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Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas)

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Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman
Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman
by Peter Korn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.14
25 used & new from CDN$ 17.48

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How and why the creative effort "is a process of challenging embedded narratives in order to....", Aug. 18 2014
Peter Korn poses an intriguing question: "Why do we choose the spiritually, emotionally, and physically demanding work of brining new objects into the world with creativity and skill?" This book is his extended response to that question. After completing his academic assignments for the University of Pennsylvania, he embarked on what became a journey of discovery during which two epiphanies occurred. (More about them later.) "My intuition from the first day I picked up a hammer was that making things with a commitment to quality would lead to a good life." In this book, he retraces the steps of his journey "with reference to larger frameworks - historical, sociological, psychological, and biological - to discover how and why that intuition turned out to be valid."

His readers tag along with him from Nantucket Island to Frederick (Maryland) to New York City and then Philadelphia before relocating (again) to the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village (Colorado) for which he served for the six years as Program Director before finally founding (in 1992) the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport (Maine). Along the way, he published Woodworking Basics: Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanship (Taunton Press, 2003) and The Woodworker's Guide to Hand Tools (Taunton Press, 1998). Why We Make Things and Why it Matters is his third book. And along the way, he was stricken by cancer and struggled with personal losses best described by him,

With regard to the aforementioned epiphanies, the first occurred in November (1984) when he had been hard at work on a cradle: "After three days of intense focus, cold, and solitude, the cradle is complete -- a miraculous birth in its own right. I have somehow transform benign intent into a beautiful functional object. This is my moment on the road to Demascus. I am overtaken by the most unexpected passion." (Page 28).

The second epiphany occurred in 1991 during his sixth year at Anderson Ranch. By way of background, he explains that he had previously composed an artist's statement, one that included a sentence that brought his emerging ideas into focus. It read: My own values became clear when I eventually realized that the words I used to describe my aesthetic goals as a furniture maker -- integrity, simplicity, and grace -- also described the person I sought to grow into through the practice of craftsmanship." (Page 102) That sentence was his second epiphany.

While re-reading the book in preparation to compose this brief commentary, I was again reminded of similar experiences that James Joyce describes in several of his letters and short stories as well as in Portrait of the Artist as a Young m Man. Of course, I have no idea whether or not Korn had Joyce and his work in mind when sharing this especially significant moment during his own development. Be that as it may, his transition from carpenter to craftsman is near complete, with details best revealed within the narrative, in context.

What's my take? Of greatest interest and value to me is what Peter Korn has to say about how he "found his way in the world" by committing himself to (as Richard Sennett expressed it) "doing something well, for its own sake." Consider this brief excerpt from Creativity in which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi observes: "To achieve the kind of world we consider human, some people had to dare to break the thrall of tradition, Next, they had to find ways of recording those new ideas or procedures that improved on what went on before. Finally, they had to find ways of transmitting the new knowledge to generations to come. Those who were involved in this process we call creative. What we call culture, or those parts of ourselves that we internalized from the social environment, is their creation."

For Korn, these "essential" observations by Sennett and Csikszentmihalyi ring true: "There is great satisfaction to be found in work that engages one as an end in itself." His experiences can be described in many different ways. He found his calling, he found himself, he found his True North...all quite correct.

For me, the key to understanding the experiences that Korn discusses, many of which resemble our own, is to think of how he created a good life as well as a successful career. He and countless others have learned through their own experiences that what they love to do, what they most enjoy, is probably what they do best, despite challenges and setbacks along the way. "And so it is. As a maker you put one foot in front of the other and you own the journey. Finding creative passion that governs your life may be a curse as well as a blessing, but I would not trade it for anything else I know."

One final point: It will come as no surprise to those who are already familiar with Peter Korn’s art and craftsmanship that he complements his lean and effective prose with preliminary sketches and then photographs of some of his creations, illustrations that are of superior quality. They bring his story to life in ways and to an extent words alone cannot. Bravo!

Myth Of Mirror Neurons, The
Myth Of Mirror Neurons, The
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.53
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How the latest research in neuroscience can help almost anyone think and communicate much more effectively,, Aug. 18 2014
I begin with an unconventional suggestion: Read Appendix A, "A Primer on Brain Organization," first; then proceed through Gregory Hickok's lively and eloquent as well as insightful narrative. I wish I had when I first read this book.

* * *

In the Preface, Hickok quotes this passage from V.S. Razmachandran's conversation (in 2000) with John Brockman, featured by "I predict that mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology: they will provide the unifying framework and help explain a host of mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments." Fourteen years later, in this book Hickok share revelations from recent research in neuroscience that can help almost anyone think and communicate much more effectively. Several of these breakthroughs occurred during research on pigtail macaque monkeys. Hickok suggests that the behavior of mirror neurons is modest, at least in the context of the human abilities they are claimed to enable...Mirror neurons are no longer the rock stars of neuroscience and psychology that they once were and, in my view, a more complex and interesting story is gaining favor regarding the neuroscience of communication and cognition"

In other words, the real neuroscience of communication and cognition repudiates and invalidates the myth of mirror neurons.

I very much admire the energy of his analysis and circumspection of his perspective. These are among the subjects of greatest interest to me that Hickok discusses with rigor and, when appropriate, restraint:

o Assuming that humans have mirror neurons, what are their primary functions and limitations? What differentiates them from mirror neurons of a macaque monkey?

o For example, to what extent do they "unlock the secrets of language, mind reading, empathy, and autism"?

o What is the Parma Theory and why is it significant?

o What are the most significant anomalies in the search for mirror neurons in humans?

o What does each of these anomalies suggest? So what?

o What are the defining characteristics and primary functions of a "talking brain"?

o What is an embodied brain"? What is its relevance to "the real neuroscience of communication and cognition"?

o What are the core principles of a neural base of action understanding?

o Why and how is imitation "at the core, the very foundation of what it means to be human both culturally and socially"?

o Why do humans "ape better than apes ape"?

o To what extent (if any) is there a causal link between autism? Between autism and sociopathic behavior?

o In a robotic arm situation, what is the significance of the fact that that the brain "models or predicts the current and future state of the limb internally using motor commands themselves rather than sensory feedback alone"?

o To what extent will mirror neurons have a role to play in our models of the neural basis of communication and cognition"?

Although to the extent possible, Hickok presents the material in language that non-scientists such as I can understand, this was by no means an "easy read" and I plan to re-read it again in a few weeks, first re-reading the two appendices: "A Primer on Brain Organization" and "Cognitive Neuroscience Toolbox." (I wish I had done so the first time around.) Brilliantly, they frame the issues and ambiguities that are discussed with consummate skill.

I agree with Gregory Hickok: "Placed in the context of a more balanced and complex structure, mirror neurons will no doubt have a role to play in our models of the neural basis of communication and cognition." So much more research in neuroscience remains to be conducted and evaluated. I am grateful to anyone who increases my understanding of "mental abilities that have hitherto remained mysterious and inaccessible to experiments." In other words, I am grateful for whatever helps me to gain a better understanding of myself.

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street
Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street
Price: CDN$ 9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Millions will rush to purchase a copy but how many will actually read it and then apply what they learn?, Aug. 13 2014
Here is a new edition of a book first published in 1969 and, until recently, out-of-print. It consists of 12 “stories” written by John Brooks (1920-1993) that first appeared in The New Yorker. It is one of Warren Buffett’s two favorite books, the other being Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor. About 20 years ago, Buffett gave his copy of it to Bill Gates who mentioned that in a Wall Street Journal (July 11, 2014). Now another lemming stampede is underway.

Contrary to what many people apparently believe, however, the significance of this book has much less to do with either Buffett or Gates than it does with the value of Brooks’ insights and how well he presents them. In my opinion, why Buffett and Gates think so highly of this book is of far greater importance than the fact they do so. I had read each of the essays as they appeared in the magazine and then re-read them recently after obtaining a copy of the new paperbound edition.

As I did so, I was again reminded of an incident that occurred years ago when one of Albert Einstein’s colleagues at Princeton playfully chided him for asking the same questions every year on his final examinations. “Quite true. Each year, the answers are different.”

Most of the historical material in Business Adventures is dated. How could it not be after 45 years? However, like Einstein’s questions, the issues that Brooks discusses remain – if anything – more relevant today than they were in 1969. It is worth noting that the average length of the essays is about 37 pages. Brooks probes with surgical skill as he focuses on major crises in “the world of Wall Street” and what valuable lessons can be learned from each situation. Apparently Buffett and Gates took those lessons to heart.

These are among the subjects of greatest interest to me:

o Why the causes of the financial crisis in 1962 remain "unfathomable" but what the significance of that crisis seems to be, nonetheless

o The extent to which the failure of the Edsel suggests "a certain grandeur that success never knows"

o What an "ideal tax code" as conceived in 1969 shares in common with the 1913 income tax

o Why the decision handed down on August, 1968, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was "a famous victory for the S.E.C." and resulted in "an interesting experiment"

o The struggles at Xerox to cope with the challenges of "good citizenship" in the late-1960s during it rapid and substantial corporate growth

o One of the "most trying -- and in some ways most serious -- crises in the Stock Market's long history" and how it was resolved

o Lessons to be learned about ineffective corporate communications with the Justice Department, notably the initiatives of G.E. and its then chairman, Ralph Cordiner

o Business lessons to be learned from the stock fluctuations of Piggly Wiggly Stores, Inc. and from its founder/CEO, Clarence Saunders

0 David Eli Lilienthal and his relevance to the New Deal during the Roosevelt administrations and his subsequent impact on Wall Street

o What Brooks learned about corporate leadership and management while attending annual meetings of various corporations

Note: Berkshire Hathaway's annual meetings offer compelling evidence of what Buffett learned from the tenth chapter, "Stockholder Season: Annual Meetings and Corporate Power" (Pages 315-337).

o Donald W. Wohlgemuth's historical -- and symbolic – significance after “almost six months in the toils of the law”

o The special significance of Charles Coombs and Alfred Hayes, especially with regard to “saving” the pound from devaluation

John Brooks was a superb journalist, one who possessed several of the skills of a world’s class anthropologist, skills that are evident in these and other articles for The New Yorker as well as in his books, notably The Go-Go Years: The Drama and Crashing Finale of Wall Street's Bullish 60s (1999) and Once in Golconda: A True Drama of Wall Street 1920-1938 (also 1999). He was also a master raconteur, a teller of tales about the major characters on Wall Street, the motives that drove them, the challenges they faced, the conflicts they created or endured, and finally, their significance within a realm that includes but extends far beyond lower Manhattan.

With regard to Business Adventures, it is possible to determine the number of copies that are sold of the new paperbound and digital versions but not how many of those who purchase one or both will read all, most, or only some (if any) of the material. Meanwhile, FYI, Amazon offers three used copies of the hardbound edition for $1,400, $2,450, and $2,500. Buffett once observed, "Price is what you charge. Value is what others think it's worth." Whatever the cost of the container, the value of this material is incalculable.

Seeking the North Star: Selected Speeches
Seeking the North Star: Selected Speeches
by John Silber
Edition: Hardcover
7 used & new from CDN$ 26.98

5.0 out of 5 stars "Discontent combined with youthful idealism and energy for action ensures a brighter future." John Silber, Aug. 11 2014
This volume consists of 30 of John Silber's speeches that he selected from more than 200, dating from 1971 until 2012. (Declining health prevented him from presenting the last, "The Choices Are Ours," to the Algonquin Club and Boston Consular Corps.) Who was he and why is he significant?

Briefly, Silber was born in San Antonio (August 15, 1926), the second son of Paul George Silber, an immigrant architect from Germany, and Jewell Silber, a Texas-born elementary school teacher. Both of his parents were Presbyterians. As an adult, he learned that his father's side of the family was Jewish and that his aunt had been killed at Auschwitz. His father had never said anything about it. After teaching at Yale, Silber returned to Texas, where he joined the department of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. After serving as chairman of his department he became Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. He was the first chairman of the Texas Society to Abolish Capital Punishment and a leader in the integration of the University of Texas. Silber was a leading spokesman for the maintenance of high academic standards and gained national attention for his advocacy of a rational, comprehensive system for financing higher education. He was also instrumental in founding Operation Head Start.

In January 1971 Silber became the seventh president of Boston University, and in 1996 he became Chancellor. In January 1996, Governor William Weld chose him to head the Massachusetts Board of Education, the state's policy-making board for public education below the collegiate level. Silber wrote widely on philosophy (especially on Immanuel Kant), education, and social and foreign policy. He died on September 27, 2012.

However, in my opinion, the best instruction to his special significance is provided by a careful reading of the material provided in this volume. His was a singular voice, as these brief excerpts clearly indicate. My selections are from hundreds of candidates among the passages of greatest interest and value to me. Of course, obviously, each is best appreciated in context.

o "If we re-order time to celebrate youth and age and the gradual metamorphosis from one to the other, if we regain our sense of time and value our present differences in the recognition that each of us plays all the parts in sequence, we shall see that there is no salvation for the young or the old at the expense of the either. Our fulfillment depends on collaboration in a time that is well ordered." From "The Pollution of Time" (May 1971) when Silber presented his inaugural address to Boston University.

o "The present age in America and in most of the West is perhaps best described as an age if bewilderment: it is marked by a pervasive sense of loss, alienation, and indirection. In every age and in every society, men and women have know personal tragedy; many generations have witnessed the destruction of family, social class, or nation...In the span of our lives, change has been even more rapid and pervasive. Consequently, although we have not yet experienced general destruction and ruin -- despite our Syracusan misadventure in Vietnam -- we have suffered nevertheless a serious loss of meaning and direction." From "The Tremble Factor" (1974) when Silber spoke at the Colorado College during its centennial celebration.

Note: This is a theme that Silber explores time and again, one he quoted from several of William Butler Yeats's poems such as "The Second Coming" and "The Great Day."

o "Authority and civil order depend in significant measure on the consent of the governed. The more civilized and enlightened the country, the greater its dependence on the voluntary respect for standards that cannot be enforced by law...We face a crisis of spirit. Its resolution far transcends the power of the state; it is too important, too far-reaching, to be resolved by mere governmental action. Rather, it lies within the grasp of each of us. When we deter mine to govern ourselves -- when each is obedient to the unenforceable -- we shall have regained control over ourselves and thus regained as a nation our capacity for self-government...The crisis that will confront graduating classes for years to come lies not in the state or in the stars, but in ourselves. The future of our country, our future happiness and that of our children depends decisively on whether we as individuals and as a people practice obedience to the unenforceable." From "Obedience to the Unenforceable" (1995), Silber's commencement address at Boston University.

o "The reform of education does not turn on money but rather on how it is spent. We should recruit excellent teachers by doubling their salaries...Do we care more about the welfare of our children than for the educational establishment, the privileges of teachers' unions and the schools of education? If so, our highest priority will be to provide our children with better teachers. Common sense makes obvious what needs to be done. The question is, do we have the will to do it? By our passivity we, the parents and taxpayers, are in the final analysis the most important obstacle to educational reform. We could improve our schools if we tried." From "Roadblocks to Education Reform" (1999), a summary of his observations (and frustrations) while serving as chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education.

o "One of the great surprises in life is the discovery of one's true self -- the fulfilled person he or she can one day become...Why not tale a shot at the best that is in you? None of us can be greater than what we believe ourselves to be. With the gift of life, we have been given a share in the greatness of our species. No matter how modest our abilities may be, each of us can add to the richness of life and to the joy and fulfillment of the lives of others by partaking in the surprises that inevitably attend us when we strive." From "Life Is a Series of Surprises" (2004) when Silber "felt honored to address" the "dedicated and hardworking" graduates Lackawanna College, "individuals who had earned their degrees despite disadvantages that would have deterred many others."

In his review of Seeking the North Star for The Wall Street Journal, Roger Kimball observes, "Silber's understanding of the importance of the humanities as a leaven for what is noblest in our aspirations sets him apart from the usual technocratic university president, who is more of a fund-raising apparatchik than an intellectual leader. He understood that the index of civilization was a society's commitment to what the early 20th-century British jurist John Fletcher Moulton called 'obedience to the unenforceable.' Civilized life takes place mostly in a realm between the coercive law and complete freedom--a realm governed by such flexible imperatives as taste, manners and custom. More and more, the extent of that gracious dominion has been diminished. It's an odd situation we face."

The last two excerpts from the book that I wish to share now are from "The Choices Are Ours." As mentioned previously, this was a speech that Silber was unable to deliver because of rapidly declining health.

I have selected them to serve as a conclusion to my brief comments about the book because, in my opinion, they express the essence of John Silber's humanity as well as his exceptional intellect and social awareness. Here they are:

"Greed has now infected all parts of our government; a growing relativism erodes our moral sense, which has gradually been replaced by unreflective partisanship and ideological rigidity. But we are not at the end of our greatness."

And then:

"If we were ever to lose discontent with the present and the idealistic demand for a better future, we would lose hope and forfeit all chance for a better life. Our existence and our fulfillment depend upon a knowledge of our history, on what has made us great, on the knowledge which nourishes our capacity not only to hope for a better world but also to believe it possible and to make the sacrifices necessary for its realization."

* * *

I have a somewhat unorthodox suggestion to make: After reading this review and others, and when you begin to read this book, read all or most of the 30 speeches first before you read the superb Foreword by Tom Wolfe and equally superb Introduction by Edwin Delattre. I wish I had. Why? Because, in fairness to John Silber, I think his thoughts and feelings about various subjects should be shared as he expressed them, at full strength, without filters.

Classics for Pleasure
Classics for Pleasure
by Michael Dirda
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.85
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Michael Dirda is the best-read person in America. But he doesn't rub it in." Michael Kinsley, Aug. 7 2014
This review is from: Classics for Pleasure (Hardcover)
I agree with Kinsley, presuming to suggest that the same can be said of Joseph Epstein and John Sutherland. All three possess exceptional erudition and have much of great value to say about the "classics" those who created them throughout literary history. What a delight it would be to join them for an evening that begins with beverages of choices, continues through a delicious seven-course dinner, followed by several hours of lively conversation in a study with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books and a substantial but sedate fire in an immense stone fireplace.

Since childhood, I have cherished books as "magic carpets" by which to visit human experiences that would not have otherwise been accessible to me. The ten-year siege of Troy, for example, and then Odysseus' ten-year return voyage to Ithaca as well as the Italian Renaissance (and Dante), the Age of Elizabeth (and Shakespeare), and more recently, Hawthorne's New England, Dickens' London, Twain's Mississippi, and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

More often than not, I am reading and/or re-reading three or four books at any one time and that was the situation recently when accompanying Dirda, Epstein, and Sutherlnd, during their explorations of great literature in the several books they have written thus far.

* * *

In this volume, Dirda organizes his material within eleven thematic chapters when sharing his thoughts about the work of about 90 authors. Here are the themes and subject(s) of greatest interest to me:

Playful Imaginations (including Jaroslav Hasek and S.J. Perelman)
Heroes of Their Time (Christopher Marlowe)
Love's Mysteries (Anna Akhmatova)
Words from the Wise (Lao-tse)
Everyday Magic (The Classic Fairy Tales)
Lives of Consequence (Frederick Douglass and W.H. Auden)
The Dark Side (Mary Shelley)
Traveler's Tales (Thomas More and Isak Dinesen)
The Way We Live Now (Petronius and Anton Chekhov)
Realms of Adventure (Arthur Conan Doyle and Dashiell Hammett)
Encyclopedic Visions (Edward Gibbon and André Malraux)

Please allow a personal digression. I am among those who previously knew nothing about several of the authors and works discussed. This, I think, is a value-added benefit for book lovers because Dirda has identified possible candidates for future consideration. I once took a graduate-level course in 17th century English literature at the University of Chicago and was assigned to read portions of a major written by Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Enquiries into Very Many Received Tenets, and Commonly Presumed Truths) whose title refers to the prevalence of false beliefs and "vulgar errors." Browne was someone whose relentless curiosity took him off the proverbial "beaten path" of status quo, the road frequently taken, received wisdom, to explore new ideas - and new ideas about ideas -- that comprised what was then characterized by Francis Bacon as "the new learning."

These were among the subjects, themes, and issues of greatest interest to me:

I thought of Browne as I worked my way through Dirda's material. Those who read Dirda's books may not learn anything that is new but much (most?) of what they learn will be new to them because - like Browne - he explored, he observed, and he then shared. He enables others to read classics for greater pleasure. I can't think of a higher compliment to pay to him.

The passport provided by Dirda enabled me to reconnect with some old friends but I was also able to make several new ones. (I read the book cover-to-cover, then hopped around a bit.) It remains for other readers to select their own "journeys" from among the choices offered. I do presume to offer one piece of advice: Do not pass on those who are unfamiliar or at least are assumed to be of little (if any) interest. I experienced a number of pleasant surprises that added even more the value of this book to me. Bon voyage!

* * *

Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Washington Post Book World and the author of the memoir An Open Book and of four collections of essays: Readings, Bound to Please, Book by Book and Classics for Pleasure. He was born in Lorain, Ohio, graduated with highest honors in English from Oberlin College, and received a Ph.D. in comparative literature (medieval studies and European romanticism) from Cornell University. Also, it should be noted that, since 2002, he has been an invested member of the Baker Street Irregulars. I urge you to check out his Amazon page.

Never Be Closing: How to Sell Better Without Screwing Your Clients, Your Colleagues, or Yourself
Never Be Closing: How to Sell Better Without Screwing Your Clients, Your Colleagues, or Yourself
by Tim Hurson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 20.76
24 used & new from CDN$ 16.14

5.0 out of 5 stars How and why "Productive Thinking" can accelerate personal growth and professional development, Aug. 7 2014
In the film version of his play, Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet adds a new character, Blake (played by Alec Baldwin), who visits the Chicago office of a real estate company and challenges the under-performing sales force: ""A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention - Do I have you attention? Interest - Are you interested? I know you are, because it's f**k or walk. You close or you hit the bricks." The ABC approach is to say and do whatever is necessary - even if it's illegal and/or unethical - to make the sale.

I thought of that opening scene as I began to read Never Be Closing by Tim Hurson and Tim Dunne. They suggest another approach: NBC. (Steven Yastrow recommends a similar approach in Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion. He's convinced - and I agree - that the most effective communications are those that do not seem like a "pitch." Rather, they seem natural, unrehearsed, straightforward, improvised, etc.) According to Hurson and Dunne, their approach -- Productive Selling -- "isn't just a catalog of techniques to wrestle money out of a client's pocket. It' a comprehensive strategy that starts with a well-researched process for identifying and solving problems...At its essence, Productive Selling is about helping people solve problems. It focuses the power of a deliberate problem-solving process to help people. It shows you how to access your creativity to establish and maintain relationships that will be truly useful for both you and your clients over time."

Hurson introduced the Productive Thinking Model (PTM) in his previously published book, Think Better: An Innovator's Guide to Productive Thinking. In this final chapter, he asserts that -- as practiced in much of corporate America -- training "is an astonishing waste of resources" when there is no follow-through on front-end training to embed and then strengthen even more the skills taught. In fact, the word "training" has lost its meaning because it is now more commonly used to refer to information transfer rather than skill development. "Hurson prefers the word "entraining." Why? "In chemistry, to entrain means to trap suspended particles in a solution and carry them along. This concept is an apt metaphor for skill development...Entraining results in a new and different workflow. Keeping those new skill particles suspended in your workflow requires the forging of new synaptic connections, new neural pathways."

Hence the importance, the urgent importance, of mastering the Productive Thinking Model by completing a six-step process:

1. "What's Going On?": Complete a rigorous and comprehensive situation analysis.
2. "What's Success?": Determine the metrics by which impact will be measured while pursuing the given objective.
3. "What's the Question?": Peter Drucker is dead-on: "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all." Make certain that the right question or the right problem has been identified. Drill down beyond symptoms,
4. Generate Answers: Assemble diverse points of view and brainstorm, guided and informed by the five underlying principles listed later
5. Forge the Solution: "Refine the most promising answers into robust solutions." Re-read Drucker quote.
6. Align Resources: Formulate an action plan and timeframe, then obtain resources and allocate accordingly.

The Productive Thinking framework is based on a set of underlying principles that are ways of thinking that pervade the creative problem-solving process. Here are five, accompanied by comments of mine:

1. "Be Aware of Patterned Thinking." Albert Einstein once suggested that the way of thinking that created the problems is not the way of thinking needed to solve them. Viewed another way, James O'Toole cautions against becoming hostage of what he characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom."

2. "Separate Your Thinking." That is, separate creative thinking from analytical thinking. Both can be immensely valuable but not simultaneously. The most productive brainstorming sessions generate lots of ideas. Each must then be evaluated. These are two mental processes that must be separated or neither will succeed.

3. "Reach for the Third Third." That is, during an ideation session, the first third tends to generate ideas that are average, mediocre, etc. The second third is when participants begin to reach, stretch, ask "What if?" and "Why Not?" challenge assumptions and premises, and begin to generate a few promising options. Only during the third portion of the session do breakthrough ideas begin to occur. The first two portions are essential to reaching the third.

4. "Look for Unexpected Connections." With all due respect to the importance of "connecting the dots," only on rare occasion when beginning the process are all the dots apparent. Here's how I explain this: Everyone can see all the dots in the box; the challenge is to locate others outside the given box (or inside other boxes) that must also be considered. Probably at least some of which should also be connected. More often than not, all of the chains in a box are incomplete. That's a major cause of problems to be solved.

5. "The Power of the Debrief." Hurson and Dunne provide specific tools that can be of great assistance during this critically important process of review, evaluation, confirmation or revision, and then (hopefully) commitment to appropriate action(s). Prior to major initiatives, a rigorous briefing can help to ensure its success. Similarly, an even more rigorous debriefing later will help to ensure that lessons learned will then of substantial value in months and years to come.

Throughout Never Be Closing, they provide a wealth of information, insights, and counsel that can help leaders in any organization -- whatever its size and nature may be -- to establish and then continuously improve Productive Thinking sales initiatives "without screwing" their clients, their colleagues, or themselves."

The title of this commentary correctly suggests that "Productive Thinking" can accelerate personal growth and professional development. What about organizations? I am also convinced that Productive Thinking at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise will enable it to achieve and then sustain outstanding performance in a global marketplace in which competition is more ferocious each day.

There is an observation by Yogi Berra quoted in Think Better that is one of two with which I conclude this brief commentary: "In theory there's no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is." Here's the other, from Thomas Edison: "Vision without execution is hallucination." My sincere hope is that everyone who reads this book will become well-prepared to do much less "selling" and much more "achieving."

A Literary Education and Other Essays
A Literary Education and Other Essays
Price: CDN$ 9.53

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, eloquent evidence of one writer's education: "First reality, then ideas", Aug. 7 2014
I have read most of Joseph Epstein's collections of essays dating back to Divorced in America: Marriage in an Age of Possibility (1974) but Essays in Biography was the first I have reviewed and A Literary Education will be the second. With regard to his background, here is a brief bio provided by Amazon: "Joseph Epstein is the author of the best-selling Snobbery and of Friendship, as well as the short story collections The Goldin Boys and Fabulous Small Jews, among other books, and was formerly editor of the American Scholar. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines." This is the 13th collection of Epstein's essays, with the earliest, "A Stillness at Little Rock," published in the New Leader Magazine in 1959.

The title of my review refers to what Epstein discusses in his introductory essay, "A Literary Education: On Being Well-Versed in Literature." He concludes this essay with an observation by Bertolt Brecht: "First grub, then ethics." As for Epstein, "A bad idea, I would say. A better idea is, `First reality, then ideas.' This in any case is what my own education has taught me." Also, he suggests, the material in this volume "is not united by the biographical or any other theme but instead covers the range of my interests and preoccupations as an essayist over a writing career that spans more then fifty years: education, language, the arts, magazines, intellectuals, the culture."

There are thirteen essays, with the earliest dating back to 1969. In it, "Coming of Age in Chicago," he shares a number of experiences with which I could immediately identify. I am a year older than he and also grew up in Chicago. He speaks for me and countless others when observing, "When I look back on it now, it all seems a bit like bad Damon Runyan, but it was very rich stuff at the time. The entire set-up was one I felt wonderfully comfortable in."

These are among the dozens of subjects or themes that he discusses with rigor and eloquence:

o What it means to be "well-versed in literature"
o Fraternity life at the University of Illinois
0 The defining characteristics of the 1950s
o The power of permanent opposition
o How and why Chicago was a "toddlin' town"
o Radical changes in society in the 1960s and 1970s
o What cosmetic surgery "is really all about"
o Whose country 'tis of thee?
o Why boredom is not easily defined but can be described
o What to do about the arts...especially poetry
o Culture and capitalism
o The "academic zoo" in which theory rules
o Will the liberal arts ever arise from the dead?
o The feud between prescriptives and descriptives in linguistics
o The New Leader paradigm and what it reveals

Whenever I read one of Joseph Epstein's collections of essays, I am again reminded of Whitman's statement in "Song of Myself" when asking, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then. I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes." Here is someone who can channel Myron Cohen, Descartes, Garrison Kielor, and E.B. the same essay and sometimes in the same paragraph.

Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent: How Organizations Leverage On-the-Job Development (J-B SIOP Professional Practice Series)
Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent: How Organizations Leverage On-the-Job Development (J-B SIOP Professional Practice Series)
Price: CDN$ 58.91

5.0 out of 5 stars How and why knowledge shared with others can have almost incalculable value to everyone involved, Aug. 6 2014
This is a substantial volume, co-edited by Cynthia McCauley and Morgan McCall, to which they and more than 30 associates have contributed information, insights, and counsel that will help leaders in almost any organization -- whatever its size and nature may be -- to accelerate, nourish, and sustain on-the-job development of leadership and management skills at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.

Some of the most valuable material is provided within mini-case studies of organizations that include (listed in alpha order) Eaton, Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, HEINEKEN, IBM, Kelly Services, Microsoft, 3M, Tata Group, and Yum! Brands. Chapters are organized within five Sections. During the course of the narrative, readers will learn how their organizations can

o Develop experience-driven leadership
o Put experience at the center of talent development systems
o Design job experiences for leader development
o Maximize learning from experience

Most people find that the most valuable business lessons they learn are from failure than from success, from what hasn't worked than from what has. In fact, each "failure" (however defined) offers a precious learning opportunity. Individuals need to take full advantage of what is learned from those experiences. Moreover, of equal (if not greater) importance, organizations need a culture within which there are constant and successful knowledge transfers between and among those who comprise the workforce.

The best teachers tend to be avid students and the best way to learn is to teach other. This is precisely what Peter Senge has in mind when advocating what he characterizes as "the total learning organization" in The Fifth Disciple. Review the aforementioned strategic objectives and note the reference to "experience" in each. The value of lessons learned from experience is compounded in direct proportion to the number of people with whom they are shared, and, in extended proportion to the number of people with whom they share those lessons. This really is a two-part challenge, as suggested by Carla O'Dell and C. Jackson Grayson Jr. in If Only We Knew What We Know: The Transfer of Internal Knowledge and Best Practice.

They focus on what they call "beds of knowledge" which are "hidden resources of intelligence that exist in almost every organization, relatively untapped and unmined." They suggest all manner of effective strategies to "tap into "this hidden asset, capturing it, organizing it, transferring it, and using it to create customer value, operational excellence, and product innovation -- all the while increasing profits and effectiveness."

Almost all organizations claim that their "most valuable assets walk out the door at the end of each business day." That is correct. Almost all intellectual "capital" is stored between two ears and much (too much) of it is, for whatever reasons, inaccessible to others except in "small change."

Almost everything anyone needs to know about how to leverage on-the-job development can be found in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent. One of the many substantial benefits of the approach taken in this book is that as workers share experience-driven knowledge, they will become convinced of the value of such interaction -- to them as well as to associates -- and will become "evangelists" of experience-driven learning.

In the final chapter, "Concluding Thoughts," Cynthia McCauley and Morgan McCall observe: "Leaders have always learned from their experiences and they will continue to do so even without organizational intervention. However, a the authors in this book demonstrate, line managers and HR professionals can create the conditions for more learning by more leaders and for learning focused in areas that will advance the business strategy and the health of the organization. And they can deflect or dampen the forces that thwart learning from experience."


Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution
Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution
by Thomas P. Slaughter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.20
33 used & new from CDN$ 20.71

4.0 out of 5 stars Independence: The Tangled Roots of the American Revolution, Aug. 5 2014
The question posed by Adams in a letter to Thomas Jefferson evokes others such as “What were the roots of the process that led to the Declaration of Independence?” and “What could have –prevented the war that followed? In the same letter, Adams then suggests, “The Revolution was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years before a drop of blood was drawn at Lexington.” In fact, as Thomas Slaughter suggests, its roots were indeed “tangled.”

As early as 1689, colonials were already outraged by the fact that they did not have the same rights and representation as those in Britain did. “Disputes over sovereignty had begun in the seventeenth century with the very first charters on which the colonies based their claims; they continued as the colonies made treaties and waged war with Indians, skirted the Navigation Acts of 1651-1673, and then turned violently against British authority in Bacon’s Rebellion and the colonial uprisings associated with the Glorious Revolution of 1689.”

As I worked my way through Slaughter’s narrative, I kept asking myself, “Why wasn’t independence declared sooner?” Slaughter suggests several reasons, all of them plausible. At one point, he discusses “social processes across the colonies ” that had to be completed. That makes sense but surely there were other factors at play. The aforementioned “rights” that had been denied to colonials, for example, the thoroughly discussed issue of taxation without representation. I tend to view the timing of the Declaration as being about right, after every effort had been to redress various grievances. Those in authority in Britain – including King George – were primarily concerned about controlling the colonies and had little (if any) interest in addressing anything else.

Thomas Slaughter does a brilliant job of untangling various “roots,” while suggesting, “Americans did not win separation from the British Empire, but they declared their independence in 1776, as they had been doing individually and collectively for the first 170 years…Americans continue to seek the independence at the core of our culture. It remains the lodestone of our politics, our ideology, and our wish for the rest of the world, and it I an anchor that inhibits our ability to define community broadly and generously. It is who we are and what we are – a link to our past, a defining feature of our present, and our legacy for the future.”

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out three others: John Ferling's Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution, Edmund S. Morgan's American Heroes: Profiles of Men and Women Who Shaped Early America, and Bernard Bailyn ‘s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.

A Little History of Literature
A Little History of Literature
by John Sutherland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.89
41 used & new from CDN$ 16.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant perspectives on a wealth of (mostly British) literature, Aug. 5 2014
Since childhood, I have cherished books as "magic carpets" by which to visit human experiences that would not have otherwise been accessible to me. The ten-year siege of Troy, for example, and then Odysseus' ten-year return voyage to Ithaca as well as the Italian Renaissance (and Dante), the Age of Elizabeth (and Shakespeare), and more recently, Hawthorne's New England, Dickens' London, Twain's Mississippi, and Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County.

More often than not, I am reading and/or re-reading three or four books at any one time and that was the situation recently when accompanying two of my favorite authors, Michael Dirda and John Sutherlnd, during their explorations of great literature in this book as well as in Dirda's On Conan Doyle (2012) and Classics for Pleasure (2007).

This is not a definitive or even rigorous analysis of each of the major British authors and their major works. Rather, Sutherland shares what is of greatest interest to him. He also discusses transitions from literary one period to the next as well as recurring themes, correlations, and legacies. His selections and comments are subjective and that suits me just fine. In some cases I was revisiting old friends such as Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Austen, Dickens, Hardy, Conrad, and Orwell. In other instances, he shares his perspectives on literary subjects that range from "Fabulous Beginnings: Myth" and "The Book of Books: The King James Bible" to "Under the Blankets: Literature and Children" and "Magical Realisms: Borges, Grass, Rushdie, and Márquez." Given Sutherland's stated purposes, the scope of coverage is far greater than the depth of commentary.

Here is Dallas there is a Farmer's Market near the downtown area at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now share a few brief excerpts that suggest the thrust and flavor of Sutherland's style:

o "British literature is founded on this 3,182-line Anglo-Saxon poem [i.e. Gilgamesh]. It was probably composed in the eight century, drawing on old fables that went even further back into the mists of time. It was brought to England in some earlier form by invading European, then it was recited orally for centuries with countless variations, before being transcribed by an unknown monk (who made some tactful Christian insertions) in the tenth century." (Page 15)

o "The great epics [e.g. Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Beowulf] are still highly enjoyable to read, although mot of us will be obliged to read them at one remove, in translation. In many ways, epics are literary dinosaurs. They once dominated, by virtue of sheer size, but now they belong in the museum of literature. We can still admire them, as we admire the other mighty works of our national ancestors, but, sadly, we seem no longer able to make them." (19)

o "In our respect for the Authorized Version [i.e. of the King James Bible] -- the only true great work of literature in English for which we can thank a king -- we should never forget William Tyndale. He is an author of equal standing, one might claim, with the greatest in his language. And that does not exclude Shakespeare." (53)

o The Romantic movement "burned too hot to last long. Effectively it was burned out in Britain by the time of [Sir Walter] Scott' death in 1832 and the country's own 'quiet' political revolution, the First reform Bill. But Romanticism changed, forever, the ways in which literature was written and read. It bequeathed to the writers who came after, and who cared to use it, a new power. Not bright stars, but burning stars." (100)

o Despite passage of the Obscene Publications Art in 1959 that allowed publication of "works of art" such as Lawrence's novel, Lady Chatterley' Lover, "The fight again censorship in the world continues, as every issue of the London-based journal, Index on Censorship, testifies. It is a constant battle. Literature, literary history demonstrates, can do great thing under oppression, in chains. or in exile. It can even, like the phoenix, rise from the flames of its own destruction. It is a glorious vindication of the human spirit that it can do so." (167)

o Final thoughts: "What's the worst thing that could happen in the future? If readers were to become swamped -- buried under a mass of information they could not process into knowledge -- that would be very bad. But I remain hopeful, and with good reason. Literature, that wonderfully creative product of the human mind, will, in whatever new forms and adaptations it takes, forever be a part of our lives, enriching our lives. I say ours, but I should say yours -- and your children's." (266)

Sutherland devotes an entire chapter, the sixteenth, to Charles Dickens (1812-187) and suggests "five good arguments why modern readers should also see that Dickens is the greatest ever novelist. First is that Dickens was, over the course of his long writing career, uniquely inventive...The second reason for Dickens's greatness is that he was the first novelist not merely to make children the heroes and heroines of his fiction (as in Oliver Twist) but also to make his reader appreciate how vulnerable and easily bruised a child is, and how unlike an adult's is the child's-view of the world...He was to become a mirror of his changing age -- the third reason we consider him a great writer. No novelist has been more sensitive to his own times than Dickens...Our fourth point. It was not simply the fact that Dickens's fiction [begin italics] reflected [end italics]. He was the first novelist to appreciate that fiction could [begin italics] change [end italics] the world...Lastly, and most importantly, one of the things that gives Dickens's novels their everlasting appeal is his honest belief in the essential goodness of people. Us, that is."

As indicated earlier, given Sutherland's stated purposes, the scope of his coverage is far greater than the depth of commentary. In my opinion, the primary purpose of the material is to provide what can be viewed as a "map" that help each reader to determine the nature and extent of her or his subsequent exploration. If book are magic carpets, and I believe they are, we still need magicians to identify possible destinations. Thank you so much, John Sutherland!

* * *

John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College, London. He has taught students at every level and is the author and editor of more than twenty books. His most recent book, the popular Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives, was also published by Yale University Press in the US, and has earned widespread acclaim. I urge you to check out his Amazon page.

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