I have long been a fan of TED. A TED talk distracts you for 18 minutes with a cool “idea worth spreading,” satisfying the yen for a distraction but somehow alleviating the guilt associated with procrastination: like a particularly toothsome snack unaccompanied by the guilt of empty calories. Like many of you, I’ve watched my share over the years, admiring the interlocutory skill, the messaging and the clarity of thought they often represent. And, while I have a few favorites, the one I have watched and recommended more often than any other is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Danger of a Single Story.
Adichie is a skilled writer, whose book Americanah numbers among my recent favorites. In The Danger of a Single Story, Adichie shares a cautionary tale – the negative power of literature (and in particular, the traditional Western canon) to weave uniform narratives about other cultures that distort and promote dangerous cultural misunderstanding. Through this “single story” tradition, literature can “open up new worlds” but can also concurrently “rob people of dignity,” dangerously emphasizing “how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
Widely known for her short fiction, award-winning author Grace Paley was also an essayist, novelist, poet and activist. Born in the Bronx to Jewish immigrant parents in 1922, her prose is heavily influenced by “the language of her childhood, a heady blend of Yiddish, Russian and English.”
In 1978, Paley told The New York Times that she considered her work “a history of everyday life.”Paley’s short story “The Loudest Voice” was published in 1959 and follows Shirley Abramowitz, a young Jewish girl who is asked to be the narrator in her school’s Christmas pageant. As you read the story, think about how we decide who “owns” a certain tradition or ritual.
An early innovator of creative nonfiction, Norman Mailer is known for pushing the envelope and transgressing genre. His career path alone is a testament to his willingness be uncomfortable and challenge boundaries: He was a novelist, an essayist, an activist, a playwright, an actor and a filmmaker. “Every moment of one’s life is growing into more,” Mailer once said, “and retreating into less.”
But retreating into, for many, is the natural reaction when dealing with discomfort. Consider a common work situation: You’re working with a group of colleagues on a complicated project. You seem to be reaching a consensus in how to move forward until one colleague raises a new, alternative idea. Another colleague shuts it down abruptly, and awkward silence ensues. You step in with a joke to ease the tension and get the discussion back on track.
But what if that colleague’s idea was worth exploring?
Last week, my colleague, fellow researcher and Books@Work Board Member, Karen Nestor, encouraged us to rethink workplace learning for the 21st century. By separating “learning to be” from “learning about,” she reminded us that organizational learning culture requires a fundamental shift from training employees to creating regular, varied and meaningful opportunities for individual learning.
But how does a focus on individual learning benefit the organization?
Happy Friday! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month and beyond for you to browse and enjoy over the weekend.
“It takes more than a discounted health club membership to move the needle on employee well-being,” begins McKinsey Quarterly’s recent reflection on wellness in the workplace. Compiling emerging trends and thoughts on well-being from researchers, corporate leaders and McKinsey experts, McKinsey’s insights suggest a rising “willingness of leaders to invest in their people” and to see wellness in a broader light than just physical health. Director of the NeuroLeadership Institute David Rock shares that “connecting people socially gets a much bigger bang for the company buck than trying to help people eat better.” But is there science to back that up?
For many decades as an educator, I have struggled to describe the kind of lifelong learning that leads to a satisfying and productive life – and the kind of learning that supports institutions and organizations to build a satisfied and productive society. And then this week, a Books@Work participant provided a description that captures what I have attempted to articulate:
“I just think that every employer everywhere [sh]ould say, ‘Wait a minute, I want my employees learning all the time and I don’t care how they’re learning or what they’re learning because eventually that learning will help us.’ As long as you have a workforce that’s learning and growing and expanding their knowledge, it will benefit [everyone]. . . The act of learning is essential to everything we do.”
Do contemporary workplaces embrace this type of continual learning?
In his famous essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell explores why finding the right words to convey an idea is so difficult. Language, he writes, is “full of bad habits.” Looking at five examples of writing from various pamphlets and newspapers, Orwell finds that all five passages share two common mistakes:
“The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not.”
How often do we lack precision in our spoken and written words – at home, at school, or at work?
O. Henry is one of the most beloved short story writers in American history. His stories are known for their wit and playfulness, often featuring misunderstandings and surprise endings. Born in North Carolina in 1862, O. Henry later moved to New York, using Manhattan and its societal divisions as fodder for his fiction. Henry is the namesake for the prestigious O. Henry Prize, awarded annually to the most outstanding published short story of the year.
As you read O. Henry’s “Two Thanksgiving Day Gentlemen,” consider why traditions and rituals like Thanksgiving are so important to us.
This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of John Dewey’s classic book, Democracy and Education. While much has changed in the last century, much has not: his voice continues to inspire us today as we think about the role that adult learning can play in shaping democracy. Dewey’s lesser-known friend and colleague, Jane Addams, provides important practical perspectives as she combined theory and practice in work that shaped the lives of individual people in Chicago and far beyond for many decades.
Dewey and Addams believed that democracy depends on providing opportunities and resources for every person to build his/her own capacity to contribute to the work at hand in their families, in the workplace and in the larger community.