lead

On A Short History Of Nearly Everything

I recently finished reading A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. As best summarized by the author: “This is a book about how it happened – in particular how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also some of what happened in between and since. That’s a great deal to cover, of course, which is why the book is called A Short History of Nearly Everything, even though it isn’t really. It couldn’t be. But with luck by the time we finish it will feel as if it is.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

Just as there is no place where you can find the edge of the universe. so there is no place where you can stand at the center and say: This is where it all began. This is the centermost point of it all.” We are all at the center of it all. Actually, we don’t know that for sure; we can’t prove it mathematically. Scientists just assume that we can’t really be the center of the universe-think what that would imply but that the phenomenon must be the same for all observers in all places. Still, we don’t actually know.

So, by the late eighteenth century scientists knew very precisely the shape and dimensions of the Earth and its distance from the Sun and planets; and now Cavendish, without even leaving home, had given them its weight So you might think that determining the age of the Earth would be relatively straightforward. After all, the necessary materials were literally at their feet But no. Human beings would split the atom and invent television, nylon, and instant coffee before they could figure out the age of their own planet.

Smith’s revelation regarding strata heightened the moral awkwardness concerning extinctions. To begin with, it confirmed that God had wined out creatures not occasionally but repeatedly This made Him seem not so much careless as peculiarly hostile. It also made it inconveniently necessary to explain how some species were wiped out while others continued unimpeded into succeeding eons. Clearly there was more to extinctions than could be accounted for by a single Noachian deluge, as the Biblical flood was known. Cuvier resolved the matter to his own satisfaction by suggesting that Genesis applied only to the most recent inundation. God, it appeared, hadn’t wished to distract or alarm Moses with news of earlier, irrelevant extinctions.

Thanks to the devoted and unwittingly high-risk work of the first atomic scientists, by the early years of the twentieth century it was becoming clear that Earth was unquestionably venerable, though another half century of science would have to be done before anyone could confidently say quite how venerable. Science, meanwhile, was about to get a new age of its own-the atomic one.

Above all, there was the problem that quantum physics introduced a level of untidiness that hadn’t previously existed. Suddenly you needed two sets of laws to explain the behavior of the universe-quantum theory for the world of the very small and relativity for the larger universe beyond. The gravity of relativity theory was brilliant at explaining why planets orbited suns or why galaxies tended to cluster, but turned out to have no influence at all at the particle level. To explain what kept atoms together. other forces were needed, and in the 1930s two were discovered: the strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. The strong force binds atoms together; it’s what allows protons to bed down together in the nucleus. The weak force engages in more miscellaneous tasks, mostly to do with controlling the rates of certain sorts of radioactive decay.

The theory is that empty space isn’t so empty at ail-that there are particles of matter and antimatter popping into existence and popping out again and that these are pushing the universe outward at an accelerating rate. Improbably enough, the one thing that resolves all this is Einstein’s cosmological constant-the little piece of math he dropped into the general theory of relativity to stop the universe’s presumed expansion, and called “the biggest blunder of my life.” It now appears that he may have gotten things right after all.

I have brought you a long way to make a small point: a big part of the reason that Earth seems so miraculously accommodating is that we evolved to suit its conditions. What we marvel at is not that it is suitable to life but that it is suitable to our life-and hardly surprising, really. It may be that many of the things that make it so splendid to us-well-proportioned Sun, doting Moon, sociable carbon, more magma than you can shake a stick at, and all the rest-seem splendid simply because they are what we were born count on. No one can altogether say.

Extinction is always bad news for the victims, of course, but it appears to be a good thing for a dynamic planet The alternative to extinction i; stagnation,” says Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History, “and stagnation is seldom a good thing in any realm.” (I should perhaps note that we are speaking here of extinction as a natural, long-term process. Extinction brought about by human carelessness is another matter altogether.)

So why do we know as little as we do? There are nearly as many reasons as there are animals left to count but here are a few of the principal causes: Most living things are small and easily overlooked. We don’t look in the right places. There aren’t enough specialists. The world is a really big place.

Together, without realizing it Darwin and Mendel laid the groundwork for all of life sciences in the twentieth century. Darwin saw that all living things are connected, that ultimately they “trace their ancestry to a single, common source,” while Mendel’s work provided the mechanism to explain how that could happen. The two men could easily have helped each other. Mendel owned a German edition of the Origin of Species, which he is known to have read, so he must have realized the applicability of his work to Darwin’s, yet he appears to have made no effort to get in touch. And Darwin for his part is known to have studied Focke’s influential paper with its repeated references to Mendel’s work, but didn’t connect them to his own studies.

Climate is the product of so many variables-rising and falling carbon dioxide levels, the shifts of continents, solar activity, the stately wobbles of the Milankovitch cycles-that it is as difficult to comprehend the events of the past as it is to predict those of the future. Much is simply beyond us.

But here’s an extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or Providence or whatever you wish to call it As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may be all there is. It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously. Because we are so remarkably careless about looking after things, both when alive and when not we have no idea-really none at ail-about how many things have died off permanently, or may soon, or may never, and what role we have played in any part of the process. In 1979, in the book The Sinking Art the author Norman Myers suggested that human activities were causing about two extinctions a week on the planet By the early 1990s he had raised the figure to some six hundred per week. (That’s extinctions have put the figure even higher-to well over a thousand a week. A United Nations report of 1995, on the other hand, put the total number of known extinctions in the last four hundred years at slightly under 500 for animals and slightly over 650 for plants-while allowing that this was “almost certainly an underestimate,” particularly with regard to tropical species. A few interpreters think most extinction figures are grossly inflated. The fact is, we don’t know. Don’t have any idea. We don’t know when we started doing many of the things we’ve done. We don’t know what we are doing right now or how our present actions will affect the future. What we do know is that there is only one planet to do it on, and only one species of being capable of making a considered difference. Edward O. Wilson expressed it with unimprovable brevity in The Diversity of Life: “One planet one experiment.” If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here-and by “we” I mean every living thing. To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp. We have arrived at this position of eminence in a stunningly short time. Behaviorally modem human beings-that is, people who can speak and make art and organize complex activities-have existed for only about 0-0001 percent of Earth’s history. But surviving for even that little while has required a nearly endless string of good fortune. We really are at the beginning of it all. The trick, of course, is to make sure we never find the end. And that almost certainly, will require a good deal more than lucky breaks.

A highly recommended read!

On Launching A Leadership Revolution

I recently finished reading Launching A Leadership Revolution – Mastering The Five Levels of Influence – by Chris Brady and Orrin Woodward.

Below are key excerpts that I found particularly insightful:

1- “Leadership ability is a lot like the drilling equipment used by Yates and his partners to discover the richness of oil that already existed beneath him. Each of us; has a natural wellspring of talent and ability buried within. The drill of leadership is required to tap into the geyser of our potential. As with Yates’s drilling equipment, leadership ability will take effort to attain, but the rewards are incalculable.”

2- “We wrote this book because our work with tens of thousands of entrepreneurs across North America for more than a decade has convinced us that most people (and their organizations) have much more potential locked away inside of them than they realize. Leadership is the key that opens the lock on that potential. Time and again we have seen people come alive and achieve things they never thought possible, once they started learning to take responsibility for leadership. The results, quite frankly, have been revolutionary.”

3- “Leadership is the influence of others in a productive, vision-driven direction and is done through the example, conviction, and character of the leader.”

4- “While people may exhibit differing natural levels of leadership, everybody can cultivate and grow his or her leadership ability. Besides, ability differs from one endeavor to the next, so that a person may have weak influence in one area but be strong in another. Everybody can be a leader at something. and usually people s strengths lie in areas that interest them greatly.”

5- “The three characteristics of “raw material” for a leader are: 1. Hungry 2. Hone-able 3. Honorable. These are the foundational qualities of a leader, the Three Hs that must be possessed by the leader-to-be as a prerequisite to further advancement.”

6- “Hunger itself is one of the biggest facets of leadership. Hunger provides the energy to begin, the stamina to persist, and the will to finish an endeavor. It is this hunger or ambition that births leadership.”

7- “All of leadership starts with hunger. At any point in time when the leader is not hungry, the leader is not functioning as a leader. This may sound radical, but it is true. Remember, a leader takes people somewhere. The moment the leader is not moving, the leader is not leading. And it takes ambition to keep the leader moving…Along each side of the road are shoulders. Often the shoulders of roads are comprised of gravel…On the left shoulder is comfort. Comfort is fine in small doses and in certain areas of life, but, like gravel, it can also serve as a warning. Remember, ambition flourishes in discontent with the status quo. Discontent and comfort cannot coexist. If a leader becomes too comfortable, ambition will die, and the soft gravel of comfort can pull him or her down into the Ditch of Complacency…Also notice that being a leader means traveling close to the Shoulder of Frustration. In fact, this is the mark of any true leader, being a leader is a study in managed frustration. How can one have ambition tor a brighter tomorrow without being frustrated at the current set of realities? How can a leader be at war with the status quo and not be frustrated at the same time? The answer, of course, is that no leader can. Any real leader traveling the Road of Success toward his or her dreams will encounter frustration along the journey. Frustration can be healthy, but, just like the shoulder on the other side of the road, this gravel of frustration presents a trap. Too much frustration can be a warning to the leader that his or her attitude is dipping and could pull the leader down into the Ditch of Discouragement.”

8- “The Three Levels of Motivation There are Three Levels of Motivation where hunger is fed and nurtured. The first is not quite as powerful as the second, and the second is not quite as powerful as the third. Motivation Level 1: Material Success This first category is comprised of all the material things that excite our senses and stimulate us to want to perform. For many people, one of the attractive aspects of performing as a leader in their field is the material or financial gain that can accompany that success…Motivation Level 2: Recognition and Respect The next level of motivation is comprised of recognition and respect. This is a deeper, more powerful level than that of material success…Motivation Level 3: Purpose, Destiny, and Legacy.”

9- “And as any leader will soon discover, real, true. Lasting accomplishment comes mostly from the “deeper” levels of motivation. Indeed, a strong sense of purpose, an understanding of personal destiny, and the desire to leave a lasting, positive legacy obedient to God’s vision for us are by far the strongest types of motivation. Leaders must cultivate these sources of motivation on a regular basis to fuel performance and sustain it over the long haul. Every action one takes is either one step closer or one step farther from his or her destiny. Remember, many begin the journey. Very few finish well. It’s the hungry who make it.”

10- “Foundational Quality 2: Hone’able – The definition of hone is “to sharpen or smooth with a whetstone or to make more acute, intense, or effective.” The second foundational quality of a leader is to be hone-able, to have an attitude that allows intensifying and sharpening…For a leader there is no completion to education. We need to live like we will die tomorrow and learn like we will live forever. When a leader remains teachable, his or her potential is limitless. With this in mind, there are several roadblocks to learning that a leader must constantly avoid…Arrogance…Disinterest…Wrong Assumptions…Entrenched Habits…Not Invented Here Syndrome…Wrong Priorities…Cynicism.”

11- “Foundational Quality 3: Honorable – Integrity can be considered as the condition of “not doing what’s wrong.” Character can be defined as doing the right thing, for the mere reason that it is the right thing, even if that thing is difficult and unpopular. The two sewn together make honor.”

12- “Vision comes from the picture of a dream in the leader’s mind. One doesn’t always get what one wants, and one doesn’t always get what one deserves, but one does generally get what one pictures. Having a clear mental picture is the vision the leader carries and casts. Some call it visualization. This is where the dream-building exercise can come in handy, serving to build and maintain a clear vision in the mind of the leader. It is the iterative Cycle of Achievement loop that leaders deploy in their planned attack on the status quo. Understanding each of the parts and using it as a road map allows leaders to improve their performance on a continuing basis. The Cycle of Achievement gives leaders one way to describe that improvement process and keeps them on track as they rotate the cycle over and over again. With every rotation, the leader improves, advances, and betters himself. (vision, goal setting, game planning, working, seeking counsel).”

13- “Personal growth is internal, taking place deep within a leader. Often, when people embark upon the journey of becoming leaders, they feel frustrated at a lack of external results to show for their efforts. But the process of becoming a leader starts with a lot of effort, which results in improvements the outside world cannot yet see. The gains are internal, inside the person. Only later will all the effort at personal growth and improvement show up in the form of external result Stephen Covey says, “Internal victories precede external victories.””

14- “The Three Categories of Personal Effectiveness: I – Character  1. honesty 2. integrity 3. courage 4. proper values based on absolute truths 5. faith 6. a humble spirit 7. patience with others 8. discipline 9. self-mastery  II- Tasks 1. acceptance of responsibility 2. work ethic 3. availability 4. willingness to invest time 5. tenacity 6. perseverance 7. execution III- Relationships 1. accepting people 2. approving of people 3. appreciating people 4. seeing the good in people 5. encouraging people 6. caring for and about people 7. putting others first 8. seeking win-win arrangements 9. helping people accomplish tasks 10. living the “Golden Rule”.  ”

15- “The Five Levels of Influence Explained – This concept of Levels of Influence will be explored within the framework of the following hierarchy: 1. Learning 2. Performing 3. Leading 4. Developing Leaders 5. Developing Developers of Leaders…Note that the playing field is not level. It is more like a flight of ascending stairs. This is because as a leader progresses through the leadership-development process, his influence increases and the impact of his efforts have broader scope. Also, as the leader ascends the Levels of Influence, each of the previous levels stays with him. Just because a leader has advanced to the level of Performing doesn’t mean he stops Learning. Likewise, a leader who advances to Developing Leaders cannot stop Leading in other areas, and so on.”

16- “The First Level of Influence, Learning: Presuppositions or the “Art” of Learning – Learning Is a Top Priority, Leaders Can Learn from Anyone, Leaders Can Learn Best from Those Who Have Results | Actions or the “Science” of Learning – Leaders Learn About People Leaders Learn About Basics, Leaders Learn About Goals and Objectives, Leaders Learn About Processes, Leaders Learn About Measurements of Performance, Leaders Learn About Rewards, Leaders Learn about Histories, Leaders Learn About Environment, Leaders Learn About Obstacles and Oppositions, Leaders Learn from Books, Leaders Learn from Audio Recordings, Leaders Learn from Videos, Leaders Learn from Association with Other Successful Leaders, Leaders Learn from Coaches and Mentors, Leaders Learn from Action, Leaders Learn by Controlling the Flow.”

17- “The Second Level of Influence, Performing: Presuppositions or the “Art” of Performing – Performers To Understand that Results Come through Personal Effort, Performers Understand that Champions Don’t Start Out that Way, Performers Know There Will Be Many opportunities to Feel Second Best, Performers Don’t Expect Fair Treatment, Performers Know There Will Always Be Critics, Performers Know There Will Always Be Strong Adversaries, Performers Understand that Breaks Will Come to Those Who Prepare, Performers Know that Attitude Conquers Circumstances, Performers Understand that Desire Trumps Talent, Performers Can Never Be Satisfied, Performers Know There Is Power in Belief | Actions or the “Science” of Performing – Performers Work as Part of an Overall Team, Performers Edify the Organization’s Leadership, Performers Promote the Training System and Learning Environment, Performers Follow the Proven Methods, Performers Build on Their Basic Strengths, Performers Initiate Activity, Performers Push to Grow and Improve, Performers Become Relatable, Performers Become Believable and Demonstrate Conviction, Performers Maintain a Positive Attitude, Performers Give Their Best in Every Situation, Performers Get Results (Execute), Performers Ignore Their Press Clippings.”

18- “The Third Level of Influence, Leading: Presuppositions or the “Art” of Leading – Leaders Understand that Results Come Trough Team Effort, Leaders Understand that People Buy In to the Leader before Anything Else, Leaders Understand the Importance of Finding and Developing Good People, Leaders Understand that Dealing with Inadequate Resources Is Common, Leaders Understand that Leadership Is the Limitation, Leaders Understand the Impact of Their Actions on the Organization, Leaders Understand that Leadership Is about Sacrifice, Leaders Understand that a Leader’s Job Is Never Done | Actions or the “Science” of Leading- Leaders Model the Way, Leaders Compel Individuals to Perform, Leaders Coach Others, Leaders Become Servants, Leaders Operate as Field Commanders, Leaders Orchestrate Activity, Leaders Measure Results, Leaders Solve Problems, Leaders Communicate.”

19- “The Fourth Level of Influence, Developing Leaders: Presuppositions or the “Art” of Leadership Development – Level 4 Leaders Know Results Will Come Through the Efforts of Other Leaders, Level 4 Leaders Understand the Power of Duplication, Level 4 Leaders Know that leaders Have Strengths in Various Areas, Level 4 Leaders Know the Vision Must Be Big Enough for Many Leaders, Level 4 Leaders Know that Recognition Is the Most Valuable Motivator | Actions or the “Science” of Leadership Development – Level 4 Leaders Compel Other Leaders to Get Team Results, Level 4 Leaders Become Talent Scouts, Level 4 Leaders Empower Other Leaders, Level 4 Leaders Learn to Mentor.”

20- “…when identifying potential leaders, there are a few more attributes to consider so that the Level 4 Leader does not waste time mentoring those who will not blossom into effective leaders. These are: 4. Activity 5. Respect 6. Connected relationship 7. Attitude 8. Relatability.”

21- “Level 4 Leaders must understand that the process of mentoring is a balancing act. Just as the road to success is bordered by Ditches of Discouragement and Complacency, the process of mentoring is bordered by the Ditches of Friendship and Dictatorship.”

22- “Regarding the protege, the mentor wishes to know: 1. What makes him tick? 2. What makes him special? 3- Why did he get involved in his particular field? 4. What motivates I him? What are his dreams? 5. What is his personality or temperament? 6. What challenges has he had in his life? 7. What victories has he had? 8. What principles does he understand and embody? 9. What principles does he still need to learn? 10. What blind spots does he have about himself? 11. What is his commitment level? 12. What is the basis of his character? 13. Where is his thinking?”

23- “(On Mentoring) Sets the Example, Asks Questions, Builds the Relationship, Affirms the Protege, Builds the Protege’s Belief, Builds the Protege’s Dream, Kills the Protege’s Fear, Gives Confidence, Keeps the Protege in the Action Phase, Reframes the Protege’s Challenges, Allows Struggle to Instruct, Encourages the Protege, Spreads Contagious Enthusiasm, Teaches the Philosophy, Course-Corrects and Confronts the Issues, Gets the Protege to Take Responsibility, Challenges the Protege, Pursues a Heart Change, Develops Balance in the Protege.”

24- “The Fifth Level of Influence, Developing Leaders Who Develop Leaders: Presuppositions or the “Art” of Level 5 -Results Will Come Through the Endurance and Succession of the Vision, The Vision and the Leader Are Intertwined | Actions or the “Science” of Level 5 – Attract the Highest-Caliber Leaders to the Cause.”

25- “The concept of the Five Levels of Influence is especially helpful for many reasons. First, it helps an individual gauge his own ability and understand how and where to improve. Second, it helps a leader understand where people are in terms of ability and what to do to help them develop. Third, it assists a leader in evaluating the Leadership Level that exists in any portion of his or her organization. Understanding this information about self, people, and organizations becomes extremely helpful in diagnosing issues and providing guidance, correction, and direction.

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Launching A Leadership Revolution