stop
let your mind relax
look...
let your senses open
listen...
let your attention deepen
rest...
attuned...
awake...
alive.
  1. In Praise of Zero: Remembering the Power of Potential

    In Praise of Zero

    Zero doesn’t equal nothing, or null, or empty. Zero holds open a space, marks a place as open and receptive, is full of potentiality. My recollection of high school mathematics points to the understanding that zero, divided by any other number remains zero. 0/1 = 0. 0/2 = 0. 0/3 = 0 etc.

    Zero is a very useful concept with an interesting history.

    In Ancient Egypt, a symbol for zero was in use as early as 1740 BCE. The Egyptians had a symbol (glyph) for zero that was used in accounting. The symbol, “nfr” indicates “beautiful,” “pleasant,” and “good.” And the pictogram for “nfr” is one of the heart with trachea.

    In Ancient Greece, the picture was more uncertain with philosophers and mathematicians asking “how can nothing be something?” This has directly influenced our culture’s undervaluing and fear of emptiness.

    In India, the 458 AD Jain text Lokavibhaga, employs “shunya” (“void” or “empty”) as zero. Shunya is also the root concept that underlies “emptiness” in Buddhist thought. My understanding of its Buddhist interpretation moves towards “Shunyata,” the state that is empty of certainty and fixed meaning yet full with potential. The first known Indian use of a special symbols for the digit zero, a small circle, appears on a stone inscription found at the Chaturbhurja Temple and dates from 876 AD.

    Zero re-entered European culture through Islamic influences on the Iberian peninsula and transformed our understanding of mathematical notation from MMXIV to 2014. Now, our information age is built largely on the binary language of 0’s and 1’s to indicate the dance potential and fixed value.

    Why is this important for leaders?

    Simply put, we forget the power of zero. We forget the transformative power of holding a place open, full with potential and as-yet undetermined value. We forget that understanding and wisdom wait in the open spaces, before a solution is reached. It’s useful to remember this power and potential as we engage with the challenges of leadership.


  2. A Surfeit of Solution

    We suffer from too many solutions and too little understanding. Can we refrain from providing a solution before a problem is truly understood?

    It’s understandable, of course. Leaders are expected to know what to do. When challenges arise, you are looked to for leadership. What now? This moment has tension and anxiety and expectation.

    Much of what is written on leadership offers a variety of solutions to every sort of problem. A Google search of leadership reading material offers several worthy suggestions. Beyond this, contemporary leadership discourse is full with lists and easy steps and templates for action. Rarely are we advised to cultivate attentive presence, endure the tension of the uncertain moment, and allow the wisdom of understanding to gather.

    Here’s a suggestion that has the power to be transformative: wait to understand before acting. There are very few situations that require immediate action.

    Waiting in readiness to understand requires courage. While the chorus of demands rises in volume, you’ll need to stand fast: allowing information and intelligence to gather. The moment is tense. You feel the pull to act while you wait.

    Choosing to a focus on understanding requires leadership presence. We choose to let the intelligence in a situation along with the demands and pressures of the moment to inform us. We can be awake and allow our hearts to be open. We allow the details and urgency of a challenge or problem touch us. We feel the complex interrelationship of everyone involved. Then with full heart, and our best intelligence, we act.

    Taking this time to truly lead requires courage in our age of high-speed hyper connectivity. But in a world too full with solutions, we may stand out as we act with wisdom.


  3. The Obstacle Is The Way

    “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
    — Marcus Aurelius

    A perspective from advanced Mindfulness practice is that wisdom and confusion co-arise, simultaneously from the Openness of possibility. This is called co-emergence. The ground of possibility in already awake with potential solutions, some good, some not good. Noticing how the good / not-so-good arise from Openness sharpens our intelligence and gathers wakeful energy.

    Leaders often face intense pressure to decide or choose quickly, when faced with an important decision or choice. The assumption, as the leader, is that you know. You’re in charge. You know what’s best. But, in truth, we often don’t know. There is a palpable tension at the moment of choice. What to choose when A and B both offer comparable benefits? What to do when X and Y decisions both involve risk and uncertainty.

    This tension is often uncomfortable. We feel uncertain and at risk. We feel real. Current leadership prose is full with tactics to resolve this uncertainty and risk. This post points at a different approach. Leaders can use this energy and it’s intelligence – rather than trying to make it go away. We can choose to view the tension (obstacle) as a way to harness even greater intelligence and effectiveness.

    One, very useful thing to do is pause and consider. The tension of the situation is full with potentially unexplored intelligence. If you can hold off premature deciding or choosing, what more can be known? When do you really have to decide or choose?

    Beware the chorus of advice that inevitably will push for a decision now.
    There is a moment, in every important decision’s progress, when there is just enough information, the timing is best, and the conditions are right. Waiting for that moment, and allowing best intelligence, conditions and timing to gather are the essential skill for advanced leadership.

    Recognizing co-emergence and cultivating the courage to creatively wait for the right moment develops TruePoint.


  4. What we can learn from the science of high performance – meditation and habits:

    Below is a copy of a post from the Farnham Street blog.
    This blog consistently delivers thought provoking material….some of which applies to meditation.
    In this entry – What We Can Learn From The Science Of High Performance: I find myself agreeing with the thoughts on making meditation practice a habit (ritual) + the power of deliberate practice. These two factors, combined, make for powerful and transformative mindfulness practice.

    With a smile, Brian

    What can we learn from the science of high performance?

    Anyone looking to build and sustain high performance should consider these 5 tips.
    1. Routines

    The first tip comes from Tony Schwartz author of The Power of Full Engagement and Be Excellent at Anything. In his contribution to Maximize Your Potential, he recommends harnessing the power of a ritual.

    A ritual is a highly precise behavior you do at a specific time so that it becomes automatic over time and no longer requires much conscious intention or energy.

    Willpower and discipline are over-rated.

    In his book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy Baumeister contends that the most successful people don’t make better decisions because of their willpower. Rather, they develop routines.

    These routines reduce the number of decisions we need to make (as well as reducing stress). Thus it becomes easier to use your limited resources of self-control to avoid, rather than solve, crises.

    Developing these routines are key. In Michael Lewis’ profile of President Obama, he writes:

    You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” (Obama) said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”

    If we spend energy making too many little decisions, we’ll have less to make the more important decisions. Some companies are cluing into this.

    “I think that the leadership at Google has an intuitive understanding of human nature and the way attention is a limited resource,” says David Rock author of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long.

    Google organizes their environment to make allow their employees to make fewer decisions.

    The formula at Club Med is to include pretty much everything in the price, activities, food, even drinks, giving you fewer decisions to make. Now I know the research on decision making, and how making any conscious decision uses a measurable amount of glucose, but I wasn’t prepared for how relaxing it was not having to think anywhere near as much, even about simple things. It turned out to be a remarkably restful holiday.

    When you work at google, you get to save your limited mental resources for the most important decisions. As Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt said, “Let’s face it: programmers want to program, they don’t want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.”

    …Other companies could do well to do the same, noticing what their employees end up wasting their attention on, and doing something about it. It’s sure making me rethink my own company’s benefits policies.

    … as well as minimizing distractions and respecting attention, Google does other things to help it’s people be more productive, in particular being more productive at complex problem solving.

    2. Focus

    Your routines should be geared towards helping you focus.

    In Your Brain at Work, David Rock writes:

    One of the most effective distraction-management techniques is simple: switch off all communication devices during any thinking work. Your brain prefers to focus on things right in front of you. It takes less effort. If you are trying to focus on a subtle mental thread, allowing yourself to be distracted is like stopping pain to enjoy a mild pleasure: it’s too hard to resist! Blocking out external distractions altogether, especially if you get a lot of them, seems to be one of the best strategies for improving mental performance

    Combining routine and focus is the sweet spot. Here are two examples you can put into practice today.

    First, Mark McGuinness argues in Manage Your Day-to-Day that you should put your most important work first. It’s much easier to deal with less taxing things, like email, later.

    The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.

    Another way to think of this is to pay yourself first: you are your own most valuable client. That’s what Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger do.

    Another useful routine is to deal with email in batches, say from 10-11 and 3-4 each day. The rest of the day, turn the email client off so you’re not constantly interrupted with ‘new mail.’ (How to deal with email.)

    Consider the wise counsel of Herbert Simon:

    What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

    3. Practice

    Experience doesn’t always make you better.

    In Talent Is Overrated, Geoff Colvin writes:

    In field after field, when it comes to centrally important skills—stockbrokers recommending stocks, parole officers predicting recidivism, college admissions officials judging applicants—people with lots of experience were no better at their jobs than those with less experience.

    Wait. What? That doesn’t make sense.

    We typically operate in the OK Plateau.

    Bestselling author of Moonwalking with Einstein and USA Memory Champion in 2005, Joshua Foer explains:

    In the 1960s, psychologists identified three stages that we pass through in the acquisition of new skills. We start in the “cognitive phase,” during which we’re intellectualizing the task, discovering new strategies to perform better, and making lots of mistakes. We’re consciously focusing on what we’re doing. Then we enter the “associative stage,” when we’re making fewer errors, and gradually getting better. Finally, we arrive at the “autonomous stage,” when we turn on autopilot and move the skill to the back of our proverbial mental filing cabinet and stop paying conscious attention. … The OK Plateau is that point when we reach the autonomous stage and consciously or unconsciously stay to ourselves, “I am OK at how good I have gotten at this task,” and stop paying attention to our improvement. We all reach OK Plateaus in almost everything we do. We learn to drive when we’re teenagers, and at first we improve rapidly, but eventually we are no longer a threat to old ladies crossing the street, and we stop getting appreciably better.

    If we want to perform better beyond some basic competence researchers say we must engage in deliberate practice. These are designed, mindful efforts, to master even the smallest detail of success. To get better you have to get out of the autonomous stage.

    One way to stay out of the autonomous stage is deliberate practice. Expert musicians, for example, focus on the hardest parts not the easy ones that would allow them to sink into autopilot. The way to get better is to push your limits.

    Unfortunately, deliberate practice isn’t something that most of us understand, let alone engage in on a daily basis. This helps explain why we can work at something for decades without really improving our performance.

    Colvin continues:

    Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements, each worth examining. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.

    Consider a coach.

    In his fascinating New Yorker article, Doctor Atul Gawande writes “In theory, people can do this themselves.”

    But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you’re falling short.

    In other words, the coach provides objective feedback and structure.

    Commenting on what it’s like to have a surgical coach, Gawande offers:

    Osteen (Gawande’s coach) watched, silent and blank-faced the entire time, taking notes. My cheeks burned; I was mortified. I wished I’d never asked him along. I tried to be rational about the situation—the patient did fine. But I had let Osteen see my judgment fail; I’d let him see that I may not be who I want to be.

    This is why it will never be easy to submit to coaching, especially for those who are well along in their career. I’m ostensibly an expert. I’d finished long ago with the days of being tested and observed. I am supposed to be past needing such things. Why should I expose myself to scrutiny and fault-finding?

    It takes a special person to bring in a coach mid-career and subject themselves to “scrutiny and fault-finding.”

    Maybe you’re thinking, I don’t need a coach because “I’m my own worst critic.” That may be the case, however it is really hard, but not impossible, to be your own (objective) coach. You need structure and objective feedback.

    (I don’t want to get into too much nuance, but you also have to think about feedback systems. Part of deliberate practice is immediate and constant feedback. This enables course correction. The time-to-feedback can derail deliberate practice if it’s too long.)
    4. Exercise

    In Brain Rules, John Medina explores the relationship between exercise and mental alertness:

    Just about every mental test possible was tried. No matter how it was measured, the answer was consistently yes: A lifetime of exercise can result in a sometimes astonishing elevation in cognitive performance, compared with those who are sedentary. Exercisers outperform couch potatoes in tests that measure long-term memory, reasoning, attention, problem-solving, even so-called fluid-intelligence tasks. These tasks test the ability to reason quickly and think abstractly, improvising off previously learned material in order to solve a new problem. Essentially, exercise improves a whole host of abilities prized in the classroom and at work.

    5. Rest

    Taking time to rest won’t make you a slacker. While the corporate culture of “back-to-back” meetings from 9-5 may seem “cool” it is actually crazy. Rest is a critical component of creating and sustaining excellence.

    Sponsored by #ogilvychange — Little ideas from big thinkers


  5. How Awakened Intelligence and Ignorance Arise

    From Glimpses of Abhidharma: Chogyam Trungpa

    Brilliant and to the point

    June 13, 2013
    WHEN EGO BREAKS DOWN
    Ignorance is the binding factor in the development of ego, but it also has a subtle relationship with the basic intelligence of buddha nature. Ignorance is not solid but is based on sparks or flashes of ignorance operating on some ground. Between two sparks of ignorance is the ground of intelligence on which this process of ignorance is operating. Sometimes, ignorance forgets for a moment to maintain itself, so that the awakened state comes through. So a meditative state of mind occurs spontaneously when, occasionally, the efficiency of ego’s administration breaks down.


  6. Benefits of Mindfulness from Harvard health

    This article: Benefits of Mindfulness, powerfully and elegantly describes some of the benefits gained from Mindfulness practice. In my experience, Mindfulness practitioners – who are able to sustain their practice – practice because they feel the need to gain perspective and a calmer mind. More traditionally, you might say they ‘hit bottom’ or recognize the fact of life’s inevitable struggle. And – it is useful to know, when you decide to end the struggle, that your meditation practice actually helps.

    Here’s an excerpt from the article:

    Mindfulness improves well being

    Increasing your capacity for mindfulness supports many attitudes that contribute to a satisfied life.
    Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events.
    By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find that they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to form deep connections with others.

    Mindfulness improves physical health

    If greater well-being isn’t enough of an incentive, scientists have discovered the benefits of mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in a number of ways. Mindfulness can:

    help relieve stress
    treat heart disease
    lower blood pressure
    reduce chronic pain
    improve sleep
    alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.

    Mindfulness improves mental health

    In recent years, psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation as an important element in the treatment of a number of problems, including:

    depression
    substance abuse
    eating disorders
    couples’ conflicts
    anxiety disorders
    obsessive-compulsive disorder

    Some experts believe that mindfulness works, in part, by helping people to accept their experiences — including painful emotions — rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance.

    It’s become increasingly common for mindfulness meditation to be combined with psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. This development makes good sense, since both meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy share the common goal of helping people gain perspective on irrational, maladaptive, and self-defeating thoughts.


  7. Getting free from the tyrany of email

    I share the following from the Farnham Street blog. I’m especially chuckling over the suggestion to stop replying. Replyig only creates further email…

    The Tyranny of Email — 10 Tips to Save You

    Posted: 05 Jun 2013 06:00 AM PDT

    Google Reader is going away on July 1st. Sign up for my daily or weekly mailing list to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

    The Tyranny of E-Mail

    I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my habits recently and how they affect me. One thing I’ve placed an increasingly watchful eye on is email.

    Email seems pervasive in our lives. We check email on the bus, we check it in the bath. We check it first thing in the morning. We even check it midconversation, with the belief that no one will notice.

    John Freeman argues in The Tyranny of Email that the average office worker “sends and receives two hundred emails a day.”

    Email makes us reactive, as we race to keep up with the never-ending onslaught.

    In the past, only a few professions—doctors, plumbers perhaps, emergency service technicians, prime ministers—required this kind of state of being constantly on call. Now, almost all of us live this way. Everything must be attended to—and if it isn’t, chances are another email will appear in a few hours asking if indeed the first message was received at all.

    Working At The Speed of Email

    Working at the speed of email is like trying to gain a topographic understanding of our daily landscape from a speeding train—and the consequences for us as workers are profound. Interrupted every thirty seconds or so, our attention spans are fractured into a thousand tiny fragments. The mind is denied the experience of deep flow, when creative ideas flourish and complicated thinking occurs. We become task-oriented, tetchy, terrible at listening as we try to keep up with the computer. The email inbox turns our mental to-do list into a palimpsest—there’s always something new and even more urgent erasing what we originally thought was the day’s priority. Incoming mail arrives on several different channels–via email, Facebook, Twitter, instant message–and in this era of backup we’re sure that we should keep records of our participation in all these conversations. The result is that at the end of the day we have a few hundred or even a few thousand emails still sitting in our inbox.

    Part of us likes all of the attention email gives us. It has been shown that email is addictive in many of the same ways slot machines are addictive — variable reinforcement.

    Tom Stafford, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Sheffield, explains:

    “This means that rather than reward an action every time it is performed, you reward it sometimes, but not in a predictable way. So with email, usually when I check it there is nothing interesting, but every so often there’s something wonderful —an invite out, or maybe some juicy gossip—and I get a reward.”

    There are chemical reasons this happens that go well beyond our love of gossip. If we’re doing something that pays out randomly, our brain releases dopamine when we get something good and our body learns that we need to keep going if we want a reward.

    Connections

    “Ironically,” Freeman writes, “tools meant to connect us are enabling us to spend even more time apart.” The consequences are disastrous.

    Spending our days communicating through this medium, which by virtue of its sheer volume forces us to talk in short bursts, we are slowly eroding our ability to explain — in a careful, complex way — why it is so wrong for us and to complain, resist, or redesign our workdays so that they are manageable.

    Life On The Email Treadmill

    “If the medium is the message, what does that say about new survey results that found nearly 60% of respondents check their email when they’re answering the call of nature.” — Michelle Masterson

    When you arrive at work and there are twenty emails in your inbox, the weight of that queue is clear: everyone is waiting for you.

    So you clear and clear and clear, only to learn that the faster you reply, the faster the replies come boomeranging back to you—thanks, follow-ups, additional requests, and that one-line sinker, “How are you doing these days?” It shouldn’t be such a burden to be asked your state of mind. In the workplace, however, where the sheer volume of correspondence can feel as if it has been designed on the high to enforce a kind of task-oriented tunnel vision, such a question is either a trapdoor or an escape hatch.

    At the workplace it used to be hard to share things without a lot of friction. Now sharing is frictionless and free. CC’ing and forwarding to keep people “in the loop” has become a mixed blessing. Now everything is collaborative and if people are left off emails they literally feel left out.

    Working in a Climate of Interruption

    What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it. — Herb Simon

    We live in a culture in which doing everything all at once is admired and encouraged—have our spreadsheet open while we check email, chin on the phone into our shoulder, and accept notes from a passing office messenger. Our desk is Grand Central and we are the conductor, and it feels good. Why? If we’re this busy, clearly we’re needed; we have a purpose. We are essential. The Internet and email have certainly created a “desire to be in the know, to not be left out, that ends up taking up a lot of our time”—at the expense of getting things done, said Mark Ellwood, the president of Pace Productivity, which studies how employees spend their time.

    Of course we can’t multitask the way technology leads us to believe we can. “Multitasking,” Walter Kirn wrote in an essay called “The Autumn of the Multitaskers,” messes with the brain in several ways:”

    At the most basic level, the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. We concentrate on the act of concentration at the expense of whatever it is that we’re supposed to be concentrating on.

    What does this mean in practice? Consider a recent experiment at UCLA, where researchers asked a group of 20-somethings to sort index cards in two trials, once in silence and once while simultaneously listening for specific tones in a series of randomly presented sounds. The subjects’ brains coped with the additional task by shifting responsibility from the hippocampus—which stores and recalls information—to the striatum, which takes care of rote, repetitive activities. Thanks to this switch, the subjects managed to sort the cards just as well with the musical distraction— but they had a much harder time remembering what, exactly, they’d been sorting once the experiment was over.

    Even worse, certain studies find that multitasking boosts the level of stress related hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline and wears down our systems through biochemical friction, prematurely aging us. In the short term, the confusion, fatigue, and chaos merely hamper our ability to focus and analyze, but in the long term, they may cause it to atrophy.

    “In other words,” writes Freeman in The Tyranny of Email, “a work climate that revolves around multitasking, and constant interruptions has narrowed our cognitive window down to a care, basic facility: rote, mechanical tasks.”

    We like to think we are in control of our environment, that we act upon it and shape it to our needs. It works both ways, though; changes we make to the world can have unseen ramifications that impact our ability to live in it.

    Attention means being present. Being present helps mindfullness.

    Thanks to an environment of constant stimulation the biggest challenge these days is maintaining focus.

    “Immersing myself in a book or lengthy article used to be easy,” wrote Nicolas Carr in an essay entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

    My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

    Carr wrote an excellent book on the subject, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. If you don’t have the time, or attention span, to read the book, you can watch the video.

    Flow

    Reading and other meditative tasks are best performed in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a “state-of-flow,” in which “our focus narrows, the world seems to drop away, and we become less conscious of ourselves and more deeply immersed in ideas and language and complex thoughts,” Freeman writes.

    Communication tools, however, seem to be working against this state.

    In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi writes:

    In today’s world we have come to neglect the habit of writing because so many other media of communication have taken its place. Telephones and tape recorders, computers and fax machines are more efficient in conveying news. If the only point to writing were to transmit information, then it would deserve to become obsolete. But the point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along. In the past, educated persons used journals and personal correspondence to put their experiences into words, which allowed them to reflect on what had happened during the day. The prodigiously detailed letters so many Victorians wrote are an example of how people created patterns of order out of the mainly random events impinging on their consciousness. The kind of material we write in diaries and letters does not exist before it is written down.

    It is the slow, organically growing process of thought involved in writing that lets the ideas emerge in the first place

    In The Tyranny of Email, Freeman sums up the multitasking argument:

    Multitasking may not be perfect, but it can push the brain to add new capacity; the problem, however, remains that the small gains in capacity are continuously, rapidly, outstripped by the speeding up and growing volume of incoming demand on our attention.

    Why is it so Hard to Read These Days?

    In his essay on Google Carr writes:

    It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.

    Some of this is due to changes in the medium itself. Newspaper articles are shorter and catchier. Text has become bigger. We’re becoming a powerpoint culture. We need bullet points, short sentences, and fancy graphics. We skim rather than read. Online readers are “selfish, lazy, and ruthless,” said Jakob Nielson, a usability engineer. If we don’t get what we want, as soon as we want it, we move to the next site.

    But all of this has a cost.

    What We Are Losing

    “What we are losing in this country, and presumably around the world is the sustained, focused, linear attention developed by reading,” said Dana Gioia, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “I would believe people who tell me that the Internet develops reading if I did not see such a universal decline in reading ability and reading comprehension on virtually all tests.”

    “If the research on multitasking is any guide,” Freeman writes in the Tyranny of Email, “and if several centuries of liberal arts education have proven anything, the ability to think clearly and critically and develop an argument comes from reading in a focused manner.”

    These skills are important because they enable employees to step back from an atmosphere of frenzy and make sense in a busy, nearly chaotic environment. If all companies want, though, is worker bees who will simply type till they drop and badger one another into a state of overload, a new generation of inveterate multitaskaholics might be just what they get. If that’s the case, workplace productivity isn’t the only thing that will suffer.

    Freeman concludes his book by offering several tips you can do to take back control of your life and the mental space email is consuming.

    1. Don’t Send.

    The most important thing you can do to improve the state of your inbox, free up your attention span, and break free of the tyranny of email is not to send an email. As most people now know, email only creates more email, so by stepping away from the messaging treadmill, even if for a moment every day, you instantly dial down the speed of the email messagopolis.

    2.Don’t Check it First Thing in The Morning Or Late at Night

    … Not checking your email first thing will also reinforce a boundary between your work and your private life, which is essential if you want to be fully present in either place. If you check your email before getting to work, you will probably begin to worry about work matters before you actually get there. Checking your e-mail first thing at home doesn’t give you a jump on the workday; it just extends it. Sending email before and after office hours has a compounded effect, since it creates an environment in which workers are tacitly expected to check their email at the same time and squeeze more work out of their tired bodies.

    3. Check it Twice a Day

    … Checking your email twice a day will … allow you to set the agenda for your day, which is essential if you want to stay on task and get things done in a climate of constant communication.

    4. Keep a Written To-do List and Incorporate email into It.

    5. Give Good Email

    6. Read the Entire Incoming email before Replying

    This seems like a pretty basic rule, but a great deal of email is generated by people replying without having properly read initial messages.

    7. Do Not Debate Complex or Sensitive Matters by email

    8. If You Have to Work as a Group by email, Meet Your Correspondents Face-to-Face

    9. Set Up Your Desktop to Do Something Else besides email

    As much as you can, take control over your office space by setting aside part of your desk for work that isn’t done on the computer. Imagine it as your thinking area, where you can read or take notes or doodle as you work out a problem.

    10. Schedule Media-free Time.


  8. Reading the Farnham Street blog today…on the Half Life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman:

    “I think that we need to move from an educational system that is focused on memorizing facts to one that is focused on how to learn. Of course you need a fundamental background and familiarity with certain information in order to have a basic understanding of the world, so I wouldn’t throw out memorization entirely. But so much of what we know is going to change and we need to have an educational system that recognizes this.”

    The class that entered Kindergarten in September 2012 will graduate 12th grade in 2025. Our education system, more or less, is still oriented towards the early 1900’s. Of course, we’ve replace black boards with smart boards…but our educational conversation, at least in the political sphere, is largely concentrated on measuring how well the kids do in tests. There is still a lot to do to move our education system to a forward looking engagement with the 21st century.


  9. Practice in the Gaps: 3 simple ideas for the office

    Today, a Huffington Post entry by Eden Kozlowski.
    The story: Why Mindfulness At Work? 3 Simple Ideas For The Office suggests 3 opportunities for practicing mindfulness:

    1. At the beginning of any meeting – allow a brief opportunity for a ‘transition time.’
    2. Stop 3 to 5 times each day to bring yourself mindfully present.
    3. Contemplate what is your most favorite part of your job.

    We each have several opportunities to practice within our work day.
    When we allow ourselves to identify and then practice within the gap, we empower our selves and our work.


  10. Creating a Positive Corporate Culture

    Below is a short excerpt from “Wired for Success” by Ray Williams.
    This very interesting, short article, points at moving beyond a 0 sum view of corporate success to a more expansive view. In this expansive view, when a person gives, without expectation of commeasurate reward, personal and corporate energy increase. Success is then an epiphenomena of generosity.

    Within the ethical teachings of Buddhism, current prosperity has always been linked to prior generosity. It is wonderful when current thought leadership agrees with ancient wisdom.

    Brian
    —————————————————————————————————

    Wired for Success
    How to fulfill your potential
    by Ray B. Williams
    How “giving” can create a positive organizational culture
    Leaders can create successful corporate cultures through giving.
    Published on May 14, 2013 by Ray Williams in Wired for Success

    As an executive coach, I am occasionally asked by organizations to “rescue” an executive or help them “grow” substantially, before more serious employment decisions are made. Often, I see a lack of self-awareness and self-management as a key problem. Also, often, issues related to their egos—excessive competition, narcissism and a win-lose attitude. An overarching problem can be the individual’s (and/or the organization’s ) emphasis on “taking” and little on “giving.”

    According to a white paper by McKinsey & Company, giver cultures—where employees willingly help each other share knowledge and offer mentorship without expectations of anything in return—produce higher quality work than corporate cultures that encourage competition and duplicity among employees. This non-attachment or non-expectation of reciprocity, which Al Ritter cites in his book, 100/0 Principle: The Secret of Great Relationships, is a significant difference from traditional notions of “give-and-take.”