Busy, yes, realizing our potential in modern society

A …group of economists challenges the Keynesian presumption that leisure is preferable to labor. In the view of Edward Phelps of Columbia University, a career provides “most, if not all of the attainable self-realization in modern societies.”  Richard Freedman, of Harvard, is, if possible more emphatic.  “Hard work is the only way forward,” he writes. ” There is so much to learn and produce and improve that we should not spend more than a dribble of time living as if we were in Eden.  Grandchildren, keep trucking.”

From “No Time: How did we get so busy,” the book review column, The New Yorker, May 26, 2014, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Leadership Lessons: Francis Ford Coppola


If my intuition doesn’t give me an answer [to the question how to get past a creative obstacle], I have a little exercise: What’s the theme in a word or two?  In The Conversation, it was privacy.  In The Godfather, it was succession. If you have that word, then when you reach an impasse, you say, “Well, what does the theme tell me?” And usually that will suggest to you which way to go and break the roadblock.

Francis Ford Coppola, interviewed by Allison Beard for Harvard Business Review

Leadership Lessons: Cat Stevens


Yusef Islam, rocker

“I’m not happy about the part of entering the [Rock and Roll] Hall of Fame that means I’m entering history.  What I’m happy about is that I’m bursting with music — my new album is very bluesy, actually.  I’m singing again because it’s the best way to communicate without politics, without all this mess!”  He gestured toward the window, beyond which lay all his past incarnations and impediments. “And because your identity is the thing you never stop becoming.”

Yusef Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, in The New Yorker (interviewed by Tad Friend)

Leadership Lessons: Quotes


I feel powerless all the time but I regain my energy by making a very small difference that won’t cost me much.  I think many people give up because they don’t know how to change just a little bit to reach a better position.

Ai Weiwei, Chinese artist, interviewed by Brook Larmer, Harvard Business School

Leadership Lessons: Quotes


After explaining that he was deaf for three years as a child and that he’s dyslexic, Douglas Merrill, CEO of ZestFinance describes what he’s gained:

There was a nice side effect to all that, though.  I spent a lot of time having to figure out ways to do things differently, because I couldn’t do them the normal way.  Looking at everything differently has been a pretty key part of what I’ve been good at as an adult.  Oftentimes, when there’s a problem or everyone knows how a problem should be solved in a certain way, my knee-jerk reaction is: “Well, why?  Why does it have to be solved that way?  Can we try something different?…”

If that sounds contrary or like creative showboating, it may be worth a second look:  What do you expect from problem solving with others?  How do you know when you’ve got a great approach to the problem?

Do things differently

Leaders need to develop agility, which includes creative agility, the ability to step back from the familiar, proven way to address novel situations and free ourselves from some of the limits that come from that familiarity.

Read the whole interview with Douglas Merrill at Adam Bryant’s New York Times column Corner Office

Leadership Lessons: Quotes


So your first management role was as CEO.  Any early speed bumps in leading people?

One classic mistake I made was that I assumed everyone was as driven as I was and had the same standards.  I made a lot of hiring mistakes, because at the beginning you assume so much about about someone and you tend to assume that they’re just like you.

What’s your favorite part about being a CEO [or insert your leadership role here]?

You’re constantly learning about yourself and learning about people and learning about life, really.  Every single day, you’re put to the test.

Lisa Falzone, CEO of Revel Systems

From Corner Office column, Adam Bryant in The New York Times