Here is an excerpt from an article written by Steve Tobak for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To check out an abundance of valuable resources and obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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In his speech at the University of Arizona’s McKale Memorial Center, President Obama sought to unite a mourning nation in the wake of unspeakable tragedy:
“Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
I don’t know why, but crisis and tragedy seems to bring out the best in us.
On a weekend that should have been about watching football, hanging with family, and stacking firewood, millions of Americans – including me – were transfixed by the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in a Tuscon, Arizona shopping center on Saturday.
While it all began with what appears to be an insane gunman attempting to assassinate a political figure and everyone else in the vicinity, as events unfolded, a number of heroes emerged. We’ve seen this time and again in crises over the years – the events of September 11th and the Chile mine collapse come to mind – and this was no exception.
Although I was completely and emotionally wrapped up in the drama, I was struck by the actions and behavior of those heroes – and a villain or two – that, for me, provided some unusual leadership insights that can benefit all of us.
[Three of] 5 Leadership Lessons from the Tuscon Shooting
Lesson 1: Courage and competence transcend age and, yes, generation
About 30 feet away when shots rang out, 20 year-old Daniel Hernandez ran toward the shots and, in tending Giffords’ wounds, saved her life. A Giffords intern, the brave young man who, oddly enough, had taken a course in medical triage, applied pressure to her wound and held her upright so she wouldn’t choke on her own blood. He stayed with her until paramedics arrived and held her hand in the ambulance. She was conscious and able to squeeze his hand back.
Lesson 2: Besides making great entrepreneurs, veterans make great leaders and crisis managers
The Trauma Medical Director at the University Medical Center where all the victims were transported and treated, Dr. Peter Rhee is a highly skilled and trained trauma surgeon who had previously been deployed in surgical units in Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s received numerous awards, honors, and distinctions, and if you watched the medical debriefing on Sunday, it’s clear that this man is one helluva crisis manager.
According to University Medical Center president and CEO Kevin Burns, “I have always held our people here in the highest regard, they’ve always inspired me, but I’ve never been so proud in my life as I was yesterday as they rose to the occasion in almost combat conditions.”
Lesson 3: Attempting to politicize and benefit from tragedy is despicable, unprofessional, and just plain idiotic
Those who attempt to capitalize on tragedy come across as selfish, unfeeling, and lacking in professionalism and class. Unfortunately, there are lots of people that fit that description and more than a few in politics and the media. In Sarah Palin Criticized Over Gabrielle Giffords Presence on “Target List,” when asked if “the Tea Party right was to blame” for the tragedy, Rep. Raul Grijalva said this:
“[When] you stoke these flames, and you go to public meetings and you scream at the elected officials, you threaten them–you make us expendable you make us part of the cannon fodder. For a while, you’ve been feeding this hatred, this division…you feed it, you encourage it….Something’s going to happen. People are feeding this monster….Some of the extreme right wing has made demonization of elected officials their priority.”
I wonder if Grijalva realizes that, by trying to tag a political figure or party with the horrendous actions of someone who is likely mentally ill, he’s the one who’s feeding, encouraging, and stoking the flames of hatred.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Also, be sure to check out Tobak’s follow up post, Is it Time to Stop the Vitriolic Rhetoric in Politics and Business? and weigh in on what’s become a heated national debate.
And, on the same subject:
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Steve Tobak is a consultant, writer, and former senior executive with more than 20 years of experience in the technology industry. He’s the managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based firm that provides strategic consulting, executive coaching, and speaking services to CEOs and management teams of small-to-mid-sized companies. You can also follow Tobak on Twitter or Facebook.
Here is an excerpt of an article written by Maureen Callahan that appeared in the New York Post on November 13, 2010. If you wish to read the complete article, please click here.
Anne, 45, has always considered herself middle-class: As a single mom earning $65,000 a year in ad sales, she was able to rent a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side for $1,000 a month and send her daughter, now 12, to private school. “I was able to make it,” she says. “Even go on vacation sometimes.”
In the span of 15 months, she has come to define herself as poor — even if the government won’t, denying her multiple applications for welfare and food stamps because, she says, she once made “too much money.”
Upon losing her job in June 2009 — her company was going under — “I was plunged into immediate poverty,” she says. “It was a surprise attack.”
Anne has borrowed money from her sister and her retired parents — who are struggling themselves — to pay the rent; she applied for a Section 8 and was able to slash it in half, to $500 a month. She depleted her 401(k). She had no savings, was living paycheck-to-paycheck. But she still felt economically safe, given her location and her tax bracket and her white-collar job.
“Now, when I go to the grocery store, I have to decide what is absolutely essential for my child,” Anne says.
“Sometimes, I’m eating whatever-in-a-can. A lot of the time, I’m literally walking around without a penny in my pocket.” She deliberates before taking her daughter on a day trip downtown, because a round-trip subway fare will cost $9. She negotiated a tuition break with her daughter’s school, and the ease of that leads her to believe she’s not the only parent who’s asked, which she does not find especially comforting.
She’s $16,000 in debt to credit card companies. One of her local grocers, who once let her buy food on a running tab, now has a bill collector after her. She has her résumé up online, but when headhunters call and ask her age, “suddenly they never call me back,” she says. “I’m depressed. None of my friends are able to find jobs. I am living day-to-day.”
Anne’s biggest fear is that her daughter finds out how dire the situation is.
“She’ll say to me, ‘Are we poor?’ And I keep lying,” Anne says. “I think it’s a very traumatic thing for a child. I don’t want her to feel like she’s the only one, or a victim.”
When the recession does ease up, Anne fears that she will emerge as a permanent member of the lower class.
“The world kind of betrayed us,” she says. “The salary I was making — I don’t think I’ll ever make it again.”
This is what President Obama spoke of last week on “60 Minutes”: the threat that America adapts to the point where this economy is considered “a new normal, where unemployment rates stay high, people who have jobs see their incomes go up, businesses make big profits, but they learn to do more with less and so they don’t hire.”
Here is an article written by Jessica Stillman for BNET, The CBS Interactive Business Network. To obtain a free subscription to one or more of the BNET newsletters, please click here.
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You palms sweat. Your pulse races. Your throat gets dry. You’re standing in front of a room full of people who can make or break your career, and you’re about to choke. For most people this sounds like the set-up for a terrible anxiety dream, but for University of Chicago psychology professor Sian Beilock, high-pressure performance isn’t the raw material for nightmares but for brain science.
Specializing in what goes on in our brains and bodies during high-stakes performances, Beilock has spent her career learning something the anxious among us would love to know: why do we choke under pressure and how can we prevent it? After posting a bit about her new book on the topic, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To [click here]
Entry-Level Rebel [i.e. Stillman] got in touch to ask for more tips on how to develop a cool head under stress.
Are there any warning signs that you are about to choke?
There are a variety of brain and body reactions that happen in high-pressure situations, and some of these can be warning signs that our performance is doomed — especially if we interpret them in a negative way. For example, if you interpret a racing heart as “oh s**t,” then your performance may be about to crack. But if you instead interpret the same racing heart as a call to action, you might perform at a high level. And, of course, when the worries start, this is one major sign that a choke is coming.
And if you feel it coming on, can you do anything in the moment to prevent it?
In the book I talk about a number of techniques to “pause the choke” when we find ourselves about to crumble. Some of these techniques are specific to the activity we are doing. If, for example, one is performing a golf putt one has hit thousands of times in the past, slightly speeding up the performance or distracting oneself can actually be a good thing. This is because choking often occurs during these sorts of “automated tasks” when we try to control aspects of performance that are best left outside of conscious awareness.
Singing a song to oneself, counting backwards by 3s, or speeding up so you don’t have as much time to think about every aspect of what you are doing can be good things. On the other hand, if you are performing an activity that requires a lot of thinking and reasoning — a lot of cognitive horsepower — where considering all the details is a good thing (e.g., taking a difficult test in school, reasoning about an on-the-spot question from a business client), then it’s important to do things that help quiet the worries and allow you to devote all your cognitive horsepower to what you are doing.
Here are a few tips: First, think about what you want to say, not what you don’t want to say, because when you try not to think or do something, it is often more likely to occur. Second, know what you know. If you have memorized the introduction to your speech or what you are going to say in its entirety, just go with it and try not to think too much about every word. If you didn’t memorize it, pause before key transitions to allow yourself time to regroup. Third, remind yourself that you have the background to succeed and that you are in control of the situation. This can be the confidence boost you need to ace your pitch.
Finally, here’s one more: write it out. Our work shows that writing about worries and stressful events in your life can help increase “working memory” (a kind of mental scratchpad that allows us to “work” with all the information stuck in consciousness). It may even prevent other parts of your life (spouse, kids, house) from creeping in and distracting you under stress. This writing doesn’t have to be long, 10 minutes before a big event or regularly for 10 minutes a week can help ensure that we make the most of the brain power we have.
Your research found that high performers are the most likely to choke. Why is that?
Often the high performers put the most pressure on themselves, but that is not the whole story. High-powered people (those with the most cognitive horsepower) usually rely a lot on the prefrontal cortex, and the working memory housed there, to perform at the top. Under pressure, when worries co-opt these resources, high-powered folks don’t have all the brain power they normally have to perform at a high level, and thus they choke.
Are there any other characteristics that make a person more prone to choking?
Being a chronic worrier, being highly self-conscious, and a tendency to have negative outlook on a situation all contribute to choking.
I was fascinated by a study mentioned in Choke which demonstrated that black students’ scores on a standardized test rose significantly after the election of President Obama because they were less distracted by worries that they might be stereotyped. How big an effect can this “stereotype threat” have?
These effects are really interesting. It’s amazing to think that something as simple as checking off your race or gender before a test could impact your performance, or that seeing Obama — someone who defies stereotypes about blacks and intelligence — could change this. The effects are meaningful — for instance, the work we have done with women and math show that performance can be shifted around 10 to 15 percent on tests just by highlighting gender stereotypes in math.
So if you’re a woman going in for an important interview, for example, should you think about powerful and successful women before you leave the house?
Being exposed to women who defy the stereotype helps. But there are other techniques that I talk about in the book that work, too. For instance, we have shown that when women write about their impressive academic qualifications right before a test (rather than dwell on the fact that they are a woman), they do better on a math test. Other work has shown that thinking about all your different self-aspects — positive ones, especially, maybe you are a mother, a great cook, a good friend — helps take the emphasis off of your identity only as a woman (where a stereotype about math ability exists). Finally, some of the techniques I mention above (writing about your worries ,for example) can also help.
If a person starting out in a high-stakes career wanted to train themselves to be cool and unflappable under stress, what would you recommend?
A big one is to close the gap between practice and competition. Meaning, practice under stress. This gets you used to the pressure, so the high-stakes situation is not something you fear. Interestingly, this practice doesn’t have to mimic the extent of the pressures you will feel in a do-o- die situation. Even practicing under mild levels of pressure (e.g., your friends and family watching you) can help you get used to the real pressure when it comes your way.
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Jessica Stillman is an alumna of the BNET editorial intern program, which taught her everything she knows about blogging. She now lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.
Here are a few of the awards he has received thus far: International Business Award Best Human Resources Executive of the Year, 2008. World Human Resources Development Award for Human Resources Leadership, 2009.
His formal education: Chicago Management Institute, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, 2005; PhD, Measurement, Evaluation & Statistical Analysis; Education; University of Chicago, 1995; MA, History of Chinese Religions, University of Chicago, 1990; BA, Psychology, Honors College, Arizona State University, Phi Beta Kappa, Moeur Award (for 4.0 GPA), 1986.
Also: Global Senior Advisor, Asia-Pacific CEO Association; Worldwide Director, Performance Measurement, Accenture; Public Speaker (in English and Chinese) recently in Beijing, Cairo, Changchun, Kuala Lumpur, London, Mumbai, Nanjing, Nice & Singapore.
Q: What was your inspiration/motivation for writing this book, Lasting Contribution?
Nothing frustrates me more than wasted potential. I see many well-intentioned people in the world who are trying to do good work, but because they don’t understand economics, game theory, or statistics, they are not as effective as they could be. Since not everybody has the time or inclination to study all of these fields, I took an idea from the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi who said, “The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap.” My goal was to bring the insights from various fields of study to more people so they could be more effective in their well-intentioned pursuits.
Q: Given the thinking in your book, if you could solve just one of the world’s problems, what would it be?
Energy. Besides addressing global warming, clean and cheap energy would allow you to desalinate and move water, which would go a long way toward solving problems with food and population.
Q: You have expertise in China, hermeneutics, education, and statistics. How does all of this fit together?
My knowledge of China is focused on language, culture, and philosophy, which inevitably lead to Confucius. He asked: How do you make the world a better place? By making people better, and you do that through education. That’s two topics. The other two are variations on the theme of, “How do you know?” One is qualitative and the other quantitative, but we live not in a multi- or poly-verse, but rather a universe. This means that the qualitative and quantitative approaches must converge. If they don’t, then you haven’t done enough work.
To put all of this differently, if I were interested in making money—good old capital—then I’d invest, which would involve a qualitative assessment of the management team and a quantitative assessment of the fundamentals. I’m interested in human capital, so I conduct qualitative and quantitative assessments of how to improve it.
Q: What is your lasting contribution?
Confucius said that to leave a legacy, you should have kids (I have a son) or write, but Socrates said that to leave a legacy you should have kids, write, or (what does this tell you about the difference between China and the West?) do something that has an enduring impact on the world. According to Accenture’s Chief Learning Officer, my contribution has been “to fundamentally change the equation for how companies think about investing in their people.” I proved that the return on investment in training is very high. Gary Becker, Nobel laureate and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner said, “In terms of human capital, [Tad’s work] is exactly what American businesses most need to be doing.”
Q: How did you do that?
I analyzed 261,000 employee records of per-person margin (how much people brought in minus how much we paid them), controlled for experience, inflation, and business cycles, to show that for every dollar Accenture spent on training, it received $4.53 in return, which is a return on investment (ROI) of 353 percent.
There are several features of this work that I think are worth pointing out:
Since the analysis focused not on soft data (Did you enjoy your hospital stay?), but on hard data (Did you survive your hospital stay?) and since it used rigorous statistical techniques (multiple regression that accounted for various confounds), the results had a high degree of credibility, so high that the work won half a dozen awards and was turned into the book Return on Learning: Training for High Performance at Accenture.
The approach forces people to focus not on training activities—hours of training delivered, percentage of workforce trained, and so on—but on results, a focus that forces you to speak the language of the organization’s leaders—the language of results.
The analysis took into consideration all of the training that everybody experienced as well as all of the costs associated with the training, including opportunity costs. One point is that this makes for a conservative estimate of ROI. But the more important point is that the analysis looked at the big picture of how all of the courses interacted with each other to add value, thus avoiding the common mistake of trying to explain how a particular course increased a particular skill, which has a particular ROI. The analysis showed that, because individual courses interact with each other, the whole effect of training is greater than the sum of its parts.
Here’s a good read from the New York Times by Stephanie Clifford about David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker, and the new book about President Obama, The Bridge. Clifford’s article is entitled Making It Look Easy at The New Yorker, . Here’s the quote that grabbed me:
“You have to be incredibly interested, and that’s not going to come along every five minutes.”
Here’s what Malcolm Gladwell says about Remnick:
“He likes to pretend that there’s no sweat,” said Malcolm Gladwell, a New Yorker staff writer and an old colleague from The Washington Post. “He cruises around and chats with people and then disappears and writes thousands of words in 15 minutes. It’s all part of that ‘making it look easy’ thing.”
But here’s my takeaway: when I read, I am curious, and have to be interested. That means the author has to be curious, and write interesting stuff. Curiosity… interest… these are real keys to good writing and good reading.
The best companies of the future will use the latest information processing, communications, and social networking technologies to become shape-shifters, constantly restructuring themselves to adapt to changing circumstances and new opportunities. They will become protean.
shape-shifter: able to change shape – yet remaining the same in the inner core… (“whatever form Proteus takes, he still retains his self.”)
Michael S. Malone, The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise and Fall of the Protean Corporation and What It Means for You
Two leaders are very much in the public eye at the moment. One is our President. The other is probably the greatest college basketball coach (on the men’s side) of the era. And as I was reading about both of these leaders, I realized that they both have characteristics that are described so well in the Michael Malone book, The Future Arrived Yesterday.
They are both “shape-shifters.” A shape-shifter is not a flip flopper. Nor is a shape shifter a leader that has no true inner core. In fact, it is true that only a genuine inner core makes shape shifting possible. And though you may want to take exception to such a description of these two men, I think it makes sense.
If Obama’s belief system was fairly consistent, his public persona was not. Remnick returns repeatedly to the notion that Obama is a “shape-shifter,” with a remarkable ability to come across differently to disparate constituencies.
And regarding Coach K, the men’s basketball coach at Duke University, in an article in Slate.com, The Duke Fluke: Why are so many Blue Devils awesome in college and awful in the pros?, the author Josh Levin describes Coach K as the greatest motivator of all:
Coach K’s motivational techniques are too masterful. Part of the Krzyzewski mythos is that he is no mere coach. He is a leader of men…
But it is this trait that makes him a shape-shifting leader. For Coach K, it’s very direct, and brilliant. He simply coaches each year differently than he did the year before. He figures out what that year’s team needs, and changes everything he needs to to produce a winning year with that specific team. Again from Levin:
Mike Gminski, who played at Duke just before the Krzyzewski era and now broadcasts games for CBS, says Coach K’s “hook is to get his team together for that year.”
And here is the possible lesson for us all. What worked yesterday may not work today. What works today may not work tomorrow. What motivates one person may not motivate another. What motivates one team may not work with the next. In other words, the leader must be a true shape-shifter. True to an inner core, flexible and nimble in every other way. Companies have to do this. And so do individual leaders. We really do need shape-shifting leaders for a shape-shifting era.
On Tuesday [February 9, 2010], President Obama strode into the White House Briefing Room, surprising the reporters there. He had just held the first of a new string of meetings — a bipartisan gathering involving congressional leaders from both parties (the big one, on health care, is set for February 25). This is a good effort, but it comes a year late. Obama came into office promising to end the politics of division. A year later, it seems we have more division and less collaboration.
It’s a lesson in how not to collaborate, and it applies equally to business leaders. All leaders and managers can learn from five key mistakes made by the White House:
[Note: Here is the first. You can read the complete article by visiting firstname.lastname@example.org.]
1. Wrong language by the rank-and-file. President Obama says many of the right things about the need for bipartisanship and collaboration. But his team does not follow suit. Rahm Emanuel, most notably, is often making news with heated rhetoric, most recently when he called people with whom he disagreed “F—ing retarded” (and they were Democrats!). As I argue in my book Collaboration, how leaders talk matter a great deal. In a fascinating experiment at Stanford University, students played a game where they chose to cooperate or compete. When it was called “the community game,” given the impression that it was about cooperation, 70 percent chose to cooperate. When it was called “the Wall Street game,” suggesting market competition, 70 percent chose to compete — the exact opposite! Rhetoric shapes behaviors.
To get people motivated to collaborate, you need to talk the language of collaboration, all the time. And you can’t extol it one day and then say something differently another day. The White House can learn from the example of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California who came into office calling his opponents “girlie men.” That rhetoric led to even more division, but once he cooled the rhetoric, he was able to get a lot done by collaborating.
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Had President Obama and his team avoided these five missteps and practiced the five corresponding good collaborative practices, things may have looked differently today. But there is still time to practice good collaboration, for all of us.
Examine your own organization: do you have compelling unifying goals that unite people from different units? As a leader, do you set a tone that invites collaboration? Do you foster real debate early in the process, reach out to those who disagree, and stay hands-on in major initiatives? And — when the process stalls — have you been willing to make hard choices?
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
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Morten T. Hansen is the author of Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results. He is a management professor at University of California, Berkeley, School of Information.
President Obama and his “argument-based organization as learning organization” – insight from David Brooks
I intentionally avoid political topics and themes on this blog. I realize that in this very volatile, divided era, once a name or a postition is named, some cheer, others condemn, and people want to argue. (See my earlier post on The Argument Culture, and how Deborah Tannen predicted the coming argument wars).
But this was too good to pass up. Whether you agree with the assessment or not, it provides for serious thought and discussion regarding leadership and decision making. The thought comes from David Brooks, one of the conservative columnists for the New York Times. In his column The Analytic Mode, December 3, 2009, he reflects on President Obama’s approach to his Afghanistan strategy and troop decision. This is what he wrote:
The advantage of the Obama governing style is that his argument-based organization is a learning organization. Amid the torrent of memos and evidence and dispute, the Obama administration is able to adjust and respond more quickly than, say, the Bush administration ever did.
Brooks pictures the Obama approach as that of a learning organization. Here’s the definition (from Wikipedia): A Learning Organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.
Though there are five identified traits of a learning organization — Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, and Team Learning — I think we can identify the following as critical to a learning organization’s success as a learning organization. A learning organization is an organization where the following is true:
1) Teaching and learning are at the center of the organization.
2) Everyone, from the leaders throughout the organization, values learning.
3) Disagreement and dissent are valued, because if there is no disagreement, learning does not happen. Instead, perpetuating frozen, possibly wrong, viewpoints becomes dominant – and the organization finds itself left behind in a hurry.
This the second time that an author has put modern day business labels on President Obama’s approach to governing. (at least, the second one that I am aware of). The earlier was an author calling President Obama our first GTD President. (see my post here). I’m a fan of the learning organization approach, and Brook’s observation gives me hope.
This is not a post about the politics, the stances of Barack Obama. It is a post about work challenge. And it is fully prompted by a provocative article from Slate.com — The Big Money: The Getting-Things-Done President: Is GTD any way to run a country? By Paul Smalera.
The article is based on the book, and the life/business approach of David Allen in Getting Things Done. Here is Smalera’s paragraph describing the value of Allen’s approach:
Getting Things Done is a productivity system invented by David Allen. Currently all the rage among the lifehacking set, Allen uses seminars, books, and private sessions to teach people how to handle all the “stuff” in their lives. Allen, echoing the theory of alienation that Marx applied to industrialized labor 165 years ago, thinks that the relentless stream of “stuff” white-collar workers process every day makes it hard for them to retain control over their accomplishments and larger purposes. His theory is basically this: By creating an external system to track our big goals and breaking those goals down into discrete actions, we free up our minds to actually complete those actions, which, after all, get us closer to our big goals. Then we use chunks of time to think, to plan our next steps, and to adjust our courses of action.
Smalera’s article is about what all is on Barack Obama’s plate. He has too much to do – and is tackling so much of it that he does not have time to do what the Getting Things Done approach is supposed to free him up to do: think, ponder, reflect – look at the big, big picture.
It may as well be about all of us. The information overload we experience, the to-do lists that are never finished, the dozens (hundreds) of e-mails we have to answer, all add up to an avalanche of “stuff.” This stuff has to get done, and it takes hard work and a very good system to get it all done. And we have to faithfully work the system – all the time, every day, day after day, or we get truly buried in stuff.
But the bad news is that when we do get it all done, when we are supposed to be freed up to be able to think and ponder, there is not time to sit and think and ponder – there is frequently only the arrival of more stuff.
In the article, Smalera includes link to an original Getting Things Done work-flow diagram, and a diagram created to capture what is on Obama’s plate. Take a look (click the earlier links in this paragraph for larger images):
Looking at President Obama’s chart does not seem to leave much room to think and ponder. I wonder what your chart, and my chart, would look like?
The article implies that President Obama should not try to do so much “stuff.” But – the stuff needs to be done. By him, and by us, tackling our own lists. And the more stuff there is, the less time we find for the really big tasks. (And, yes, I readily acknowledge that our schedules do not hold a candle to the president’s schedule).
We live in a really, really busy time!