Building Bridges Through Conversation

Building Bridges Through Conversation

At Books@Work, we believe in the transformative power of conversation. A good conversation offers “a hospitable environment for creative thought.” Interacting with each other on a deeper level helps to dismantle exclusionary cultures and biases. We all know it’s tough to have difficult conversations at work – but they are critical to conflict resolution and trust-building.

We use narratives – fiction, nonfiction, poems and plays – to kickstart these conversations. We write frequently about the benefits of these discussions. But what exactly does a conversation around a literary text look like in action?

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Boost the Power of AI: Nurture Human Connections at Work

Boost the Power of AI: Nurture Human Connections at Work

When Apple CEO Tim Cook appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition in June, interviewer Steve Inskeep posed a question about the uncertain future of artificial intelligence in the workplace: “Are you. . . scared by the prospects of AI getting out of control?”

“I don’t really worry about machines thinking like people,” Cook replied. “I worry about people thinking like machines.” The real cause for concern, he added, is the potential “absence of humanity” and “deep thought” in the corporate world.

Cook’s response immediately reminded me of  Ken Liu’s “The Regular,” a short story that we have used in Books@Work programs and discussed together as a team. The premise is simple: police detectives in a not-so-distant future have been outfitted with devices that regulate their decision-making functions. If the regulator detects too much emotion behind a decision, it will nudge the brain to be more logical, no matter the consequences. In other words, what happens when people think like machines?

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Social Learning: The Secret Ingredient for Successful Workplace Learning and Development

Social Learning: The Secret Ingredient for Successful Workplace Learning and Development

As workplace learning remains a high priority in global companies, nearly half of American workplace learning in 2016 was delivered electronically. The convenience of the digital platform makes tailored learning accessible: employees can learn the very specific skills they need right now, delaying additional training until they need it.  As companies allocate training dollars, continuous, on-demand learning provides the effective skill-development many seek.

This individualized approach may be efficient, but is it sufficient?

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Research in Practice: Learning from the Communities We Serve

Research in Practice: Learning from the Communities We Serve

In the world of the sciences – including the social sciences – researchers have long known that they need to be on the lookout for surprises in their data. When something unexpected repeatedly emerges, it is time to sit up, take notice and challenge the assumptions that shaped your research. In the early days of interviewing Books@Work participants, the surprises we observed in participant experiences sent us right back to our early thinking about the program.

The original concept for Books@Work came from a community effort (led by Ann Kowal Smith) to support individuals in the workplace to seek further education. The group speculated that building their interest and confidence as lifelong learners might help people across the educational spectrum develop new skills and attitudes as members of the 21st-century workforce. Steeped in the liberal arts, the designers of the program believed in literature as a way to engage worker/learners to discover their untapped potential. But over the course of hundreds of participant interviews, new insights beyond the original vision began to emerge.

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Stop, Think and Learn: A Books@Work Participant Shares His Experience

Stop, Think and Learn: A Books@Work Participant Shares His Experience

Today, we’re featuring an interview with Benne Hutson, the Director, Environmental and Deputy General Counsel for EnPro Industries, a global manufacturing company. Benne participates in Books@Work alongside leaders and staff from various departments in the corporate office. Together, the ongoing group has read and discussed over 15 short stories and counting.

When we asked Benne to share a little bit about his fellow Books@work participants, he said, “There were people from the legal department, internal audit, the payroll department, the tax department, the treasury department. So it was people that I would work with on a project every once in a while, but not on a day-to-day basis. Even if I worked with them regularly, I’m not sure I would’ve known them as a person in the way that you get to know them through Books@Work.”

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Reading Mindfully: Two American Poems in Conversation

Reading Mindfully: Two American Poems in Conversation

At Books@Work, we are daily witnesses to the power of conversation. As our own colleague Karen Nestor wrote earlier this year, good discussion is “an incubator for the kinds of innovative ideas that transform our lives” and allow us to reveal our truest selves. Walt Whitman once proclaimed in a poem, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Conversation draws out the multitudes within us – and putting two texts into conversation can lead to even greater revelations.

In honor of Independence Day, we’re featuring two American poems in conversation: Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” and Langston Hughes’ poetic response “I, Too.” Whitman’s poem appeared in the iconic 1860 collection Leaves of Grass, and Hughes’ poem was published over 60 years later in The Weary Blues at the height of the Harlem Renaissance. Both poets provide their take on America. What does America mean to you?

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Grounds for Dismissal: Why “Liking” a Text Is Not Required

Grounds for Dismissal: Why “Liking” a Text Is Not Required

We are more than five years into the Books@Work journey and we learn so much from our participants, professors and partners as they share their personal and collective experiences with the program. But as we shape and evolve the program, certain themes persist – as if to remind us of how far we have come and how far we still have to go. We wrestle with one such theme often as we offer new books and stories to teams and groups: whether “liking” or “disliking” a particular text affects its ability to generate and support a rich and engaging discussion. In exploring this idea, we return to a post I wrote a few years ago on this very topic. In short, we at Books@Work want all of our participants to be enriched, inspired and transformed by a text and, more importantly, the discussion. We continue to believe that there are boundless learning opportunities in each and every text – even when it’s not your cup of tea. 

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Weekend Reading: June 2018

Weekend Reading: June 2018

Happy Friday! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month for you to browse and enjoy over the weekend.

What makes a team exceed expectations? Brett Steenbarger, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at SUNY Upstate Medical University, argues for three tested and research-driven strategies that enable teams to function at the highest level in creativity, innovation and productivity. In addition to “distraction-free concentration” and opportunities for mentorship, Steenbarger’s Forbes piece highlights the importance of psychological safety – for groups and individuals. So what does that look like?

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Three Tools for Better Teams

Three Tools for Better Teams

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?

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Cultivating Culture: Professor Clare Morgan on the Limitations of “Must-Do Monday”

Cultivating Culture: Professor Clare Morgan on the Limitations of “Must-Do Monday”

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.

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