At the beginning of his popular book on collaboration, Adam Kahane repeats a joke he heard on his first trip to Cape Town. He writes that when faced with overwhelming problems, “we have two options: a practical option and a miraculous option. The practical option is for all of us to get down on our knees and pray for a band of angels to come down from heaven and solve our problems for us. The miraculous option is that we work things through together.”
While this joke has a humorous truth to it, it actually doesn’t require a miracle to work things through in business. Evidence shows that you can’t successfully solve problems through collaboration unless you have first prepared an ecology of mutual respect. Right now, summer gardens are bursting into color – but we must not forget that this growth is the result of nourishment and care. Successful collaboration in organizations may feel miraculous, but it comes out of a carefully-crafted environment that nurtures creative problem-solving. So how do we create that environment?
Last week, we explored the purpose of poetry and examined three essential questions spurred by Megan Gillespie’s poem “Cheers.” Today, we’re thrilled to feature an interview with author, academic and literary critic Clare Morgan. Clare is the founder and director of Oxford University’s creative writing program and is the author of several books of fiction. Her book What Poetry Brings to Business examines the “deep but unexpected connections between business and poetry.” She recently facilitated a Books@Work session with HR leaders in the UK.
Our blog post earlier this week explored the intersection of poetry and business. Today, we’re thrilled to feature a poem by poet, educator and Books@Work facilitator Megan Gillespie. Megan is Pennsylvania’s 2018 Montgomery County Poet Laureate, and her work has appeared in The Florida Review, New Delta Review and Cimarron Review. Her honors include fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Millay Colony for the Arts and Lector Writer’s and Performance Art Residency.
She currently works as a writing coach for the Wharton Communication Program, where she prepares students for communication challenges they’ll face as future business leaders. She recently facilitated Books@Work sessions with a group of leaders and staff at a large manufacturing company. As you read Megan’s poem “Cheers,” consider why we are so eager to ascribe meaning and order to the world.
What can business leaders learn from poetry?
The utility of poetry – and of literature and the humanities in general – is under scrutiny on a near daily basis. As our executive director Ann Kowal Smith noted in a recent post, many universities across the country are proposing cuts to their humanities offerings; one University of Wisconsin campus proposed the near-total discontinuation of its English department. If university administrators and faculty struggle to see value in poetry, does it have a place in regular society – let alone the business world?
The media is abuzz this week with Starbucks’ commitment to erase bias and foster inclusion within its ranks. This profoundly important step serves as a potent reminder that the majority of workplaces – even those that have begun to seriously address diversity – have not cracked the code on true inclusion. Sophisticated algorithms replace (flawed) human judgment to diversify hiring, and a wave of research on unconscious bias has created sufficient awareness to create pause before decision makers rush to judgment. Most companies would agree, however, that they have yet to find a good and scalable approach to create a culture of inclusion.
We designed Books@Work to help address this critical challenge. We define inclusion in the broadest sense: we encourage not only divergent gender, race and cultural perspectives, but also the unique belief-sets driven by our upbringing or the fact that we now are engineers, accountants, marketers or IT professionals. For Books@Work, inclusion is about creating and nurturing a culture that fosters mutual respect and invites the whole person to the table. But how exactly do we do that?
Happy Friday! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month for you to browse and enjoy over Memorial Day weekend.
Most conversations about diversity & inclusion lump the two concepts together – so much so that they become indistinguishable. A recent piece from Big Think, part of a series on D&I sponsored by Amway, stresses the importance of identifying and verbalizing the difference between the two:
“In the workplace, [diversity is] about giving equal opportunity to all individuals, regardless of the social groups they belong to. ‘It’s easy to measure diversity: It’s a simple matter of headcount,’ say Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid in their article in Harvard Business Review.” So how does that relate to inclusion?
Sometimes complex human questions become clearer when we go back to our roots – even our childhood roots. University of Chicago Laboratory School teacher and MacArthur Genius Vivian Paley addressed the universal human experience of feeling excluded after forty years of observing children in nursery school and kindergarten. Despite its unlikely source, Paley’s inclusion rule (and the title of her most popular book), “You can’t say you can’t play,” may be an important reflection for organizational leaders who have learned that hiring a more diverse workforce is only a baby step toward creating a culture of inclusion in which all individuals can flourish.
We aren’t advocating a return to preschool, or even the legislation of human interaction with a set of childhood “rules.” But there are important things to learn from the evolution of human nature – ideas and behaviors that have been hardwired into us since before our earliest sentient moments.
We are thrilled to feature an interview today with Jon Schmitz, the Archivist and Historian for the Chautauqua Institution and a six-time Books@Work participant.
Tell us a little about yourself. What kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis at Chautauqua?
I am responsible for acquiring, preserving and providing access to the records that document the Chautauqua Institution and Movement. I answer inquiries from the public, assist researchers, support staff and various Institution programs. I offer advice and support regarding archival practice to groups both on and off the grounds. I teach classes in archival practice which are open to the public and oversee educational internships. I also organize a lecture series and speak about Chautauqua’s history at the Institution, in the local area and around the country.
Each month we offer you a chance to read mindfully, using literature to consider your reactions to and assumptions about the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and accompanying questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. Grab a friend, family member or colleague to read, share and discuss together.
A prolific author of novels, nonfiction books, short stories, screenplays and more, Dave Eggers was raised in Lake Forest, Illinois. At age 21, he withdrew from college to care for his 8-year-old brother after losing both parents to cancer, events that are chronicled in his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His narrative essay “The Man at the River” appeared in Granta Magazine and tells the story of an American tourist in Sudan who is faced with a choice when he’s asked to wade across a river.
As you read “The Man at the River,” consider the many ways we navigate cultural difference and barriers to understanding.