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Month January 2015

{ Ambiguity & Passion } How Integrative Thinking Can Help Us Build A Strategy For Winning in Life & Work …*

{ Ambiguity & Passion } How Integrative Thinking Can Help Us Build A Strategy For Winning in Life & Work ...* | rethinked.org

For this week’s Friday Link Fest, I want to explore something that has kept cropping up in my reading over the past few days and which is a core tension in most aspects of people’s lives and creative work: convergence versus divergence. The need for balance between converging and diverging–dreaming and focusing, thinking and doing–has certainly been a central and uncomfortable tension in my own life. In fact, I have made finding a better way to live out that tension a core priority of my 2015 resolutions by giving this year the theme of “Execution”.

I hate easy binaries but on the thinking-doing spectrum, I must admit to being firmly in the thinking camp. I love thinking, in all its forms and can spend hours, days even, questioning, planning, reflecting, imagining and daydreaming. Execution, however, is a different matter– I freeze up, I delay, I procrastinate, I tell myself I haven’t had time to properly think everything through. Learning about a growth mindset has helped me make some progress in being less afraid of taking action, as has practicing design thinking with its strong emphasis on rapid prototyping. Yet, taking action remains a tentative, sporadic and laborious endeavor for me.

Earlier this week I read an excellent essay, Ambiguity & the Art of Meaning, by Umair Haque, which examined this tension between our love of ambiguity and open-ended possibility and our need to feel we are living meaningful, enriching lives.

“Ambiguity. It’s the defining characteristic of this age.”

[ … ]

“And so we’re all what you might call faithful ambiguists these days. We’re fascinated by the in between; drawn to the double-sided; obsessed by the contradictory.

Ambiguity’s exciting. Thrilling, even. The unresolved is the undecided; and the undecided, like a roulette wheel, rouses our blood while it spins.”

[ … ]

“Here’s the truth. That’s not good enough. What are we really protecting ourselves from when we declare our tiny wars on ambiguity? Ourselves. The people we were meant to be.

“Ambiguity asks us: what do our lives mean? And unless we can resolve ambiguity, we will always be left with the lingering suspicion: they could, and should, have meant more. That what we took with one hand, we simply gave away with the other. “

– Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

I am aware that part of my mental block with execution has much to do with my fear of making the wrong choice, of going the wrong route. While I explore ideas and options in my head, I tell myself that I am keeping my possibilities in “real life” open. But after a while, the days become weeks, then months, then years and still I put things off; I don’t commit and I stay stagnant. A growing anxiety within me whispers that I am wasting my time and my opportunities.

“There is a great tension at the heart of every ambiguity. This or that? Up or down? Left or right? The answer is not either or. The choice might leave you satisfied — but the tension will surely leave you discontented with your very satisfaction. The answer, if there is one, is through. Resolving ambiguity is not just making choices between two opposites; nor is it merely learning to see two opposites, and throwing one’s hands up in the air at them. It is synthesis. Discovering how to forge two opposites, which should repel, into one whole — that is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

Does this sound familiar to you? Yes, Integrative Thinking! Speaking of Integrative Thinking, I have just finished reading Roger Martin’s latest book, co-authored with A.G. Lafley, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works (2013), which made me think of Haque’s essay by focusing on the need to make choices. According to the father of Integrative Thinking, strategy is, at its core, just a synonym for making choices and performing the actions that support that choice.

“It is natural to want to keep options open as long as possible, rather than closing off possibilities by making explicit choices. But it is only through making and acting on choices that you can win. Yes, clear, tough choices force your hand and confine you to a path. But they also free you to focus on what matters. What matters is winning. Great organizations–whether companies, not-for-profits, political organizations, agencies, what have you–choose to win rather than simply play.”

– Playing To Win, Roger & Lafley, pg.5

“Winning” may sound a bit strange in a personal context. We are told often enough that comparing ourselves to others is a losing game. But if one frames winning in terms of being all that one can be, winning by making the choices that will allow us to reach a full, purposeful life lived with passion, commitment and conviction, we very quickly can see how applicable strategy is to our personal lives.

In Playing to Win, Martin and Lafley create a framework, which revolves around five core choices, to approach strategic thinking:

“Winning should be at the heart of any strategy. In our terms, a strategy is a coordinated and integrated set of fives choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems.”

– Playing To Win, Roger & Lafley, pg.5

Playing to Win is an excellent book if you’re looking to rethink your strategy and update your business model. Yet, while I was reading it, and learning more about each of the five choices, I could not stop thinking about how relevant this framework was for one’s personal life.

So while the ambiguous and the open-ended are immensely attractive, meaning, purpose and growth come from making choices.

“It is not just finding a lover you hate; or a friend you desperately love…but a lover you can build a great friendship with. It is not just finding a career that enriches you, or a fortune that impoverishes you…but riches that enlarge you…and leave you feeling fortunate enough to thank creation for every moment you are alive. It is not just a life that makes you happy…where “happiness” is merely suffering you are relieved to avoid…but a happiness that makes you ache with purpose, burn with passion, laugh at fate, rebel against destiny.”

– Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

These choices are not compromises, the issue at hand is not choosing for the sake of choosing. We must move past the false binaries we create, we must put in the hard work necessary to reframe either-or choices as integrated options that take the best of option A and the best of option B to create an optimal choice in C (to that end, I highly recommend Martin’s books on Integrative Thinking, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking). This an uncomfortable process, as the authors of The Capabilities Your Organization Needs to Sustain Innovation published this week on Harvard Business Review, point out:

“The problem – and the leadership challenge – arises because options A and B are often incompatible, even completely opposable, ideas. To arrive at option C means people must keep both A and B on the table, and that is difficult to do. When faced with two seemingly mutually exclusive alternatives, the human impulse is to choose one and discard the other as soon as possible, or to forge a simple compromise. We crave the clarity provided by that kind of clean, assured decision-making. We crave it so much, in fact, that when a leader refuses to make a choice quickly, even when it can only be arbitrary or capricious, we grumble about the “lack of leadership around here.” It takes courage to hold open a multitude of possibilities long enough that new ways of combining them can emerge. There is often great pressure to make a choice, any choice, and move on.”

Once we decide what it is we will commit to, what path is right for us to grow into ever richer and fuller versions of who we might become, we must continue to push and provide the effort necessary to support and activate these choices (to which end, I highly recommend Martin and Lafley’s book on strategy, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.) For as Haque points out at the end of his essay,

“The question is this. Whose lives are we creating? Ours — or someone else’s? Do we become the people we are told to be — or the people we were meant to be?”

Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

{ Get Lit } Poetry, Creative Confidence, Social Change & Teen Literacy …*

Somewhere in America students are embracing poetry, their creative confidence and unique perspectives to express themselves and call out our need for social change. I had goosebumps when I listened to Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen performing their piece – Somewhere in America. These splendid young women are part of a non-profit, Get Lit, which uses the performance of classic and spoken word poetry to increase teen literacy.

Get Lit is dedicated to bringing the power of poetic expression to at risk teens through a standards-based curriculum fusing classic literature and poetry with contemporary Spoken Word performance techniques. Get Lit’s programs are designed to boost literacy, foster cultural understanding, and encourage creative self-expression. By immersing teens in the world of great books (often for the first time), Get Lit equips students for future success in college and the workplace by building concise writing skills and dynamic public speaking abilities and a foundation of self-confidence.

I checked out videos of the other students’ performances and, piece after piece, I discovered passionate, creative and confident young men and women expressing themselves with raw and urgent honesty and insight. We so often hear about how American students are being turned into test-taking drones, incapable of critical thinking and lacking in creativity and confidence. The Get Lit crew seriously challenges these stereotypes. Check out the organization’s website to learn more about their work, enjoy the students’ performances and offer your support.

. . . *

{ Empathy & The Dramatic Arc } How Stories Can Change Our Behavior By Changing Our Brain Chemistry …*

“It seems like there may be a universal kind of story structure. So stories are powerful because they transport us into other people’s worlds but in doing that they change the way our brains work and potentially change our brain chemistry. And that’s what it means to be a social creature–is to connect to others, to care about others–even complete strangers. And it’s so interesting that dramatic stories cause us to do this.” – Paul Zak  

In this short animated video, Paul Zak, a founding pioneer in the nascent field of neuroeconomics, shares results from his lab where he and his colleagues found that stories that follow Gustav Freytag’s Dramatic Arc could “change behavior by changing our brain chemistry.”

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. 

Source: Empathy, Neurochemistry, and the Dramatic Arc via Aeon

Learning to Become Better Learners …*

“Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp.” – Aristotle

I recently discovered Trevor Ragan’s “Train Uglyvideo essay series, in which he explores various aspects of the learning process.

Train Ugly is the marriage of two concrete foundations of learning: motor learning and growth mindset. We’re going to dive into the science and share these incredibly important principles with you.

Every ten days, Ragan releases a new video essay in which he attempts to disseminate the science behind a growth mindset and motor learning to help individuals become better learners. The presentation may be a bit basic for some of our readers but the videos do a great job of giving an easy and enjoyable (loved the bit where we hear from Aristotle) overview of key insights on the learning process. And as he observes in one of the videos: “”Understanding how the brain works, helps us learn better.”

l e a r n   &   r e t h i n k  …*

 A study on Praise and Mindsets – Stanford Professor, Carol Dweck looked into the effects that praise had on mindsets. The results were unreal.

Learning — And How To Do It Better – Brains, Skills, Learning & Lizards: The Definitive Guide to Becoming a Butt Kicker

 

On being a [ cyborg ] in the modern world…*

Cyborgs, or cybernetic organisms, are theoretical beings that have restored functions or enhanced abilities after the integration of some sort of artificial technology. They are generally thought to be the stuff of fiction – characters like Darth Vader, RoboCop, or the Terminator.

But when one really thinks about this idea of a “being with enhanced abilities due to technology,” you’ll realize that we are all – to varying degrees – becoming cyborgs. Calculators, Google calendars, and cell phones have all become so seamlessly integrated into our lives. How many phone numbers do you remember that you were given since the onset of cell phones?

As Amber Case, a cyborg anthropologist, says, we are all cyborgs now. Up until recently, tools helped us extend our physical selves. Today, technological tools are helping us to extend our mental selves. This manifests in a few different ways. Case talks about the “second/digital self,” or our online presence that people can interact with when we are not physically present. We have to maintain that second self in a particular way. She also talks about the idea of “ambient intimacy” or the ability for us to connect to many different people whenever we want.

There are positives and negatives to the integration of technological tools. On the negative side, just like I spoke about in my recent blog post about standing still, Case is worried about how the constant use of technology  – the constant onslaught of inputs – affects our time for reflection. A new British anthology series called Black Mirror is focused on the darker side of technology. For example, one episode explores the idea of how we are spending out lives reviewing recorded moments and obsessing over them at the expense of experiencing new ones. I’ve been making my way through these episodes, and I can’t recommend it highly enough (available on Netflix streaming for those who have subscriptions).

However, Case is still optimistic about the use of technology, stating that the best kinds of technological tools help us to be more human, get out of the way, and help us to live our best lives. One great example of this is Mystery Skype – an educational platform that I discussed a few weeks ago. Over the course of the next few weeks, I hope to speak to more of the ways in which technology is helping, the ways in which by becoming cyborgs, we are increasing our humanness and bettering our lives…*

On Deep Learning, Transformative Change & Rethinking Bad Habits …*

On Deep Learning, Transformative Change & Rethinking Bad Habits ...*  | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman

Long time readers may remember Friday Link Fests of past, in which I curated links to some of the most intriguing things I had read, watched or seen that week. I’m thinking of bringing it back for 2015 but this time I’d like to experiment with some intriguing ways to pair and contrast the content instead of just sharing it in a list. What do you think? Any suggestions on how to do that well? Let me know * 

 

“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we harden.”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ( 23 Powerful Quotes To Inspire A Successful Year)

{ OUTSOURCING COGNITIVE CONTROL TO THE ENVIRONMENT — WHAT IT MEANS FOR OUR ABILITY TO MULTITASK AND CHANGE OUR HABITS }

This week I read two articles–one about multitasking and the other about changing habits–which both dealt with the outsourcing of cognitive control to our environments when faced with repetitive tasks and behaviors. I enjoyed the contrast between the two lenses through which this tendency to offload cognitive demand can be a positive thing (it helps to make multitasking slightly less inefficient) and how it can be a highly detrimental thing (it can keep us stuck in bad habits).

– – – 

What Heroin Addiction Tells Us About Changing Bad Habits is that roughly 45 percent of what we do each day, we do “in the same environment and is repeated.” This is a problem because:

“People, when they perform a behavior a lot — especially in the same environment, same sort of physical setting — outsource the control of the behavior to the environment.”

So we stop making choices and react to environmental cues, like sitting on the couch at the end of the day, getting on Netflix, and reaching for the pint of ice cream without really thinking about whether or not we even want ice cream.

“To battle bad behaviors then, one answer is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small changes can help — like eating the ice cream with your nondominant hand. What this does is disrupt the learned body sequence that’s driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control.”

– – – 

Consistently performing actions and behaviors in similar environments does have an upside however, especially when it comes to multitasking. While multitasking is counterproductive and should be avoided, it can be rendered more useful if you “practice multitasking when you learn it in the first place.” In The Curious Science of When Multitasking Works, Walter Frick reports on a new study published in Psychological Science, which shows that consistent context matters in our ability to multitask well:

“These results suggest the possibility that our ability to juggle tasks and recall information depends on the context in which we learned those things in the first place.”

*

{ THE NEED TO CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET & EMBRACE VULNERABILITY TO ACHIEVE DEEP LEARNING & AUTHENTIC GROWTH  }

“Learning is fundamentally an act of vulnerability. It is an acknowledgement that what one knows is not sufficient, and that new information and new thinking about that information is needed.”

So starts Jal Mehta’s article on Education WeekUnlearning Is Critical for Deep Learning. Across industries, from the boardroom to the classroom, we are becoming increasingly aware of the discomfort dimension of learning and the need to cultivate a growth mindset to transcend this discomfort and push through to achieve deep learning and transformative change.

“At the end of the day, the factors that facilitate unlearning are the same qualities that mark good organizations and good teaching environments: psychological safety, the normalization of failure, the recognition that rethinking core assumptions is critical for significant improvement, and the development of challenging, rigorous, but supportive communities that help people do this kind of learning. If school leaders organize their schools with the explicit intent of creating these kinds of environments for students, it will be much easier to do the same kind of learning with the adults (and vice versa). And if districts and states can fight their usual instincts to apply pressure and seek immediate results, and instead create the space for schools to do the kind of experimentation, unlearning, and re-learning that significant change entails, they will be more likely to see the kinds of qualitative change in teaching and learning that they seek.”

– – – 

Meanwhile on Harvard Business Review, Herminia Ibarra reminds us that You’re Never Too Experienced to Fake It Till You Learn It. While the idea of “faking it” may seem inauthentic to some, depending on one’s appraisal of identity,  it is a key learning strategy with tangible benefits.

“By definition, transformative learning starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviors. When we are working at improving our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass. It helps us navigate choices and work toward our goals. But when we are looking to change our game, a rigid understanding of authenticity is an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth. By viewing ourselves as works in progress, we multiply our capacity to learn, avoid being pigeonholed, and ultimately become better leaders. We’re never too experienced to fake it till we learn it.”

– – – 

Finally, in From the Editor: In Praise of Humility, Martha E. Mangelsdorf concludes her introduction of the MIT Sloan Management Review Winter 2015 edition of the magazine–which focuses on articles urging us to stay open and aware of what we don’t know–by reminding us:

“Awareness of our human frailties and fallibility shouldn’t discourage us. Instead, being aware of our own limitations creates opportunities to learn, to experiment, to change — and to improve.”

And to conclude this week’s Friday Link Fest, this wise, adorable and important PSA on domestic violence from Italian media company Fanpage.it.

Source: These Boys Are Told To Slap Some “Pretty Girls.” Here’s What They Do Instead. via GOOD, published January 7, 2015

Positive Psychology Activities & Cultivating A Growth Mindset Are An Important Part of Living A Meaningful Life …*

At the end of each year, the folks of the Greater Good Science Center round up their favorite insights from the year’s scientific research on happiness, altruism, mindfulness and gratitude, what they group together as the “science of a meaningful life.” Having spent a good portion of 2014 exploring the science and activities of Positive Psychology through my rethinked*annex side project and fangirling over Carol Dweck and her work on the benefits of a growth mindset, I was particularly excited to see the two insights that positive psychology activities do have an impact on enhancing happiness and that a growth mindset is a key in growing our empathy muscle.

{ Activities from positive psychology don’t just make happy people happier—they can also help alleviate suffering } 

Research on positive psychology activities—like keeping a gratitude journal or regular meditation—has offered compelling evidence that it’s possible to cultivate happiness over time. What’s more, during the past year, we saw many different papers suggest that positive activities aren’t just for positive people, and that negative conditions aren’t just alleviated by targeting negative influences. Instead, nurturing positive skills can help pull people out of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. – Source: The Top 10 Insights From 2015

{ People with a “growth mindset” are more likely to overcome barriers to empathy }

According to a recent paper published in the Journal of Social Psychology, our beliefs about empathy are critical to fostering it. People primed to see empathy as a skill—in other words, people given a “growth mindset” about empathy, seeing it as something one can build through practice—were more likely to “stretch themselves to overcome their limitations.” Across all of their studies, they found that people who believe empathy can be developed expended greater effort in challenging contexts than did people who believe empathy cannot be developed, suggesting that our beliefs about ourselves are key to expanding empathy on both individual and societal levels. – Source: The Top 10 Insights From 2015 

You can read the rest of the curated scientific insights from 2014 on living the meaningful life here.

{ A News Source With A Bias For Inspiration …* } Not Impossible Now- Inspiring Content That Compels Action

{ A News Source With A Bias For Inspiration ...* } Not Impossible Now- Inspiring Content That Compels Action | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Not Impossible Now Homepage

 

I hadn’t yet made it out of my bed this morning when I found out about the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Tragically, this is not an isolated event–every day brings more news of war, famine, disease, violence, corruption and hatred. This relentless deluge of horrific news each and every day is heartbreaking, outrageous and can often contribute to a sense of hopelessness. What can I, as an individual, do to affect change in the face of such wicked problems? Which challenge(s) do I focus on when there are so many that need to be addressed so urgently? Where and how do I start? It is sometimes easier to give in to the demotivation of so much bad news and let “action fatigue” take over.

Which is where Not Impossible Now comes in–By finding and telling compelling stories about real people in which old tech is repurposed and new tech is brought within reach, Not Impossible creates a cycle where collaboration inspires innovation, and our content compels you to action.

On Not Impossible Now you will be greeted with articles titled How A Lamp Powered By Gravity Can Improve the Health of MillionsNew App Helps Children With Autism Improve Eye Contact, Smart Skin Could Help People With Prosthetics Regain Sense of Touch,  Need a New Knee? Try 3D. It just keeps going with the awesome news about the innovative ways in which people are harnessing technology in the service of humanity and the positive impact they are creating.

While nobody can do everything, everybody can do something, so we crowdsource our solutions to real-world problems. Suddenly, yesterday’s pipe dreams are Not Impossible Now!

By helping one person we can all inspire others to do the same – it’s our “Help One Help Many” philosophy and it breaks down barriers, enabling greater access to all in need.

I absolutely love this idea, which, unsurprisingly, comes from the fabulous Not Impossible team. I’ve made it my homepage so that each day, before finding out about all the bad news, I can get a shot of inspiration and engage my bias for action.

Discover, be inspired & act …*

Learning Opportunities To Unlock Your Creativity …*

Learning Opportunities To Unlock Your Creativity ...* | rethinked.org

Skillshare is offering some exciting learning opportunities to flex and exercise your creativity muscles in 2015. In fact they have an entire collection of intriguing classes curated around the theme of unlocking your creativity.

Two classes in the selection that got me particularly excited were with John Maeda and Shantell Martin. Check these and the rest out and jumpstart 2015 as your most creative year yet

Discovering What’s Possible: Creativity, Design, Leadership with John Maeda

In this 60-minute adventure, learn how to seek, shape, and achieve a truly creative career. No gimmicks, no tricks, just real wisdom. Go behind-the-scenes with John as he explores curiosity, why history is the heart of innovation, how to instigate discovery, and the core of creative leadership.

Drawing on Everything: Discovering Your Creative Voice – Shantel Martin

Draw on everything with celebrated visual artist Shantell Martin. This half-hour class takes you into her NYC studio to explore the projects that inspire her, the markers that move her, and creative prompts she’s used with thousands of students to help everyone find their own personal creative voice.

What are you interested in learning and practicing in 2015? What are your favorite learning resources? Let me know!

Happy learning …* 

New Year’s Resolution: Spend More Time Appreciating [ Nature ] …*

 

Hiking in Asheville NC

 

Happy New Year everyone! One of my resolutions for 2015 is to spend more time outdoors, taking in the wonder and beauty of the natural world. Nature has a host of benefits for the mind and body. From an educational perspective, children who spend more time playing in green spaces tend to play more actively, creatively, and cooperatively (Dyment & Bell, 2007). As outlined in a 2010 National Wildlife Federation report, outdoor time  improves classroom behavior, motivation to learn, and cognitive abilities. It also leads to gains across all disciplines in academic performance.

From a health perspective, exposure to nature reduces stress. It also can increase mindfulness, a concept I blogged about back in October that has a host of benefits for education.

Living in the concrete jungle that is Manhattan, it’s often hard to get to green spaces. However, there are many beautiful parks if one knows where to go. I’m lucky enough to live very close to Central Park, which is where I spend a lot of my time outdoors. Other spaces I’ve enjoyed include the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and Riverside Park.

For a glimpse of nature’s beauty and a discussion of the wonder of our natural world, I suggest watching this TED talk by Louie Schwartzberg called Nature. Beauty. Gratitude. Schwartzberg uses time-lapse photography. He films for a month for a 4-minute roll of film, and captures the movement of natural growth such as the birth of flowers or fruits. As Schwartzberg suggests, nature can make you mindful and keep you in the present. It elicits a certain connectedness to the universe. He urges the importance of opening our eyes and viewing the world around us.

 

If you would like to join me in this resolution, spend some time outside. And let me know what your resolutions are for 2015!

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