lose our ability to relate to each other in any kind of real way and, as a result, we lose our humanness, and we become programmed to polarized points of view that we simply pick up and accept by what and who we choose to listen to, follow, and expouse in the landscape of technology (cable, streaming, internet, etc.).

We are losing our life blood – our hearts, our souls, and our minds, because we serve the god of automation that lacks emotional richness, deep understanding, and caring concern. I hope we reverse this trend, but I also am realistic enough to realize that we probably won’t and it will probably get much worse before it gets better.

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The status quo of the way things are does not mean that is the way things ought to beThere is innate wiring in us as a species that makes us tend to be content with the passivity of the status quo. 

We humans, by nature, seem to relish the comfortable complacency of simply going with the flow around us, blissfully ignoring whatever we – often detrimentally and falsely – don’t believe has any personal and/or direct impact on us and blindly accepting whatever enables us to stay in our nice, neat tiny-world comfort zones. (more…)