revolution

On Now, Discover Your Strengths

I just finished reading the book Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and the late Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D.

The main premise of this book:

We wrote this book to start a revolution, the strengths revolution. At the heart of this revolution is a simple decree: The great organization must not only accommodate the fact that each employee is different, it must capitalize on these differences. It must watch for clues to each employee’s natural talents and then position and develops each employee so that his or her talents are transformed into bona fide strengths. By changing the way it selects, measures, develops, and channels the careers of its people, this revolutionary organization must build its entire enterprise around the strengths of each person. And as it does, this revolutionary organization will be positioned to dramatically outperform its peers…To break out of this weakness spiral and to launch the strengths revolution in your own organization, you must change your assumptions about people. Start with the right assumptions, and everything else that follows from them—how you select, measure, train, and develop your people—will be right. These are the two assumptions that guide the world’s best managers: 1. Each person’s talents are enduring and unique. 2. Each person’s greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her greatest strength.

The foundational assumptions that this book, and strength-based management is based on:

These two assumptions are the foundation for everything they do with and for their people. These two assumptions explain why great managers are careful to look for talent in every role, why they focus people’s performances on outcomes rather than forcing them into a stylistic mold, why they disobey the Golden Rule and treat each employee differently, and why they spend the most time with their best people. In short, these two assumptions explain why the world’s best managers break all the rules of conventional management wisdom. Now, following the great managers’ lead, it is time to change the rules. These two revolutionary assumptions must serve as the central tenets for a new way of working. They are the tenets for a new organization, a stronger organization, an organization designed to reveal and stretch the strengths of each employee.

On Strengths:

For the sake of clarity let’s be more precise about what we mean by a “strength.” The definition of a strength that we will use throughout this book is quite specific: consistent near perfect performance in an activity. By this definition Pam’s accurate decision-making and ability to rally people around her organization’s common purpose are strengths. Sherie’s love of diagnosing and treating skin diseases is a strength. Paula’s ability to generate and then refine article ideas that fit her magazine’s identity is a strength.

On Skills:

Skills bring structure to experiential knowledge. What does this mean? It means that, whatever the activity, at some point a smart person will sit back and formalize all the accumulated knowledge into a sequence of steps that, if followed, will lead to performance—not necessarily great performance but acceptable performance nonetheless…The bottom fine on skills is this: A skill is designed to make the secrets of the best easily transferable. If you learn a skill, it will help you get a little better, but it will not cover for a lack of talent. Instead, as you build your strengths, skills will actually prove most valuable when they are combined with genuine talent.

On Talent:

What is talent? Talent is often described as “a special natural ability or aptitude,” but for the purposes of strength building we suggest a more precise and comprehensive definition, which is derived from our studies of great managers. Talent is any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied. Thus, if you are instinctively inquisitive, this is a talent. If you are competitive, this is a talent. If you are charming, this is a talent. If you are persistent, this is a talent. If you are responsible, this is a talent. Any recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior is a talent if this pattern can be productively applied…Spontaneous reactions, yearnings, rapid learning, and satisfactions will all help you detect the traces of your talents. As you rush through your busy life, try to step back, quiet the wind whipping past your ears, and listen for these clues. They will help you zero in on your talents.

To recap:

Talents are your naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior. Your various themes of talent are what the StrengthsFinder Profile actually measures. Knowledge consists of the facts and lessons learned. Skills are the steps of an activity.

On obstacles to building strengths:

 

However, despite the range, this general conclusion holds true: The majority of the world’s population doesn’t think that the secret to improvement lies in a deep understanding of their strengths. (Interestingly, in every culture the group least fixated on their weaknesses was the oldest group, those fifty-five years old and above. A little older, a little wiser, this group has probably acquired a measure of self-acceptance and realized the futility of trying to paper over the persistent cracks in their personality.)

On whether you can develop new themes if you don’t like the ones revealed?

You may not be able to rewire your brain, but by acquiring new knowledge and skills you can redirect your life. You can’t develop new themes, but you can develop new strengths.

On what to do about weaknesses?

To begin with, you need to know what a weakness is. Our definition of a weakness is anything that gets in the way of excellent performance. To some this may seem to be an obvious definition, but before skipping past it, bear in mind that it is not the definition of weakness that most of us would use. Most of us would probably side with Webster’s and the Oxford English Dictionary and define a weakness as “an area where we lack proficiency.” As you strive to build your life around your strengths, we advise you to steer clear of this definition for one very practical reason: Like all of us, you have countless areas where you lack proficiency, but most of them are simply not worth bothering about. Why? Because they don’t get in the way of excellent performance. They are irrelevant. They don’t need to be managed at all, just ignored…So once you know you have a genuine weakness on your hands, a deficiency that actually gets in the way of excellent performance, how can you best deal with it? The first thing you have to do is identify whether the weakness is a skills weakness, a knowledge weakness, or a talent weakness.

On whether the themes revealed will indicate whether you are in the right career?

Our research into human strengths does not support the extreme, and extremely misleading, assertion that “you can play any role you set your mind to,” but it does lead us to this truth: Whatever you set your mind to, you will he most successful when you craft your role to play to your signature talents most of the time. We hope that by highlighting your signature themes we can help you craft such a role.

Practical implications of strengths-based management:

Since each person’s talents are enduring, you should spend a great deal of time and money selecting people properly in the first place…Since each person’s talents are unique, you should focus performance by legislating outcomes rather than forcing each person into a stylistic mold…Since the greatest room for each person’s growth is in the areas of his greatest strength, you should focus your training time and money on educating him about his strengths and figuring out ways to build on these strengths rather than on remedially trying to plug his “skill gaps.”…Lastly, since the greatest room for each person’s growth lies in his areas of greatest strength, you should devise ways to help each person grow his career without necessarily promoting him up the corporate ladder and out of his areas of strength.

Managers will continue to play a key role in the development of employees within a strengths-based organization:

Needless to say the individual manager will always be a critical catalyst in transforming each employee’s talents into bona fide strengths; consequently, much of the responsibility will lie with the manager to develop each employee’s career.

A reminder on how to keep high potential employees engaged:

If you want to keep a talented employee, show him not just that you care about him, not just that you will help him grow, but, more important, that you know him, that in the truest sense of the word you recognize him (or, at the very least, that you are trying to). In today’s increasingly anonymous and transient working world, your organization’s inquisitiveness about the strengths of its employees will set your organization apart.

On a concluding note:

With the knowledge economy gathering pace, global competition increasing, new technologies quickly commoditized, and the workforce aging, the right employees are becoming more precious with each passing year. Those of us who lead great organizations must become more sophisticated and more efficient when it comes to capitalizing on our people. We must find the best fit possible of people’s strengths and the roles we are asking them to play at work. Only then will we be as strong as we should be. Only then will we win.

This book includes access for you to take the online StrengthsFinder assessment and discover your top five themes. The material in the book will help you further develop your talents and strengths as well as how to best enable others on your team based on their strengths.

A recommended read, development and engagement tool both from a personal and management perspective.

 

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

On Founding Brothers

I recently finished reading Founding Brothers – The Revolutionary Generation – by Joseph J. Ellis.

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

1- “In the long run, the evolution of an independent American nation, gradually developing its political and economic strength over the nineteenth century within the protective constraints of the British Empire, was probably inevitable. This was Paine’s point. But that was not the way history happened. The creation of a separate American nation occurred suddenly rather than gradually, in revolutionary rather than evolutionary fashion, the decisive events that shaped the political ideas and institutions of the emerging state all taking place with dynamic intensity during the quarter of the eighteenth century. No one present at the start knew how it would turn out in the end. What in retrospect has the look of a foreordained unfolding of God’s will was in reality an improvisational affair in which sheer chance, pure luck both good and bad—and specific decisions made in the crucible of specific military and political crises determined the outcome. At the dawn of a new century, indeed a new millennium, the United States is now the oldest enduring republic in world history, with a set of political institutions and traditions that have stood the test of time. The basic framework for all these institutions and traditions was built in a sudden spasm of enforced inspiration and makeshift construction during the final decades of the eighteenth century.”

2- ” My own answers to these questions are contained in the stories that follow, which attempt to recover the sense of urgency and improvisation, what it looked and felt like, for the eight most prominent political leaders in the early republic. They are, in alphabetical order. Abigail and John Adams, Aaron Burr, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. While each episode is a self-contained narrative designed to illuminate one propitious moment with as much storytelling skill as I can muster, taken together they feature several common themes. First, the achievement of the revolutionary generation was a collective enterprise that succeeded because of the diversity of personalities and ideologies present in the mix…Second, they all knew one another personally, meaning that they broke bread together, sat together at countless meetings, corresponded with one another about private as well as public matters…Third, they managed to take the most threatening; and divisive issue off the political agenda…Fourth, the faces that look down upon us with such classical dignity in those portraits by John Trumbull, Gilbert Stuart, and Charles Willson Peale, the voices that speak to us across the ages in such lyrical cadences, seem so mythically heroic, at least in part, because they knew we would be looking and listening. All the vanguard members of the revolutionary generation developed a keen sense of their historical significance even while they were still making the history on which their reputations would rest.”

3- “In the wake of other national movements—the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions, as well as the multiple movements for national independence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America—the leadership class of the successful revolution proceeded to decimate itself in bloody reprisals that frequently assumed genocidal proportions. But the conflict within the American revolutionary generation remained a passionate yet bloodless affair in which the energies released by national independence did not devour its own children. Th Burr-Hamilton duel represented the singular exception to this rule.”

4- “By selecting the Potomac location, the Congress had implicitly decided to separate the political and financial capitals of the United “States. All the major European capitals—Berlin, London, Paris, Rome, Vienna—were metropolitan centers that gathered together the political, economic, and cultural energies of their respective populations in one place. The United States was almost inadvertently deciding to segregate them. The exciting synergy of institutional life in an all-ll-purpose national metropolis was deemed less important than the dangerous corruptions likely to afflict a nexus of politicians and financier.”

5- “For the next seventy years, until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1986, the essence of political wisdom in the emergent American republic was to insist that such choices did not have to be made. But the recognition that these were the competing options, the contested versions, if you will, of what the core legacy of the American Revolution truly meant, first became visible in the summer of 1790. Thee Constitution did not resolve these questions; it only provided an orderly framework within which the arguments could continue. Nor would it be historically correct to regard the issues at stake as exclusively or even primarily constitutional. Legalistic debates over federal versus state sovereignty were just the most accessible handles to grab, t the safest and most politically suitable ways to talk about alternative national visions. The Compromise of 1790 is most famous for averting a political crisis that many statesmen of the time considered a threat to the survival of the infant republic. But it also exposed the incompatible expectations concerning Americas future that animated these same st statesmen. In a sense, it is a very old story which has been rendered even more familiar by the violent dissolution of revolutionary regimes i; in modern day emergent nations: Bound together in solidarity against t the imperialistic enemy, the leadership fragments when the common enemy disappears and the different agenda for the new nation must confront its differences. Securing a revolution has proven to be a much more daunting assignment than winning one. The accommodation that culminated in the agreement reached over Jefferson’s dinner table provides a momentary exposure of the sharp differences dividing the leadership of the revolutionary generation: sectional versus national allegiance; agrarian versus commercial economic priorities; diffusion versus consolidation as social ideals; an impotent versus a potent federal government. The compromise reached did not resolve these conflicts so much as prevent them from exploding when the newly created government was so vulnerable; it bought time during which the debate could continue.”

6- “The main themes of the Farewell Address are just as easy to state succinctly as they are difficult to appreciate fully. After declaring his irreversible intention to retire, Washington devoted several paragraphs to the need for national unity. He denounced excessive partisanship, most especially when it took the form of political parties pursuing a vested ideological agenda or sectional interest groups oblivious to the advantages of cooperation. The rest of the Farewell Address was then devoted to foreign policy, calling for strict American neutrality and diplomatic independence from the tangled affairs of Europe…”Washington was not claiming to offer novel prescriptions based on his original reading of philosophical treatises or books; quite the opposite, he was reminding his countrymen of the venerable principles he had acquired from personal experience, principles so obvious and elemental that they were at risk of being overlooked by his contemporaries; and so thoroughly grounded in the American Revolution that they are virtually invisible to a more distant posterity.”

7- “Finally, Adams apprised Jefferson: “Your distinction between natural and artificial Aristocracy does not appear to me well founded.” One might be able to separate wealth from talent in theory, but in practice, and in all societies, they were inextricably connected: “The five Pillars of Aristocracy,” he argued, “are Beauty, Wealth, Birth, Genius and Virtues. Any one of the three first, can at any time, over bear any one or both of the two last.” But it would never come to that anyway, because the qualities Jefferson regarded as artificial and those he regarded as natural were all mixed together inside human nature, then mixed together again within society, in blended patterns that defied Jefferson’s neat dissections.”

8- “They both (Adams and Jefferson) did anticipate, albeit from decidedly different perspectives,;, the looming sectional crisis between North and South that their partnership stretched across. “I fear there will be greater difficulties to preserve our Union,” Adams warned, “than You and I, our Fathers Brothers Disciples and Sons have had to form it.” Jefferson concurred, though the subject touched the most explosive issue of all—namely, the unmentionable fact of slavery. Even the ever-candid Adams recognized that this was the forbidden topic, the one piece of ground declared off-limits by mutual consent. With one notable exception, the dialogue between Adams and Jefferson, so revealing in its engagement of the conflicting ideas and impulses that shaped the American Revolution, also symbolized the unofficial policy of silence within the revolutionary generation on the most glaring disagreement of all.”

9- “One would like to believe, and there is some basis for the belief, that each man (Adams and Jefferson) came to recognize in the other the intellectual and temperamental qualities lacking in himself; that they, in effect, completed each other; that only when joined could the pieces of the story of the American Revolution come together to make a whole. But the more mundane truth is that they never faced and therefore never fully resolved all their political differences; they simply outlived them.”

10- “He conceded (Adams) that the era of the American Revolution had been “a memorable epoch in the annals of the human race,” but the jury was still out on its significance. He doubted whether the republican principles planted by the founding generation would grow in foreign soil. Neither Europe nor Latin America were ready for them. Even within the United States, the fate of those principles was still problematic. He warned that America was “destined in future history to form the brightest or blackest page, according to the use or the abuse of those political institutions by which they shall in time to come be shaped by the human mind!” Asked to pose for posterity, he chose to go out hurling it a challenge.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

Founding Brothers

On The Master Switch

I recently finished reading The Master Switch – The Rise and Fall of Information Empires – by Tim Wu.

The main premise of the book, as stated by the author: “To understand the forces threatening the Internet as we know it, we must understand how information technologies give rise to industries, and industries to empires. In other words, we must understand the nature of the Cycle, its dynamics, what makes it go, and what can arrest it. As with any economic theory, there are no laboratories but past experience…The pattern is distinctive. Every few decades, a new communications technology appears, bright with promise and possibility. It inspires a generation to dream of a better society, new forms of expression, alternative types of journalism. Yet each new technology eventually reveals its flaws, kinks, and limitations. For consumers, the technical novelty can wear thin, giving way to various kinds of dissatisfaction with the quality of content (which may tend toward the chaotic and the vulgar) and the reliability or security of service. From industry’s perspective, the invention may inspire other dissatisfactions: a threat to the revenues of existing information channels that the new technology makes less essential, if not obsolete; a difficulty commoditizing (i.e., making a salable product out of) the technology’s potential; or too much variation in standards or protocols of use to allow one to market a high quality product that will answer the consumers’ dissatisfactions. “

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

1- “In fact, the place we find ourselves now is a place we have been before, albeit in different guise. And so understanding how the fate of the technologies of the twentieth century developed is important in making the twenty-first century better.”

2- “Schumpeter’s cycle of industrial life and death is an inspiration for this book. His thesis is that in the natural course of things, the new only rarely supplements the old; it usually destroys it. The old, however, doesn’t, as it were, simply give up but rather tries to forestall death or co-opt its usurper—a la Kronos—with important implications.”

3- “We have seen how important outsiders are to industrial innovation: they alone have the will or interest to challenge the dominant industry. And we have seen the power of considerations beyond wealth or security—factors outside the motivations of the ideal rational economic actor—in inspiring action to transform an industry.”

4- “Here, then, we come to the second weakness that afflicts centralized systems of innovation: the necessity, by definition, of placing all control in a few hands. This is not to say that doing so holds no benefit. To be sure, there is less “waste”: instead of ten companies competing to develop a better telephone—reinventing the wheel, as it were, every time—society’s resources can be synchronized in their pursuit of the common goal. There is no duplication of research, with many laboratories chasing the same invention. Yet if all resources for solving any problem are directed by a single, centralized intelligence. that mastermind has to be right in predicting the future if innovation is to proceed effectively. And that’s the problem: monopoly presumes a prescience that humans are seldom capable of. “

5- “For the combined forces of a dominant industry and the federal government can arrest the Cycle’s otherwise inexorable progress, intimating for the prevailing order something like Kronos’s fantasy of perpetual rule.”

6- “Whether sanctioned by the state or not, monopolies represent a special kind of industrial concentration, with special consequences flowing from their dissolution. Often the useful results are delayed and unpredictable, while the negative outcomes are immediate and obvious.”

7- “But what prevented monopoly and all centralized systems from realizing these efficiencies, in Hayek’s view, was a fundamental failure to appreciate human limitations. With perfect information, a central planner could effect the best of all possible arrangements, but no such planner could ever hope to have all the relevant facts of local, regional, and national conditions to arrive at an adequately informed, or right, decision.”

8- “As an object lesson in the way information networks can develop, it gives us occasion to consider what we truly want from our news and entertainment, as opposed to what sort of content we might be prepared to sustain, however passively, with our fleeting attention. For cable offered choices really only in the commercial range—(-enough, however, to suggest what a truly open medium could deliver to the nation, for better and for worse.”

9- “With its hefty capitalization, it offers the information industries financial stability, and potentially a great freedom to explore risky projects. Yet despite that promise, the conglomerate can as easily become a hidebound, stifling master, obsessed with maximizing the revenue potential and flow of its intellectual property. At its worst, such an organization can carry the logic of mass cultural production to any extreme of banality as long as it seems financially feasible.”

10- “For the information industries that now account for an ever increasing share of American and world GDP, the coming decade will be given over to a mighty effort to seize territory, to bolt the competition from its habitat. But this is not a case of one pack of wolves chasing another out of a prime valley. While it may sound fanciful, the contest in question is more like one of polar bears batting lions for domination of the world. Each animal, insuperably dominant in its natural element—the polar bear on ice and snow, the lion on the open plains—will undertake a land grab where it has no natural business being. The only practicable strategy will be a campaign of climate change, the polar bears seeking to cover as much of the world with snow as they can, while the lion tries to coax a savannah from the edges of a tundra. Sounds absurd, but for these mighty predators, it’s simply the law of nature.”

11- “The democratization of technological power has made the shape of the future hard to know, even for the best informed. The individual holds more power than at any time in the past century, and literally in the palm of his hand. Whether or not he can hold on to it is another matter.”

12- “The American political system is designed to prevent abuses of pubic power. But where it has proved less vigilant is in those areas where the political meets the economic realm, where private economic power comes to bear on public life…We like to believe that our safeguards against concentrated political power will ultimately protect us from the consequences of accumulated economic power. But this hasn’t always been so.”

13- “For history shows that in seeking to prevent the exercise of abusive power in the information industries, government is among those actors whose power must be restrained. Government may function as a check on abusive power, but government itself is a power that must be checked. What I propose is not a regulatory approach but rather a constitutional approach to the information economy. By that I mean a regime whose goal is to constrain and divide all power that derives from the control of information.”

14- “Let us. then, not fail to protect ourselves from the will of those who might seek domination of those resources we cannot do without. If we do not take this moment to secure our sovereignty over the choices that our information age has allowed us to enjoy, we cannot reasonably blame its loss on those who are free to enrich themselves by taking it from us in a manner history has foretold.”

Regards,

Omar Halabieh

The Master Switch