What Work Is: Reading Philip Levine at the VA

What Work Is: Reading Philip Levine at the VA

The experience of war is hardly universal. Walking the halls of the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, a sea of service t-shirts and decorated, black battle ball caps, embroidered with VIETNAM or KOREA, belies the diverse audience the hospital serves. The military has that affect – for the duration of service you’re no longer James, Joe, or Lisa – you’re Corporal, Sergeant, Lieutenant. Your own self is effectively erased, recolored in uniform camouflage. This visual trick is still in full effect at the VA.

Read More

The Power and the Promise of Cross-Racial Friendships

The Power and the Promise of Cross-Racial Friendships

I recently had the honor and privilege of introducing Dr. Deborah Plummer, author of Some of My Friends Are… The Daunting Challenges and Untapped Benefits of Cross-Racial Friendships, at her Northeast Ohio book launch. Dr. Plummer is a nationally recognized psychologist and diversity management thought leader. She is a scientist, researcher, changemaker and professor in several disciplines – and a prolific author.

Debbie’s book, supported by twenty years of rigorous research on cross-racial friendships, helps us to understand how and why this literary friendship was both unusual but also deeply formative and important. In examining cross-racial friendships, she relies on extensive quantitative and qualitative evidence from her own research and the research of others. But her personal reflections and unflinching candor invite us to examine our own friendships: the acquaintances, the lovers, the friends “of the heart.”

Read More

Psychological Safety: Practice Matters

Psychological Safety: Practice Matters

The term “psychological safety” may be buzzy, but it’s no buzzword. Collaborative, inclusive and productive organizational cultures require psychological safety. But building and maintaining true psychological safety takes both time and practice.

Psychological safety is the “shared belief’ that a team or a group is “safe for interpersonal risk taking.” Reintroduced (although coined years earlier) in the academic literature by Harvard professor Amy Edmondson, psychological safety enables candor, trust and mutual respect, and invites the full power of human ability to tackle workplace challenges. In psychologically safe environments, we give each other the benefit of the doubt and we are fully able to learn together – from each other and from our mistakes.

Read More

Can We Talk About Race at Work? ZZ Packer’s “Brownies” Shows Us How

Can We Talk About Race at Work? ZZ Packer’s “Brownies” Shows Us How

At Books@Work, we look for books and stories with multiple “handles,” or angles to address. We love narratives that provoke tough questions and stir debate, that kindle memories and foster connection. Sometimes a story may defy the reader’s expectations and assumptions. And sometimes a story may seem like it’s “about” one thing – but a well-facilitated conversation exposes deeper thematic layers.

In ZZ Packer’s “Brownies,” the most popular members of an all-black girl scout troop convince their fellow Brownies to confront an all-white troop for using a racial slur. To avoid spoilers, suffice it to say that the confrontation does not go as planned – and the girls realize they have spectacularly misjudged the situation.

Read More

Leadership Lessons from Hamilton

Leadership Lessons from Hamilton

How did Hamilton come from nothing to become who he was? What was his leadership style? How did he know to insist that we do need a central government, even though we wanted to break away from the British monarchy? In one Books@Work session, a group of senior leaders explored what they can learn from the divergent styles of Hamilton and Washington as they faced the Whiskey Rebellion.

Read More

Revisiting the Classics: Literature’s Power to Humanize the Workplace

Revisiting the Classics: Literature’s Power to Humanize the Workplace

At Books@Work, we constantly read and evaluate new texts – short stories and books – for interesting opportunities to trigger engaging and timeless discussion among colleagues. We look for new perspectives, especially from writers whose work is “outside” the traditional canon of Western literature.  Whether a powerful portrait of immigrant experience from Edwidge Danticat, or a fascinating take on #metoo from Jamel Brinkley, we take pride in introducing new voices to our participants. But I’ve recently had a chance to revisit the power of a few classic short stories.

Read More

The Learning Legacy of MLK

The Learning Legacy of MLK

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us that education and learning are “tools for shaping the future and not devices of privilege for an exclusive few.” Learning – and in particular, social learning – is an equalizer. What we learn from each other is broader than anything we can learn alone.

Read More

Through Other Eyes: The Collective Impact of Reading Together

Through Other Eyes: The Collective Impact of Reading Together

There’s reading, and there’s reading. Sometimes we read opportunistically, with the sole objective to take something we need from the text. It might be a manual, it might be a technical article or it might be an article highlighting the news of the day.

But sometimes (less frequently, I fear) we read for the sheer pleasure of immersing ourselves in a story, of taking ourselves to a far-off land, solving a mystery or stepping into the shoes of a character. It might be a novel or a piece of narrative nonfiction, but we relish the words and “live” the experience rather than taking away lessons.

Read More

The Best Books and Short Stories to Spur Conversation in 2018

The Best Books and Short Stories to Spur Conversation in 2018

The end of 2018 brings with it a wave of “Best Books” round-ups – and we at Books@Work are no exception. But instead of naming favorites in 2018, our list highlights the books and short stories that spurred the most profound, perplexing and thought-provoking discussions for Books@Work participants this year.

We believe that meaningful conversation kindles social connection in the workplace and beyond. These ten diverse narratives represent the essential “ingredients” for good conversation, from dynamic characters and ethical dilemmas to energetic plots and unfamiliar worlds.

Read More

An Equal Playing Field: Professor Heather Braun on Books@Work

An Equal Playing Field: Professor Heather Braun on Books@Work

Today’s interview features Books@Work facilitator Dr. Heather Braun, an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Akron, where she also serves as Honors Advisor and Internship Liaison for the department.

“How have you managed to pivot from the classroom setting to facilitating literature discussions with adults in the workplace?”

In both settings, it’s really important to me to make the material matter and to show readers how it’s relevant to their lives. I think Books@Work is a really effective way of doing this. You’re getting to hear honest reactions from readers who are not paying for a class in the “real world” and who are seeking that relevance, too, in what they read.

Both settings also offer readers a chance to connect with each other. That’s something I also try to do in my classes because I think it increases engagement and interest, and my students are more likely to read the material when they feel like they are a part of a kind of family that listens and supports them.

Read More