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The Internet is what you make of it, obviously. And there are aspiring writers who use digital technology to read and research and seek the counsel of their peers. But the Internet has also been a great aggregator of anxiety and an enabler of our worst tendencies. It has allowed us to trumpet our own opinions, to win attention by broadcasting our laziest and cruelest judgments, to grind axes in public. It has made us feel, in some perverse sense, that we are entitled to do so.

Steve Almond’s post on the culture of entitlement is really worth considering.  Almond relates the culture of entitlement to the rise of consumer culture – the ‘customer is always right’ frame of mind.  the impact of this, he suggests, is that we’re too ready to dismiss creative endeavour without giving it the consideration it requires.  How many times have you (or I) visited a theatre, cinema, read a book or viewed an art exhibition and come away full of entitled dismissal? Almond is even more concerned about those who dismiss without even viewing/engaging with the work.  I think there’s a lesson here for all of us.  Even if we don’t ‘like’ what someone creates we probably need to spend more time appreciating the effort that went in to it…that means taking some time for refection and drawing on empathy….organisations might be even more interesting to work in if those metrics were applied more regularly?

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The secret (emotional) language of food

This article from Dan Jurafsky (based on his book The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu) is fascinating.  He researched restaurant reviews…that’s right…over 900,000 of them relating to 6.500 individual restaurants; he also reviewed the language on the back of food packets plus restaurant menus, and the results were fascinating. 

But food writing, to a linguist like me, isn’t just about food. The words you use when you write a restaurant review say as much about your own psychology as they do about which dish to order.

His findings include:

We found that when people write a “1-star” review, they use the language of trauma…

Reviewers of expensive restaurants relied on multisyllabic words such as “commensurate”, “unobtrusively”, “sumptuous” and “vestibule”, and wrote long-winded reviews to depict themselves as well educated or sophisticated.

…positive reviews of cheap restaurants and foods instead employed metaphors of drugs or addiction…

High-status restaurants want their customers to presuppose that food will be fresh, crisp and delicious. The surfeit of adjectives on middle-priced menus is thus a kind of overcompensation, a sign of status anxiety, and only the cheapest restaurants, in which the tastiness of the food might be in question, must overly protest the toothsomeness of their treats.

I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to order from a menu or read a restaurant review with quite the same detachment in the future.




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The value of conflict in organisations

I’ve been re-watching Margaret Heffernan’s TED talk on the value of conflict in organisations.  I particularly like this quote

So how do organizations think? Well, for the most part, they don’t. And that isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s really because they can’t. And they can’t because the people inside of them are too afraid of conflict.

The organisation as rational, cognitive, thinking model is really debunked by Heffernan in an eloquent and convincing argument.  How many organisations do you know (or work in or with) that strive to avoid conflict because they are scared it will ruin the idealised positivity?

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Silicon Valley’s culture of failure

Most startups fail. However many entrepreneurs still overestimate the chances of success – and the cost of failure.

This interesting piece front the Guardian focusses on the current reification of ‘failure’ (as it relates to start-ups).  The myth of ‘failure’ remains alluring in certain circles, as though you have earned the right to succeed only if you’ve amounted a number of failed enterprises in your past.  The problem with the ‘failure’ myth is that it doesn’t account for the emotional fall out of plugging away.

People will do a lot of irrational things to avoid losing even if it’s to their detriment. You push and push and exhaust yourself.

If we’re going to pay serious attention to failure as an important learning experience then we also have to pay attention to how expectations are set up in the first place….and, perhaps more importantly, the emotional cost of desire, satisfaction, disappointment and failure.  Not all failures lead to success.  Not all success is built on the back of failure.  Perhaps its time to adopt the reality principle and address not only the fear of failure but the stress of pretending that everything is going well when it’s not.

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US student is rescued from giant vagina sculpture in Germany

From the Guardian: I can see this being used as a teaching tool on psychoanalytic training courses for years and years!



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The psychology of your future self

A TED talk from Dan Gilbert on the Psychology of your Future Self

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On being ordinary

I was at a very interesting lecture by Constance Deveraux in UCD recently during which the issue of ‘excellence’ (as it related to the arts) was raised.

Achieving excellence has become a mainstream indicator of success and, a primary criterion by which the arts are valued and funded. One person commented that the argument for the intrinsic value of the arts had been lost…primarily, he believed, because of the attachment to quantitative indicators of success such as audience numbers, impact on social issues etc.

On reflection, I believe one of the reasons the intrinsic value argument may have been lost is because of the ‘excellence’ argument. In order to be excellent a work or an artist or anybody must in some respects be exclusive. In attaching itself to ‘excellence’ as an indicator the arts have reinforced the argument that to be excellent means to be exclusive. If the arts are going to win the intrinsic argument then the arts need to be ‘ordinary’ so ordinary, that they are taken for granted (in a good way) as an embedded part of our day to day activity.

The idea of exclusivity and excellence and ‘being the best’ sets us all up for failure and disappointment. What ever happened to ‘good enough’ as something to strive for?

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Becoming Freud

I recently finished reading Adam Phillips’ new book Becoming Freud.  It’s ostensibly a ‘biography’ of Freud but Phillips begins by referencing Freud’s ambivalence about the whole idea of biography; he was sceptical and distrusting of the idea of biography even though he went on to become a wonderful biographer himself!  Phillips weaves back and forth between Freud’s story and that of psychoanalysis and in many respects, this is a biography of Freud’s discoveries rather than a fact based description of his life.

What’s interesting also is that the book stops at Freud’s 50th birthday – after Freud had written his five major works and before the profession of psychoanalysis became organised.  Phillips invites us to speculate what might have happened to that profession had Freud died at 50 (if indeed, there would have been a ‘profession’ at all).

It’s a beautifully written and artful exploration of the man and his work.

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What happens when an NGO admits failure?

International aid groups make the same mistakes over and over again. At TEDxYYC David Damberger uses his own engineering failure in India to call for the development sector to publicly admit, analyze, and learn from their missteps.

Oh so much to learn from this sort talk from David Damberger….Organisations defend so rigorously against failure (or admitting it at least).  Its worth speculating about what our systems might be like if we admitted to being ‘ordinary’ rather than aiming for spectacular results which very often fail.  Damberger comes up with some interesting practical suggestions for how failure can be marshalled in the service of learning and cites the Engineers without Borders annual failure report.  I would like to suggest that we need new emotional leadership in organizations.  What do I mean? A type of leadership that sees emotion as a core element of organising.  Emotion is systemically manufactured and individually felt.  It is as much a part of the world of work as the physical or tangible products that are made.  A new type of leadership would put emotion back where it belongs at the hear of organizing and would also challenge the fear that it is personal, irrational, negative and disruptive.

If you feel like reading about failure head over here to Admitting Failure.  The site is full of fascinating stories of ‘failure’ and the learning they inspired.

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Benjamin Zander on passion, purpose and strategy

I keep returning to this Benjamin Zander TED talk in which he uses Chopin to demonstrate the essential characteristics of leadership.  Apart from being passionate about your subject or area of work, you also need to believe that you can inspire others to tap into their own passions too.  It’s this unfailing sense of possibility that distinguishes good leaders from not-so-good leaders.  Zander uses the music of Chopin to demonstrate….Classical music is perpetually associated with the middle-class and is perceived to be an ‘elite’ art form  so it’s apt that Zander should take his passion and try to persuade his audience that Chopin is worth listening to.  And he succeeds beautifully.  Not by lecturing or hectoring or providing a powerpoint presentation on the merits and de-merits.  But by meeting people on an emotional level.  Zander allows us to meet him and his passion in a deeply human way.  He also meets his audience (some of whom will be interested in classical music, most of whom won’t) and fails to patronize or persuade.  He then invites them to think of a loved one no longer here … and then he allows the music to do the rest.  I imagine that for each audience member Chopin’s music provides a very different emotional experience.  In this sense each individual creates and curates their own experience from their own life story using Chopin as a tool.  As a result I imagine many of those ‘unpersuaded’ by the merits of Chopin will take a risk to listen once again.

Zander’s strategy is so powerful in its simplicity.

Meet people where they are

Allow others to see your passion

Connect with others around their passions and interests

Extend an invitation to join

Get out of the way

It’s a talk I come back to again and again to remind me that sometimes, getting out of the way and allowing people to do their own work is the best type of consultancy around.  Enjoy.

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