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Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character
Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character
by Kay Redfield Jamison
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 34.01
41 used & new from CDN$ 25.83

5.0 out of 5 stars “Darkness honestly lived through is a place of wonder and life. So much has come from there.” Robert Lowell, April 5 2017
Patricia Bosworth’s review in The New York Times attracted my attention to Kay Redfield Jamison’s examination of Robert Lowell’s life and work. Bosworth observes, “On September 12, 1977, Robert Lowell, the most distinguished American poetry, died quietly and very suddenly in the back seat of a Manhattan yellow cab. He was 60 years old.

“A towering figure in the world of letters – a two-time Pulitzer winner and the successor to Ezra Pound – Lowell carved a niche with reams of innovative poetry he churned out in bold, often experimental styles. His subjects were wide-ranging and epic: the Greek myths, the American Revolution. Fire is a recurring motif, along with themes like good and evil.” The term “fire” has almost unlimited applications as both simile and metaphor. For example, it could be viewed both as a power to create and as a power to punish.

Perhaps Lowell had this in mind in “Reading Myself”:

“Like thousands, I took just pride and more than just,
struck matches that brought my blood to a boil;
I memorized the tricks to set the river on fire –
Somehow never wrote something to go back to.”

Recall Lowell’s comments that I selected for the title of this brief commentary: “Darkness honestly lived through is a place of wonder and life. So much has come from there.” In Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot expresses a complementary perspective:

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

That may also be what Jamison has in mind when suggesting that “fire is a recurring motif, along with themes like good and evil” in Lowell’s body of work. (The term “body” also seems to have almost unlimited applications but I’ll save that discussion for another day.) As noted, this is a “psychological account of the life and mind of Robert Lowell; it is as well a narrative of the illness that so affected him, manic depressive illness...My interest lies in the entanglement of art, character, mood, and intellect.” Jamison notes that mania and depression are known to be “ancient diseases, described by Hippocrates five hundred years before Christ and intensively studies by physicians and scientists in the centuries since.”

In his review for The Washington Post, Michael Dirda suggests that Jamison puts Robert Lowell on the couch in an exhilarating biography.” In fact, she suggests, “This book is not a biography. I have written a psychological account of the life and mind of Robert Lowell; it is as well a narrative of the illness that so affected him, manic-depressive illness. This disease of the brain bears down on all things that make us human: our moods, the way we see and experience the world, the way we think, our changing capacities of energy and will and imagination, our desires, the gift to create, our determination to live or die, our expectation of the future, our sanity.”

It should be noted that in addition to being a brilliant thinker and eloquent writer as well as a rigorous explorer of historical material, Jamison is also the Dalio Family Professor in Mood Disorders and a professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

I do agree with Dirda about other issues: “There are no half measures to Kay Redfield Jamison’s medico-biographical study of poet Robert Lowell. It is impassioned, intellectually thrilling and often beautifully written, despite being repetitive and overlong: A little too much would seem to be just enough for Jamison. Nonetheless, “Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire” achieves a magnificence and intensity — dare one say a manic brilliance? — that sets it apart from more temperate and orderly biographies. Above all, the book demands that readers seriously engage with its arguments, while also prodding them to reexamine their own beliefs about art, madness and moral responsibility. Reading this analysis of “genius, mania, and character” is an exhilarating experience.

Dan Chiasson shares his thoughts about the book in a review in The New Yorker, suggesting that it is the first to bring clinical expertise to the poet’s case.” What does it reveal about his work? From his thirties on, Lowell suffered the relentless cycles of bipolar disorder. “It is hard not to be charmed by Lowell’s hyperventilating report on his agates and turtles and toy soldiers [in a heartfelt letter to Ezra Pound when Lowell was nineteen], but the word ‘mania’ suggests that he suspected the darker fortunes to come. From his thirties on, Lowell suffered the relentless cycles of bipolar disorder, the ‘irritable enthusiasm' that lurched him upward before landing him in despair. Its early stirrings are apparent in his letter to Pound: the sentences racing to match in number and variety the collections they describe, the grandiose gestures of self-deprecation, the hyperbolized confession of trifling sins. This is a nineteen-year-old boy writing to Ezra Pound about his worship of Zeus. ‘Mania' means here what it often means colloquially—the head’s name for the heart’s excesses—but it is striking nonetheless: already, Lowell saw writing both as a way to understand his compulsions and as a compulsion in its own right, a roundabout leading out of trouble and immediately back in.

Chaisson adds, "Jamison’s book isn’t a biography. It is a case study of what a person with an extraordinary will, an unwavering sense of vocation, and a huge talent—as well as privilege and devoted friends—could and could not do about the fact that the defining feature of his gift was also the source of his suffering. Lowell’s ‘thinking,’ naturally metaphorical even in its resting state, was catalyzed into poetry by extraordinary emotional responses to the abstract relations among symbols. When he was sick, Jamison suggests, the symbols changed places with reality. The implied ‘like’ and ‘as,' which tie metaphor to the real world they transform, fell out of his mind. According to his friend Jonathan Raban, Lowell was ‘the most continuously metaphoric' person he’d ever met. In health, reporting on his periods of madness, he could be harrowing. As he put it in ‘Skunk Hour,’ paraphrasing John Milton, 'I myself am hell.'” But when he was manic, Raban notes, ‘the metaphors took over' and the hell was real.”

I commend Jamison on her brilliant achievement. The abundance of information and insights she provides will help her reader to understand – and appreciate – Robert Lowell’s achievements in his life as well as in his work despite the manic-depressive (bipolar) illness that bore down on him. The impact on him and on others also afflicted is most evident in “all things that make us human: our moods, the way we see and experience the world, the way we think, our changing capacities of energy and will and imagination, our expectation of the future, our sanity.” Those who read only a few of his poems – notably in Land of Unlikeness, Lord Weary’s Castle, and especially Life Studies —may well ignite the energy needed accelerate and intensify their own personal growth and professional development.

In October of 1957, Lowell said that he was writing poetry “like a house a fire.” There is much in the material that Kay Redfield Jamison provides that suggests the same phrase also describes Lowell’s genius, mania, and character, for better or worse.


HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict (HBR Guide Series)
HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict (HBR Guide Series)
by Amy Gallo
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.95
43 used & new from CDN$ 10.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant discussion of the common sources of conflict, how people approach it differently, and how to resolve it, April 3 2017
Most of the volumes in the “HBR Guide to...” and “HBR 10 Must Reads” series consist of about ten separate HBR articles. This volume is an exception. Amy Gallo and 37 “guest experts” she cites explain how to prevent disagreements from becoming nasty arguments at work and elsewhere. In the Preface, Harvard Business School professor Anita Hill suggests that “conflict at work is going to happen, no matter what you do [or don’t do]. And it should. It can be good for you, your team, and your organization. But how you deal with it can make the difference between a negative interaction and a productive one...Without ‘creative abrasion ‘ you won’t have a robust marketplace of ideas. The most effective people are those who can disagree constructively, not destructively, and keep difficult conversations substantive, not personal.”

How to cope with conflict at work and elsewhere? Here are some of Gallo's practical suggestions:

“First, you need to know the various sources of conflict…There are four main types: relationship (a personal disagreement), task(disagreement over what the goal is), process (disagreement over the means or process of achieving the goal), and status (disagreement over your standing in the group).”

“The second piece of information is to understand your options.” In general, there are four from which to choose when confronting the conflict: do nothing (more common than you may think), address the conflict indirectly, address the conflict directly (the focus of this book), and finally, your last resort, is to exit the relationship.

“The third and final aspect to having a more productive conflict is to know what people’s natural tendencies are when it comes to conflict.” Avoiders tend to shy away or even hide from disagreements; Seekers are more eager to engage in conflict when it arises (or even find ways to create it).

Gallo thoroughly explains how to make these assessments in the first three chapters.

Of special interest to me is the material that focuses on passive aggression. How to cope with it at work and elsewhere?

“It is not uncommon for colleagues to make a passive-aggressive remark once in a while over a particularly sensitive issue or when they’re not sure how to directly address an issue. But persistent passive-aggressive behavior that manifests itself in a variety of situations is a different ball game. These individuals can be self-centered at best and narcissistic at worst, says Annie McKee. ’These are people who will do almost anything to get what they need including lie.’ But it may nit be all her fault, either. In many organizations, direct, overt disagreement is now allowed, so ’some people have been trained to be passive-aggressive by their cultures,’ she explains.

“Passive-aggressive people are not necessarily more engaged in conflict than most, but they’re doing it in a way that’s tough to deal with. It’s not as clean as the indirect approach described in chapter 2, ‘Your Options for Handling Conflict,’ because they are not being honest about their intentions. ‘Fighting with these people is like shadowboxing,’ says McKee. It’s best to do nothing and work around them or to distance yourself (exit), if possible.” Gallo then offers additional suggestions about other especially difficult conflicts (Pages 127-130).

These are her concluding thoughts:

“Knowing how to manage conflict at work won’t make it go away, but it will make dealing with any disagreements easier and less stressful. Whether you’re experiencing with your direct report or your boss — or someone outside your business — you now have the tools to assess the situation and choose an approach that works for you. As these scenarios [in the final chapter] show, directly addressing the conflict is just one alternative. You also need to know when to walk away or get out of the relationship altogether. But if you choose to sit down with your counterpart, you’re now better equipped to prepare for and engage in a difficult conversation, manage your and your counterpart’s emotions, and develop a resolution together.”

I presume to add another point: only in the healthiest relationships and, indeed, only in the healthiest organizations, are principled dissent and constructive disagreement (creative abrasion) most likely to thrive.


The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads
The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads
by Tim Wu
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.20
34 used & new from CDN$ 23.92

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How and why “attention makers” have converted our attention into revenue “and radically shape how our lives are lived”, April 2 2017
Note: Amazon has a new policy that ensures preferential placement only of reviews of books purchased from Amazon. Therefore, there will be little (if any) opportunity to read reviews by those who receive a copy as a gift, borrow one from a friend or check one out from a library. That is a very unfair, indeed dumb policy.

* * *

As Tim Wu explains in the Introduction, “As an industry, attention merchants are relatively new. Their lineage can be traced to the nineteenth century when in New York City the first newspapers fully dependent on advertising were created; and Paris, where a dazzling new kind of commercial art [e.g. posters created by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec] first seized the eyes of the person in the street. But the full potential of the business model by which attention is converted into revenue would not be fully understood until the early twentieth century, when the power of mass attention was discovered by any commercial entity but by British war propagandists.”

In their business classic, The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Business (2001), Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck examine a subject of special interest to me: ADD in the business world. Almost everyone continues to experience information overload. Some who have studied this phenomenon invoke metaphors such as “blizzards” of “tsunamis” of data. Meanwhile, information providers struggle to get through them to reach those who are most important to them. How to attract their attention? Then, how to capture that attention with what has been described by the Brothers Heath as “stickiness”?

After conducting an extensive research project, Davenport and Beck concluded that attention is "the new currency of business." Perhaps Michael Wolf agrees, having published a brilliant book in 1999 about “the entertainment economy"; perhaps Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore also agree, having published a book (also in 1999) about "the experience economy."

At least since the marketplaces in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the basic purpose of marketing is to create or increase demand for whatever the given offering may be. Those unable to go to those markets were alerted by “drummers” – literally people, usually children, sent ahead to beat on drums -- to a merchant’s imminent arrival. All commerce begins with a need to be filled, often a problem to be solved. Who can do that?

Wu explains how merchants have responded to that question throughout the centuries, generating interest by attracting attention. As communication and then social media developed, buyers and sellers have found it much easier to connect. Meanwhile, throughout the twentieth century especially, separate but related disciplines such as demographics, market research and most recently analytics have concurrently developed.

During the 17 years since The Attention Economy was published, the global marketplace has become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember. One result is that attention has become even more valuable and remains “the currency of business.”

These are among the subjects discussed by Wu that are of greatest interest to me:

o How attention merchants conducted business pre-radio
o Then, with radio and television
o Competition for attention online
o The power of social media, for better and worse
o The rules of zoning
o The regulation of commercial activity
o The nature and extent that our so-called “private lives” and become public
o Why goals to reclaim our time and attention continue to be so difficult to achieve
o The extent to which attention merchants have [begin italics] improved [end italics] our quality of life
o The extent to which [begin italics] potential [end italics] threats posed by attention merchants

These are among Tim Wu’s concluding observations: “At bottom, whether we acknowledge it or not, the attention merchants have come to play an important part in setting the course of our lives and consequently the future of the human race, insofar as that future will be nothing more than the running total of our individual mental states...If we desire a future that avoids the enslavement of the propaganda state as well as the narcosis of the consumer and celebrity culture, we must first acknowledge the preciousness of out attention and resolve not to part with it as cheaply or unthinkingly as we have so often have. And then we must act, individually and collectively, to make our attention our own again, and so reclaim ownership of the very experience of living.”

Indeed, I presume to add, reclaim our humanity.


The Social Life of Information: Updated, with a New Preface
The Social Life of Information: Updated, with a New Preface
Price: CDN$ 31.67

5.0 out of 5 stars How and why “the ability of information and its technologies [continue] to change the social world for the better”, March 30 2017
This is an updated edition of a book first published in 2000. David Weisberger provides an Introduction to the New Edition. As co-authors John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid observe in their New Preface, “As we have tried to suggest in this brief attempt to set this book in a contemporary con text, one thing that remains underanalyzed in the world of technological change is the ‘social’ that we have tried to investigate. We have sought to indicate that it is more than an outgrowth of or reducible to individualism. While there is a great deal of talk of the social, what people are talking about often remains unclear.”

One of their objectives in this new edition to provide greater clarity of issues that have emerged in recent years. Social groups now play a much more important role in the context of information itself. Brown and Duguid “certainly do not pretend that this fifteen-year old book pretend that their updated edition “will in any way provide that understanding, but we hope it might still signal the need to develop it.” There is indeed work yet to be done.

With uncommon precision as well as eloquence, they urge their reader to consider quite carefully what information is, how it can be exchanged, and why the nature and extent of that exchange are among the defining characteristics of any society. They observe, "Technology design often takes aim at the surface of life. There it undoubtedly scores lots of worthwhile hits. But such successes can make designers blind to the difficulty of more serious challenges--primarily the resourcefulness that helps embed certain ways of doing things deep in our lives." This is precisely what James O'Toole has in mind when, in Leading Change, he refers to what he calls "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom."

Almost 50 years ago in Future Shock (1930), Alvin Toffler observes, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” I was reminded of that as I began to read Chapter Eight, “Re-Education.” Brown and Duguid really nail it when commenting on the ability of a group to construct their education collectively — with collaborative learning — rather than with traditional academic approach of command and control. Consider these comments:

“The ability of the group to construct their education constructively recalls the way in which groups form and develop around documents [and shared, real-world experiences]. Together, members construct and negotiate a shared meaning, bringing the group along collectively rather than individually. In the process, they become what the literary critic Stanley Fish calls a ‘community of interpretation’ working toward a shared understanding of the matter under discussion.”

Frankly, I cannot recall a prior time when the global community was more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than it is today. That said, I agree with John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid that “one thing that does endure, despite various setbacks, is a remarkable optimism about the ability of information and its related technologies to change the social world for the better.” Change remains the only constant and our ability to understand its nature and extent is imperative. They do not pretend that their updated edition “will in any way provide that understanding, but we hope it might still signal the need to develop it.”

In this context, I am again reminded of an incident that occurred decades ago when one of Albert Einstein’s faculty colleagues at Princeton gently chided him because he always asked the same questions on his final examinations. “Quite true. Guilty as charged. Each year the answers are different.”


Fortune Makers: The Leaders Creating China's Great Global Companies
Fortune Makers: The Leaders Creating China's Great Global Companies
by Michael Useem
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 29.42
38 used & new from CDN$ 10.02

5.0 out of 5 stars How China has used capitalism to pull 600 million people out of poverty and will soon become the largest economy in the world, March 14 2017
Michael Useem, Harbir Singh, Neng Liang, and Peter Cappelli have made an immense contribution to a long-overdue understanding and appreciation they refer to of what they characterize as “the most remarkable development of the modern era.” More specifically, those who created China’s great companies “have used capitalism to pull 600 million people out of poverty and [China] is on track to soon be the largest economy in the world. It is an astonishing turn of events.”

They go on to point out, “The growth and ascendance of Chinese companies are products of the strategies and leadership of those who created, built, and now manage those enterprises. The invisible hand of the market conditioned their goals and decisions, but their actions have constituted a strong visible hand. We want to understand that visible hand, how they direct it, what they want from it, and where it is taking their enterprises.”

What is “The China Way”?

Useem, Singh, Neng Liang, and Cappelli focus on companies that include Alibaba Group, Geely, Haier, Huawei, Lenovo Group, Vanke Group, and Xiaomi. They examine seven distinguishing features among the leaders who have created China’s great global companies:

1. Their Own Way Forward: Without precedents. “by finding and fashioning their own way. the founders put their own unique imprints on their enterprises.”

2. The Learning Company: “Chinese executives have carried their own learning experience into the firm. They have insisted that their company be a learning organization with greater zeal than is common in the West.”

3. Strategic Agility for the Long Game: They focus on “finding new opportunities and going after them – driven by scrappy personalities and lean architectures.

4. Talent Management: “Business leaders in China have learned to grow big fast by drawing on a paternalistic leadership style and building a clan-like corporate culture.”

5. The Big Boss: “Privately owned firms are exceptionally focused on the individual at the top. While the Big Boss model has faded in the West, not so in China.” Seth Grodin uses “tribe” as a metaphor; Chinese leaders embrace it as a workplace structure and culture.

6. Growth as Gospel: ‘They place a greater premium on growth, believing that profitability is an end product of growing a business rather than the primary goal.”

7. Governance as Partnership: “When we put the above components together -- lean, low-cost operating structures, highly centralized decision making with continuous learning, and a workforce that follows the boss – we get the essence of the competitiveness of Chinese business.”

As the co-authors suggest, Western business leaders need to look hard at hundreds of large private companies in China “that are increasingly coming to define not only their own way of doing business but also better ways of leading business worldwide.”

I am deeply grateful to Michael Useem, Harbir Singh, Neng Liang, and Peter Cappelli for providing an abundance of information and insights, that increased substantially my understanding and appreciation of how leaders in hundreds of private companies have “have used capitalism to pull 600 million people out of poverty and [China] is on track to soon be the largest economy in the world. It is an astonishing turn of events.”

It is indeed astonishing, especially given the fact that the Communist Party remains firmly in control – even more so now, under President Xi Jinping, than before.

Fortune Makers is a brilliant achievement. Bravo!


Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity
by Kim Scott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 31.03
24 used & new from CDN$ 23.64

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How strategic candor can help to “defy the quintessential pull of organizational mediocrity”, March 14 2017
For the title of my review, I selected a phrase that Richard Tedlow expressed to Kim Scott with reference to Apple’s leadership development program. Steve Jobs’s commitment to anyone and anything “insanely great” is by now well known. I agree with Scott about the importance of establishing and then nourishing what she characterizes as “Radically Candid relationships” within a workplace environment. If mutual respect and mutual trust are the “glue” of relationships, then candor certainly serves as their preservative.

In this book, Scott focuses on two “dimensions”:

“The first dimension is about more than ‘just professional.’ It’s about giving a damn, sharing more than just your work self, and encouraging everyone who reports to you to do the same. It’s not enough to care only about people’s ability to perform a job. To have a good relationship, you have to be your whole self and care about each of the people who work for you as a human being. It’s not just business; it is personal, and [begin] deeply [end] personal. I call this dimension ‘Care Personally.’”

“The second dimension involves telling people when their work isn’t good enough — and when it is; when they are not going to get that new role they wanted, or when you’re going to hire a new boss ‘over’ them; when the results don’t justify further investment in what they’re working on. Delivering hard feedback, making hard calls about who does what on a team, and holding a high bar for results — isn’t that obviously the job of any manager? And yet challenging people is often the best way to show them you care when you’re the boss. This dimension I call ‘Challenge Directly.’”

I wholly agree with Scott about the need to understand the “perilous border” between Obnoxious Aggression and Radical Candor. “Radically Candid criticism is an important part of the culture at both Google and Apple, but it takes very different forms at the two companies. Google emphasizes caring personally more than challenging directly, so I’d describe criticism there as Radical Candid with a twist of Ruinous Empathy. Apple does the opposite, so I’d describe its culture of criticism as Radical Candor with a twist of Obnoxious Aggression.”

Asking the right questions effectively is among the most important, yet least appreciated core competencies, especially with regard to supervisors. It is also noteworthy that according to the results of major research studies of face-to-face interactions, body language and tone of voice determine 80-85% of the impact; what is actually said is only about 15-20%.

These are among the questions Scott recommends to supervisors when seeking feedback from an underperforming direct report:

o “I know you are determined to produce the results we need. What can I do to make that easier for you?
o What do you need that you don’t have now?”
o “Have there been any unexpected problems?”
o Any pleasant surprises?”
o “To what extent do you feel limited by someone or something else?”
o “Is there something else you would much rather be doing?”

Jony Ivie once observed, “new ideas are fragile.” The same is true of direct reports when they feel challenged or threatened.

Many supervisors demonstrate a form of “tough love” in their relationships with direct reports by setting ambitious goals and having very high standards when measuring performance. They insist on a best effort, confident their strict supervision indicates how much they care about those entrusted to their care. Other supervisors are enablers, saying or doing whatever is expedient but doing so for the right reasons.

The most effective supervisors have the background, skills, experience, and temperament to know when and how to praise when it has been earned, and, when and how to provide constructive criticism when it is needed. Some of Kim Scott’s most valuable material focuses on the “when” and “how” of each situation.

I agree with her that all supervisors can take a moment to show the people they work with that they care, really care, about what their direct reports care about at a basic human level. “You can warn them if they are making a mistake – not because you hold yourself superior to them, but because you care. You can help others on your team take a step in the direction of their dreams, and even teach them how to help you do the same. You can work together to achieve results that you’re all proud of. And when you do these things, which are absolutely in your power to do so, your Radical Candor will transform your work and your life.”

Throughout our interactions with others -- family members and friends as well as business associates –all of us need to keep in mind this observation by Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


The Net and the Butterfly: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking
The Net and the Butterfly: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking
by Olivia Fox Cabane
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.57
34 used & new from CDN$ 20.65

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How breakthrough thinking can accelerate personal growth and professional development, March 7 2017
Olivia Fox Cabana and Judah Pollack make brilliant use of similes and metaphors as they explain the art and practice of breakthrough thinking. “For many, breakthroughs are like butterflies — beautiful and awe-inspiring, yet erratic and elusive. Some people think they happen through hard work and concentration. The harder you focus on the breakthrough you’re seeking, the more likely you are to get it. Others think they are spontaneous, inexplicable, and unpredictable…In fact, breakthroughs are not accidental, they can be induced, and we are going to show you how.” However, “we will not be giving you a magic formula. Owning a net isn’t sufficient to catch butterflies; you need practice, patience, skill, and a little luck. They provide a framework and a set of tools; they also provide substantial material that can serve as an operations manual. That is to say, they identify the what and then explain the how

For example, here are a few of their thoughts about different types of breakthroughs:

o "Eureka breakthroughs are clear, sudden, fully formed, immediately applicable, and are most likely to arrive when you’re not thinking about a problem. They create great excitement (i.e. 'I’ve got it!” or ‘That’s it!') in the individual experiencing one.”

Example: James Watt realized that the power of a steam engine could be much more efficient and productive if delivered through more than one cylinder. Eventually, steam was used to power vehicles, boats, and railroads as well as factories.

o "Metaphorical breakthroughs usually arrive as metaphors or analogies and require interpretation before they’re complete. They are sometimes embedded in dreams, and occur as the brain connects two seemingly disparate items of ideas.”

Example: Orville and Wilbur Wright studied the flight of birds to gain insights into how to control powered flight. At one point, Wilbur eventually realized that “wing warping” could do that. His breakthrough “set the age of aviation in motion.”

o “Intuitive breakthroughs defy logic and explanation and tend to be more of a beginning. They allow us to make progress down a longer path.”

Example: Test pilot Chuck Yeager was among those who struggled to break the sound barrier. One day, he again lost control of his Bell X-1 at .9 Mach but continued to .96 Mach at which point he regained control and “the plane simply leap across the sound barrier. Cabane and Pollack point out that, "Most of the time, when people experience intuitive breakthroughs they don’t know why their solution will work, they just know that it will.”

o “Paradigm breakthroughs arrive in clear, straightforward fashion, similar to eureka breakthroughs. However, these breakthroughs reveal a grand theory or explanation that is without any immediate application. They bring more awe and wonder than excitement. They are the rarest, but also the most powerful, type of breakthrough.”

Example: Splitting the atom. The word atom had previously and literally meant “unsplittable.” Paradigm breakthroughs have the widest and deepest applications as well as greatest potentialities.

Cabane and Pollack conclude, “No specific type of breakthrough is better or more productive than another. It’s simply a matter of knowing which type is most appropriate to the given question to be answered or problem to be solved.”

The “framework” to which I referred earlier is presented in Chapter 4, “The Butterfly Process.” Briefly, questions serve as the foundation of a seven-step process:

1. What aspects of the given problem could we look at in a new way, or from a different perspective?
2. What facts of that problem could we use in a new way, or for the first time?
3. What parts of that problem could we move, changing its position in time and space?
4. What could we connect that’s not yet connected, or what could we reconnect in a different way, if it’s already connected?
5. What could we change of alter, in terms of design and performance?
6. What could we make that is truly new?
7. What could we imagine that would create a great experience?

Having read and then re-read The Net and the Butterfly, I could not agree more with Cabana and Pollack that, to derive the greatest benefit from the material, “There is no substitute for doing the exercises in the book. Skimming through them with the earnest intention of completing them later is not enough, nor is doing only the exercises that seen easy of interesting. When an exercise asks you to close your eyes and imagine a scene, really close your eyes and imagine. When we ask you to write out a scenario, grab a pen and paper and write. If we ask you to do something, it is for a very good reason, and it will have a real impact on your level of breakthrough thinking.”

In fact, I now offer what is for me a very rare guarantee to those who carefully read The Net and the Butterfly and then conscientiously complete all the exercises: This will be the most exciting book they will ever read, one that will have the greatest impact, in terms of their personal growth and professional development.


The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance
The Leading Brain: Powerful Science-Based Strategies for Achieving Peak Performance
by Friederike Fabritius
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.66
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ” Readers will also cherish their brilliant use of a section that concludes each of the ..., March 7 2017
Although by no means an authority in the multiple dimensions of neuroscience, I am committed to increasing my understanding of what the brain is and does...and especially my understanding of what more it can do if given the chance. For that and other reasons, I am deeply grateful to Friederike Fabritius and Hands Hagemann for the abundance of information, insights, and counsel they provide as they examine “powerful science-based strategies for achieving peak performance.” Readers will also cherish their brilliant use of a section that concludes each of the chapters. This material will help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of “Key Points.”

For example, in Chapter 4, "Manage Habits":

o Our brains prefer the path of least resistance. In order to trailblazer a new neural pathway, the brain must be convinced that all that extra effort is worth it.

o Establishing good habits and getting rid of bad ones involve the same basic skills: goal stetting and motivation, getting started, and staying on track.

o Goals that look good on paper have no guarantee of being achieved. In order to be successful, your goal must be emotionally relevant.

o People who don’t have an emotional stake in the process are unlikely to change. Unless they can anticipate meaningful reward or threat, they might go through the emotions but fail to make the necessary effort that change requires.

o The biggest obstacle to getting started is procrastination. The way to outsmart the brain’s natural aversion to change is to use kaizen, which involves taking very small steps. That enables you to steadily make progress without stetting off your brain’s evolutionary alarm bells.

o If you want to make a change that lasts, good intentions aren’t enough. You need to attach your new routine to a trigger. These trigger/routine combinations are technically referred to as implementation intentions but are better known as “if/thens” or “when/ thens.”

In this context, I agree with Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Also with Samuel Johnson: “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

And then at the conclusion of Chapter 5, “Unleash Your Unconscious”:

o Your unconscious runs the show. Even when you make what seems to be a conscious decision, your unconscious brain does most of the deciding. These are the key points:

o When given limited time and limited information, experts often make better decisions. The tight restrictions force the brain to tap into the power, speed, and calculating capacity of the basal ganglia, where acquired expertise is stored.

o Intuitive decisions made by experts are often superior to rational conclusions arrived at through conscious calculation.

o Unlike their expert colleagues, less experienced leaders typically need more time, require more information, and usually will have to do a lot of the processing, with the help of the slower and less capacious PFC.

o The fact that experts frequently make their best calls unconsciously can make it difficult to explain how they arrived at them. Forcing an expert to supply an after-the-fact justification for an intuitive decision may lead to hesitation and second-guessing that could underline the original action.

o To optimize the conditions for rational processing, find a quiet corner, minimize distractions, and concentrate on the problem, solving it logically step by step.

o If the problem you have is a creative one, your overall mood, your level of focus, and the atmosphere around you can all play a role in triggering a sudden flash of creative insight.

o Research has shown that a sunny disposition can increase the likelihood of an “a ha!” moment. So if you’re confronted with a creative conundrum, try to make sure that you or the problem-solving team are in a good mood.

For years, I have viewed the mind as being what the brain does and strategies as “hammers” that drive tactics, “nails.” What Friederike Fabritius and Hans Hagemann explain so well are the nature and extent of how the humans process information both consciously and unconsciously as well as both rationally and emotionally. Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine could possibly do full justice to the scope and depth of their coverage but I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of them and their work.

* * *

I urge those who share that high regard to check out these sources: Guy Claxton’s Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: How Intelligence Increases When You Think Less; Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow; and Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, co-authored by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. If you really want to put some white caps on your gray matter, check out Gerald Edelman’s Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of the Mind.


Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age
Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age
by Edward D. Hess
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.64
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5.0 out of 5 stars “NewSmart”: Excellence at the very highest levels of cognition and initiative, March 6 2017
What will be the percentage of jobs that technology will replace in the United States during the next two decades? Estimates vary but not that much. There seems to be a consensus: a range of 45-50% between now and 2037. Meanwhile, life expectancies will probably increase 12-15% by then.

Whatever the various percentages prove to be, the most serious implications are obvious. Here are two. First, whatever the nature and extent of the new technologies may be, humans will have to be able to do what machines cannot or out-perform them. Also, humans will have to develop the skills necessary to collaborate effectively with those machines. Edward Hess and Katherine Ludwig focus on what they characterize as “The Smart Machine Age” (SMA) and also on the development of “SMA Skills”: thinking, innovative thinking, creativity, and the kind of high emotional engagement with others that fosters relationship and collaboration.

Yes, humans must be well-prepared to partner with machines but also with other human/machine partnerships. Extensive research conducted by IBM indicates that, for example, Watson or a Global Grandmaster cannot win a chess match against Watson and a Global Grandmaster working as a team. This should come as no surprise.

In this volume, Hess and Ludwig offer several valuable insights as to the nature of great leadership. One of the most important qualities is humility. Why? “Because we know from scientific research that two big inhibitors of quality thinking, learning, and emotionally engaging with others are our [begin italics] ego [end italics] and our [begin italics] fears [end italics]. Studies of high-performance learning organizations confirmed these findings. To mitigate ego and fear and exceed at the highest level of human thinking and emotional engagement requires a new mindset that embraces humility.” That is, “a mindset about oneself that is open-minded, self-accurate, and ’not all about me,’ and that enables one to embrace the world as it ‘is’ in the pursuit of human excellence.”

As Jim Collins explains in Good to Great, Level 5 leaders are those "who lead with a powerful mixture of personal humility plus professional will. Every good-to-great transition in that research began with the emergence of a Level 5 leader who deflected attention from himself, maintained a low profile, and led with inspired standards rather than inspiring personality.” That is, Level 5 leaders have an “extra dimension”: a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It's not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves.”

Those who read this book will be much better-prepared to succeed in the Smart Machine Age by avoiding or overcoming all manner of challenges and barriers to the development of skills needed. I hasten to add that many (if not most) human limits are self-imposed. This is what Henry Ford had in mind when observing, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right” and what Pogo had in mind when announcing, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Based on their own research in a variety of high-performance learning organizations, Edward Hess and Katherine Ludwig explain how to establish and then sustain these fundamental behaviors: Quieting Ego, Managing Self (i.e. one’s thoughts and emotions), Reflective Listening, and Otherness (i.e. emotionally connecting and relating to others) or what Dan Goleman identifies as emotional intelligence.

Think of this book as both a survival kit and an operations manual that can help almost anyone succeed during a unique period when the global workplace has become more volatile, more uncertain, more complex, and more ambiguous than at any prior time that I can remember. Accelerating personal growth as well as professional development will become even more essential in the years to come. Meanwhile, it would be a good idea to keep this assertion in mind, made by Alvin Toffler almost 50 years ago: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”


HBR’s 10 Must Reads for New Managers (with bonus article “How Managers Become Leaders” by Michael D. Watkins) (HBR’s 10 Must Reads)
HBR’s 10 Must Reads for New Managers (with bonus article “How Managers Become Leaders” by Michael D. Watkins) (HBR’s 10 Must Reads)
by Harvard Business Review
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.51
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5.0 out of 5 stars "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.", March 4 2017
This is the latest volume in a series of anthologies of ten articles selected by the editors of <em>Harvard Business Review</em> because they offer practical advice that is both timely and timeless for new (first-time) managers as well as for others who are entrusted with the responsibility to supervise a new group of direct reports. The bonus article, Michael Watkins’ “How Managers Become Leaders,” all by itself is worth far more than the total cost of this volume. Moreover, the total cost of the eleven articles would cost about $70 if purchased individually as reprints.

The material provided will help executives to achieve strategic objectives that include these, each preceded by “How to”:

o Become a boss
o Lead a team you inherit
o Save a first-time manager from themself
o Manage a high-intensity workplace environment
o Harness “the science of persuasion”
o Understand what makes (or breaks) a leader
o Resolve the “authenticity paradox”
o Create and then use networks of mutual support
o Manage time effectively
o Navigate “the seven seismic shifts of perspective and responsibility”

Peter Drucker provides the best business advice that I have as yet encountered. That said, even the right work cannot be managed efficiently if workers are not managed effectively. This is precisely what Lao-tse has in mind in the Tao Te Ching:

"Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know;
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves."

I also highly recommend two other volumes: HBR’s 10 Must Reads 2017: The Definitive Management Ideas of the Year from Harvard Business Review (with a bonus article, Clayton Christensen’s “What Is Disruptive Innovation?”) and Onboarding: How to Get Your New Employees Up to Speed in Half the Time, co-authored by George B. Bradt and Mary Vonnegut.


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