On The Better Angels of our Nature

I recently finished reading The Better Angels of our Nature – Why Violence Has Declined – by Steven Pinker.

Below are excerpts from this book that I found particularly insightful:

This book is about what may be the most important thing that has ever happened in human history…No aspect of life is untouched by the retreat from violence. Daily existence is very different if you always have to worry about being abducted, raped, or killed, and it’s hard to develop sophisticated arts, learning, or commerce if the institutions that support them are looted and burned as quickly as they are built.

Systemic cruelty was far from unique to Europe. Hundreds of methods of torture, applied to millions of victims, have been documented in other civilizations, including the Assyrians, Persians, Seleucids, Romans, Chinese, Hindus, Polynesians, Aztecs, and many African kingdoms and Native American tribes. Brutal killings and punishments were also documented among the Israelites, Greeks, Arabs, and Ottoman Turks. Indeed, as we saw at the end of chapter 2, all of the first complex civilizations were absolutist theocracies which punished victimless crimes with torture and mutilation.

He then outlined his three conditions for perpetual peace. The first is that states should be democratic. Kant himself preferred the term republican, because he associated the word democracy with mob rule; what he had in mind was a government dedicated to freedom, equality, and the rule of law…Kant’s second condition for perpetual peace was that “the law of nations shall be founded on a Federation of Free States”—a “League of Nations,” as he also called it…The third condition for perpetual peace is “universal hospitality” or “world citizenship.”

An interesting question is what inflated the empathy circle. And a good candidate is the expansion of literacy.

The vulnerability to civil war of countries in which control of the government is a winner-take-all jackpot is multiplied when the government controls windfalls like oil, gold, diamonds, and strategic minerals. Far from being a blessing, these bonanzas create the so-called resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty and fool’s gold. Countries with an abundance of nonrenewable, easily monopolized resources have slower economic growth, crappier governments, and more violence.

Why should the spread of ideas and people result in reforms that lower violence? There are several pathways. The most obvious is a debunking of ignorance and superstition…Another causal pathway is an increase in invitations to adopt the viewpoints of people unlike oneself.

Dangerous ideologies erupt when these faculties fall into toxic combinations. Someone theorizes that infinite good can be attained by eliminating a demonized or dehumanized group. A kernel of like-minded believers spreads the idea by punishing disbelievers. Clusters of people are swayed or intimidated into endorsing it. Skeptics are silenced or isolated. Self-serving rationalizations allow people to carry out the scheme against what should be their better judgment.

On a closing note:

Yet while this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, that species has also found ways to bring the numbers down, and allow a greater and greater proportion of humanity to live in peace and die of natural causes. For all the tribulations in our lives, for all the troubles that remain in the world, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor, and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible.

A highly recommended read in the areas of sociology and psychology.

On Mindset

I recently finished reading Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – How We Can Learn to Fulfill our Potential – by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.. As the author best summarizes: “My work is part of a tradition in psychology that shows the power of people’s beliefs. These may be beliefs we’re aware of or unaware of, but they strongly affect what we want and whether we succeed in getting it. This tradition also shows how changing people’s beliefs—even the simplest beliefs—can have profound effects. In this book, you’ll learn how a simple belief about yourself—a belief we discovered in our research—guides a large part of your life. In fact, it permeates every part of your life. Much of what you think of as your personality actually grows out of this “mindset.” Much of what may be preventing you from fulfilling your potential grows out of it.”

Below are key excerpts from this book that I would like to share, from this perceptive piece of work:

On Potential:

This leads us back to the idea of “potential” and to the question of whether tests or experts can tell us what our potential is, what we’re capable of, what our future will be. The fixed mindset says yes. You can simply measure the fixed ability right now and project it into the future. Just give the test or ask the expert. No crystal ball needed…But isn’t potential someone’s capacity to develop their skills with effort over time? And that’s just the point. How can we know where effort and time will take someone…People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.

On how Failure is perceived based on your mindset:

In short, when people believe in fixed traits, they are always in danger of being measured by a failure. It can define them in a permanent way. Smart or talented as they may be, this mindset seems to rob them of their coping resources. When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don’t define them. And if abilities can be expanded—if change and growth are possible—then there are still many paths to success.

On praising abilities:

If people have such potential to achieve, how can they gain faith in their potential? How can we give them the confidence they need to go for it? How about praising their ability in order to convey that they have what it takes? In fact, more than 80 percent of parents told us it was necessary to praise children’s ability so as to foster their confidence and achievement. You know, it makes a lot of sense.

On mindsets and business leadership (Jack Welch):

What he learned was this: True self-confidence is “the courage to be open—to welcome change and new ideas regardless of their source.” Real self-confidence is not reflected in a title, an expensive suit, a fancy car, or a series of acquisitions. It is reflected in your mindset: your readiness to grow.

On mindsets and relationships:

“Oh no,” I replied. “To me the whole point of marriage is to encourage your partner’s development and have them encourage yours.” By that I didn’t mean a My Fair Lady kind of thing where you attempt an extreme makeover on partners, who then feel they aren’t t good enough as they are. I mean helping partners, within the relationship, to reach their own goals and fulfill their own potential. This is the growth mindset in action.

On Shyness:

Shyness harmed the social interactions of people with the fixed mindset but did not harm the social relations of people with the growth mindset. The observers’ ratings showed that, although both fixed- and growth-minded shy people looked very nervous for the first five minutes of the interaction, after that the shy growth-minded people showed greater social skills, were more likable, and created a more enjoyable interaction. In fact, they began to look just like non-shy people.

In conclusion:

Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people—couples. coaches and athletes, managers and workers, parents and children. teachers and students—change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.

A must read book in the areas of personal development and psychology.


On The Future Of Work

I recently finished reading The Future of Work – Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization – by Jacob Morgan. As the author summarizes in his opening: “Many organizations around the world today are in trouble. The world of work is changing around them while they remain stagnant. The larger the gap grows the greater the chance becomes that these organizations will not survive. However, organizations shouldn’t just want to survive they must want to thrive and be competitive in a new rapidly changing world. To do this requires pioneering change, not waiting for tragedy or for a crisis to force change. The future workforce is bringing new attitudes and ways of work to which managers must adapt. This means that organizations must adapt to both employees and managers and, as of now, this is happening at a snail’s pace, if at all. This is a book about adapting to that change.”

On the five trends shaping the future of work:

1. New behaviors 2. Technology 3. Millennials 4. Mobility 5. Globalization

On the seven principles of the future employee:

• Have a flexible work environment where they can work anytime and anywhere. • Be able to shape and define their own career paths instead of having them predefined for them. • Share information internally in an open and transparent way in real-time. • Have the opportunity to become leaders without having to be managers. • Collaborate and communicate in new ways. • Shift from being knowledge workers to learning workers. • Learn and teach at-will.

From knowledge worker to learner worker:

The world is changing so quickly that by the time new college students graduate, much of what they have learned is far less relevant and in many cases just obsolete. This means knowledge and experience are no longer the primary commodity. Instead, what is far more valuable is to have the ability to learn and to apply those learnings into new and unique scenarios. It’s no longer about what you know, it’s about how you can learn and adapt.

On vital qualities for future employees:

Self-Direction and Autonomy, Filter and Focus, Embrace Change, Amazing Communication Skills, Learning to Learn

On the Ten Principles of the future manager:

Must be a leader. Follow from the front. Understand technology. Lead by example. Embrace vulnerability. Believe in sharing and collective intelligence. Challenge convention and be a fire starter. Practice real-time recognition and feedback. Be conscious of personal boundaries. Adapt to the future employee.

On many people still want structure:

An article published by Susan H. Greenberg on the Stanford Graduate School of Businessblog on August 1, 2012 called, “Building Organizations That Work”2 summarized the findings of the report: Hierarchies are easier for people to grasp than egalitarian relationships because their asymmetries create “end points’ that facilitate memorization; they are predictable; and they are familiar, beginning with our very first social interaction—the parent-child relationship.

On fourteen principles of the future organization:

• Have employees work in globally distributed yet smaller teams. • Become intrapreneurial. • Create a connected workforce. • Operate like a smaller company. • Focus on creating a place of “want” instead of a place of “need.’ • Adapt to change faster. • Innovate anywhere, all the time. • Build ecosystems. • Run in the cloud. • See more women in senior management roles. • Be “flatter.’ • Tell stories. • Democratize learning. • Shift from profit to prosperity. • Adapt to the future employee and the future manager. • Become globally distributed with smaller teams.

On competitor-driven innovation:

The extent of knowledge and innovation used to depend on the organization itself, or more specifically, a few people within the organization. This is no longer enough to maintain a competitive advantage. The future organization must build knowledge ecosystems in the five groups mentioned earlier in order to thrive. Each group can bring a unique perspective and value proposition.

On the 12 habits of highly collaborative organizations:

1. Focus on individual value before corporate value. 2. Strategy always comes before technology. 3. Learn to get out of the way. 4. Lead by example. 5. Listen to the voice of the employee. 6. Integrate into the flow of work. 7. Create a supportive environment. 8. Measure what matters. 9. Be persistent. 10. Adapt and evolve. 11. Understand that employee collaboration also benefits the customer. 12. Accept that collaboration makes the world a better place.

On the six-step process for adapting to the future of work:

1. Challenge assumptions. 2. Create a team to help lead the effort. 3. Define your “future of work.’ 4. Communicate your “future of work. 5. Experiment and empower employees to take action. 6. Implement broad-based change.

A recommended read in the area of organizational management.