Dain Dunston

The Language of Leadership

Dain Dunston

Archive for January, 2013

Marines Add Mindfulness to Their Arsenal

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Mindfulness is one way of talking about the leadership trait of being completely in the present moment and powerfully observant of what’s in front of your nose. I center much of my coaching work around this skill and call it Leadership Presence.

Now the U.S. Marine Corps is experimenting with adding mindfulness to their training by putting Marines through meditation, yoga stretching and breathing exercises. They’ve done some pilot studies in simulated combat situations and discovered that Marines stayed calmer and more focused, were able to make better decisions and had less stress after the fact.

“The experiment builds on a 2011 study involving 160 Marines who were taught to focus their attention by concentrating on their body’s sensations, including breathing, in a period of silence. The Marines practiced the calming methods after being immersed in a mock Afghan village with screaming actors and controlled blasts to expose them to combat stress. Naval Health Research Center scientist Douglas C. Johnson, who is leading the research, monitored their reactions by looking at blood and saliva samples, images of their brains and problem-solving tests they took.

Another 160 other Marines went through the mock village with no mindfulness-based training, acting as the control group. Results from the 2011 study are expected to be published this spring.

Marine Corps officials decided to extend the experiment to shore up evidence that the exercises help the brain better react to high-stress situations and recover more quickly from those episodes.

“If indeed that proves to be the case, then it’s our intention to turn this into a training program where Marines train Marines in these techniques,” Bearor said. “We would interject this into the entry level training pipeline — we don’t know where yet — so every Marine would be trained in these techniques.”

For this to work, however, it will have to become part of the Marine Corp culture and be supported by leadership in the field all the time. A few days training in this won’t stick. It has to become a constant, conscious daily practice. But when it does, the results can be astonishing.

(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps: Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri – Martial Arts Center of Excellence (MACE) Director Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Beckett and Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Shusko Deputy Director visit Marine Corps Detachment Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. The MACE, located in Quantico Virginia, seeks to help enhance Marine Corps Martial Arts Programs abroad.)

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Are We in a Post-Productive Economy?

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Economist Robert Gordon says that economic growth in the United States is over, at least for the foreseeable future. You can read his essay here. Kevin Kelly thinks he’s wrong and responds with this post on his Technium blog.

“So if people value the benefits of computers and internet so much why don’t we see this value reflected in the growth of the US economy? According to Gordon growth has stalled in the internet age. This question was first asked by Robert Solow in 1987 and Gordon’s answer is that there are 6 “headwinds,” six negative, or contrary forces which deduct growth from the growth due to technology in the US (Gordon reiterates he is only speaking of he US). The six “headwinds” slowing down growth are the aging of the US population, stagnant levels of education, rising inequality, outsourcing and globalization, environmental constraints, and household and government debt. I agree with Gordon about these headwinds, particularly the first one, which he also sees as the most important.

Where Gordon is wrong is his misunderstanding and underestimating of the power of technological growth before it meets these headwinds.”

I would agree with Gordon’s six headwinds and add a seventh: the focus of many of the best minds in America on financial manipulation. Having our best mathematicians working for hedge funds trying to devise new and ingenious ways to skim profits from market fluctuations benefits a small percentage of the people. And while some of that money ends up in venture capital funds, which is nice, it’s not as nice has having our best minds focused on things that matter. Roy Spence of GSD&M is traveling the country talking to everyone about the purpose of business (and of America), saying that the way we get out of this “financial winter” is the same way we always have. We build our way out of it.

Kelly agrees with me on this:

“When science fiction author Neal Stephenson laments: “I saw the best minds of my generation… writing spam filters” he should not give up. It’s not that different that the best minds of a former generation designing oil filters. These are the unglamorous but essential tasks in constructing a whole new infrastructure.”

The issue with the new infrastructure is the possibility that it’s so new that we can’t actually see it yet or understand where it’s going. It’s just all too new, perhaps in the way that the arrival of Europeans in North America was too new for native populations to understand, based on they way they understood economic, social and political dynamics. America wasn’t just a new world to European explorers; it became a new world for the Native Americans, too. The difference, one hopes, is that where that “new world” was bad news for the Native Americans, the new world we’re entering will, I believe, be net positive for everyone. It’s simply and evolutionary stage in human affairs and it’s interesting to see how Kelly lays this evolution out.

The one contribution hedge funds deliver, in my opinion, is the creation of “self-generating wealth.”

“A number of economists have wrestled with the origins of this self-generating wealth. Paul Romer and Brian Arthur both separately point to the recombining and re-mixing of existing ideas as the way economic growth occurs. This view focuses on knowledge as the prime motor in a self-renewing circle of increasing returns. Unlike say energy or matter, the more knowledge you spend, the more knowledge you earn, and the more breeds more in a never-ending virtuous spiral.

What is important is that this self-increasing cycle makes things that are new. New goods, new services, new dreams, new ambitions, even new needs. When things are new they are often not easy to measure, not easy to detect, nor easy to optimize. The 1st Industrial Revolution that introduced steam and railways also introduced new ideas about ownership, identity, privacy, and literacy. These ideas were not “productive” at first, but over time as they seeped into law, and culture, and became embedded into other existing technologies, they helped work to become more productive. For example ideas of ownership and capital became refined and unleashed new arrangements for funding large-scale projects in more efficient ways. In some cases these indirect ideas may have more long-term affect on growth than the immediate inventions of the time.

Likewise the grand shift our society is undergoing now, moving to a highly networked world in the third phase of industrialization, is producing many innovations that 1) are hard to perceive, 2) not really about optimizing labor, and 3) therefore hard to quantify in terms of productivity.

One has the sense that if we wait a while, the new things will trickled down and find places in the machinery of commerce where they can eventually boost the efficiency of work.”

It’s a very thought provoking post and well worth reading.

(Picture: “The Landfall of Jean Nicolet” by Edwin Willard Deming, commissioned by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1904.)

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What’s the Cost if You or Your Managers Are Jerks?

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Great infographic from Inc. on the cost of bad bosses. Not just incompetent, but who act like jerks.

You can see it at Inc.com in Maeghan Ouimet’s column.

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The Anatomy of Innovation

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I post a lot about the tension between creativity and execution and the drum I always pound is that ideas are nothing without execution. Innovation is the skilled execution of a new and workable idea, and the only way you can determine if the idea is workable is to execute it.

Every once in a while I have good ideas and, if I’m feeling on top of my game I try to write down some notes on them. How would it be if, in my eulogy, you were asked to read out my list of good ideas? They were some very good ideas, you might say. And you might add, too bad he never did anything with them. That’s the sort of thought that wakes me up at night and I can tell you I’ve spent the last few year focused on actually having fewer ideas but really doing something with the ones I have.

The thing is, it’s not until I actually sit down and start crafting that idea into something that anything creative really happens. Honestly, I think more with my fingers (the ones on the keyboard) than I do with my head. That’s when I turn the little bubble of an idea into something that has weight and presence: a sentence maybe or even a chapter. That’s when creation happens and it happens when the execution engine is in gear.

I might have a flash of an idea connecting a business story I heard with a cognitive science article I read. Or I might, on my run, suddenly think of something a character in a story might do. Sometimes insights and solutions to problems come out of the air like that. But really, it’s not until I’m actually up to my elbows in the work that the idea makes sense.

That’s all to say why I was interested in this post by Maria Popova, Tchaikovsky on Work Ethic vs. Insiration. Inspired by several comments by artists recently that “just showing up” to do the work is as important as “inspiration” to the creation of innovative work, she went back to the letters of Tchaikovsky for more.

“Do not believe those who try to persuade you that composition is only a cold exercise of the intellect. The only music capable of moving and touching us is that which flows from the depths of a composer’s soul when he is stirred by inspiration. There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.”

The letter, written to a patron of his work, continues with an example of a recent example of sticking it out.

“A few days ago I told you I was working every day without any real inspiration. Had I given way to my disinclination, undoubtedly I should have drifted into a long period of idleness. But my patience and faith did not fail me, and to-day I felt that inexplicable glow of inspiration of which I told you; thanks to which I know beforehand that whatever I write to-day will have power to make an impression, and to touch the hearts of those who hear it. I hope you will not think I am indulging in self-laudation, if I tell you that I very seldom suffer from this disinclination to work. I believe the reason for this is that I am naturally patient. I have learnt to master myself, and I am glad I have not followed in the steps of some of my Russian colleagues, who have no self-confidence and are so impatient that at the least difficulty they are ready to throw up the sponge. This is why, in spite of great gifts, they accomplish so little, and that in an amateur way.”

That’s the way it works. Don’t throw in the sponge. Get your ideas into execution.

Click through to the article to find links to Tchaikovsky’s letters and to more from other artists including rockers Jack White and Nick Cave.

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From Masters of the Universe to Eunuchs: Tom Wolfe on Traders and Quants

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A great and very long article in Newsweek from novelists and new-journalist Tom Wolfe on how the outrageous hero of his 1987 Bonfires of the Vanities “couldn’t get arrested today” for what he did then, not against the slings and arrows being fired around the financial world by quants and hedge fund managers. Of particular interest is the disdain the financial pros have for the rest of the world and the ease with which they ignore the results of their actions.

“The Masters of the Universe had the same sort of terminology for referring to clueless citizens in their world—but who were they? According to Michael Lewis, a onetime salesman for Salomon Brothers, there was a running joke at Salomon that went:

“What’s the second-lowest form of human being?”

“I don’t know, what?”

“An equities dealer in Dallas.” This was the sub-punchline. At the time, the 1980s, the action, the big money, was not in equities, i.e., stocks, but in the bond market and certainly not in Texas.

“So what’s the lowest form of human being?”

“A customer.”

That was Salomon Brothers. At Goldman Sachs they called customers “muppets.” Other investment banks called their customers “guppies,” “suckers,” “marks,” “sheep,” “chumps,” “lambs,” “baby seals”… Words like suckers, marks, and lambs had considerably more bite than hooples. After all, where do lambs go? To the slaughter.”

A great read and a cautionary tale.

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Commencement Speeches That You Should Hear

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From Maria Popova, 5½ Timeless Commencement Speeches to Teach You to Define Your Own Success. Five great videos that are worth taking a minute to watch.

David Foster Wallace

“Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’”

Ellen Degeneres

“For me, the most important thing in your life is to live your life with integrity, and not to give into peer pressure. to try to be something that you’re not. To live your life as an honest and compassionate person. to contribute in some way. So to conclude my conclusion: follow your passion, stay true to yourself. Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path, and by all means you should follow that.”

Aaron Sorkin

“It seems to me that more and more we’ve come to expect less and less of each other, and that’s got to change. Your friends, your family, this school expect more of you than vocational success.”

Barack Obama

“I guarantee you, there will be times when friends or family urge you to pursue more sensible endeavors with more tangible rewards. And there will be times where you will be tempted to take their advice. But I hope you’ll remember, during those times of doubt and frustration, that there is nothing naïve about your impulse to change the world. Because all it takes is one act of service — one blow against injustice — to send forth what Robert Kennedy called that tiny ripple of hope. That’s what changes the world. That one act.”

Conan O’Brien

“For decades, in show business, the ultimate goal of every comedian was to host The Tonight Show. It was the Holy Grail, and like many people I thought that achieving that goal would define me as successful. But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you. In 2000 — in 2000 — I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality.”

And as a bonus…

Ray Bradbury

“I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: “Am I being joyful?” And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.”

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Innovative Business Models: Andrew Sullivan

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This week, blogger Andrew Sullivan announced, with some trepidation, that he was taking his Daily Dish blog private (it’s currently carried by Newsweek/The Daily Beast) as a subscription-only site. You can read his reasons for doing so here.

The trepidation, freely admitted, was that the financial support from readers would not materialize. Sullivan chose to be transparent and let readers watch the numbers so they could understand the change. He invited people to pre-subscribe and, in the first twenty four hours, raised $330,000 in subscriptions from some 12,000 readers. That number represents just one percent of his online readership, so it seems clear that this business model is destined for success. If he can get 10% of his readers to pay for his blog (which serves up dozens of stories and links to items, along with poems and art items, each day of the week) he’ll have triple his target budget. (Disclaimer: I’m a previous winner of the Daily Dish’s View From Your Window Contest).

Check out his math and his model here.

I have no idea whether this kind of model will work but then I have no idea why it shouldn’t. Sullivan is a serious writer with a serious global readership, who writes pieces for The Time of London, Newsweek and other serious publications (or whatever Newsweek is now that it no longer “publishes”). I hope it does and I hope thousands of new “plug-and-play” models allow authors, scholars and artists to get their work into wide distribution without middlemen. Recently, comedian Louis C.K. released his new stand-up comedy special not through HBO but through his own website. He took in more than a million dollars. Sullivan seems to be on his way to doing something similar.

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