In the quest for workplace productivity, focusing on breaks may seem counterintuitive. But the research is clear: regular breaks provide a needed respite from the daily grind. But not any old break is effective. Evidence from a wide variety of Books@Work programs confirm that breaks that still engage the brain – albeit in different ways – provide outsized benefits. In a Books@Work break, colleagues engage in crucial conversations around important, difficult-to-discuss issues. They practice critical team skills and learn to connect on a more human level.
In a world focused on outcomes and accountability, we ignore the transformative power of time apart at our peril. Insights from hundreds of Books@Work participants reveal three concrete reasons why taking a break to discuss a piece of literature with colleagues is just the productivity boost your organization needs.
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?
In the recent March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C., organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, student leader Emma González took to the stage to deliver a speech. After a short opening statement, she stopped speaking altogether and gazed ahead into an eager crowd of thousands. She spent the next six minutes in complete silence as the disoriented crowd cheered and clapped to fill the void. Despite where you fall on the political spectrum, González’s speech (or lack thereof) embodied a powerful truth: uncomfortable silence is an incubator for introspection – whether we like it or not.
Words and gestures and body language mean different things to different cultures – as does silence. “Anglophones tend to be most uncomfortable with long gaps in a discussion,” writes Lennox Morrison in a fascinating piece for BBC. “Even among sign language speakers, studies show that typically we leave just a fraction of a second between taking turns to talk.” A 2015 study of Japanese communication found that Japanese people in business meetings “were happy with silences of 8.2 seconds – nearly twice as long as in Americans’ meetings.” Another study comparing silence in Japanese and Finnish culture found that in Finland, “silence is tolerated and in certain social scenes it is preferred to idle or small talk.”
So how can we use silence as a learning tool in the workplace?
I never would have predicted that my favorite book of 2017 would be a memoir about teaching The Odyssey. Daniel Mendelsohn’s An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic was the perfect combination of a compelling personal story, an interpretive, accessible guide to one of history’s most famous works of literature and a probing reflection on human relationships. The book has opened up many new insights for me about literature and social science and my own experiences in the world.
Early in the book, I learned for the first time about a classical literary technique called ring composition, which was used before writing was even invented. The storyteller begins his tale “only to pause and loop back to some earlier moment that helps explain an aspect of the story he’s telling – a bit of personal or family history, say – and afterward might even loop back to some earlier moment or incident . . . gradually winding his way back to the present moment.” This is the same way we engage in everyday conversation, especially when we are inspired to think creatively and expansively about a topic. Digressions don’t take us away from the conversation at hand so much as they embellish our ideas. Isn’t it true that conversational twists and turns can enrich our understanding and our interactions with each other?
In a recent blog post, we invited readers to explore Billy Collins’ poem “Genius,” a profound reflection on what exactly makes someone intelligent and how our concept of genius changes over time. “Why do we find it so hard to agree upon who or what deserves the word?” we asked.
The word genius often conjures images of historical figures who embody traditional intelligence. Think of Albert Einstein, a man with an innate understanding of physics and logic and figures. Or maybe it’s Emily Dickinson with her mastery of language, her keenness of thought and her prolific poetry.
According to developmental psychologist and Harvard Professor of Cognition and Education Howard Gardner, Einstein and Dickinson represent what he calls logical and linguistic intelligence, both of which are valorized by IQ tests and held up as societal pinnacles of education. If you’re logically and linguistically intelligent, Gardner explains, you probably succeeded in school, and others will likely perceive you as smart.
But there are six other forms of intelligence that Gardner has identified and categorized in his research.
The sudden flash of insight that comes in an aha moment brings a sense of satisfaction that humans have valued since mythic times, when Archimedes shouted “Eureka!” after discovering a solution to a real-world problem. Such moments change individual lives and also provide breakthroughs in the world of work. St. Paul reinvented his life when he was knocked off his horse. Sir Isaac Newton theorized gravity when he saw an apple fall. Tchaikovsky said, “Generally, the germ of a future composition comes suddenly and unexpectedly. . . It takes root with extraordinary force and rapidity, shoots up through the earth, puts forth branches and leaves, and finally blossoms.”
So how do we create the perfect conditions for these flashes of creativity in the workplace?
Happy Friday! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month and beyond for you to browse and enjoy this weekend.
This summer, NPR shared a print segment about the work lives of oil rig workers from their podcast Invisibilia. In 1997, Shell began construction on “the world’s deepest offshore well,” a 48-story deepwater platform called Ursa. The unprecedented project challenged all notions of how the rig’s workers would plan and build safely. “Even though the men faced the risk of death every day,” one oil worker said, “they never showed any vulnerability. This made the work even more perilous, because the men didn’t ask for help, didn’t admit if they weren’t up to a certain job.”
Can being more vulnerable lead to a safer work environment?
In a recent Wall Street Journal essay adapted from his new biography of Leonardo da Vinci, author Walter Isaacson explores the life and mind of the ultimate Renaissance Man. How did Leonardo’s ambitious visions become realities? What made him so imaginative and prescient that people still debate his art and craft ball bearings based on his original design? What can we learn from the habits of a creative genius?
It’s Friday! As usual, we’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month for you to enjoy over the weekend.
Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmonson and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative learning engineer Bror Saxberg make an emphatic case in the McKinsey Quarterly for prioritizing lifelong learning in the business world. With the rise of AI and robotics, they write, the complex cognitive and emotional skills that make us human are more crucial than ever.