Monday, February 26, 2018

Suffering vs. Happiness

Are happiness and suffering two opposites of the same continuum, or are they actually two different scales?

This question hit me as I have been listening to some of Jordan Peterson's philosophical work ( ). One of the comments he made is that every major philosophical system holds as a basic tenet that life is full of suffering, and that the goal of a healthy life is not to seek to be happy but to be free of suffering (I may be misquoting him slightly, but I am willing to embrace this statement as my own, regardless).

By way of example, Peterson talks about Buddhism's Four Noble Truths, the first of which is "life is suffering", and the second of which is "suffering is caused by attachment". I would add, in a similar vein, that Stoicism holds suffering arises from the desire to control that which is beyond our control. In both systems, one seeks to achieve peace and enlightenment by letting go of that which is beyond our control and recognizing the illusion of permanence. Both systems seek contentment rather than happiness.

I heard a lecture a few months ago (I wish I could find it) where the speaker talked about emotions as being like a compass for our behavior. Happy, sad, anger, joy are all emotions that change with circumstances. One does not mindlessly pursue happiness any more than one drives mindlessly north. Sometimes to get to where you want to go, you have to drive south.

So what I am thinking about is the idea that happiness and suffering are not on the same continuum. Happiness, at least as it is conceived in 2018 in the US, is a temporary state. It is an emotion that comes and goes the way a compass dial turns. Happy/sad is probably the right scale. This should be contrasted with contentment/suffering, which are existential conditions. I am making a point that emotional states like happy/sad are like the weather - on any given day we might have rain or sun, but the next day could (and probably will be) different. Contrast this with existential states which are more like climates. To be content or suffering is a long lasting pattern, like temperate, arid, tropical, etc.

A person who works toward wisdom is a person who builds in his soul a pleasing climate. In Hawaii there are occasionally cold days and occasionally hot and uncomfortable days, but there are few of them. Mostly the weather in Hawaii is a pleasant 80 degrees. Contentment is more than just freedom from suffering. I think one can achieve contentment while still have a degree of suffering. I think we can look at people on hospice who make peace with death achieve contentment even as they face death. Perhaps then, contentment is also not on the same scale suffering? I think contentment is linked to meaning, and thus one can both suffer and be content. More to ponder.

I ask my students during the first day of my Management I class, which comes at the beginning of their junior year of college typically, what a good life looks like. One of the most common responses is "to be happy." But I think they actually mean, "to be content". I think their sentiment is correct, but they lack an understanding of what they mean.

The pursuit of happiness in 2018, as opposed to the Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness, is a hedonic treadmill. To get to happiness, one must always covet one more thing - one more car, one more vacation, one more lover. This is the poisonous desire the Buddhists warn against, and it is the desire for things one cannot control that the Stoics warn against. The blind following of the compass in the direction of happiness inevitably leads to suffering rather than contentment.

I think it is a mistake to put happiness and suffering on the same scale. Happiness is a temporary emotion; suffering is existential. I am unsure whether I put suffering and contentment on the same scale, but I think it is closer to truth. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Class 4 - Emotional Intelligence

For this coming Monday's class we will be talking about emotional intelligence (EI or EQ). The students leading the discussion asked us to watch this video:

and take this quiz:

I have been working with a physician leadership development program that is heavily focused on growing emotional intelligence, so I have been thinking about this quite a bit lately. I have become more and more convinced that emotional intelligence is an important leadership trait. It's a wide ranging construct that incorporates many capabilities and behaviors, so it is not a silver bullet that is meaningfully summed up with one number, which I rather liked about this test.

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I scored:

5    Self-awareness
9    Self-management
10  Social Awareness
10  Relationship management

As I reflected on those numbers, I felt the self-awareness score was too low, and the rest too high. So I have to conclude the tool is not great. I do like the constructs described in the analysis, which you can see here:

In particular, I like this 2x2, which is not really a categorization tool like most 2x2s, but instead describes a flow.

I am a very reflective person, which is why I think the self-awareness score is too low. I spend a lot of time examining my own behaviors and thoughts and trying to improve the processes. Unfortunately, I have a lot of weaknesses. A trusted colleague said to me the other day, "You can go down a rat hole," meaning when I can get quite negative in my self-reflection at times. That's an indication of a lack of accurate self-assessment.

In terms of self-management, I think the score is maybe just a bit too high. I am very driven, though maybe not toward traditional goals. To be successful in the Army, you had to be adaptable. I do get frustrated at times when things aren't going the way I think they should, but I usually drive on despite that fact.

In terms of social awareness, I am a fairly personable person, and go out of my way to develop relationships (which leads to relationship management). I am empathetic (to a point where it sometimes gets in my way), and, through my many years in the Army, I believe I have developed a fine sense of service orientation, and even obligation.

In most of my professional career I have worked hard at relationship management, though I have to confess I have at times failed to work on that area as much as I should have within my own office/organization, while putting a heavy emphasis on bridging capital between my organization and other organizations. I learned that lesson the hard way many years ago and have since put an equal weight on both. The thing that motivated me the most as a leader was developing others; the thing I disliked the most was conflict management. In a sense, this mix led me to leave operations and pursue teaching. I found I was always seeking out opportunities to coach and teach when I was working in organizations. And what caused me the most stress was working with low performing, intransigent individuals. Becoming a teacher helped me play to my strengths and minimized my exposure to my weaknesses. I love working with bright young people who are looking to grow and make their mark on the world, and as a result, my job is very rewarding. And the fact that I had the self-awareness to make that jump, and to accept my strengths and weaknesses should indicate that my self-awareness score is a bit too low. Many people can't figure out what they are meant to do - I figured it out a long time ago.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Class 3 - Personal Resilience!

Tomorrow's class is on resilience. The students have asked us to take this test
and watch this video

          Trust your struggle | Zain Asher | TEDxEuston

I scored a 78 on the resiliency test, which puts me at pretty resilient. I think that's reasonable. I have been lucky enough not to face any massive trauma in my life, but I have had to bounce back from lots of change. I'm feeling a bit stretched by work right now, so maybe today wasn't the best day for me to take this test. That's one of the downsides of these tests, of course. Since they are self-report, the outcomes are influenced by your current feelings and which experiences you choose to focus on when looking for an example.

As I was preparing to retire from the Army, there was a big push to try to train resilience in the force. This was being done because of the rising suicide rates, especially among those who had deployed multiple times. Here, in good fashion, are some actual Army training slides - including instructions on HTGS, or "Hunt The Good Stuff" (It wouldn't be the Army if they couldn't make it into an acronym - I wish that was done to be ironic, but I suspect it was not):

Another good slide deck describing the program as implemented:

Another good resource to tap into for resilience is the work by Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning, which describes Frankl's experiences in the Nazi death camps, and the philosophy that grew out of his experiences. A powerful quote:
What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
The video the students assigned was interesting. I think there are a lot of great stories of resilience out there. Resilience is a fundamental human theme. What I liked about this video was Asher's (the speaker) message about trusting that opportunity would come, and therefore it was essential to prepare. I like that sense of agency. I also liked that she coupled her sense of agency with a sense of luck and generosity. I prefer to think of myself as collaborative, but I don't think I would have given my competition all the answers, even on a good day.

I'm interested to see what the students do with this topic.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

class 2 - creativity!

For our second student-led class, we will be talking about the theme of individual creativity. I think the students are going to talk about mind mapping. They assigned a TED Talk by the creator of mind mapping, Tony Buzan called "The Power of a Mind to Map".

I think my favorite part of the video is when he talks about how a baby experiences a piece of paper. A baby would experiment with it, crumpling and pulling on it, bang it on the table, and then maybe take a bite out of it before moving on to the next experiment. I love that Buzan then says babies are all scientists because they are testing everything. 

He goes on to talk about a young child - I think he says three to five years old - who is outside after a rain storm and sees a puddle. Buzan says the child forms a series of hypotheses and then tests them. This is where I differ from Buzan. I don't think the child forms a hypothesis at all. I think the child says, "I wonder what would happen if I throw a rock in the puddle" or "I wonder what would happen if I jump in the puddle." I don't think the child forms a testable hypothesis such as, "If I throw this big rock in the puddle, it will make a splash 20 cm in height." I think childish experimentation is more about the wonder than it is about formulating testable hypotheses. We might impose the testable hypothesis after the fact, but I think most of the time, it's just playfulness. The idea that we have to have a testable hypothesis actually dampens creativity in my opinion. The scientific method is very powerful for verification of observable phenomena, but I don't think it is powerful for idea generation - which is what I think creativity is about. 

Part of the reason I am drawn to qualitative research, and in particular a more grounded theory approach, is the idea that you can go into a social situation with an open ended question - what is going on here? Then gradually build a theory of what is going on as you observe.

The students assigned an article about creativity as well. I like the definition of creativity that the article uses: "the capability to create something novel, unique, and value-adding." I agree with that definition. The article argues there are three components to creativity: 1) personality, 2) mastery, and 3) courage. I saw 1 and 3 as too similar in this article. The authors argue that you have to be willing to be different and to resist social pressure in both sections. I do agree with these assertions. In my experience, if you have a new idea, you often have to overcome skepticism and inertia. People don't like change. It takes effort to think about new ways of doing things. The necessity of mastery is an interesting idea. I wonder if mastery would not cut both ways. I think you need to know the essentials of a field in order to innovate, but I don't know if mastery is required - but that depends on how you define mastery. I wonder if mastery wouldn't lock you in to how things have always been done. 

I am looking forward to seeing what they have in store for us!

Friday, February 2, 2018

class 1 - personality!

I had heard of the DISC personality test from some colleagues in the OD field, but had never taken it myself. Students in my OB course are teaching a class on personality on Monday and they have asked us to take two personality tests - the Big 5 and the DISC. We took my personal favorite, the MBTI, last week. I'm working with a group now that favors the SDI - which I have never taken, but would like to at some point.

I like personality tests, even the ones that ask stupid stuff like, "What kind of ice cream are you?" The reason I like them is they are great for starting conversations (which you will see from the Big 5, I really like). The main limitation of any self-report tool like these is the data source - meaning you. How accurate these are depends on 1) how self-aware you actually are and 2) how important it is for you to answer truthfully. I've tried to answer as truthfully as I can.

I think as leaders, the process of self-reflection is critical. These tools are useful for stimulating self-reflection, and so they are very valuable. Except may the ice cream flavor type ones.

A trick for overcoming the two errors I mentioned above is to have a couple of people whom you trust and who know you well take the test as if they were you. Sometimes they can help you gain real insight.


Free version of the DISC:

For the DISC, my results were Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, Compliance.

I have to say, the results were pretty close to how I look at myself.

"You have a strong inner motivation to influence people and circumstances. You thrive on competitive situations and challenging assignments. The stresses and pressures of everyday work and life are unlikely to reduce your effectiveness and enthusiasm."

Some descriptors:

  • goal orientated and want to be recognised for their efforts.
  • aim high, want authority and are generally resourceful and adaptable.
  • are usually self-sufficient and individualistic.
  • may lose interest in projects once the challenge has gone and they tend to be impatient and dissatisfied with minor detail.
  • are strongly interested in meeting and being with people.
  • are generally optimistic, outgoing, and socially skilled. (not sure about that last one - I said pretty close)
  • are quick at establishing relationships. (not sure about this one, but I try)
  • tend to enjoy change and variety in their work and non-work life. (absolutely.)
  • are expansive by nature and tend not to like routine and repetitive work/activities. 
  • are independent and uninhibited. (sometimes to a fault)
  • resent rules and restrictions. (really have a hard time following rules - not necessarily intentional)
  • prefer to be measured by results and are always willing to try the untried. (yes and I do a lot of weird stuff)
Big 5

I've done the Big 5 before, but I didn't save the results. Here are my results with some comments, along with what I think are the downsides of my scores:

        High scorers tend to be original, creative, curious, complex; Low scorers tend to be conventional, down to earth, narrow interests, uncreative.
        You enjoy having novel experiences and seeing things in new ways.     (Your 
percentile: 98)

Comment: I think this is accurate. Or at least, it is how I see myself. I try a lot of things and I really love trying new things. Downside of this is that I get bored easily and tend to seek change for change's sake.
        High scorers tend to be reliable, well-organized, self-disciplined, careful; Low scorers tend to be disorganized, undependable, negligent.
        You are neither organized or disorganized.     (Your percentile: 44)
Comment: I think this is probably a bit low vs. how I actually behave. I'm sloppy, I am not especially organized, but I have very reliable, and feel very badly when I don't follow through on something I have promised to do. I generally have issue with the fact that they lump together things like neatness and reliability. The questions seem to point toward anal retentiveness rather than how I think of conscientiousness. 

        High scorers tend to be sociable, friendly, fun loving, talkative; Low scorers tend to be introverted, reserved, inhibited, quiet.
        You are extremely outgoing, social, and energetic.     (Your percentile: 90)
Comment: I think of myself as a quiet extrovert, meaning I don't care for big crowds, don't flit about aimlessly, but do really like being sociable. 

        High scorers tend to be good natured, sympathetic, forgiving, courteous; Low scorers tend to be critical, rude, harsh, callous.
        You tend to consider the feelings of others.     (Your percentile: 65)

Comment: I think this is about right. The weakness here is that I am sometimes a bit of a pushover.
Negative Emotionality
        High scorers tend to be nervous, high-strung, insecure, worrying; Low scorers tend to be calm, relaxed, secure, hardy.
        You are a generally anxious person and tend to worry about things.     (Your percentile: 87)

Comment: I do think of myself as higher on the anxiety scale, but I don't think I would be in the top 1/8th of the population. I suspect people tend to over report this response, meaning, the more anxious you are, the more anxious you perceive yourself to be. So I would guess my true score is in the low 70's. That's a weakness I have had my whole life. Sometimes I can channel it to motivate myself; sometimes it just kicks my ass. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

cross-cultural management styles

Really interesting article from the HBR on cross cultural management styles. I found it fascinating that Chinese workers regarded American managers as incompetent and arrogant because the American managers were not sufficiently directive:
“The most surprising comment from our Chinese colleagues,” one Chill Factor executive later explained, “was that we were perceived not just as incompetent but as arrogant, because we didn’t take the time to explain to our staff carefully and in detail what we wanted them to do and how.”
The Chinese employees' recommendations were:
  1. Before attending a meeting with your staff, prepare more ideas for yourself.
  2. Be more specific with directions to your employees.
  3. Have your own plan before allocating work to your subordinates.
Their expectation of a manager was that the manager came with the plan, provided clear direction, and oversaw execution. Coming up with a plan was not an employee function. I find that fascinating because I've been doing research on early careerists in healthcare administration and even these young people take it for granted that their bosses will only be giving them the vaguest direction and will expect them to figure out the vast majority of their work themselves.

I don't think this difference is just a cultural phenomenon, though I am sure there is an element of culture there. Instead, I think the main driver is the fact that the American economy is post-industrial, whereas China is, on average, still industrial. In the industrial economy, human beings are just organic cogs in a large corporate machine. This is especially true in low-wage countries where workers are plentiful and are substituted for physical machinery, where workers do repetitive tasks that do not require creativity. On average, any task that is repetitive in manufacturing has been replaced by a robot in the United States. That's why manufacturing jobs have plummeted in the US, while manufacturing output continues to grow. The workers left in manufacturing are there because their functions require creative problem solving, not repetitive work. A US a manager can't be as directive with creative workers, not because of preferences, but because by definition the manager doesn't have enough capacity to solve all the problems that her/his workers need to address. To the degree that Chinese workers still prefer to be directed as if they were human cogs is a cultural artifact linked more to the stage of their economy than their national culture, I believe.

Here's a link to the article, which is gated, and to a free podcast interview with one of the authors.

Article (gated):

Podcast (free):

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

reflecting on the MBTI

As I mentioned earlier, I used the MBTI in my OB class this past week. I shared with the students the fact that I am an ENFP. Being an ENFP works pretty well as a teacher. You like being in groups, you like talking about abstract concepts, you care about people, and ... well the P cuts both ways. You might argue a J would be better, because at the end of the day you have to give out grades. But as a P I think I do a lot of innovative things with my classes. When I teach, it's more like a jazz performance than a classical performance. I spend a lot of time preparing for class, but I never know quite where I'm going to go or how I'm going to explain the material - it could all change in the moment as I am trying to connect with the class.

The story I shared with the class is that prior to getting into academia, I worked as a hospital CFO - a job that is more naturally an INTJ. The TJ is that analytical, process oriented mind set that lays down the rules and makes everyone stick with them. I was good at that role. Some of my E and F would leak out here and there, but I think to the benefit of the organization. But in that role, it was always like I was play acting - I was wearing an INTJ mask at work - but it wasn't really me. When I became a teacher, I was able to take off that INTJ mask and really be myself. 

I could have gone my whole professional career pretending to be an INTJ, and it would have been fine. But there would always have been some dischordance in my life between my work self and my non-work self. I'm much happier now that I get to be more true to who I am every day. It's not quite the same thing as finding your passion - it's more about finding your fit.