Books, Personal

Be the Change We Want to See… in Our Networks?

In continuation of a discussion on the intersection of leadership and communication, our class at UW is reading Adam Grant’s popular Give and Take, a critique on how our individual actions influence our success. Grant places individuals within three categories, “givers, takers, or matchers,” describing them by the way each interacts with others in personal and professional relationships, while challenging common behavioral patterns around reciprocity and competition that guide our social interactions. As a whole, Grant’s text creates compelling reasons to ditch societal tropes like the Golden Rule for new ways of operating that focus primarily on giving.

I found, on the individual level, one of Grant’s strongest arguments for a “giver” is the “norm of added value” their unbounded giving can manifest: each time an individual engages in an act of giving within their network, that individual therefore encourages a culture of greater giving within their network. I found Grant’s words to place Gandhi’s omnipresent “Be the change you want to see in the world,” within the context of business-oriented professionals and their associated networks. Who wouldn’t want to help create a culture of giving?

One test I often put forward for sweeping ethical principals, and to those that proselytize them, is the accessibility test: how much of the advocated theory applies to individuals in a variety of situations, locations, industries, and financial situations? Many of Grant’s suggestions and case studies are geared toward giving in a networked professional world, even citing examples of Adam Rifkin’s writing of 256 recommendations on LinkedIn as giver behavior (and it is). Even though Grant strongly advocates “creating value for others” as essential to giver mechanics, which has wide applicability across many segments of society, Grant’s case studies and examples lose broader applicability. In other words, the text often comes across as very white-man person business “professional” while his principles do not.

Despite some drawbacks, I fundamentally enjoyed the thought-provoking and reflective read. I found Grant to blend core philosophies of Buddhism, such as the importance of giving without any expectation of reward, within language of the corporate world and its incessant emphasis on success. Although here again the blend felt a little disheartening at times (Do we need to think about our giving as having tangible benefit that manifest themselves in material gains for everyone, even if it’s not self-motivated?), overall Grant created a text for a business-driven society that defines success on some tangible material progress; any movement toward collectivism is progress in my mind.

Would you define yourself as a giver, taker, or matcher (or other) in the workplace? How does your perspective apply to your daily communication?

Books, On Story

On Creative Habit(s)

Recently I read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, the prolific Emmy Award-winning choreographer of Moving Out (2002-04), Singing in the Rain (1985), and Baryshnikov by Tharp 1984-85) fame. With hundreds of original works to her credit, Twyla is certainly no stranger to the creative process.

 A picture of TwylaTharp's book, "The Creative Habit."

My nicely used copy of The Creative Habit

After reading the intro and the first chapter, I thought to myself, “Here goes another book telling me how creative genius isn’t born, it’s just sweat and tears.” To date these oft-repeated prophecies haven’t done much to spur my inspiration, or rather perspiration, to buckle down into any creative process. They’ve always come across as pleasantries meant to superficially satiate the frustrations of a challenging process, like those proffered by acquaintances upon hearing the sufferings of a rocky relationship, “Relationships are A LOT of work. They’re worth it in the end, but they’re not all butterflies…”

But about 15 pages further in I found Twyla’s words to offer much more than pleasantries; she invites us into her own process of self discovery, and to the “life infrastructure” that has supported her overwhelming success.

In Rituals of Preparation (Chapter 2), Twyla talks about the simple daily routines she performs that prime the mind for work, for creative endeavors. She details her all-important routine of beginning each day at 5:30am to hail a taxi to the gym.In describing her mundane tasks as ritualistic, or even sublime, Twyla comes across as asking us to seek deeper meaning in our daily urban lives, to find the connections between the repetitive and the regal. The Tantric-like approach provides a much stronger impetus to staying disciplined with our routines than simply shouting stay disciplined.

Overall Twyla’s voice comes across as vulnerable, personable, strong and experienced. It’s a powerful combination that inspires trust in storytelling, and one that makes me want to continue the relationship, even without the butterflies and….whatever makes you happy.