The Future of Thought

Discovery

We spend a good deal of time ensuring that students learn what is known. In fact, we as a society are rather obsessed with it, testing students from the moment they enter our school system to check whether that information is getting into their heads. We do this because we believe that certain information is essential to turning those students into productive, functioning adults.

But there comes a point where we can be so adamant about that goal that we sacrifice allowing them to learn on their own. That kind of independent learning leads to strengths and abilities like discovery and critical thinking. A lack of those strengths and abilities has dire consequences, and not just on an individual level.

In America we idolize innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit. It is a significant part of our national identity. We create. We invent. We set the course for the future. At least that has been the story up to this point. If we neglect teaching future generations how to discover and think critically, we will have a much different culture. We will have stagnancy, and societies do not exist in stagnancy. They fade away.

So how do you teach discovery? Provide time and space. Occupying every moment of students’ time with structured learning devours any opportunity to teach them how to apply on their own the knowledge they’re so busy acquiring.

Without a doubt, there are foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities that will help people be better contributors to society, but they are just that—foundational. That is, they are the foundation upon which we build something of substance. The objective of knowledge is not to pass a test. The objective of acquiring knowledge is personal growth and to use that knowledge in a way that allows us  to contribute meaningfully to a society.

Discovery is by no means the exclusive domain of the young, but they are the pros. They are new to the world and therefore the world is new to them. They hunger for discovery, and left up to their own devices they are experts at it. And human beings can continue to discover throughout their entire lives, and be good at it, particularly if you did it with gusto when you were young. It makes for a fulfilling life. But suppressing discovery arrests proper development. We may expect people to think critically and discover in the workplace or as functioning adults, but that’s an unfair expectation if it’s been squashed out of them since they started learning.

To hinder or prohibit discovery in the young is a tragedy beyond measure. It is stealing the essence of what it means to be a human being. If we want a future where the world a better place, and we want our children to live happy, successful lives, it is imperative that we give students time to live.

On Cynics

Bullies

It’s safe being a cynic. Cynics don’t have to create. They don’t have to take chances. They can scoff at the risks that other people have taken. They can ridicule the courage others have shown in order to make some contribution to this world.

Cynics are hardly new to the world.  They’ve been around since Diogenes at least, but now their day has really arrived. The Internet has given cynics an audience and that’s what they’ve always wanted. Not only can they assassinate someone else’s character, but they can do so while remaining in hiding. It is a cynics paradise. A place where they can be loud and vicious and still remain in hiding. Tear people down for taking risks while they themselves avoid taking any risk at all. They are emboldened by the anonymity and become bullies and trolls.

Other cynics just hide behind their cruelty. They create an illusion of authority by mocking others. We witness it on T.V. and radio where hosts verbally assault guests or competitors. And there is a huge population of other cynics out there who eat it up. They love to watch other people get torn down because it validates their decision to do nothing. That’s what they get, they tell themselves, for sticking their neck out.

The travesty in all this is two fold. First, cynics deny their duty of contribution. Rather than helping the world in some way, they laugh at others who try. Second, those who do not understand the motives of the cynic can be intimidated or discouraged from trying all together for fear of the cynic’s attacks.

But why? They hold no real power. They are, by nature, weak. It’s their very weakness that lead them to be cynics. Perhaps they could influence other cynics, but they too are powerless.

You are better than a cynic. You may even be capable of convincing a cynic to be relevant. After all, when push comes to shove, that’s what we all really want. In fact, it’s what we all really need. Even the cynic.

The Leadership Lie

CrewGreat leadership never results from the actions of a single individual. No one—but no one—succeeds alone, despite what some people might tell you. Things get done through the actions of many, and they all must have the ability to take control and realize a vision.

The reality is that for every political superstar, corporate wunderkind, academic rock star, or entrepreneurial genius, there are scores of people behind the scenes making that illusion of the lone warrior possible. There is someone at home taking care of the family, an administrator running the office, a personal advisor giving perspective and insight, a best friend providing moral support, and on and on.

We attribute the title of leadership to one or a few, but that is a product of the conquering hero mythology we hold dear and a helpful way for us wrap our minds around cause and effect where the variables are incalculable. The reality is that leadership is a gestalt. It is the synergy of many contributing according to their own unique abilities and skills. The success of that synergy depends on how well each individual acts as a self-leader—one who owns what she does, strives to always do better, and is motivated by the notion of progress for a greater good.

Do not strive to be a solitary leader. That construct is a lie. Put your effort instead toward discovering your greatest talents and developing valuable skills so that you can be a part of a larger effort in which you are a self-leader, in control of your circumstances and in charge of your actions—one of many contributors dedicated to making the world a better place.

The Duty of Contribution

Duty of ContributionWe are all driven to make a difference in this world. The tragedy is that so many of us have lost our way. We have become blind to our true mission by an obsession with busyness. We confuse money as a metric for quality of our contribution.

We may be sad or unfulfilled and not realize it is because we are not attempting to help the rest of the world. We may feel empty and try to fill that emptiness with stuff that has the opposite of the desired effect. It’s not a simple problem, nor is it easy to overcome, but at it’s root the problem is this:

You strive to be happy rather than striving to create happiness.

It is a problem of personal orientation in which people perceive themselves to be the recipient of the effects of  the world around them rather than a participant or contributing actor. We must act to make the world better.

The more complicated part in this all is that you must gravitate toward the area where you are most effective. This can take some time and great effort, but in that way you will find your Flow.

A focus on happiness—mottos and mantra that push you to maintain a positive attitude—will be problematic if you are not foremost insisting that you make significant and meaningful contributions to the world around you. It is our duty as human beings.

The reward for fulfilling that duty of contribution is peace of mind, enlightenment, and yes, happiness.

The 2 Keys to Social Savvy

Sao Paolo Handshake
Social savvy is the the art of getting buy-in, earning other people’s respect, and helping them to believe in you and your cause. It is not something that you can turn on and off when it suits you, nor is it a means to an end. It is simply the right way to behave. However, like all proper behavior it does have beneficial ramifications.

Exercising social savvy is important for everyone. People in authority will often make the mistake of assuming that they don’t need savvy because they call the shots. This is a foolish oversight. Authority can always be taken away, often is taken away, and can be done so in the blink of an eye. You want and need people to believe in you and be on your side.

And then there are the people who think they’ll never be able to have any real influence, so they don’t bother ever trying to make a difference. This, of course, is tragic. For one, because it denies the world their potentially significant contributions. But it is also tragic because it is self-victimizing. They excuse themselves from the duty of contribution by claiming that their power has been taken from them. Make no mistake, there are people in this world whose power truly has been taken from them due to inhumane and deplorable acts. Claiming you are oppressed because your boss is a jerk is unacceptable.

There is a third group, however, who don’t exercise savvy simply because they don’t know how. If you fall into this group, you’re in luck, because you’re about to find out how. There are just two keys to savvy and they are easy to remember:

1. Don’t Be a Jerk

Be sincere in intention and action. Don’t exaggerate situations or circumstances. Sure, tell a good story, but don’t blow things out of proportion.  There’s a difference.

It’s not all about you.  Listen to people. Don’t be so eager to have your say. Make the effort and create the opportunity for other people to say what they need to say.  Show them respect, be honest, and have empathy or sympathy for their situations.  If you’re talking to people with the hope and intent that they will somehow provide you an opportunity, you’re doing it wrong. You are there for them.

2. Don’t Be a Pushover

Communicate with clarity and conviction. And in order to speak with conviction, you must be knowledgable. If you are not knowledgable about the topic, ask questions and listen (see above). Know of where you speak.

When you do need to make somethings happen in order to make a significant and worthy contribution, do it with finesse.  That means knowing how to negotiate, persuade, and influence—topics covered in more detail in Self-leadership.