Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Leadership and Self-Deception

Leadership and Self-Deception – The Arbinger Institute

Tom is newly hired at the Zagrum company, and after his first month of work, he is being called in for a special meeting with the VP, Bud. Unsure what to expect, Tom is amazed when Bud starts off the meeting by telling Tom that he has a problem. They spend the rest of the morning talking about how this problem manifests in such a way that everyone else is aware of it except the person with the problem. This problem is also peculiar because it is a problem that everyone has. After a day and a half of discussion that includes the VP, the president, and the previous owner of the company, Tom reflects about how his new awareness of the problem might influence his life. Everything from his work productivity, his work relationships, and his home life all improve as a result of his new-found awareness of this basic problem that everyone shares.

“Leadership and Self-Deception” has been used worldwide in corporate, team-building, and personal settings to improve relationships between people by building a common language about this specific problem. In short, that problem is living “in the box.” When someone (meaning all of us because we all have this problem) is living in the box, they see other people as objects instead of people, which inflates their view of themselves and the annoyances of the other person, creating a cycle in which we justify our less-than-perfect actions by blaming others for their weaknesses (not blaming others for your own weaknesses, but blaming others for their own weaknesses). This in turn puts other people “in the box,” giving them permission to blame others for their weaknesses and creating discontent all around. The solution to getting and staying out of the box is to let the humanity of other people pull you out of the box so that you connect to others as people instead of objects.

This book takes an interesting approach for a self-help novel. Instead of explaining the problem and giving examples, it puts it in a story, semi-fictionalizing the material so that it reads as a novel while drawing on real-life examples and situations. It is very easy to read, continually reiterating the ideas and concepts for maximum learning opportunities. It also feels incredibly patient for a book, so that you can argue with it while you are reading until you accept that you, too, are susceptible to the problem of living “in the box.” Understandable, relatable, and clearly explained, this book would be useful for anyone looking to improve their productivity, teamwork, or personal relationships. Highly recommended, especially for any kind of leadership setting or program.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J.K. Rowling

After a horrific accident that leaves Harry Potter an orphan, he is left on the doorstep of his aunt and uncle’s house. Although strange things always seem to happen around Harry, he grows up thinking he is a normal kid, until owls start bringing him letters on his 11th birthday. Then a strange man who looks more like a giant comes to the house when Harry does not answer his letters. Hagrid tells Harry that he is a wizard, explains his background, and introduces him to the world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. After a whirlwind of preparation, Harry heads of for his first year at school where he learns to fly, plays the much beloved wizarding sport of quidditch, and even makes a few friends despite the fame and mystery that shroud his background. As the school year draws to a close, the friendships and tensions that have built over the past year are tested as Harry and his friends attempt to thwart a teacher who has been assisting Voldemort, the most powerful dark wizard the world has seen. And that is only in his first year at school, leaving him hopeful for what the future will bring.

“Sorcerer’s Stone” is the first of J.K. Rowling’s seven book series on Harry Potter, an international hit that has been turned into one of the largest movie franchises in the world. As an introduction into the series, Rowling does a great job at explaining what needs to be explained for a basic understanding while also leaving questions unanswered so that the storyline can grow in complexity as the characters age. The characters she brings in already have distinct behaviors and roles to distinguish their specific contribution to the story, and she explains just enough about the world of magic to lay the basic structure of the world without overwhelming the reader with details. As an introduction to a long series, the book perfectly outlines the necessities so that nuances can grow in later stories. Rowling is also a hilarious writer, bringing in absurd ideas and making connections and comments that draw attention away from basic daily observations to how the simplest things are not always the simplest things.

Harry Potter books have always been in a league of their own in my opinion. For a long time, I reread the entire series every summer, but I have not had the opportunity to do that recently. However, the break has been refreshing because the distance removes some of the familiarity, allowing me to see parts of the book that I may have glossed over in my half-memorized skimming. Knowing what happens in the rest of the series and starting over from the very first book is actually a lot more fun than I was expecting because I see the hints of what will come later. The first book is fairly simple and straightforward, which is how it needs to be, so it is fast and easy to get through, but always enjoyable. You must read Harry Potter – there is no room for argument or disagreement here.