Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Brain and the Gut...together again

We all remember the youthful spiritual song Dem Bones, about the ankle bone being connected to the shin bone, the thigh bone being connected to the hip bone, etc. What the song didn’t include is the connection between the stomach and the brain. And it’s not just about what you eat. It's about the vast array of bacteria and microorganism that live in your gut, and the impact they have on how your brain works.

Dr. David Perlmutter, the author of the bestselling GRAIN BRAIN, now takes us inside this interplay between intestinal microbes and the brain in Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain– for Life

My conversation with Dr. David Perlmutter:

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Can a Well-Tuned Brain keep up with the modern world?

Everyday it seem the world speeds up. The advances of technology, the need to make faster decisions, multitasking and a sometimes dizzying array of options, are all part of the creative destruction that is making the world a more efficient an in many ways, a better and freer place.

On the other hand human evolution is a slow, deliberate process. So, to what extent have our brains evolutionary ability kept pace with 21st century life? To what extent is this true cognitive dissonance acting as a kind of governor on our ability to do our best in this modern world and in turn what impact is it having on how we treat the world around us.

These are some of the ideas explored by the Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, Dr. Peter Whybrow, in his new book The Well-Tuned Brain: Neuroscience and the Life Well Lived.

My conversation with Dr. Peter Whybrow:

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

There once was a time in Washington when negotiation and compromise were not dirty words

In talking to someone recently about my guest, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, they went into a bit of tirade of criticism of him, saying that he was “just one of those Democrats they trot out to make things go away, to sweep things under rug.” My friend went on to say, “it proves that it's all just one big party.”

Well the other side of that same coin is that Senator George Mitchell, through his skill as a negotiator and a listener, can find ways for people of opposing views to get along. That rather than the polarization of today, or a political world where everyone is an outlier, there are still ways to find common ground. That often, when no one is entirely happy, that’s exactly when we know the best compromise solution has been reached.

Yes, compromise. Something that’s become a dirty word today, but used to represent the highest and best accomplishment of a skilled negotiator.

Amidst the clanging of a political system that sounds more like a boiler factory, Senator Mitchell has written a memoir The Negotiator, that reminds us of both of a time gone by and a vision for what still might be.

My conversation with Senator George Mitchell:

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Project Based Learning for the Military and Business

It has often been conventional wisdom that the military is always fighting current wars, based on lessons learned from the last war. That’s why we used centralized WW2 tactics in Vietnam, and then turned around and used the lessons of Vietnam in Iraq.

But the fact is that today there is a whole new breed to military tacticians and strategists whose ideas come not from the last war, but from the creative destruction of places like Silicon Valley and and our most advanced and cutting edge business schools. Ideas that eschew top down, large organizational command and control and instead respond to the need to collaborate, be nimble, and embrace a team oriented approach to management.

In today's military much of the movement in this direction has come from General Stanley McChrystal and his team. As the leader of the Joint Special Operation Command, this new approach was essential in fighting an enemy who itself was decentralized. But It was an approach that had to first break down traditional silos, rethink the link between communications and command, create a flatter organization amidst a culture that was build on top down thinking, and bring flexibility to an institution that revered tradition.

All of these are ideas also apply to business. Now General McChrystal and his team at CrossLead, including co-founder David Silverman,  have combined these ideas and are applying them everyday. They share them in Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World

My conversation with Co-Author David Silverman:

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Why Peter Pan is the model of our Infantile Age

We are a culture obsessed with youth. We are told that youth is wasted on the young, but we do everything in our power to stay young.

Growing up is seen as giving up. We are told that with each passing year, doors close behind and head of us.

In short, youth is and has been the foundational cultural idea of the West for almost half a century. From the 60’s mantra of “never trust anyone over 30,” to to today when boomers are being pushed out by millennials.

Given the negative light cast on maturity, why would anyone every want to to defy Peter Pan, and ever grow up. These are some of the questions that philosopher Susan Neiman asks in Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age

My conversation with Susan Neiman:

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Every generation has its own disease that moves from doomed to hopeful

It sometimes seem that every generation has its disease. In earlier generations it was Tuberculosis, in the 40’s and 50’s the fear and the scourge of Polio gripped the nation.

In the 80’s and 90’s, the fear and reality of AIDS overwhelmed the national consciousness.

When we look at these diseases...the death tolls from them, the way they were perceived, the medical mystery, the research, the treatment and the movement towards a cure...we learn a great deal, not just about the march of medicine, but about the culture of the particular time. We see how disease evolves and what it says about our collective character.

That’s the world that my Dr. Susan Ball writes about in Voices in the Band: A Doctor, Her Patients, and How the Outlook on AIDS Care Changed from Doomed to Hopeful

My conversation with Dr. Susan Ball:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Philosophy of Happiness

Someone once wrote that happiness is serious business. But should happiness be a goal in and of itself, or is it simply a construct for achieving
what we really desire, and helping us in finding our pace in the world?

Woody Allen in Annie Hall, saw the world divided only into the “horrible,” and the “miserable.” What kind of a construct is that? Certainly not the one laid out by philosopher Frederic Lenoir in Happiness: A Philosopher's Guide.

My conversation with Frederic Lenoir:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Why we are all stronger in broken places

Nietzsche said “that which doesn't kill us, makes us stronger.” Little did anyone know at the time that those words have a powerful psychological basis.

Everyday we hear about trauma. About people surviving horrible tragedy to themselves and to their loved ones. And we all wonder how do they go forward. We know for example that the incidence of divorce, after the death of a child, is well over 50%.

We know that the trauma of war and combat can take years, if not decades, to come to grips with. We see the horrors of genocide, tragedies like 9/11 and Oklahoma City and we wonder how to people cope and why, even in the face of such horror, so some people thrive and come out stronger.

Or in the words of Hemingway, “the world breaks everyone, and afterwards some are stronger in broken places.”

This is the phenomenon that my guest David Feldman and Lee Daniel Kravetz look at in their new book Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success.

My conversation with David Feldman & Lee Daniel Kravetz:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Ken Robinson on Creative Schools

For years now, Sir Ken Robinson has been tirelessly explaining that conformity in education does not work. That it is the enemy not only of creativity, but of an authentic life.

But understanding the problem, even articulating it as brilliantly as Sir Ken Robinson has, in his Ted Talk, viewed over 32 million times, his book The Element, and in his other books and lectures, is only half the battle. The other half is to define and design the kind of 21st Century schools that can achieve this.

In his new work Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Educationhe argues for an end to our outmoded industrial educational system and proposes a highly personalized, organic approach that draws on today’s technological and professional resources to engage all students, develop their innate curiosity and love of learning, and enable them to face the real challenges ahead and feel at home in the world they will inherit.

My conversation with Sir Ken Robinson:

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How simplicity can thrive in a complex world

Earlier this month most of you completed your taxes. Probably either you had someone else do it, or you spent hours navigating the complexity of the Federal tax code. Perhaps that tax code is the apotheosis of complexity...with the possible exception of booking air travel.

On the other hand, if we look at Silicon Valley, it’s filled with examples of companies that have figured out how to do a limited number of things, do them well and create minimal rules around it.

In between is the vast landscape of culture and business which is continuously tilting from one side or the other. Always trying to find a footing that, in an increasingly complex world, makes their product or service or idea, simpler. Standing on the bridge of simplicity, particularly in the world of business has been Stanford Professor Kathleen Eisenhardt. Her new book is Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World

My conversation with Kathleen Eisenhardt:

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Our Kids

Back in 1995, Robert Putnam argued in his bestselling book, Bowling Alone, that civic life in America was declining. That we had reached a kind of apogee from things like the closing of the American mind, our culture of narcissism and the ideas of people like Ayn Rand. The payoff from increased suburbanization also added to the general shift away from engaging with people, that were not exactly like us.

Since then, for the past twenty years, we’ve added technology, changes in the nature of work, globalization, the influence of money and political polarization.

Today, the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. We are more socially and class divided, more likely only to send time with people like ourselves, and money and economics are the ultimate determinant of success.

At the turn of the last Century, as we moved from an agrarian to an industrial society, we saw a major shift in values, as we realized that shared values and shared success benefited everyone.

Today, at the turn of this Century, as industrialization gave way to our brain powered economy, exactly the opposite seems to be happening. Our kids today seem to be more siloed than ever. Their future and upward mobility more predetermined than ever before.

This is the world that Robert Putnam looks at in his remarkable new book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis'

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

The new white, middle class, suburban heroin addict

For years we’ve had just one image of the drug wars. Images conjured up from movies like the Godfather or Scarface, or reading about the LA battles between the Bloods and the Crips.

But drugs, like everything else, are subject to the pressures and demands of the free market. And creative destruction in the drug business has meant a drug dealer that is kinder and gentler. A dealer that appreciates the value of customer service, that understands that many drug users, particularly of painkillers and heroin, are respectable middle class citizens.

According to the CDC, everyday 44 people in the United States die from an overdose of prescription painkillers, with many more addicts being created everyday. Together the unlikely combination of Doctors, all to eager and willing to prescribe and the boys of Xalisco, Mexico have created a perfect storm of addiction. Sam Quinones takes us to an Ohio town that is ground zero for the new heroin addiction, in Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic.

My conversation with Sam Quinones:

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why men fight and why we love to watch

Hundred of years ago if men wanted to settle a personal matter, even a political one, they picked up swords or guns and dueled their way to resolution. We all remember everything from d'Artagnan to the Gunfight at the OK Corral.

Today there are many that seem to long for a return to those days. And while they are hardly condoned by respectable public standards, they still percolate within the heart of many men, for whom testosterone laden violence is still deeply programmed into their DNA.

Jonathan Gottschall, a mild mannered English Professor, decides, like Kurtz to journey into the heart of darkness to understand what makes men, our society and our culture so prone to embracing violence

If the first rule of Fight Club is not to talk about Fight Club, Jonathan Gottschall breaks that rule with The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch.

My conversation with Jonathan Gottschall:

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Congratulations to this year's Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction and Non Fiction


Too often in the thinking about the politics of war, we lose sight of its crucible. Of what it does, both good and bad for the people caught up in it. Perhaps thats why we go back so often to WWII, to be freed to understand how the pressure, conflict and survival inherent in war, often brings out both best and the worst of human nature.

Anthony Doerr’s new novel All the Light We Cannot See, does this.

My conversation with Anthony Doerr:


When the nuclear age dawned, people spoke of being “present at the creation.” Man suddenly had the ability to completely remake the world anew, or even to destroy it. Today, we have that same power. The environmental crises we face, driven by the pillars of population growth, technology and short term thinking, also give us the power to destroy the world.

In fact, much of the destruction may be underway already and it may even be too late to reverse some of it. We may be entering what Elizabeth Kolbert calls The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

My conversation with Elizabeth Kolbert:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

California's water in all the wrong places

Those of us in California know all too well what’s its like to be living in the midst of a drought. Gov. Jerry Brown recently put in place restrictions demanding that urban water use be cut by 25%. Already the push back is coming. In a state where agriculture uses well over 50% of the state’s water, and only contributes 3% to the state’s economy, urban water users are becoming angry.
There is much talk about pipelines, about desalination, and new technology to bring water to the parched desert that is much of California.

All of this echoes a battle of an earlier time. A time, at the turn of the last century, when a man named William Mulholland would devise a plan to make the desert that was Los Angeles bloom and allow it to become the world class, cutting edge metropolis that it is today.
Perhaps in these dry times, its instructive to look back to that previous period and see what we might learn.

My conversation with Les Standiford about his book Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Barney Frank

One of the big things missing in politics today is historical and institutional memory. The sense of collegiality, of institutional respect and the positive value of public policy, seem to have been replaced by gotcha politics, partisan positioning and the effort to achieve petty political advantage.

Former Congressman Barney Frank has born witness to this change and he’s seen it from all sides. He helped usher in our renewed respect and acceptance for gays and lesbians in public life and fought in the civil right issue of our time, for gay marriage. He used the best of the public policy apparatus to bring forth financial reform, but he’s also seen the ways in which our political process has become mired and disconnected from the realities of 21st century life.

He understands that principals must be part of politics and that “to legislate” is not a dirty word.

He shares some of that life experience in his new memoir Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage

My conversation with Barney Frank:

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The capital of 20th century urbanism

Sometimes, even the most interesting of subjects are presented to us in more or less predictable or at least accepted ways. It’s rare that a work of ideas come to us in an truly imaginative form. But that is exactly what David Kishik has done with The Manhattan Project: A Theory of a City

As cities are becoming ever more important, as most of America and the world moves into urban spaces, understanding cities and their relationship to people is every more important.

David Kishik is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies at Emerson College

My conversation with David Kishik:

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Monday, April 13, 2015

We are in the Golden Age of Public Shaming

There once was a time, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, when public shaming was the norm. The stockades, corporal punishment, torture marks and even the famed Scarlet Letter, all represented ways in which society could express it’s scorn.

Today, with the power and reach of the Internet and social media, we are in a golden age of shaming. Monica Lewinsky’s recent Ted Talk on the subject has been viewed over 3 million times.

But has this new age of shaming made us better? Has it reined in indecent behavior? Has it made us more just or just more paranoid? The long time radio host Don Imus used to say he’d like to ask guests, especially public figures, very tough questions in the hope that the answers just might ruin their careers. Today that can happen in the blink of a Tweet.

Jon Ronson has been studying this recent phenomenon and he writes about it in So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

My conversation with Jon Ronson:

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