Friday, December 19, 2014

The quest driven life

To dream the impossible dream has been the great engine of progress in the world. From the early explorers, to scientists and engineers, to man's quest to explore the planets. The story of exploration is the story of mankind.

When John Kennedy laid down the predicate of reaching the moon by the end of a decade, he defined for the whole county that kind of clear goal that also drives individuals forward.

The story of some of these individuals, along with his own quest, is what Chris Guillebeau writes about in The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life.

My conversation with Chris Guillebeau:

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

We may be an insignificant and fleeting moment in time...and we know it

Conventional wisdom has long held that we live in a vast and indeed expanding universe, in which we humans are but a seemingly small and insignificant part.

But in that classic view, are we not giving ourselves enough credit? Perhaps we are more unique than we think. Perhaps we are not all that ordinary, on a not so ordinary rock in the vast cosmos.

Just maybe, that classic view, needs to be reexamined? That is what Caleb Scharf has done in his new book The Copernicus Complex: Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities.

My conversation with Caleb Scharf:

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Gus Speth explains why the Environmental Movement still matters

Perhaps part of what plagues us when we think about most issues today, is that we tend to see them in very myopic ways. The world is a more and more complex place, and yet we do the opposite of what we should do. We too often silo information or categories, or problems.

We don’t always see the connections and therefore we get frustrated, because we can’t seem to solve the problems.

Environmental issues are no different. My guest, one of the fathers of the environmental movement, James "Gus" Speth, believes that when we talk about environmentalism, it’s more than the air, or the water, or the earth. That there is a holistic approach we need to take that is essential if we want to solve anything.

He writes about this in the context of his own history in his memoir Angels by the River.

My conversation with Gus Speth:

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Why Dreamers matter!

How often does a story leap off the pages of a magazine, to become a book, a documentary and a major motion picture? Very rarely. And when it does, it’s clear that the story it tells has touched a powerful nerve among readers and viewers.

Such is the story that Wired Contributing Editor Joshua Davis tells, of four underdogs from the streets of Phoenix, who, using Spare Parts would take on the best High School and College students in the country, including MIT with the resources of Exxon/Mobil.

My conversation with Joshua Davis:

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Friday, December 12, 2014

The best places to work

We’ve recently seen year end lists of the best places to work. Free food, massage, pets, and a beautiful campus are all contributing factors. However, research, behavioral analysis and science can also tell us what make a workplace effective, productive, and more innovative.

The famed management consultant Peter Drucker said that “culture eats strategy for lunch.” Affirming a long held conviction that the culture of a company, even more than its smarts or its products, drive its success or failure.
Part of that culture, built into the DNA of every company, it the work environments it provides its people.

That where my gust Social Psychologist Ron Friedman picks up the story in The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Are Lawyers, Guns and Money the new essentials for elections in America?

Years ago, there was a song by Warren Zevon, entitled Lawyers, Guns and Money. It was about a kid getting out of trouble in Latin America. However, that title might just as well be a description of our election process today.

It seems that lawyers, money and enforcement are an ever growing part of elections in America.

A new set of rules seem to prevail. Issues such as campaign finance, voting rights, voter ID, and ballot access itself, are now debatable parts of voting in America.

How did we get here, how did democracy become so complex? Hamline University Professor David Schultz examines Election Law and Democratic Theory.

My conversation with David Schultz:

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Monday, December 8, 2014

For the Military-Internet Complex, everyday is Cyber Monday

There is virtually no aspect of life today, not impacted by the internet. From setting the thermostat in our house, to the games we play, to the way we connect, to the collection of intelligence on America’s friends and enemies. It’s no surprise then that the very core of America's military and its defensive capability, is also wrapped up in the world of cyber warfare and cyber security.

But at what cost? While Eisenhower may have admonished us to beware of the military/industrial complex, today a military/internet complex has grown even larger, and as the Snowden revelations tell us, it may have seeped into every aspect of our lives. This is the world that Shane Harris exposes in @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex.

My conversation with Shane Harris:

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

The healing power of our pets

While the origins of the quote are sketchy, Harry Truman, frustrated by the problems he faced in the White House, is reported to have said that “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

Today the same might be said of our pets in general, or in the politically correct parlance of the day, our companion animals. Be they dogs, or cats.

With all the talk about the amount of money spend on our pets, it’s easy to lose sight of the real power of our relationships with them. Sometimes exalted, sometimes mocked, the fact is that in a society where alienation is common, where complexity often rules, where self absorption defines a whole generation, those human/animal connections can be transcendent.

That’s the personal story and the connection that Lissa Warren writes about in The Good Luck Cat: How a Cat Saved a Family, and a Family Saved a Cat.

My conversation with Lissa Warren:

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cheryl Strayed's WILD

Back in the 1940’s theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the serenity prayer. You all know it. It tells us to accept those things that we can’t change and the courage to change those we can and the wisdom to know the difference. Over the years, it’s been adopted by AA and various other groups. But it might also be the coda for Cheryl Strayed's fantastically successful book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

The story of her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail, it’s also the story of coming of age and Cheryl's journey out of her own heart of darkness. The book is out in paperback and it is now a major motion picture.

My conversation with Cheryl Strayed:

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If you're afraid of Genetically Modified Food, you'll really be afraid of Genetically Modified Humans

During the recent Ebola scare, we were often reminded of the dozens of science thrillers that set the stage for our fears. From Andromeda Strain, to World War Z, The Stand and Hot Zone, to name a few.

Today, the cutting edge of genetic manipulation, often provides the basis for similar fears. The brave new world of Bioengineering, plays upon our most primal instincts of what makes us human.

Jamie Metzl a former member of the National Security Council,  has added his new thriller to this long tradition. Set against the worlds of politics, finance and religion, Genesis Code, takes its place in fuelling our paranoia.

My conversation with Jamie Metzl:

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Only satire can save us now

We live in an ironic age. The speed of modern communication, juxtaposed with the traditional entrenched problems we face, provides a disconnect that only humor can bridge.

Think about it this way. How often has humor engaged us to better understand tragedy? How long after certain tragedies, do we hear the first joke? Not out of disrespect, but out of a way to get our arms around something that our brains have trouble comprehending.

When David Letterman asked, after 9/11, if we would ever laugh again, he was going to the heart of the role humor and satire play in our society.

From Mark Twain to Will Rogers, from Mort Sahl to Stephen Colbert, satire has been a translator of the American experience.

Sophia McClennen dishes it up in Is Satire Saving Our Nation?: Mockery and American Politics.

My conversation with Sophia McClennen:

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

Even amidst the concerns about the impact of cattle on global warming, the disgrace of industrialized farming and slaughterhouses, and the increased worldwide population that has sworn off beef, it’s still very much a part of our diet.

And perhaps it should be. But is there a better, more sustainable, more humane way to process that beef and bring it to market?

In what too often seems to be world of black and white thinking, can we find a middle ground? A way in which beef is healthy, sustainable, humane and actually good for us and the environment? Nicolette Hahn Niman thinks so. Her book about what she has discovered is
Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

My conversation with Nicolette Hahn Niman:

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Marshmallow Test

I can’t even count the number of times that guests on this program have spoken about what’s become known as the Marshmallow Experiments. In conversations ranging from business, to public policy, to personal psychology, the impact of this experiment in determining self control, executive function, the predilection for addiction and even intelligence, has been profound.

Walter Mischel started thinking about this experiment when he was in graduate school. Later, in the 60’s at Stanford, he devised what's become known as the Marshmallow Experiment, to assess the ability of children to delay gratification.

Since then, 50 years of in depth research have both enhanced and expanded the scope and knowledge that began with this simple experiment. After all these years, Mischel has written about it in The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control.

My conversation with Walter Mischel:

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The Business Moments You Can't Ignore

It was actually Winston Churchill, not Rahm Emanuel, who said that we should never let a serious crisis go to waste.

A crisis often creates a great opportunity to face, to talk about, and even sometimes to act on issues that had been previously frozen

Or, as Donald Rumsfeld once inarticulately put it, “sometimes the only solution to an unsolvable problem, is to create a bigger problem.”

But often these problems come out of the blue; in life and in business. When they do, when those pivotal moments happen, it’s the culture, the people, the mission, in short the underpinning of the organization itself, that must become its survival mechanism, as well as the jumping off point for its future.

So just as we might prep for physical disasters, why not prepare and build an origination for the stress of those moments. That's one of the lessons from Malachi O'Connor and Barry Dornfeld in The Moment You Can't Ignore: When Big Trouble Leads to a Great Future.

My conversation with Malachi O'Connor and Barry Dornfeld:

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Valerie Plame's BURNED

We live in an information age. The goal of virtually every App on our phone, and most websites, is perfect information; about the world, about our neighbors, about our friends and about ourselves.

So how is it, that with all this information, the world is so much more dangerous. That secrets are sometimes so much deeper, that bad actors, and even good ones turned bad, can often outsmart, out run and out maneuver the CIA, the very agency designed to ferret out those secrets and keep us safe.

Even as the very first tenants move into the new World Trade Center, we’ve come to appreciate the importance and value of human intelligence. But those that engage in it are often at risk both from their enemies and their friends.

Few understand this better than former CIA operative Valerie Palme. Her life and career was derailed, in public view, as much by friends as by her enemies. Valerie Plame’s career continues through the work and efforts of her fictional alter ego Vanessa Pierson.

Pierson made her debut in Blowback, and now she’s back in Burned.

My conversation with Valerie Plame:

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Mark Leibovich's portraits of Citizens of the Green Room

Someone once remarked that when they saw a snake and a vulture having sex in Washington, and thought it was just business as usual. Fitzgerald said that he rich were different, because they have more money. Politicians are different, usually because that they have more insecurities

The fact is that most politicians and other high profile inhabitants of our nation's capital are just flesh and blood human beings. And yes, they may be different than you and I, they are certainly more caught up in their unbroken series of successful gestures, but most do care about their work.

In fact, some care too much. As the late, great journalist Richard Ben Cramer once wrote, that feeling you can make a difference is like a drug. Also a great journalist, Mark Leibovich, has been been giving us great insights about the power players in Washington for the NY Times Magazine. Those profiles are part of his new book Citizens of the Green Room: Profiles in Courage and Self-Delusion.

My conversation with Mark Leibovich:

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is Word of Mouth advertising driving Black Friday this year?

John Wanamaker, the famous department store magnate, once said that he knew that at least half of his advertising budget was wasted. Problem was, he didn’t know which half.

For anybody that’s in business today, you know how difficult it is making your product or service stand out among the competition and noise of today’s marketplace. It’s a lot tougher than it was for Don Draper.

Advertising is everywhere. Television, radio, billboards, digital, banners, mobile, native advertising, telemarketing, and pop ups. It’s on everything that isn’t implanted into us….and that may be not that far away.

So what works. What is, in the buzzword of the day, authentic, effective and creates real Return on Investment?

One of the most powerful tools of the marketer has always been word of mouth. Social media and things like Yelp, have only amplified that power.

But is word of mouth marketing just some random confluence of events, or can it be shaped, molded and directed in ways that are both authentic, and beneficial to both seller and buyer?

This has been the work that Ted Wright talks about in Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth

My conversation with Ted Wright:

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Evan Osnos talks about his National Book Award winning, Age of Ambition

Perhaps it’s the idea of 1.3 billion people, or that half a billion have moved out of poverty in such a short time. Perhaps it’s that China has moved so rapidly to become the world's second largest economy. Or perhaps it’s the environmental degradation left in the wake of these accomplishments.

Perhaps it’s all of these things and more, that often block our view of the humanity of China. Yet it is a nation of individuals. Individuals with personal stories, aspirations and ambitions. People who have learned to deal with the contradictions and disconnects, between a vibrant, 21st Century economic system and a backwards, almost 19th century, political system. Ironic, I suppose that it even sounds a little like the US.

In the resolution of that disconnect, may lie the future of China, America and even the world as we know it. That the journey that Evan Osnos takes us on in Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

My conversation with Evan Osnos:

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2014 National Book Award Winner, Jacqueline Woodson

Recently we spoke of the 50 Anniversary of Freedom Summer and the early flowering of the civil rights movement. Much has been written of the historical roots and narrative of those events. But now Jacqueline Woodson tells her personal story and the larger story of the journey of a movement from the Deep South, to urban core of America.

The story of Brown Girl Dreaming is a story made all the more powerful by recent events that bring into focus the arc of that journey. A journey that ended short of its target.

My conversation with Jacqueline Woodson:

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