Leadership, media, Pausing, politics, Reflection

Different perspectives

Have a look at the cube above. Now look again and see if you can see it from a different perspective.  Most people can – but not see both views at the same time.  It’s lucky we can still do this with the cube because as political animals Americans seem to have lost it.

It gets worse.  Presidents and newscast hosts get involved in slanging matches and start competing for the “Bully of the Year” award.  People become very self-righteous for different reasons and with different reactions.  Some of us have high expectations of appropriateness and when we don’t see it, we become outraged.  Others follow the Twitterverse for its entertainment value.  Values are clearly in play.  Some feel discouraged, others feel helpless.  It’s one thing to deal with a surly adolescent or screaming child at home.  It’s another when you’re dealing with a leader of the free world.

As Tom Friedman observed recently in a New York Times article, “I fear we’re seeing the end of ‘truth’ — that we simply can’t agree any more on basic facts. And I fear that we’re becoming Sunnis and Shiites — we call them ‘Democrats’ and ‘Republicans,’ but the sectarianism that has destroyed nation-states in the Middle East is now infecting us.”

It’s more than disagreeing on facts. We seem to have graduated to disagreeing on values. How can people who have so much common history seem to be living on different planets?  The clue may lie in how we determine values as much as we do facts.  While even expertise is distrusted these days, a bit of expertise might now come in handy.  I turn to Jonathan Haidt and his book, The Righteous Mind.

Haidt’s premise – that we are intuitive first and rational second – has much in common with Nobel prize winning economist Daniel Kahneman’s in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow.  Haigt as a social psychologist framed this concept in an earlier book, The Happiness Hypothesis, using the analogy of the mind as a rider on an emotional and instinctive elephant.  He sees moral judgment based more on more on intuition than on conscious reasoning; it is automatic.  If we want to change other peoples’ minds, he says, we talk to their elephants.  It is through relationships with others not our arguments that different points of view have a chance of making an impact.  There is more than one way of looking at things and if you return to the original image and looks at it long enough, you can see it in two different ways.

After in-depth  research on moral thinking, Haidt has identified these moral foundations arising out of different cultures and historical traditions but now almost universal in presence – if not in emphasis:

  • Care: Ability to “feel the pain” of others, to show a nurturing kindness. The opposite is harm
  • Fairness: it can be interpreted in more than one way- equal treatment for all or proportionality.  The opposite is cheating.
  • Loyalty: our ability to form groups and put the needs of the group first. The opposite is betrayal.
  • Authority; respect for leadership and traditions. Its opposite is subversion.
  • Sanctity; respect for the physical body and the need to keep it pure and clean. Its opposite is degradation.
  • Liberty; individual freedom and hatred of bullying and domination  Its opposite is oppression.

It gets interesting when you start to apply these foundations to politics. Haidt notes that Democrats and Libertarians are strong on the first two and Libertarians especially on the last one – while Republicans value all six – giving politicians more road maps in how to appeal to voters. The “facts” may matter a good deal less to the elephant than the emotional response they arouse and we see lots of that going on right now.

I’ve also been reminded of another book whose title seems prescient – Edwin Friedman’s A Failure of Nerve, published after his death.  A rabbi and psychotherapist, Friedman served as an advisor to six US presidents and it would be interesting to think what he would have to say to the current one.  Long before the current turmoil, be saw America as overcome by anxiety.  Both presidents and parents need to understand different roles as leaders.  I have zero confidence that the current leader would take Friedmans’ advice, but it might have some usefulness for the rest of us.  There’s room for more than one leader among us.

The leader’s role, Friedman says, is to be a non-anxious presence – to maintain one’s own integrity when facing sabotage – which any rise to power will automatically bring.  The real job is to maintain a sense of self while at the same time remaining connected to the opposition.  The very time one is under attack is the time not to react by hitting back in the same way.

Any emotional relationship involves a triangle. It can be three people – any parent has seen how the game plays out among mom, dad and teenager – or any two people or groups with an issue in which they disagree.  In an earlier work, Generation to Generation, Friedman explores how earlier generations become part of our triangles even after their deaths. Friedman notes that we are all part of multiple triangles simultaneously involving our jobs, our parents, our significant others, our finances, our health – and even our vacation preferences.  Three levels of government present another set.

Any triangle is a recipe for high anxiety – so the ones we are dealing with right now a perfect storm. In human terms, trying to change the relationship of the other sides of the triangle hardly ever works.  All of us, I suspect are trying to be more responsible than the other players. That doesn’t bring a solution – what it does bring is stress.  Anxiety is contagious and we are in the midst of an anxiety epidemic.

What to do?  Friedman would say –

  • Self-differentiate. The only person’s behaviour we can change is our own.
  • Maintain a sense of humor and be playful. If this were a play or a novel, the modern scene would win prizes for farce of a very high order.  The fact that it is happening isn’t so great – but life is long and things change.
  • Focus on personal strengths and do what one can to enhance them. Let other people work on theirs.
  • Stay in touch with what’s going on. There is a tendency to want to hide under a rock, but we can’t.
  • Be honest. Speak your piece but don’t fall into reciprocal slurring.
  • Question beliefs. Haidt notes that there is a difference between “What can I believe?” and “What must I believe?”
  • Live in the real world – not just the digital one – liars and cheaters are easier to spot there.

I like a quote from a recent memoir Safe Passage, by Ida Cook.  She and her sister helped many Jewish families escape the ravages of the second world war before it started.  She notes that when the war began, her 70-year-old father told the family that he was going to enroll as a stretcher bearer.  His wife replied that he was more likely to be on it than carrying it.  One of the sisters was worried about her father’s silence and projected that his feelings were hurt.  She said, “We think it is fine for you to want to be a stretcher bearer, Dad, even if mother thinks it is impractical”.  His reply would have gladdened Ed Friedman’s heart. He said, “I don’t care in the least what any of you think so long as I do what I think is right”.

We can stop being outraged.  We can stop being entertained.  We can stop expecting others to change.  We can stop being tired of foolishness.  We can start working on our own integrity and acting on it. We can also recognize that there is more than one perspective on the right thing –  giving some the right to emphasize some more than others and follow our own.

 

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Creating, effectiveness, media, reading, Reflection, writing

LENGTHS TO GO TO

I’m probably violating the rules above, but this is worth thinking about when you are writing.  Hats off to Kevan Lee for providing it.

 

 

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effectiveness, Leadership, media, politics, Reflection, reporting, workplace

RULES FOR REPORTERS

news

When you are a reporter for the New York Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, the BBC and The Huffington Post and find yourself excluded from a White House Press conference this past Friday, you need help with bullying when it happens again.  So I looked online to find some advice:

 Act with Awareness, Calm, Respect, and Confidence

Projecting a positive, assertive attitude means holding your head high, keeping your back straight, walking briskly, looking around, and having a peaceful face and body. Staying aware also helps you to notice so that you can deal with it sooner rather than later.

Leave in a positive powerful way

 Leave in an assertive way, saying something neutral in a normal tone of voice like “See you later!” or “Have a nice day!”

Set Boundaries About Disrespectful or Unsafe Behavior

Your values are to have a welcoming and safe environment for everyone – and that being cruel or hurtful is wrong whether it happens in person, via social media, by texting, online or in any other way.

Use Your Voice

Leave and go to an adult to report what happened and get help as soon as possible.

Protect Your Feelings from Name-Calling and Hurtful Behavior

The reality is that, no matter how committed we are to safety and respect, not all places have the same commitment – and even when they do, people will still make mistakes. . . . saying, writing, emailing, or texting in ways that are hurtful to anyone makes problems bigger, not better.

Speak Up for Positive Inclusion

Being left out for reasons that have nothing to do with behavior is a major form of bullying

Be Persistent in Getting Help From Busy Adults

Learning how to have polite firm words, body language and tone of voice even under pressure and to not give up when asking for help is a life-long skill.

Use Physical Self-Defense as a Last Resort

Help for the kid in us all:  Excerpted verbatim  from https://www.kidpower.org

 

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media, Pausing, Reflection, reporting

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?

social-media-icons-the-circle-set

How do we cope with a Tweeting leader?  Should tweeting be subject to censorship when it spreads lies or hatred  by anybody – no matter who?  Are social platforms really publishers even though they think they are not?  What power does an ordinary citizen have? If I protest, do I deserve a backlash from people who voted for the leader – even though they think they had a numerical majority when most reliable sources say they didn’t –  but they believe the lie because a certain leader tells them so.  Now when the press is called the opposition party, I really wish Marshall McLuhan were around to help us straighten out the time worn phrase that the media is the message.

Social media have been professing themselves as merely the conduit of free speech for quite a while.  Perhaps it feels different lately.  Faith in letting people say anything they like seems to be wavering among tech leaders – especially when it affects their own employees as it did last weekend.  We all need to pay attention, reframe and rethink responsibility in a digital age.

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Creativity, effectiveness, media, Reflection

CREATIVE DISSENT

golden-book

Much of what I have seen in response to the leader of our neighbor to the south has the same angry and dark tone that he himself uses.  What humor does is to use the same tactic  by simply shifting the context. Ms. Conway’s phrase  “Alternative Facts” deserves  exactly this kind of reply.  What she is trying to do is to erode the meaning of the word, fact  – which is extremely dangerous.  It is illustrated by the reaction of many of the leader’s supporters, who simply respond – I don’t care.  But if we stop caring, who are we?

One simply hopes that someone who accepts alternative facts can see the reality pictured here rather than putting all their aspirational eggs in one questionable basket.

Another more lighthearted response comes from a Dutch talk show.

The beauty of both these approaches – rather than angry rants – is that they’re fun and help us get on with our lives and doing whatever good we can in our small corners – and whatever the leader next door thinks of them – he’ll be less able to end his Tweet with “sad”.

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Creating, effectiveness, Leadership, media, purpose, Reflection, reporting

DISCONNECT

download2

Spam spam spam spam, spam spam spam spam, Lovely spam, wonderful spam   – Trump, Trump Trump Trump . . . . . . . .

Where are rhe Pythons when we need them?

My morning paper, The Globe and Mail, created the world of the day in its Saturday edition. Today’s editorial suggests we “Keep calm and carry on”.  So how does its content this morning help us do that?  I decided that it would be fun to put some headlines into a word cloud generator.  The result is what you see above and the answer is “Not so much”

I restricted my Word Cloud to two sections of the newspaper –  “News” and the one called “Focus”, which includes commentary and the weekly editorial. I didn’t have the energy to cut and paste the copy of the articles under these headlines or we would see the word Trump push every other word out of the cloud.

Yes, I know that an inauguration is news through I didn’t see it on TV.  I don’t generally watch the swearing in of Canadian poliiticians on TV either though I did attend a real-life one the fall and it was moving and made me glad to be a Canadian.

But if the fourth estate wants us to keep calm and carry on here in Canada, is it effective to be as obsessed with one person as it seems to be?  I don’t need Canadians to be happy about an inauguration.  But I don’t need reporters and columnists to encourage me to be as angry or afraid as they are either.  I also don’t need them to share their disillusionment or wishful thinking that a new head of government in the country next door would suddenly become presidential.

I did feel as though I were being spammed this morning.  Reality TV has created this person and the press seem taken in by it more than anyone else.  The values that this genre inspires are mixed. I hardly ever watch it though it is a favorite of my young grandsons – unlike their father who used to like shows like Barney Miller or Get Smart at the same age.  Sometimes the Reality TV participants in their endless competitions show courage and ingenuity but more often display winner-take-all and to hell with anybody else.  If we are expected to keep calm and carry on, we need a press that focuses more on facts and less on the personal fears, obsessions and anxieties of its writers.

 

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Creating, effectiveness, Learning, media, presenting, Reflection

Death by PowerPoint -Yet Again!

Template

I’m approaching a coming all-day orientation session with a sense of foreboding.  I’ve seen the agenda which is reasonably appropriate.  But what is appended is a presentation document. You can guess – it’s death by PowerPoint again -in spite of the fact that it is 2016.  So for the benefit of all participants – those who design presentations and those who have to sit through them, I am sharing a generic template for your mutual use. It needs to be inserted on page 2 just after the title page.

If a handout were simply a take-away of the main facts, it might be vaguely useful – if rather boring.  But I fear that forty or more of us have been invited to a “read-along”.   The organization concerned had a recent review and the conclusion was that its operation was dysfunctional, that participants were passive and unengaged, that they were inundated with background materials that were excessive and sometimes unreadable and that the real role of the body was to rubber stamp decisions.  This year was to be a new start with real effort to effect change.  It doesn’t look as though it’s going to happen any time soon.

One of the challenges of institutions of any kind – and this one has a long and venerable history – is that they live in a bubble.  The idea of using slides isn’t new.  My children used to love visits to their grandparents in the seventies, when a grandfather showed them pictures of themselves on a big screen.  Some of us will even remember carousel projectors.  The idea of linking laptops and screens changed everything and the Mighty Microsoft is credited with inventing presentation software – though it didn’t. Forethought Inc. originally even called the original program Presenter. But PowerPoint made it easy and first came out in 1990 as part of Windows 3.0.  All one had to do was to fill in the headings and the bullet points.

I travelled to Durban South Africa in 1999 to make a presentation to the conference of the International Hotel and Restaurant Association.  Why a sole practitioner from Toronto would be invited to do so is another story –  I was nervous about the right media interface and different plugs so I brought along clear transparency sheets – and felt more than vindicated when the jazzy PowerPoint opening presentation crashed before an audience of more than a thousand.  But soon like everybody else, I was using PowerPoint. Something from the beginning told me that templates were all wrong for presentations though everybody was using them. A son suggested that I read Presentation Zen and its author, Garr Reynolds, agreed that templates were not a good thing.  That led me later to Nancy Duarte’s book, Resonate.  If anybody out there is using PowerPoint for anything at all, please, please acquire these books and take them to heart.

The heart of the matter is this. If you want to engage and inspire people, text on a big screen doesn’t work the way you think it does.  Duarte makes this clear when she distinguishes between reports, presentations and stories.  Reports summarize facts.  Stories provide drama.  Presentations fall in the middle and need to move back and forth between the two. The template has to be more like a film and less like a document. We don’t curl up in the evening in front of the big screen to watch a page of text.

The orientation summary sent out in advance of the coming meeting in is a report.  I’m going to take my Ipad and Iphone along.  Both contain a wealth of good stories to pass the time when I need to. Don’t get me wrong.  PowerPoint is handy for a presentation if you start from a blank screen and use high quality images and as few words as possible.  I have modelled my own designs on those of an excellent presenter that I first saw nearly 20 years ago when she showed colorful images, cartoons, and word art with a different voice-over of her own at breakneck speed.  What she did in that presentation activated our feelings and we were inspired.  Presentations require artistry.  My own presentations are laughably modest compared to what real artists can do.  But at very least we need to recognize, as Nancy Duarte observes that presenters are not mentors.  The role of heroes presentations rightly belongs to the audience.

Let’s back up a bit.  It used to be that a presentation was a social event.  You would have to go out to attend one and you joined with other people in the room. You would only get to experience it once.  You couldn’t take any of its content home unless you made your own notes. It was something that delighted you, inspired you, annoyed you, puzzled you, confronted you.   The coming presentation for the weekend has been sent out in advance as a product, a digital commodity, something that can be read, saved – or more than likely trashed.  The bright side might be that all of this is being given away for free – and I don’t even have to attend.  The dark side is that the presenters have diminished the coming session as a chance to interact, to envision, to inspire and to make us change.

 

 

 

 

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