Sunday, January 28, 2007

Diversity Powers Innovation

[26 January 2007 - Center for American Progress - By Scott Page] Most people believe that innovation requires smarter people, better ideas. That premise, though intuitive, omits what may be the most powerful but least understood force for innovation: Diversity. Diversity usually calls to mind differences in race, gender, ethnicity, physical capabilities, and sexual orientation—social or political differences that at first glance have little to do with innovation. Yet the key to innovation, in economic terms, resides inside the heads of people, the more diverse the better. That link may not be immediately apparent, yet any understanding of innovation's role in economic growth must focus on diversity as well as ability. More

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Martin Luther Al-King?

[25 January 2007 - New York Times - Opinion by Thomas Friedman] The brutally honest Syrian-born poet Ali Ahmad Said, known as Adonis, gave an interview from Paris on March 11, 2006, with Dubai TV, and warned of what's at stake (translation by Memri): ''The Arab individual is no less smart, no less a genius, than anyone else in the world. He can excel -- but only outside his society. If I look at the Arabs, with all their resources and great capacities, and I compare what they have achieved over the past century with what others have achieved in that period, I would have to say that we Arabs are in a phase of extinction, in the sense that we have no creative presence in the world. We have the quantity. We have the masses of people, but a people becomes extinct when it no longer has a creative capacity, and the capacity to change its world.''

Monday, January 22, 2007


[21 January 2007 - Gurteen Knowledge-Letter - UK] I recently spent an hour or so with several senior managers of a large organization talking about their new KM initiative. After the session I e-mailed the knowledge manager some advise. Its quite generic but sums up my thoughts on why so many KM initiatives fail and so I thought I'd share them on my blog. Since then I have also seen someone asking in a forum "how do you get people to collaborate?" and "how do you change the mindset of people?". As I explain in my blog posting such questions are poor questions in that they are not specific enough! Jason Bates in my Forum commenting on the question "how should worker productivity be better managed?" answers in a similar vein by effectively saying "well it all depends" and goes on to say: "It's a personal bug bear of mine that some KM'ers persist in abstracting problems to conceptual levels that make business people groan and roll their eyes." More

A Kindred Spirit - Science, Education and Creativity

[21 January 2007 - Science- and Fooducation blog - Norway] My first experience with the annual ASE (The Association for Science Education) conference was at The University of Birmingham 3.-6. January. A paradox was that I had to go all the way to England to find that one of the most interesting experiences was to be a Swedish lecturer. A packed programme with hoards of parallel sessions, spanning most thinkable and unthinkable science education issues; from the highly inspiring/enthusing to the one that give you the feeling "I never thought it was possible to completely ruin something so inherently fascinating". However, one experience left all of the other sessions in the shadows: Hans Persson at the Swedish National Centre for Education in Physics (and Stockholm University, Institute of Education) had two sessions: "Creativity in the Science Classroom" and "Curious About Science?". His approach to science teaching was so fresh, vital and inspiring that the session ended in the audience giving standing ovations (the first time I've experienced such after a conference lecture). More

Friday, January 19, 2007

Meaningful learning keeps students engaged by teachers

[17 January 2007 - Huntsville Times] Speaker: Don't let kids get bored, or they'll be difficult ... Dealing with difficult students means not having them and the best way to do this is to encourage collaborative, meaningful learning, Dr. Charles Beaman told Madison teachers at the school system's in-service activities on Jan. 9. "Students must have therapeutic teachers in their lives," said Beaman, a national private consultant with his company, Therapeutic Discipline and Other Solutions based in Nashville, Tenn. "Classroom management must be therapeutic with teachers being friendly and inviting students to participate and come along." Beaman said a teacher's No. 1 goal should be to be proactive by motivating students to learn so they don't get bored and become difficult. More

Sowing the seeds of knowledge

[14 January 2007 - Times-Tribune] In the case of Howard Gardner, school "was never problematic." Of course, that’s not true for everyone, and the Scranton native has spent the better part of his life doing his best to ease the burden. It would not be off-base to use the term visionary to describe the Harvard University professor, considered by many to be a heavyweight in the field of educational psychology. Dr. Gardner’s claim to fame is his theory of multiple intelligences, which challenges the long-held notion that there is a single human intelligence that can be assessed via standard methods such as IQ tests. In Dr. Gardner's world, it’s not a question of how smart a person is, but, in what way are they smart? More

Monday, January 15, 2007

Workers Crave 'Meaning'

[10 January 2007 - TrainingZone - UK] Interviews with over 10,000 workers in the last five years show that companies who fail to create meaning for employees risk business failure, according to corporate psychologists YSC. The consultancy says that its results show that people do not want to just work in a business that is successful, but want to feel engaged in something worthwhile and that they can make a difference. “People spend up to one third of their waking lives in the workplace, so asking the fundamental question of what they get out of that time is important,” said Gurnek Bains, CEO of YSC. More
This raises the issue of how to engage employees in meaningful activity -- which both gives the individual employee the opportunity to do purposeful work, as well contributes to the organization's bottom-line results. The topic of "meaningful work" is also relevant for older workers who are nearing retirement, as well as for those who have left their full-time work but want to stay engaged in some kind of meaningful activity. -- Steve Dahlberg

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Like other aspects of modern life, schools must change

[10 January 2007 - Half Moon Bay Review - Opinion] ... One of CASA's guiding principles, which specifically addresses individual needs, is Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. In our society, we often think of people who are "good at" math or language as "smart," yet we don't offer that same mark of respect to gifted artists or musicians. Why is that? When I was young, my mom would say things like "So-and-so is smart at cutting hair" or "smart at fixing cars," and it wasn't until recently that I realized how true her words were: It's all brain power. It's all intelligence. The holistic approach adopted by CASA acknowledges and nurtures this belief, allowing the students to access the curriculum through their strengths, develop in many different areas, and recognize intelligence in others as well as in themselves. More

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Research: Laughter is contagious

[13 December 2006 - Wellcome Trust] Laughter is truly contagious, and now, scientists studying how our brain responds to emotive sounds believe they understand why. Researchers at University College London (UCL) and Imperial College London have shown that positive sounds such as laughter or a triumphant "woo hoo!" trigger a response in the listener's brain. This response occurs in the area of the brain that is activated when we smile, as though preparing our facial muscles to laugh. The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Action Medical Research and the Barnwood House Trust, is published today in the Journal of Neuroscience. Led by Dr Sophie Scott, a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL, the research team played a series of sounds to volunteers while measuring their brain's response using an fMRI scanner. Some of the sounds were positive, such as laughter or triumph, while others were unpleasant, such as screaming or retching. All of the sounds triggered a response in the volunteer's brain in the premotor cortical region, which prepares the muscles in the face to respond accordingly, though the response was greater for positive sounds, suggesting that these were more contagious than negative sounds. The researchers believe this explains why we respond to laughter or cheering with an involuntary smile. More

Monday, January 08, 2007

Happiness, Happiness, Happiness

[8 January 2007 - Steve Dahlberg] It looks like 2007 is going to be the year of happiness, well-being and positive psychology -- or at least the popular exploration of these topics. Scientists and academics are studying the impact of positive emotions and happiness on our personal lives and our surroundings. Economists are looking at how to measure the happiness and well-being of a community, in addition to traditional measures of financial outcomes and impacts. All of these areas promise a balance to our typical focus on "fixing" what's wrong or broken with our lives, our organizations and our communities. The time is here for also focusing on what's good, what works and what we are best at.

Teaching Happiness
[8 January 2007 - WBUR - On Point] If doing for others is the road to happiness, New York's Wesley Autry, who jumped on to subway tracks to save a man's life last week, ought to be the happiest guy on the planet these days. But what about the rest of us? A new science of happiness is attempting to pin down what really lifts the spirit -- to measure it, and to teach it. Happier people live longer. They get fewer colds. They have better relationships and do more for others. Since the time of the ancients, we've had advice on the good life. Now, after a century of measuring well-being by the march of economic indicators, psychologists are saying let's measure and teach well-being itself. More

Happiness 101
[7 Janurary 2007 - New York Times Magazine] More than 200 colleges and graduate schools in the United States offer classes like the one at George Mason. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Barbara Fredrickson passes out notebooks with clouds on a powdery blue cover for each student. At the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, students pass out chocolates and handwritten notes to school custodians and secretaries. The introductory positive-psychology class at Harvard attracted 855 students last spring, making it the most popular class at the school. “I teach my class on two levels,” says Tal Ben-Shahar, the instructor. “It’s like a regular academic course. The second level is where they ask the question, How can I apply this to my life?” True, the course is known as a gut, but it is also significant that 23 percent of the students who commented on it in the undergraduate evaluation guide said that it had improved their lives. ... Positive psychology brings the same attention to positive emotions (happiness, pleasure, well-being) that clinical psychology has always paid to the negative ones (depression, anger, resentment). Psychoanalysis once promised to turn acute human misery into ordinary suffering; positive psychology promises to take mild human pleasure and turn it into a profound state of well-being. “Under certain circumstances, people — they’re not desperate or in misery — they start to wonder what’s the best thing life can offer,” says Martin Seligman, one of the field’s founders, who heads the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Thus positive psychology is not only about maximizing personal happiness but also about embracing civic engagement and spiritual connectedness, hope and charity. “Aristotle taught us virtue isn’t virtue unless you choose it,” Seligman says. More

The Science of Happiness
[January-February 2007 - Harvard Magazine] For much of its history, psychology has seemed obsessed with human failings and pathology. The very idea of psychotherapy, first formalized by Freud, rests on a view of human beings as troubled creatures in need of repair. Freud himself was profoundly pessimistic about human nature, which he felt was governed by deep, dark drives that we could only tenuously control. The behaviorists who followed developed a model of human life that seemed to many mechanistic if not robotic: humans were passive beings mercilessly shaped by the stimuli and the contingent rewards and punishments that surrounded them. After World War II, psychologists tried to explain how so many ordinary citizens could have acquiesced in fascism, and did work epitomized in the 1950 classic The Authoritarian Personality by T.W. Adorno, et al. Social psychologists followed on, demonstrating in laboratories how malleable people are. Some of the most famous experiments proved that normal folk could become coldly insensitive to suffering when obeying “legitimate” orders or cruelly sadistic when playing the role of prison guard. Research funders invested in subjects like conformity, neurosis, and depression. A watershed moment arrived in 1998, when University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin Seligman, in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association, urged psychology to “turn toward understanding and building the human strengths to complement our emphasis on healing damage.” That speech launched today’s positive psychology movement. “When I met Marty Seligman [in 1977], he was the world’s leading scholar on ‘learned helplessness’ and depression,” says Vaillant. “He became the world’s leading scholar on optimism.” Though not denying humanity’s flaws, the new tack of positive psychologists recommends focusing on people’s strengths and virtues as a point of departure. Rather than analyze the psychopathology underlying alcoholism, for example, positive psychologists might study the resilience of those who have managed a successful recovery—for example, through Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead of viewing religion as a delusion and a crutch, as did Freud, they might identify the mechanisms through which a spiritual practice like meditation enhances mental and physical health. Their lab experiments might seek to define not the conditions that induce depraved behavior, but those that foster generosity, courage, creativity, and laughter. More

Happiness (and how to measure it)
[December 23, 2006-January 5, 2007 - The Economist]
  • Affluence: Capitalism can make a soceity rich and keep it free. Don't ask it to make you happy as well. More
  • Happiness and Economics: Economics discovers its feelings. Not quite as dismal as it was. More

Winning Cities

[8 January 2007 - WBUR - On Point] In the sweep of history, great cities come and go from their golden heights. Vienna, Florence, Athens -- all once crown jewels, now storied and fine but second tier, maybe third. In the 21st century, a new pack of contenders are jostling for the "hot city" crown. New York and London are still very much in the race but Paris is dropping back and Shanghai and the boom cities of India are pushing up. In a global economy, board meetings and banks and the most fabulous boardwalks can be anywhere the action is. Exploding cities are competing to be both sizzling and sustainable. This hour On Point: we'll go to Shanghai, London and urban America to look at winning cities in a new century. More

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Thinking Great Thoughts

[January 2007 - IEEE Spectrum] ... Great ideas do happen, as has occurred with many of the innovations and achievements we celebrate as engineers -- it’s just that they don’t tend to get scheduled or to come about because of a job requirement. Most often these ideas come at unexpected moments when the originator is thinking about something else or nothing at all. Perhaps while we are taking a shower in the morning, a background process is grinding away in our brains, and a connection is made while we ostensibly are thinking of nothing but pouring shampoo. There is a theory of creativity that holds that creativity is most often the product of the unexpected intersection of two previously unconnected thoughts. If you are thinking very hard about one such thought, perhaps you are suppressing the other thoughts that could connect with it. On the other hand, if your mind is a perfect blank…but perhaps I go too far. If you will excuse me now, I have reserved this time for the thinking of great thoughts. More