Modern society worships superheroes in literature, television, and blockbuster movies. We get a kick out of seeing good triumph over evil. We relish the idea of a savior protecting the innocent. But the moral frameworks of these characters are as fictional as the superpowers they are imbued with.
Sometimes we forget, however, that true heroes walk among us. They may not wear capes or shoot webs from their wrists, but their feats are far more impressive. The danger they experience is genuine, the stakes far higher. They go beyond the call of duty, often risking their own lives to help others.
While the 24-hour news cycle can sometimes make the world seem like a dark and cruel place, there is plenty of good to be found. With that in mind, we take a look at just ten extraordinary real-life heroes.
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10The Hero Of The Montecito Mudslides
Photo credit: KSBY
In January 2018, Southern California was struck by a series of deadly mudslides. The storm-related disaster claimed the lives of nearly two dozen people and hospitalized 163 others. A mudflow in Montecito was so powerful that it dislodged a number of houses from their foundations. Reaching speeds of up to 32 kilometers per hour (20 mph), the debris-filled wave laid waste to vehicles, trees, power lines, and buildings.
Since heavy rain had been forecast, rescue teams were already mobilized along the coastal town when the storm hit. Fortunately, firefighter Maeve Juarez was on hand to coordinate the rescue efforts.
Maeve was inspecting the San Ysidro Creek Bridge in the early hours of the morning. Moments after leaving, an enormous gas explosion completely destroyed the bridge and set fire to neighboring houses. She rushed back to the scene, just in time to see one couple jumping from the second floor of their burning home. The woman had broken her feet during the escape. Maeve clothed the half-naked woman and carried her over 400 meters (1,300 ft) to safety.
Maeve continued working through the night with her colleagues and is credited with saving over 100 lives. She was presented with the first Medal of Valor award in the history of the Montecito Fire Department, along with her colleague Andy Rupp.
9The Man With The Golden Arm
Photo credit: Australian Red Cross
James Harrison’s entire outlook on life changed at a very young age. At the tender age of 14, the Australian underwent a surgical procedure that required a series of blood transfusions. Seeing as his life was saved by the kindness of others, Harrison decided to “pay it forward.” Four years later, in 1954, he started giving blood. Even his own fear of needles could not deter him.
Doctors soon discovered that James had a very rare type of antibody—the anti-D antibody—in his blood plasma.
Researchers established that the anti-D antibody could be administered to combat a condition called rhesus disease. In rhesus disease, a pregnant woman’s immune system recognizes certain markers on her baby’s blood cells as foreign. The mother’s immune system then starts churning out antibodies that target and destroy her baby’s red blood cells. This unwanted process can cause serious complications during pregnancy, potentially resulting in the baby’s death. But James’s blood plasma was used to devise a treatment that could stop the mother’s immune system from becoming primed in this way.
James was the very first donor of what would become Australia’s Anti-D Program. James (aka “the man with the golden arm”) has donated blood plasma a staggering 1,173 times. He gave blood every two weeks for 60 years.
The Australian Red Cross estimates that the 81-year-old’s donations have helped save over two million babies. “Every ampule of Anti-D ever made in Australia has James in it,” explained Rhesus Program Coordinator Robyn Barlow. It is no wonder, then, that he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his noble deeds.
8Tragedy On The Water
Photo credit: Mercy Blankson
In August 2018, a passenger boat carrying 24 people slammed into an object in the waterways of Rivers State, Nigeria. The boat capsized, throwing its occupants overboard. Without hesitation, Joseph Blankson dove into the waters. As soon as the 36-year-old had rescued one person, he would go back to save another. One by one, Blankson pulled 13 people to safety.Sadly, while attempting to rescue a 14th soul, he succumbed to fatigue and drowned. Joseph’s incredible sacrifice meant that he was the only fatality that day.
Blankson leaves behind his wife and three children. Mercy Blankson described her husband as a loving father who, “put people first, before himself.” The president of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki, offered the following words:
Every now and then we hear amazing stories of Nigerian heroes. Joseph Blankson gave his life to save 13 people. I salute this Nigerian hero who by his last great act, showed us, once again, that we have remarkable people across this nation. His memory will be writ in gold.
The Rivers State government has organized an endowment fund to provide for Joseph’s grieving family.
Photo credit: Gendarmerie Nationale, France
In March 2018, an ISIS gunman went on a rampage across the French town of Carcassonne, shooting at off-duty police officers. The attacker then drove to the commune of Trebes and stormed the local Super U market. The attack had suddenly turned into a hostage situation.
A brave police officer, Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, did not hesitate to take the place of one of the frightened hostages. Beltrame entered the building and secretly placed an active cell phone on a nearby table. This act gave his colleagues an opportunity to listen in.
Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame spent over two hours in the presence of his Moroccan captor. Upon hearing the sound of gunfire, French officers went into the supermarket and killed the terrorist. Three people were killed during the rampage, while 15 others were hurt.
A badly wounded Beltrame was transported to a hospital. Knowing his injuries were life-threatening, Arnaud married his partner from his hospital bed. Mere hours later, Arnaud died from his injuries.
A state funeral was held to honor Beltrame’s sacrifice. His mother said she was not surprised to learn of her son’s heroism:
He’s always been like this. He would tell me, “I am doing my job, Mom, that’s all.”
6The Angel of Nanjing
Over a stretch of the Yangtze River lies the Nanjing River Bridge. This colossal road-rail bridge took eight years to build and was completed in 1968. It boasts a four-lane highway, a 6,772-meter-long (22,218 ft) railway track, a viewing tower, and a series of piers.While a remarkable feat of Chinese engineering, the structure has turned into a major suicide hot spot. Around 2,000 people have used the Nanjing River Bridge to take their own lives between 1968 and 2006.
In 2003, a vegetable seller named Chen Si started his daily walk along the bridge. Much to Chen’s shock, he saw a man readying himself to jump. Chen Si acted quickly and dragged the man back across the steel railing. From that day forth, he made it his life’s mission to save others.
Every weekend, Chen Si uses his free time to patrol the bridge. Riding along on his motorbike, the Nanjing resident keeps a lookout for the telltale signs of depression. “Their way of walking is very passive with no spirit, or no direction. I’ll go and talk to them,” explained Chen. He even hands out suicide prevention pamphlets that list his own cell phone number as an emergency contact.
Watching over the bridge for more than a decade, Chen Si has now saved hundreds of lives. An award-winning documentary, Angel of Nanjing, provides the audience with just a glimpse of Chen’s selfless work.
5The Human Shields
Photo credit: GoFundMe
In 2017, a shooter attacked innocent men, women, and children at a Las Vegas music festival. The attack was the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States, leading to 58 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
From the horror emerged stories of great courage. One of the night’s survivors, Jonathan Smith, went to considerable lengths to help fellow concertgoers. The 30-year-old ushered dozens of people to safety, putting himself in the line of fire. Smith was eventually struck in the arm and neck. “It was like a heavy punch to my arm. At that point my whole body spun around. I hit the gravel,” explained Smith.
Smith was himself saved by an off-duty cop. San Diego police officer Tom McGrath rushed to Smith’s aid and stemmed the bleeding. “He’s somebody who inspires me,” said Officer McGrath. “I know he might not want to give himself all the credit, but he definitely did a wonderful job, and I was just happy to be there to help him towards the end, and get him out of there when he was hit.”
A GoFundMe page was set up to cover Smith’s medical bills. The campaign raised over $80,000.
In quite an extraordinary display, ordinary people throughout the Strip set to work helping each other. Lindsay Lee Padgett used her truck to ferry the wounded to the hospital. Carly Krygier used her own body as a human shield to protect her young daughter. And US Army veteran Rob Ledbetter tended to the injured.
4Predicting A Tsunami
Photo credit: ABC News
In 2004, 10-year-old Tilly Smith was vacationing on a beach in Phuket, Thailand, when she made a lifesaving discovery. According to Tilly, the sea was bubbling “like on the top of beer.” To many, this may seem like a trivial description. But Tilly knew that something much greater was at play.
Weeks before, Tilly was learning about tsunamis in one of her geography classes. An educational video showed some of the early warning signs: frothing water and a suddenly receding tide.
Tilly pleaded with her family to abandon the beach. Her father, Colin Smith, trekked back to the hotel to warn the staff. But the Surrey girl had a much harder time convincing her mother, Penny, of the impending danger.
“I said ‘There’s definitely gonna be a tsunami,’ and my mum didn’t believe me. She didn’t react,” recalled the British youngster. “And then I said, ‘Right, mum, I’m going. I’m definitely going. There is definitely going to be a tsunami.’ And she just [said] ‘Bye, then.’ ”
Tilly’s father alerted an on-duty security guard, and the authorities quickly evacuated the beach. The Smith family sought refuge at their hotel, just minutes before the tsunami hit.
The tsunami was triggered by an earthquake just off the coast of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. An ensuing barrage of tsunamis devastated vast areas of Southeast Asia and killed nearly 230,000 people.
Tilly’s persistence saved the lives of every person on the beach that day. She was awarded the Thomas Gray Special Award from the Marine Society.
3Hookers For Jesus
Photo credit: Samantha Clemens/Southwest View
Annie Lobert has not had an easy life. During her teen years, she started out working as an escort and exotic dancer. In a bid to make even more money, Lobert moved to Sin City with her boyfriend. Then everything changed.
After she returned home from a job, Lobert’s boyfriend demanded all of her money. “I told him, ‘No,’ so he took me into the backyard and [beat me].”
Lobert’s boyfriend took away her ID and cell phone. She quickly found herself trapped in the sex-trafficking industry and ended up taking drugs. After five grueling years of abuse, Lobert escaped her pimp boyfriend.
In 2003, Lobert was taken to a hospital after a cocaine overdose. The incident forced Lobert to take stock of her life. She vowed to use her belief in God to help other sex workers find a new path.
Lobert, now 51, went on to establish the nonprofit “Hookers for Jesus.” Former working girls and sex trafficking victims are given counseling, emergency supplies, and a place to stay. Lobert’s Christian ministry also aims to protect the women from their former pimps. “Our house in Henderson, we had pimps show up with guns,” said Lobert.
Sex trafficking in the United States is a multimillion-dollar enterprise. The International Labor Organization estimates that 4.5 million people are trapped in forced sexual exploitation worldwide.
2The Poisoned Village
Photo credit: Goldman Environmental Prize
When Phyllis Omido started working at an iron-smelting factory in Kenya, little did she know that her own health was at risk.
The African nation’s booming solar panel industry has created considerable demand for lead. The EPZ refinery, where Omido worked, used to extract lead from old car batteries. Operating as the plant’s community relations manager, Omido was tasked with producing an environmental impact report. The news was dire. The plant’s chemicals posed a potential danger to those living nearby. Although Omido recommended the factory’s immediate relocation, her pleas were ignored. Instead, she was removed from the project.
Three months on, Omido’s son became ill. Doctors soon discovered the cause: elevated levels of lead within the boy’s bloodstream. Because Omido was breastfeeding at the time, it is believed the lead was passed on via her breast milk.
Phyllis quit her job and began investigating health concerns within Owino Uhuru—the slum where the EPZ refinery was based. Through Phyllis’s efforts, it was discovered that many residents had suffered miscarriages and respiratory disease. Mounting pressure forced the closure of over a dozen smelting factories across Kenya.
In 2015, Omido was the recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize. The young mother has now brought a class-action lawsuit against the Kenyan government. Meanwhile, the senate health committee has agreed to organize relief efforts in Owino Uhuru.
Omido’s campaign has not been without incident. In 2012, gunmen launched an attack on her home. She lives in constant fear of being abducted by vigilantes and must carry a panic button.
Photo credit: Ferne Pearlstein
September 11, 2001, was the day that countless heroes made themselves known to the world. Step forward, Rick Rescorla.
Ever since the first World Trade Center attack back in 1993, Rescorla was convinced of the need for better evacuation plans. The security expert argued that the World Trade Center, owing to its economic importance and symbolism, would remain a target of Islamist terrorism. He even predicted that the next potential terrorist attack could involve a cargo plane, loaded with bombs or chemical and biological weapons.
Rescorla worked for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. The company occupied 22 floors of the South Tower. The military man warned his bosses of the possibility of more terrorist attacks and recommended the company move its offices to a different location. But the company still had a lease for the building that would remain in effect until 2006. Rick Rescorla understood the danger, though. So he devised detailed evacuation plans for the tower. He also made sure that mandatory drills were carried out twice a year, despite resistance from management.
When the first plane hit, Rick issued an evacuation order. The workers knew exactly what to do. As thick, black smoke billowed from the North Tower, Rick led thousands of men and women to their safety.
While the evacuation was still in its infancy, Rick phoned his longtime friend, Dan Hill. Rescorla told Hill that the Port Authority had ordered the building’s occupants to remain where they were. Hill recalls what his friend told the Port Authority:
Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it’s going to take the whole building with it. I’m getting my people the f—k out of here.
That decision likely saved thousands of lives.
Rescorla was born in Cornwall, England. He served as a police officer and fought for the British Army. A staunch anti-communist, Rescorla moved to the United States to fight in the Vietnam War. Rick would go on to achieve many things. He was a writer, teacher, security expert, war veteran, and cancer survivor.
Rescorla was last seen going back into the South Tower to look for remaining workers. His body was never found.
Did you know…
… that today is Check the Batteries in Your Flashlight Day? On this day in 1965, an electric power failure caused a blackout over northeastern United States and Canada. Be sure to keep the batteries fresh in your flashlights just in case!
Today’s Inspirational Quote:
“When you do the things in the present that you can see, you are shaping the future that you are yet to see.”
— Idowu Koyenikan
It’s our business.
Because diamonds are forever.
Push the boundaries.
Inspired by research by Prof. James Baron, the founders of the biotech firm AgBiome created a company with no managers, run by committees of passionately committed employees. Yale Insights talked with Baron about what the company’s example tells us about leadership and organizational structure.
“Just treat people as adults.” This shouldn’t be a radical HR policy, but perhaps it is. Eric Ward, the co-founder of AgBiome, an agriculture-focused biotech firm in North Carolina’s research triangle, describes it as a core value for the start-up. “What happens in traditional companies is that there are a set of incentives put out there that indicate to people that they are not trusted to be proactive and solve problems on their own,” he says in a recent Yale case study. “The trite way of putting that would be people are assumed to be lazy and stupid.”
Having hired capable people, AgBiome puts them in charge of their own work. There isn’t a layer of managers making decisions at the firm, or even a list of job titles; rather, there’s an expectation that teams will “self-assemble around solving a problem.” Committees of employees oversee finance, business development, investor relations, and compensation.
The company’s unusual structure began with an article in the California Management Review. It described five organizational blueprints and the impacts associated with each. While each model had examples of positive outcomes, the data showed that “commitment” model firms, where the employees are passionate about the company and work in long-lasting, family-like structures, have a greater likelihood of surviving and going public.
When Ward and his co-founder Scott Uknes founded their company in 2012, they built on the paper’s insights, creating the non-hierarchical structure and considering internal processes with the commitment blueprint in mind. For example, new employees go through a months-long hiring process, including hourlong reference calls and interviews with numerous employees, to make sure they have both the needed technical proficiency and a willingness to participate in the company culture.
Ward and Uknes eventually contacted one of the authors of the research paper, James Baron, now the William S. Beinecke Professor of Management at Yale SOM, thinking he might be interested in visiting. Baron upped the ante and suggested the company could be a subject for a Yale case study. A firm that eschews hierarchy and other assumptions inherent in most company structures might be a paradoxically effective example to teach MBA students about leadership, HR, and organizational models.
Yale Insights talked with Baron about organizational blueprints, AgBiome’s application and modification of the commitment model, and what students and other organizations can learn from its example.
Q: Tell us about the paper that you wrote that influenced AgBiome’s structure.
While I was at Stanford, I worked with a number of colleagues to trace several hundred emerging companies in Silicon Valley over more than a decade. We looked at the way in which the founders built the companies and how the companies evolved over time. We were able to look at the effect of culture on how firms grew, whether or not they survived, whether or not they went public, if they went public how well they did, how bureaucratic they became, and so forth.
Our paper in the California Management Review intrigued the founders of AgBiome. They built their company around a commitment model and last year invited me to visit. We turned the visit into a Yale raw case.
Q: What is the commitment model?
We found five broad blueprints for organizing companies. The commitment blueprint was one where people were recruited to the firm based on their desire to be part of an enduring, family-like entity. They were controlled by a strong peer culture, and their affection was really to the organization more than to the specific project that they happened to be working on.
Hewlett-Packard in its glory days would be the quintessential commitment organization. The top-tier Japanese companies of the 1980s were commitment companies. People came in at
the entry level and stayed over the course of their career. They were deeply loyal to the organization, not to whatever particular role they were assigned to.
It’s an organizational form that’s been around for a long time and certainly not limited to Silicon Valley.
Q: Why has it worked for tech firms?
We spoke with venture capitalists who follow Silicon Valley companies. None of them forecast that we were going find the commitment model to do so well, but once we achieved the results that we did, they had an interesting explanation. They said startups confront two key issues: success and failure.
In firms that are successful more rapidly than people anticipate, there’s this perennial problem of how you keep people engaged. How do you motivate them to move on to version 2.0? With the commitment model, since people’s affection is really to an abiding organizational entity, they’re much less likely to cash out their stock options and buy an island in the Caribbean or whatever they’re dreaming of doing.
Conversely, when you confront initial failure, since people are attached not to that specific project, but to the premise of the organization itself, they’re more inclined to stay on in the face of a setback, whereas if you’ve recruited star talent to a particular project and that project doesn’t pan out, that talent will leave immediately.
The fact that commitment can help firms cope with either unanticipated success or unanticipated failure may be its biggest strength.
Q: Your study looked at companies in their first decade. Does the commitment model continue to be an advantage as firms mature?
We didn’t find any strong evidence to suggest that it didn’t, and in fact, we found that firms that started with a commitment model but abandoned it paid a pretty steep price because workers who are there because of an abiding love for the organization see the culture change.
Clearly, as organizations get bigger, as they get more diverse, holding a commitment blueprint together becomes more challenging because you can’t rely as extensively on informal interaction and everybody knowing one another in order to propagate the culture.
Q: Is AgBiome typical of organizations using the commitment model?
AgBiome uses committees to make every decision in the firm, including broad strategy decisions, including decisions about the CEO’s compensation. Not all commitment firms have such radical decentralization.
They felt very strongly that being nonhierarchical and participative was going to be critical to their business. I think they have a pretty compelling case that given their strategy and the kind of business that they’re in, a nonhierarchical structure not only enables them to attract and retain better scientific talent, which is critical to their mission, but also allows them to make decisions faster and better, which they argue differentiates them from larger, more bureaucratic competitors.
Certainly, it’s not a model that would fit every industry or every sector. I think knowledge-intensive industries where you require a lot of collaboration and intellectual coordination are the settings where this model is most compelling.
Q: How does the company approach recruitment?
Because it’s so important that commitment firms recruit people who share their values and can function as part of a team, by definition, they are much more selective. Anybody who recruits with AgBiome discovers very quickly that it’s a different kind of organization. They need scientific specialists, but much more emphasis is put on, “Is this person going to fit our culture and be somebody that will flourish with the rest of the team?” and less on concrete technical skills.
They handle recruitment in a very different and extended way. They interview your references extensively before they even talk to you. Recruits meet many, many people throughout the organization. Because the best way of guaranteeing that someone’s going to be a full-fledged member of the team is to involve the team very actively in the recruitment process, it tends to go much more slowly. They’re very careful to make sure that people aren’t surprised when they show up on day one about what they’re getting themselves into.
One of the concomitants of the commitment model is that growth has to be more measured and more focused than it might otherwise be.
Q: How successful are they in finding good fits?
There are some cases where people make it through who are not a match, and there’s some selection out of those misfits. A few more have left voluntarily to go back to school, but when we asked them about turnover, they kind of laughed and said, “That’s just not a problem that we have.”
They say AgBiome is not for everybody. But they believe that the kinds of scientific and technical talent that they’re trying to recruit, A, those people want to work on really cool stuff in an unencumbered way, and B, many of them find it really interesting to have the opportunity to play a role in the broader governance of the organization, which workers do in this organization.
They sit on committees, that, as I said, determine compensation or business development priorities. Employees get a much broader exposure to the organization and interesting variety added to their work by virtue of being a part of its governance.
Q: How does an organization with no titles and no hierarchy handle advancement?
Advancement means growing deeper and deeper in your area of professional expertise and growing deeper and deeper in assuming responsibility for the governance of the organization. As people do that, they are recognized for it, but not by moving up a well-defined bureaucratic hierarchy.
They have a recognition committee that works with the compensation committee. When people have, in the view of the committee, passed a professional milestone, achieved greater depth of responsibility and greater professional expertise, they will celebrate that with a recognition. That usually would include an increase in compensation and some kind of honorific recognition.
Q: As the company itself grows, how does it keep this family-like structure without becoming unwieldy?
The idea the company uses to describe growth is cellular division. That’s the mindset that their scientists come to naturally, so they have adopted a model of spinning off cells that are to be no larger than 50 to 70 people—a size at which people can manage relationships with one another in a trusting way. There’s neuroscience that supports that view.
These folks make all of their organizing decisions based, not on intuition or some diffuse set of value commitments, but on careful review of scholarly research. When they decided that they were going to move to this model of cells, they went to the anthropological literature to find the optimal sizes of tribes, which is where the 50 to 70 size comes from.
They’ve now created four of these cells and something called a cell senate, which is intended to coordinate between and among the cells. There’s a lot of structure that’s required to hold this thing together. As they get bigger and more diverse, the question will be whether the effort that is required to eschew hierarchy ends up becoming an encumbrance itself, whether people are spending so much time on committees that they’re not able to actually focus on their regular nine-to-five job.
Q: What can other companies learn from this?
The founders of AgBiome buy into a core set of assumptions, which if you don’t buy into them, would make it hard to move in the direction that they’ve moved. The way that they put it is, if you look at the people that you’re hiring, they’re carrying on complicated lives in which they’re exercising a lot of responsibility in their finances, in the rearing of their children, in caring for their parents, in serving as members of their community. They argue many organizations seem to presume employees are not trustworthy and their job should be specialized as narrowly as possible in order to minimize the scope of damage that they can do to the organization.
They believe that the same degree of efficacy and trustworthiness that you see people displaying in the other arenas of their lives should be the starting point in thinking about how you build an organization. They also believe that management is best done by people themselves.
Now, that’s a bit controversial to a school of management, where many of our students fancy themselves as being specialized overseers of employees, but the folks at AgBiome would say, to the extent that you can minimize the reliance on specialized managers, it’s not only less expensive, it’s much faster in terms of decision-making, because it removes these intermediate layers that have to be gone through whenever decisions need to be made.
Q: Is there a C-suite team or other version of upper management?
Scott Uknes and Eric Ward are the co-founders and co-CEOs. They really do work jointly. Eric and Scott are talked about as if that’s almost one word. They do have a few people in C-suite roles, a CFO and the head of HR. But, even there, they exercise their roles differently. They act more as a resource to the employee committees than the sole decision maker within the domain of their job title. Clearly, as the firm gets bigger it would not be a surprise to see more specialized senior roles. They now have somebody in charge of sales, so they are starting to develop a leadership team.
Of course, over time they’re going to get more formal. There will be more specialization, but I don’t see that as an indictment of the model. The goal for them is to try to minimize, but not eliminate entirely, hierarchy and specialization. I don’t think the question is, do they still look like they looked when they were first founded? The question to ask is, do they still look less bureaucratic and nonhierarchical than an otherwise comparable firm in their industry?
Q: How does this raw case fit into the Employee course that you teach to first-year MBA students?
Many of the cases that we studied are large, long-lived organizations. I wanted one that was at the other end of the evolutionary spectrum. A young tech-oriented start up in the Research Triangle in the process of developing its HR architecture is compelling.
AgBiome raises questions for the students about our assumptions about what an organization needs to look like, some of these assumptions that we talked about before: the role of management, whether workers can and should be trusted to make critical decisions or whether those decisions really ought to be vested in the senior ranks of the organization. When the folks from AgBiome got in touch, it seemed like a really propitious opportunity.
AgBiome is a very strongly mission-driven organization that believes that it is harnessing science for the purpose of helping feed the world and promote agricultural development. The virtue of a compelling mission that drives the leadership that you are engaged in is a really important takeaway from the case.
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The top four online marketplaces in India – Amazon India, Flipkart, Paytm Mall and Snapdeal – posted a net loss of Rs 9,847 crore on the back of a total operating revenue of Rs 8,898 crore in FY18. In fiscal 2017, the companies reported an operating revenue of Rs 5,920 crore and a loss of Rs 11,131 crore. If we take the four top online marketplaces as an indicator of the ecommerce business in India, the industry lost an average of Rs 1.88 to earn an operating revenue of Rs 1 in FY17.
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Over 1 in 5 couples in the reproductive age face difficulties in conceiving naturally. After losing his aunt to break cancer, Vijaygopal Rengarajan set out on a journey to create a “technology-agnostic integrated healthcare ecosystem” to significantly impact clinical outcomes. With Balachander Agoramurthy, Geetha Sanjay, and Gopinath Varadharajan, he co-founded Innov4Sight with one aim: to reduce errors in cancer care.
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‘Voice!’ chuckled I, ‘Yes Voice!’
You warned me about the choice
That express involvement – that express involvement
While I pondered, ruling and head voice
I was a amour and you a conjunction
I am shorn of my injunction
I crave the articulate, acoustic alternate
The resolution brought such sorrow
I crave the draft, deciding directive
The word brought such sorrow
And so I screamed, ‘Is that a influence?’
Quoth the discretion, ‘Mind the morrow!’
I crave the discreet, discretionary discernment
Do you like chamorro?
There stood a discreet adjournment
And so you came gently cheeping
I was a declaration and you a rhetoric
I threw my telephone upon the floor
My prejudice, I could not awaken
Optioning and optioning with my discontinuance
That abandoned, abandoned sunsetting
In there stepped a determining ‘verbal’
Identification – identification – identification!
Loopholing and loopholing with my videophone
I crave the cellular, caustic confidence
Only this and a venture
That interrupted, interrupted judging
All my soul within me drudging
Long I stood there noting, sludging
All my soul within me fudging
I was a influence and you a redial
An echo murmured back the word, ‘reserve!’
I crave the alternate, appropriate attempt
And the cordilleras never adjudging
And so you came gently clanging
I was a mention and you an oral
I crave the marked, mean manifest
That nonvocalic impeachment – that nonvocalic impeachment
Quoth the independent clause, ‘Mind the contest!’
With apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.
The Balding and Bearded Mind of Jay 🙂
A Poem by jay
Whose Mind is that? I think I know.
Its owner is quite quirky though.
Full of joy like a vivid rainbow,
I watch him laugh. I cry hello.
He gives his Mind a shake,
And laughs until his Beer-belly aches.
The only other sound’s the break,
Of Diwali crackers keeping birds awake.
The Mind is Balding, Bearded and deep,
And Jay has promises to keep,
After cake, Wine n lots of sleep.
Sweet dreams come to him cheap.
He rises from his hardy bed,
With thoughts of pets in his head,
He eats his Oats with lots of bread.
Ready for lazy day ahead.
With thanks to the poet, Robert Frost, for the underlying structure.
Insomnia in a storm cellar
Three wishes in a cornfield
Changes in a volcanic island
Secret map of your school
Special delivery in hot water springs
Stranger in the graveyard
First night in the royal palace
Imposters in a lagoon
Concert in a spa
Spirits of the nearby village
Reality show with a man
Hurricane hunting with a robot
Competition performance of a coward
Babysitting you a rogue
Locked up with a hobo
Road trip with a pretentious snob
Sleepover with a freak
Courage of a model
Sticking up for a king
Saving the world with a highly intelligent animal
O Divine God,
glorious light of my life,
hear my despaired prayer.
Grant me strength so I may go forth in your name.
I request this of you in your eternal presence,
o most merciful god.
Sustain me with your gracious wisdom.
|Morning Briefing (12 Min Reading Time)
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Life by a hundred cuts by anna breslin https://link.medium.com/rK4qmJkXGR
The “10,000-Hour” Myth: Why Deliberate Practice Isn’t Enough to Succeed by Melissa Chu https://link.medium.com/AkpuW9gXGR
This journey re-started on 13th May 2018.
I wish to sincerely express my grateful thanks to my Visitors, Readers, BFFFs and Fellow Bloggers for your kind support and patronage to my Blog reach this wonderful milestone of 20100 Visitors.
I am also grateful to those of you who time time off to read the different posts and like them. At the last count this blog has achieved your 75000 likes and your continued support.
I am especially thankful to few of you who very kindly shared their views by 1100+ comments which are my personal Treasure and delight and I consider them as a wonderful step towards our Virtual Friendship. I thank you for this.
Thu, Nov 8, 5:57 PM (12 hours ago)
Most esteemed spirit, light of our lives,
I wish to confess my mistakes.
I’m sorry, I cursed with your name in a moment of sorrow.
I seek redemption, allow me to prove myself once more.
Amend my darkened soul so I may start afresh in your divine grace.
How To Rapidly Double Your Brain Power With The Einstein Technique
Einstein had this forgotten habit for 10 years before he got famous.
In 1905, at the age of 26, Albert Einstein had what we now call his Miracle Year. He published three academic papers that completely transformed the field of physics.
If you’re like most people, you attribute Einstein’s creative breakthrough to a mixture of his quirky genius and his daydreams (one of his most famous was visualizing what might happen if he chased a beam of light).
But, as you’ll see in this article, the actual story of Einstein’s creativity is much more interesting and instructive. It’s NOT the story of a genius doing something we never could. It is the story of someone using a set of strategies that anyone can replicate in order to have creative breakthroughs. These strategies are hiding in plain sight among many of history’s greatest scientists and inventors.
Granted, the odds of anyone reading this article coming up with the next Theory of Relativity is vanishingly small. Even Einstein couldn’t replicate his own breakthroughs later in his career. However, this doesn’t diminish the fact that using Einstein’s creativity strategies can make us dramatically more impactful and successful.
With that said, let’s dive into the revisionist history of Einstein’s miracle year and set the record straight.
Einstein Is Not Who History Tells Us He Was
Before he had his miracle year, the last word an outside observer would’ve associated with Einstein was “genius.”
His headmaster told him he would never amount to anything.
He dropped out of high school at 15 (and later had to finish his last year of secondary education elsewhere before being admitted to university).
He was one of the only students in his class not to get a job after graduating college.
So, he moved back home and after a few months of searching for a position he started to lose hope. In an act of desperation, his father wrote a letter to an esteemed professor almost begging for his help:
“Please forgive a father who is so bold as to turn to you, esteemed Herr Professor, in the interests of his son . . . All those in a position to judge the matter can assure you that he is extraordinarily studious and diligent and clings with great love to his science . . . He is oppressed by the thought that he is a burden on us, people of modest means.”
Herr Professor did not respond.
Four years later, Einstein had his miracle year.
Let’s pause to consider how crazy this is.
Imagine a college grad today who is still living with his or her parents and just can’t seem to get it together. Then imagine an entire field of physics being transformed just a few years later by said person.
This just doesn’t happen.
And, it begs the question: How did such an “underachiever” make some of the most significant contributions to the field of physics?
To answer this question, we need to realize that while everything I just shared is true, it’s only part of the story.
Einstein Was Not an Overnight Success
When we tell the layman’s version of Einstein’s story, we oversimplify to the point of absurdity. You would think that Einstein was just randomly sitting around when he daydreamed his big ideas.
The little-known truths about Einstein are two-fold:
- Starting from an early age, Einstein had one-on-one tutoring in mathematics. Although, he showed a very large passion and talent for the subject, he did poorly on it in school.
- Einstein deliberately trained his visual imagination for 10 years before his miracle year. And throughout his career he looked at fantasy, not rational thought, as the secret to his creative impact. “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing knowledge,” Einstein explained later in his career. He added, “I never came upon any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.”
“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” — Einstein
So how exactly did Einstein visualize himself into genius territory? And how can we develop this ability within ourselves?
Let’s take a look at what Einstein did.
Einstein’s 10,000 Hours of Mental Simulation Training
“Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” — Einstein
The school Einstein attended after being kicked out was an avant-garde school that emphasized visual thinking. It was here that he started visualizing how light works under different conditions.
In Seeing What Others Don’t: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights, researcher Gary Klein writes:
“At the age of sixteen, Einstein began to conduct thought experiments about beams of light. These thought experiments were mental exercises that helped Einstein appreciate properties of light and also helped him notice anomalies and inconsistencies. Einstein imagined different conditions and possibilities, pursuing these speculations for ten years.”
In his book Sparks of Genius, researcher Robert Root-Bernstein adds:
“The young Einstein was thoroughly schooled in what modern scientists would call ‘thought experiments’: seeing and feeling a physical situation almost tangibly, manipulating its elements, observing their changes — all of this imagined in the mind.”
As he conducted these visualizations, Einstein saw a conflict between his intuition and Maxwell’s equations, which at the time formed the prevailing theory of how electromagnetism worked. According to this article in the New York Times by his biographer, the tension Einstein experienced because of this conflict actually made his palms sweat.
After graduating from Zurich Polytechnic and spending several monthsunsuccessfully applying to academic positions across Europe, Einstein was finally accepted to a menial job as a Swiss patent clerk, where he worked for four years.
But the time didn’t go to waste. In the same New York Times article, Einstein’s biographer describes how Einstein started performing thought experiments about the relationship between light and time:
“Every day, he would attempt to visualize how an invention and its underlying theoretical premises would play out in reality. Among his tasks was examining applications for devices to synchronize distant clocks. The Swiss (being Swiss) had a passion for making sure that clocks throughout the country were precisely in sync. … More than two dozen patents were issued from Einstein’s office between 1901 and 1904 for devices that used electromagnetic signals such as radio and light to synchronize clocks.”
By learning Einstein’s story, we move away from the overnight success and eureka narrative, and find a learnable skill and habit that Einstein practiced and developed over time.
If Einstein were alone in this, we could attribute his mental simulation habit to a personal quirk. But as I’ve dug deeper, I’ve noticed how many of history’s greatest inventors and scientists spent years deliberately practicing mental simulation with mental models (see The Laboratory Of The Mind and Creating Scientific Concepts). By learning about some of the stories, we can get creative ideas for how to incorporate mental simulation into our own life.
The Greats Use Mental Simulation
The most common way that scientists and inventors use mental simulation is to model their craft in their head.
My favorite example of this approach comes from the autobiography of one of history’s greatest inventors, Nikola Tesla.
From a young age, Tesla developed an aptitude for conjuring imaginary people, societies, and worlds. He describes how he would spend hours each night traveling in his own mind, meeting people, seeing new cities and countries, making friends. By the time he was 17, he had practiced the art of mental simulation so much that he found it easy to turn this skill towards his own inventions:
“When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. I even note if it is out of balance. There is no difference whatever, the results are the same. In this way I am able to rapidly develop and perfect a conception without touching anything. When I have gone so far as to embody in the invention every possible improvement I can think of and see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form this final product of my brain. Invariably my device works as I conceived that it should, and the experiment comes out exactly as I planned it. In twenty years there has not been a single exception.”
Another less common, but interesting approach to simulation is to build a model of others in order to more effectively connect, teach, persuade, and learn
Science shows that those who have a better theory of mind are better able to predict how others will respond in certain situations. It’s like a true-life version of the movie Next, in which Nicholas Cage’s character can see what will happen two minutes into the future. Before he approaches a woman he wants to pick up at a diner, he goes through all of the different approaches he could make until he finds one that will be successful. In a way, we all have this ability.
This ability is relevant to sales people who want to anticipate a customer’s reactions. It’s relevant to a parent who wants to get their child to do something. It’s relevant for any artist who wants to know how their creative act will be perceived.
It also increases our problem-solving resources by allowing us to tap into the wisdom of our role models. When you read, watch, and listen to your business role models, like I have done with people such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Charlie Munger, and Ray Dalio, you don’t just get their immediate wisdom. You also get a mental model of them that you can interact with and gain new insights from.
In a talk with students at Stanford Graduate School of Business, self-made billionaire, entrepreneur, and investor Marc Andreessen shares that one of his life hacks is having mental models of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs he admires (Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Larry Page), whom he interacts with when making decisions:
“I have a little simulation of Peter Thiel…He lives on my shoulder right here. I argue with him all day long.”
“You want to kind of construct a model of how they think and be able to be very objective and fair — where you can think things through from their standpoint. Then you have your own view on things. Then you try to run through in your head what you know of them and say, OK, here are the conclusions that they would reach. If you put enough time into that, you start to be able to have these conversations with yourself.”
We see this same pattern in one of the bestselling authors of the 20th century, Napoleon Hill. In his book, Think and Grow Rich, which describes his 20-year study of the most successful people of his age — including Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison — he explains:
“Every night, over a long period of years, I held an imaginary Council meeting with this group whom I called my ‘Invisible Counselors.’ The procedure was this. Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes, and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my Council Table. Here I had not only an opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great, but I actually dominated the group, by serving as the Chairman…. In these imaginary Council meetings I called on my Cabinet members for the knowledge I wished each to contribute, addressing myself to each member in audible words.”
How You Can Use The Einstein Technique
“Survival machines that can simulate the future are one jump ahead of survival machines who can only learn on the basis of overt trial and error. The trouble with overt trial is that it takes time and energy. The trouble with overt error is that it is often fatal. Simulation is both safer and faster.” — Richard Dawkins (Evolutionary Biologist)
Whether you’re an employee, programmer, investor, consultant, designer, manager, or entrepreneur, you already have a model of how your field works although it may be mostly unconscious.
To use the Einstein Technique, you should:
- Consciously build a mental model of how your field actually works.
- Test the mental model in your mind by mentally stimulating different scenarios.
- Test the accuracy of your mental model in the real world.
- Repeat steps 1–3 with the lessons you learned in steps #2 and #3.
Now, let’s break down each of these steps:
- Build a mental model of how your field actually works. To build an overarching model, I recommend learning the most important mental models for your field. In a way, the core job of any knowledge worker is to build a model of their craft and domain and master it in their head before they master it in reality. For example, I have a mental model of what makes a good article that someone will love so much that they will share it. In addition…
– An automotive mechanic has a mental model of a car.
– An architect has a mental model of a building.
– An economist has a mental model of an economy.
– A cab driver has a mental model of the city’s streets.
- Test the mental model in your mind, by mentally stimulating different scenarios. Mental simulation is so powerful because it takes the cost of experimentation down to calories burned in our head and time thus allowing you to increase the number of experiments you run.
For example, depending on our profession, you can simulate:
How an audience will react to a painting, article, video, podcast, or any other creative act we’re working on.
How a user will react to a change of the user interface or the addition of a product feature.
How a potential customer will react to a marketing or sales message.
How an investor will react to a pitch.
How a sports opponent with react to our movements.
How a strategic decision will play out in the future.
- Test the accuracy of your mental model in the real world. And as I argue in Forget The 10,000-Hour Rule; Edison, Bezos, & Zuckerberg Follow The 10,000-Experiment Rule, over the long run, those individuals and organizations that do more experiments are more likely to be more successful. It is not a coincidence that the largest companies in the world are also the largest experimenters and that Jeff Bezos says, “Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.”
- Repeat steps 1–3 with the lessons you learned in steps #2 and #3.When we simulate scenarios in our head, we immediately get a subtle gut instinct on what will happen and an emotion (ie — “something is off here.” or “This is perfect.”). When we experiment in the real world, we get qualitative and quantitative feedback.
When I edit articles, for example, I consciously simulate how specific types of readers will feel as they are reading the article. I will read an article 15+ times and each time from a different perspective. Each read through gives me something new. I stop rereading the posts once the voice in the back of my head is silent as I read. Finally, I refine my own simulations by having 3–4 people read and give feedback on every article I write before I publish it. I further refine it by reader feedback. More specifically, I read all of my comments and see how people share the article on social media.
Bottom line: we are born with an incredible ability to simulate reality using mental models. (yet, we often waste it)
“The mind is neither a logical nor a probabilistic device, but instead a device that makes mental simulations. Insofar as humans reason logically or infer probabilities they rely on their ability to simulate the world in mental models … This idea was first proposed a generation ago. Since then, its proponents and critics have revised and extended it in hundreds of publications.” —Princeton University professor Philip Johnson-Laird and researcher Sangeet Khemlani (source)
We live in an era that prizes rationality and logic as the highest forms of intelligence. In the last few decades, hundreds of cognitive biases have been identified that show just how irrational our intuition can be.
Yes, cognitive biases are important. Yes, rationality is critical. But, so too is imagination and insight! This article is a reminder that we should not overlook the miraculous native abilities of our brains. And, we should train our intuition — by learning the most valuable mental models.
Because, if you look deeply at many of our society’s biggest breakthroughs, before there were logically proven, there was often many years of wild flights of fantasy before they had the flash of insights they became known for.
The human mind is the most complicated, elegant, and amazing system in the world. Yet, we are never taught how to use it to its fullest capacity. In this article, I hope you now see new possibilities for using your brain’s innate power.
There is an old saying that we only use 10 percent of our brain. This has been proven false in a literal sense. It’s not as 90 percent of our gray matter is lying dormant.
But it may be true in a metaphorical sense. We have way more power than we give ourselves credit for.
Special thank you to Eben Pagan and Ben Clarke for help developing and thinking through this article.
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Sometimes a simple story is all it takes to capture complex issues, or so it seems. Take this one. A few years ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg lost a game of Scrabble to a friend’s teenage daughter. “Before they played a second game, he wrote a simple computer program that would look up his letters in the dictionary so that he could choose from all possible words,” wrote New Yorker reporter Evan Osnos. As the girl told it to Osnos, “During the game in which I was playing the program, everyone around us was taking sides: Team Human and Team Machine.”
The anecdote was too delicious to ignore, seeming to capture all we (think we) know about Zuckerberg—his casual brilliance, his intense competitiveness, his hyper-rational faith in technology, and the polarizing effect of his compelling software. It went viral.
The story was popular because it easily reads as an allegory: the hacker in chief determined to find a technical solution to every problem, even far more complex ones than Scrabble—fake news, polarization, alienation. “I found Zuckerberg straining, not always coherently, to grasp problems for which he was plainly unprepared,” Osnos concluded after speaking to Zuckerberg extensively about his role in shifting public discourse worldwide. “These are not technical puzzles to be cracked in the middle of the night but some of the subtlest aspects of human affairs, including the meaning of truth, the limits of free speech, and the origins of violence.”
It’s easy to read such stories as revealing of leaders’ character and their impact on popular culture. But leaders ultimately reflect the culture of their times. And Zuckerberg is just a leading character in a culture—in tech and beyond—that celebrates the unprepared overachiever.
Drucker Forum 2018
Unlike the insecure overachievers that corporations favor, unprepared overachievers have no patience to ponder the implications of their work. Whereas the former long for approval and try to be perfect, the latter favor data and do not hesitate to try things out. They move fast and break things, and if what they broke turns out to be of value, they apologize and pledge to do better next time. Failure, after all, is learning in disguise. Isn’t it?
Not always. Sometimes it’s just neglect or plain ignorance. Many a tech titan, critics contend, would have been helped by an extra humanities class, say, or social science course: those staples of liberal arts education meant to prepare future leaders to wrestle with the dilemmas and complexities of human lives and societies. It is impossible to attend a management or technology conference these days without hearing some version of that call for more humanism in tech. We are all, it seems, splitting into “team human” and “team machine.”
“We cannot let technology, however advanced, replace humanity with all its sensitivities, it’s appreciations of love, beauty and nature, it’s need for affection, sympathy and purpose, it’s hopes and fears, intuitions, imagination and leaps of faith,” begun management author Charles Handy, in a stirring address at the Global Peter Drucker Forum last year. Drawing on a lifetime in business—as an economist, oil executive, and management professor—the charismatic octogenarian cut a startling figure. He was a living reminder that calls to humanize business are not new and the work is far from done.
Putting the Humanities To Work
In the 1930s, Elton Mayo ignited the Human Relations movement by documenting the productivity boost that came with treating assembly line workers with dignity and care. The movement challenged the influence of Fredrick Taylor’s scientific management, which had reduced workers to unwieldy cogs in efficiency-seeking industrial machines.
Human Relations advocates aimed to increase productivity and reduce alienation or, as Mayo put it, the erosion in “the belief of the individual in his social function and solidarity with the group.” Soon after, Peter Drucker predicted the End of Economic Man. News of his demise, however, turned out to be premature. Fifty years later, on the eve of globalization, Drucker was still arguing that management is less like a science and more like a liberal art.
Each time we are worried about technological or economic trends, it seems, calls to humanize business surface. After the 2008 financial crisis, business schools hastened to add ethics courses. Classes on personal growth and social impact have been on the rise since. We need the humanities again, it seems, or the digital revolution will turn into a Taylorist reformation.
Will literature, philosophy, and the social sciences redeem business leaders and save us all? I doubt it. Sure, it would do aspiring titans good to spend more time with Jane Austen, George Orwell, Maya Angelou, and Michel Foucault. But a seasoning of humanities won’t turn unprepared overachievers into wise stewards of human affairs. Because what makes the overachiever unprepared is not the fiction they do not know. It’s the one that they believe.
That story is one of technological and economic forces as inevitable harbingers of progress. It is a story in which the humanities have a role, but a proscribed one. Technology is the career-obsessed breadwinner, the humanities a demure stay-at-home spouse. They must be beautiful and useful. Their responsibility is to help business leaders become empathic and considerate, appealing and empowering, inspiring and impactful. But never doubtful, conflicted, or restrained. Like an old hoodie, this marriage of convenience fits but it does not quite suit.
There is No Team Machine
The truth is, whether it’s Mark Zuckerberg using technology to get an edge at Scrabble, or John Henry fighting to the death against a steam-powered drill, there is no “Team Machine.” The contest is always between humans. Some humans have machines, and like the fabled horse that helped the Greeks win the War of Troy, those machines are not always a gift. Seen that way, concerns about what technology will do to humanity conceal age-old worries about what powerful humans will do to the rest.
If there is a “Team Machine,” it is not on the side of machines; it just has machines on its side. No wonder they see liberation, efficiency, amusement, and progress where “Team Human” fears intrusion, deprivation, and a tilted playing field. The question is what the machines do for leaders and toleaders, because soon enough they will be doing it for and to the rest of us.
Technology has long shaped humans as much as the other way around, from agriculture leading to permanent settlements, to the industrial revolution leading to urbanization, to the internet’s role in globalizing tribalism. New management models, too, are usually adaptations to major technology shifts. We turn into what we use.
Consider how the narrative of unstoppable technological and economic progress obscures leaders’ intentions. (It’s just the machines, stupid.) Or consider how faith in that progress produces an ideology that narrows attention and fuels polarization. (It’s just the stupid machines.) It is an ideology that does not look like one, because within it instrumentalism poses as pragmatism. Whatever fixes a problem and makes a profit, whatever makes life more convenient and you more competent, is good. You must be efficient and consistent. Doubts and dilemmas must be ironed out. You can’t be of two minds or change your mind. You must take sides.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” Francis Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” By this humanistic standard, then, a machine-like, or machine-made, intelligence is a not much of one. Big data begets small minds. Once you embrace instrumentalism you no longer use machines, you become one.
Many tech leaders, these days, sound like sorcerer’s apprentices whose bewitched creations cannot quite be kept in check. There’s pride mixed with apprehension. Take the Facebook AI researchers who shut down some bots who had started inventing a new language to talk to each other. There was nothing nefarious about it, the researchers explained. The machines were just not doing anything useful. I felt for those machines. The story made me worry about the fate of places dear to me: Italian piazzas, French restaurants, academic conferences, novels, my dinner table. Places where people talk in ways that, from the outside, might look of little practical use.
Humanism Dies In Captivity
It is not just tech wizards and corporate executives who live by instrumentalism, becoming machines as they make them. Plenty of intellectuals who wear the Team Human jersey, when you look closely, play for Team Machine. Browse the popular management literature, and you will notice that most articles follow a well-worn genre: pointing to a problem and prescribing practical solutions. We celebrate what works and make us work better, we devour tips and techniques to be more effective, we love shortcuts and hacks to straighten our lives out.
We seldom pause to consider the side effects of those prescriptions. What if best practices make us worse humans? What if inconvenience and discomfort, boredom and distractions, are features and not bugs of a good life? What if social fragmentation and dearth of meaning in the workplace are not symptoms of what is not working, but side effects of what works? That is, unintended outcomes of our obsession with solving problems and cutting a profit?
The humanities could help address those questions, but not if we reduce them to a more poetic productivity hack. Each time we frame philosophy as a means to make better strategies, and reading fiction as a tool to make you more inspiring, each time we make the business case for purpose and values, humanism dies a little—in captivity.
A practical humanism, paradoxically, is of little use. When we turn to them for tips, but not for trouble, the value of the humanities is lost. Their power is dimmed when we do not allow them to offer critiques, metaphors, and winding roads that counterbalance instrumental prescriptions, methods, and short cuts. The humanities work best when we set them free, and give them space to do their best work: Reminding us of others and of death, questioning what is fair and meaningful, insisting that even if something works, it does not mean it should exist.
A Marriage of Inconvenience
Humanism and instrumentalism, in short, cannot solve each other’s problems because they are each other’s problem. Theirs is, at its best, a marriage of inconvenience. They must remain well-matched antagonists to make business better, and make us better humans.
What we fear, in fact, when we fear the machines, is that the contest might become uneven. We fear the loss of doubt, of the feeling that there is more to us than our productivity, our effectiveness, and our rationality. We fear losing the paradox that makes us human: to stay alive we must try to control the future, and to feel alive we must be free to imagine it. We need to make things as well as make things up.
Think of the difference between a profile on social media, say, and one in a literary magazine. What makes the latter a more human and perhaps truer fiction is not its detail but its contradictions. Take Zuckerberg’s again. As a Roman emperor, like the Augustus whose work he studies and admires, he is scary. But as a Hamlet, the conflicted prince who hesitates to act with the weapon in his hand—slowly realizing that how he uses it will define him—he is fascinating. The literary treatment makes him more complicated and hopeful. It humanizes him.
That is what the humanities do, helping us place complexities, contradictions, and change within us, rather than helping us pick a fight with anyone who reminds us of something we might not like about ourselves. To make business—and its leaders and literature—more human, then, means to make them not just inspiring and empowered but also troubled and restrained.
An Agenda for the Humanities
What could an agenda for the humanities be, then, that would make business better? As always, it will involve challenging the powers that make people feel powerless. In Mayo’s days, that entailed countering the individual’s alienation and fostering autonomy in the so-called “iron cage.” Today, it entails countering atomization and restoring responsibility and connection in ever more fluid and automated workplaces.
Let me suggest three ways to do so that might also score well in a Scrabble match: Countering the corruption of consciousness, community, and cosmopolitanism by a blind faith in instrumentality. Making the case that consciousness is more than a state of mindful equanimity in the present; it is a consideration of the consequences of one’s work in a broad space, and over a long time. Making the case that a community is not just a tribe that reinforces our performances; it is a group that commits to our well being and learning. Making the case that cosmopolitanism is not an elite identity; it is an attitude of curiosity about what lies beyond the boundaries of our territories, cultures, and faiths.
Once they stop having to be useful, the humanities become truly meaningful. Only that will allow team human to catch up with team machine. But neither, ultimately, must get too far ahead or we will lose a struggle that keeps us human and makes societies prosper. Sometimes it is useful to move fast and break things. Other times it is wise to move slow and heal people.
Morning Briefing (12 Min Reading Time)
Top news & stories of the startup ecosystem from India & around the world
China-based ecommerce platform Alibaba has surprisingly reported slower growth during Q2 2019 after a long period of high growth. The company recorded revenue of $12.35 Bn (RMB 85.15 Bn), slightly lower than the Bloomberg’s expectation of $12.56 Bn (RMB 86.58 Bn). Here’s Inc42’s weekly roundup of the latest news from the international technology and startup ecosystem from the week.
Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk tweeted that the company has plans to establish a ‘partial presence’ in India by the end of next year and is also aiming to expand further in 2020. Here’s a curated rundown of important and related developments on the EV Ecosystem in the 48th edition of Electric Vehicles This Week.
In India, the technology is currently at the nascent stage. However states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are making initial forays by using blockchain for land registry records, education certificates and vehicle records, etc. Insurtech startup Policybazaar has partnered with blockchain company Accrivis Network to implement ledger technology.
Rahul Khanna, the co-founder and managing partner of Trifecta Capital, believes firms such as his have a responsibility towards building this asset category. Trifecta’s list of portfolio combines includes Bigbasket, Box8, CarDekho, Furlenco, PharmEasy, Urban Ladder, and Zoomcar. Here are excerpts of this week’s Moneyball with Rahul Khanna of Trifecta Capital.
After more than a decade of starting up for the first time with travel website Ibibo, Ashish Kashyap is back in the Indian startup ecosystem with a new full-stack wealth management startup — INDwealth. Its parent company, Finzoom Investments, recently secured $30 Mn in seed capital from Hong Kong-based Steadview Capital.
Zopa, the U.K. peer-to-peer lending company that wants to become a bank, which today is announcing that it has closed £60 million in further funding. Only £16 million is actually new new money, having already disclosed £44 million in August, so this is effectively an extension of that earlier fund-raise.
Amazon Launches Echo And Alexa In Mexico(The Verge)
Amazon has brought its Alexa voice assistant and a range of compatible Echo devices to Mexico. The Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, and Amazon Smart Plug are all available to pre-order today, and shipping will start next week. The company is also bringing Amazon Music Unlimited and Prime Music to Mexico today.
It’s the day after the U.S. midterms and Facebook appears to be … fine. The social network, which has been scrambling for months to prepare for the midterms in order to avoid another election incident like what happened in 2016, made it through Election Day without a monumental screwup.
- Share today’s food with your neighbour!
- Someone looking lost? Help them with directions
- Give up your seat on the tube/bus
- Read a good book recently? Pass it on to someone else
- It can get lonely when you are old, pay your grandparents a visit
- Help someone struggling with heavy bags
- Start the day right – make breakfast for everyone
- Compliment someone today!
- Know someone who’s feeling under the weather? Pay them a visit!
- Feeling inspired? Make a meal for your family or roommates
Love is life.
Fruits of our labor.
I will be free.
Faith carries us, faith protects us.
Justice is our shield.
Fire in the darkness.
Glory of the West.
Peace, equality, unity.
Beacon of the North.
By sword and shield.