Saul Kaplan: Practically Radical

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Beware of random collisions with unusual suspects.  Unless, of course, if you want to learn something new.  In that case seek out innovators from across every imaginable silo and listen, really listen, to their stories.  New ideas, perspectives, and value creating opportunities are in the gray areas between unusual suspects.  It seems so obvious and yet we spend most of our time with the usual suspects in our respective silos.  We need to get out of our silos more.

It’s human nature to surround ourselves with people exactly like us.  We connect and spend time with people who share a common world-view, look the same, enjoy the same activities, and speak the same language.  We join clubs to be with others like us.  I want to belong to the non-club club.  The only tribe I want to be in is a tribe of unusual suspects who can challenge my world-view, expose me to new ideas, and teach me something new.  I founded the Business Innovation Factory to enable random collisions of unusual suspects.

Saul KaplanI am reminded of the power of this simple idea as my friend Bill Taylor launches his new book,Practically Radical (a must read for all innovators).  Bill is a magnet for innovation stories and a master storyteller.  I’ve been a Bill Taylor fan since he founded Fast Company and was surprised when he showed up at BIF-1, our very first Collaborative Innovation Summit, back in 2004.  I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Bill loves searching for compelling innovation stories among the unusual suspects.  He has attended all but one of our six annual summits to-date including co-chairing several of them.  There have been countless random collisions.  As I started reading Practically Radical I was immediately hit with a powerful reminder.

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Saul Kaplan: Practically Radical

Saul Kaplan: What Technology Wants

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It’s rare that a book so enhances your world-view that you think the author has taken up residence in your head.  Henceforth What Technology Wants shall be known as my new playbook for understanding technology.  It’s a must read for innovation junkies trying to sort the infinite possibilities of the 21stcentury.  Many have tried to help us understand the meaning of technology.  Few get below the buzzwords.

What Technology Wants captures the essence of our technological revolution and provides a lens to understand its origins. It provides a unique view from technology’s perspective shedding light on what technology wants and where it can take us.  It’s a call to action reminding us of the opportunity and responsibility to remake our world in a way that deeply honors technologic potential around us. I expected the book to be great. Kevin Kelly has been an innovation hero of mine dating back to his days as the founding editor of WIRED. Every story during Kevin’s tenure at the magazine was a voice from the future that seemed to be speaking directly to me.  It was a thrill to spend an entire day with Kevin when he came to the Business Innovation Factory recently to discuss What Technology Wants.  Talk about being a kid in a candy store.  My head is still spinning.

Kevin Kelly’s visit and book discussion stretched my thinking in both comfortable and uncomfortable ways.  Let’s start with the comfortable leap.  Kelly clearly asserts that humans are the evolutionary conduit connecting the cosmos, bios, and technos.  He paints a compelling narrative arc asserting that the concentric creation stories of the universe, life, and the man-made world all share the same inexorable evolutionary path.  I now know what Stephen Johnson meant by taking a long zoom view. Kelly traces the four billion year history of life through transitions marked by ever-increasing complexity of information flows. From molecules to single-cell organisms to language based societies to writing and printing to agriculture to scientific method, to mass production to ubiquitous global communication.  It’s all one grand evolutionary arc and we are center stage.

Saul KaplanI have always been fascinated by biomimicry, a design discipline that emulates or takes inspiration from nature to solve human problems.  In What Technology Wants, Kelly helps us make the connections and intellectual leap necessary to see evolution as a connecting process, seamlessly working its magic across both the natural and man-made world.  Technology doesn’t just mimic nature it’s a natural evolutionary extension of the human mind, which in turn is a direct extension of our cosmic beginnings.  Kelly invites us to become one with technology.  It’s a far easier invitation to accept knowing we share a common evolutionary process and limitless opportunities to explore the adjacent possible together.

The leap I am less comfortable with and still trying to process is Kelly’s assertion that there is an inherent direction to the evolutionary process. He claims evolution is a predictable process with predetermined tendencies. His argument isn’t theological but science based.  It’s enough to make your head explode.  Kelly claims there is an aspect of structural inevitability or predetermined outcomes built into the evolutionary process.  He suggests that if somehow we could replay four billion years of evolutionary process over again we would see roughly the same outcomes.  How can that be? The notion goes against everything I am wired to believe.  I grew up incessantly arguing with my mom, who must have said a million times, if it is meant to be it will be.  To which I always countered in full-throated argument, the only things meant to be are things we make happen.  I never bought into mom’s fatalistic life view preferring the self-deterministic outlook that has shaped my life.

And yet What Technology Wants advances a compelling argument that complex adaptive systems will converge into recurring solutions given enough time.  Kelly is claiming that evolution is reproducible.  He sites the convergent evolution of eyesight as evidence. Evolutionary biologists have determined that a camera like eye evolved not just once but independently six times over the course of life on Earth.  It seems that eyesight is an inevitable evolutionary outcome not a random event. Many other examples are highlighted in the book pointing to similar evolutionary convergence across the natural world including flapping wings which evolved independently three times in birds, bats, and pterodactyls.

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Saul Kaplan: What Technology Wants

John Y. Brown, III: Disliking Chris Hughes

jyb_musingsI don’t like to ever be negative, especially on Facebook.

But if there was ever a time for a Facebook “Dislike” button to exist, it is now, for Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, for dabbling with and then destroying one of our nation’s most respected and thoughtful political publications, The New Republic magazine.

How does one person so single-handedly undo in two years what hundreds of literary giants toiled so diligently and relentlessly for over a century to create and build? The answer to that question –about an astonishing failure– is unfortunately not nearly as interesting or as unlikely as Facebook’s astonishing success.

It is instead the same timeworn story of someone who confuses great ability and success in one area to translate into great ability and success in other and unrelated areas.

For Chris Hughes of Facebook fame it was assuming being a star in anticipating a new niche in the new online medium of social media would mean brilliant success in creating a new niche in the old print medium of political analysis and commentary. Mr Hughes, of course, was wrong.

As stunningly wrong as he was stunningly right about his earlier success with Facebook.

In Mr Hughes’ case, it was hubris caused not from too much intelligence but from too little self-awareness of his own capabilities (and perhaps too much money and idle time) that led instead to his brilliant debacle with the New Republic. And that is worthy of an over-sized and emphatic Facebook “Dislike.” If it existed.

A Twitter Review of Matt Bai’s “All the Truth is Out”

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Click here to review and purchase

Beth Gamulka: Books every doctor (and maybe every patient) should read

Beth GamulkaBefore I went to medical school, I spent 4 wonderful years at college studying the history of science and medicine.  I especially loved the books on my reading lists that captured a story about a past medical discovery or epidemic.  While I had no medical expertise at the time and simply wanted to do passably well on the MCAT so some medical school would accept me, the stories of the flu epidemic of 1918, the discovery of penicillin, the Wexner report and the development of formal medical education captivated me.  They gave me context and allowed me to understand the path the practice of medicine had taken prior to my interest in the profession.

Medical school, residency, medical practice and parenthood do not leave much free time for pleasure reading.  While it is still wonderful to escape with a novel, I still gravitate to non-fiction works that focus on medicine.  A few years ago, I gave a lecture to my colleagues about books that every doctor should read.  While it is still prudent to keep updated on new research to help our patients, these books are designed to help physicians (and non-physicians)  maintain perspective.  Here are a few of them:

History of Medicine:

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a well-researched account of the history of HeLa cancer cell line and the woman whose cancer launched a medical revolution.
  • Bad Blood by James H. Jones is history of the Tuskeegee Syphilis experiment that the Public Health Service ran from 1932 until 1972. African-American men with syphilis were studied over decades to learn about the natural course of the disease. However, they were never treated with penicillin even after the antibiotic’s availability increased in the 1940s.
  • The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee is a biography of cancer. It is long and detailed and clearly shows how recently many advances in cancer treatment have developed and how little oncologists really knew even 50 years ago.

Meditations on the Profession:

  • Complications by Atul Gawande, a surgeon and prolific writer, is a collection of honest essays written during and after surgical training.
  • The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine-Watcher by Lewis Thomas was his third collection of well-written and thoughtful essays reflecting back on his career as a successful academic and physician. I remember reading this in high school and deciding to become a physician.
  • The Real Life of a Pediatrician, edited by Perri Klass is a collection of candid stories following the path from student to veteran doctor. While I love every book that Perri Klass has ever written (and can admit that her memoir A Not Entirely benign Procedure allowed me to survive the summer of 1988, also known as the summer of med school applications and MCATs), the many voices in this collection are honest and engaging. Let’s face it: pediatricians are generally nice people and I like reading about them.

Books that can influence the way we practice:

  • Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure by Charles Bosk, follows fictional surgical teams in a teaching hospital and is one of the first books ever written on medical error.
  • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, provides a 21st century approach to patient safety using the expertise of the aviation industry.
  • How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman is an extremely honest and thoughtful look at medical error and cognitive error. It explores why doctors succeed and why they err, how they can embrace uncertainty and how patients can help doctors avoid error. I tell every trainee that I teach to read this book in the hopes that s/he will incorporate these learning points in the practice of medicine.

Happy reading!

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Desiderada

jyb_musingsMany years ago I was visiting my uncle who was a voracious reader and I was perusing his library of classic books. I picked up a collection of works by Ralph Waldo Emerson, cracked the book open near the middle, and began reading. 

As I read I became enthralled by the sense that this writer was tapped into something almost divine. I recalled learning that holy books were written by individuals who were inspired by God — that they were in some sense just moving the pen. I wasn’t necessarily thinking Emerson’s writing was inspired by God, but as I read I did feel he had a channel into something beyond himself and his words were an inspiration from this divine source.

This morning I stumbled across Desiderata. I have read it many times and always felt the very same thing about its author. That the words he wrote were in some way delievered to, rather than formulated by, the author, who served primarily as a channel to a source of wisdom beyond his own.


John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Ignorance is NOT Bliss

jyb_musingsIgnorance isn’t bliss. Or else almost everybody would be blissful –instead of straining to pretend we are knowledgeable.

Maybe that is an overstatement but the prevalence of my own ignorance astounds me sometimes.

Today I listened to a gentleman point out how many times a particular word shows up in a particular book. The idea was that the word –a concept really–was important because it is used so often by the author.

That got me to thinking. “OK then. What word is used more than any other in the book? That word must be the most important word of all, right? I figured it is probably the word ‘the.’ That doesn’t mean ‘the’ is the most important word or “message.” It is just ironic given the point my friend was making –and I (silently) was being a smart aleck.

But then I tried to define “the” to myself. “Well,” I thought, “it’s an article…and means…um…um….well what it means is….it is….means…..geez…I got nothing.”

That’s right. In addition to “the” perhaps being the most common word in most any book, “the” is the word –of the thousands of words I utter each day–the word I use most of all!!

And I have no idea beyond a finessed fake answer what the dickens “the” means or how to define it. My most used word in the English language.

So I looked it up. And here is the definition.

“The (used, especially before a noun, with a specifying or particularizing effect, as opposed to the indefinite or generalizing force of the indefinite article a or an):the book you gave me; (Come into the house)”

And I was reminded why I am not able to define “the” –and probably never will be able to.

But I am gonna keep using the heck out of the word “the” anyway!

The end. (Whatever that means.)

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Self-Help Books

self helpSo let me tell you about what I’ve been reading lately –not!

If you frequently drive around clients in your car, you have to be careful not to leave every self-help book you happen to be reading in plain sight in the back seat.

Clients sitting in the back seat will notice them even if you tell yourself “Oh, they probably didn’t see that.”

And they will either make an unflattering assumption about you or ask to borrow the book from you. Neither of which is desireable.

jyb_musingsIt is much better if I client finds out about the self-help books you are reading by you posting pictures of them on Facebook. That way they won’t ask to borrow them. And if they make a snarky remark to you about what you are reading, you can tease them about still being on Facebook at their age. (Of course, they might find that comeback from you ironic and buy you a few more self-help books.)

And if all else fails you can tell them you bought the books to help you learn better how to cope with them. That is a good line for saving face–and losing clients.

It just makes better business sense to talk about the weather.

Rod Jetton: A Missouri Power Broker’s Fall: Rod Jetton’s New Book Raises Questions About Politics

From St. Louis Public Radio:

156_Rod_Jetton_(R)_Marble_HillRod Jetton was once the most powerful lawmaker in Missouri.

As speaker of the Missouri House, he had the power to exalt or kill any bill that flowed through the General Assembly. From all appearances, he had a bright political future.

Behind the scenes, however, Jetton was on a course for self-destruction.

By the time he left office, the FBI was investigating him for bribery. He was facing serious jail time after being accused of felony assault. Just months after being one of the most powerful men in Missouri politics, Jetton was broke and without a job.

Jetton’s life has stabilized in recent years. He decided to recount his downfall in the book Success Can Kill You, which was released a few weeks ago. He said he hopes it serves as a warning to those entering the political world.

“I thought this might be something that would hopefully help somebody say, ‘I need to pay a little bit more attention to this. I need to be careful. I don’t want to make those mistakes that Rod made,’” Jetton said in a telephone interview. “You know, maybe be a warning to people: Don’t make these mistakes.”

Jetton has talked about his tribulations before through essays on the Recovering Politician website. But the book offers new insight into how misplaced priorities, flattery and bitterness can seriously backfire.

Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Jetton’s story showcases how the pressures of politics and legislative duties can impact people. He said others could learn a lot from his story.

“It’s Shakespearean,” Robertson said. “You put some character in a situation where their weaknesses are going to be accentuated, and the deterioration is going to be accelerated. They’re going to go downhill in a pretty dramatic way.”

At this velocity

Jetton’s rise in Missouri politics was rapid. In just four years, he went from being an inexperienced backbencher in the Republican minority to the most powerful legislator in the state.

As speaker of the House from 2005 to 2009, there’s little debate that Jetton’s tenure was fruitful from a policy perspective. Many longtime Republican priorities were passed into law. But Jetton’s efforts to grow the GOP majority and climb the leadership ladder took its toll.

He detailed in his book how fights within his caucus made him vindictive and eager to prove that he was “the man.” That included stripping then-House Budget Chairman Brad Lager, R-Savannah, of his post; removing then-Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Scott County, as chairman of a public safety-related committee and making sure none of then-Sen. Matt Bartle’s legislation ended up passing the House.

“I used to think before I got into politics that it was the king of the mountain. That we were fighting the Democrats to get to the top and rule the world,” Jetton said. “And then you start learning that there’s two mountains. You’ve got a Republican mountain and the Democratic mountain. And the fight to get to the top of your own mountain is so much worse than I ever dreamed.

“When you’re speaker, you have the stroke to step up and throw down,” he added. “And the pride that went with it started making me do that more and more. Which led to more conflict.”

All the while, Jetton was spending long stretches of time away from his wife and children, which eventually led to his 2009 divorce. He had begun drinking more and more – even though he had sworn off alcohol after issues with the substance as a youth. And he became disconnected with his religious faith.

“It’s probably the most embarrassing thing about the story for me. I know that I let that stuff change the person I was,” Jetton said. “My priorities, my values, my focus – it all started changing a little bit. I think it’s a combination of the personal pride a person has and the flattery that they receive.”

After term limits forced him to leave office in 2009, Jetton transitioned into political consulting. But that would be upended in spectacular fashion.

Near the end of 2009, Jetton was charged with felony assault. The startling details within the probable cause statement prompted the national headlines. He was accused of hitting and choking a woman during a sexual encounter. Soon after the news broke, Jetton shut down his lucrative consulting business.

“There was no blaming anybody. As much as I don’t really want to relive all of that, at the same time, that brought me to my knees and I finally said, ‘OK, I’ve got to straighten myself out and get back to where I need to be.’,” Jetton said. “Without that happening, I don’t know if I would have done that.”

Jetton was also the target in a federal grand jury investigation into whether campaign contributions played a role in killing one of Matt Bartle’s bills regulating strip clubs. In both cases, Jetton was facing significant jail time.

The lessons of hitting bottom

One key element of the book is how his December 2009 arrest prompted him to reevaluate his priorities. He had the time, as he was unemployed, financially ruined and living in a friend’s basement. Things were so bad, he said, that he couldn’t get a job as a salesman at Sears.

“I was isolated and my world was over,” Jetton said. “Now, as bad as that was, there was a benefit to it that I’m thankful for. Most of our lives are so busy and hectic that we don’t ever have an opportunity to stop and think or, like the professors, take a sabbatical. Life just starts speeding up and you never have time to stop and think about where you are and what your priorities are.

“Well, the merry-go-round was going around pretty fast for me,” he added. “But all of a sudden, it stopped.”

Another factor, he said, in his personal recuperation was his reconnection with his faith. It’s a major theme throughout his book.

“When you lose your reputation, it frees you up in a way that you don’t have to worry about how everybody is thinking about you every second of the day,” Jetton said. “It wasn’t hard to figure out. I did these certain actions and it led to these problems that led to my destruction. Well, do I want to keep doing that?”

Jetton eventually got his professional career back on track as his legal woes dissipated. He didn’t, for instance, face federal charges due to statute of limitation issues. The felony assault case was resolved when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in 2011.

Even though the case is settled, Jetton said, it still has a lingering impact.

“I know in my life before my troubles, if I read something about somebody like that, I would believe that they did it,” Jetton said. “And if they got off, I would have talked about how they just manipulated the political system. It wouldn’t be a hard case to explain that a powerful, former speaker manipulated the judicial system to get a great deal. So, I’m quite confident that most people – especially if they don’t know me or the situation – are going to say ‘that’s just another crooked politician getting off.’”

Is it worth it?

After reading Jetton’s book, I was left wondering if being a part of the Missouri General Assembly is worth it

Sure, state representatives and senators have the power to make public policy changes. And there is a level of prestige and public service that comes with the job. But is a part-time job that pays roughly $35,000 a year really worth pursuing if it can lead to losing your family, decimating your livelihood and compromising your values? It doesn’t seem like a good trade-off.

I asked Jetton if he would have been better off if he had decided not to run for the state legislature in 2000. He said, hypothetically, he might have been able to make more money in the private sector and spend less time away from his family.

“But that being said, you can’t go back. You can’t change,” said Jetton, adding that he was responsible for his actions — not the office.

That brings about another question: Does the culture of Jefferson City cause morally-upright people to change? Or do the financial and time commitment barriers of entry compel worthy people not to pursue state legislative offices?

George Connor, a political science professor at Missouri State University, said that both Jefferson City’s culture and the nature of term limits plays a role.

“Somebody like Jetton, as a number of other people in politics, has an enormous well of ambition. And if you make that ambition a priority over family and other kinds of things, the opportunity is there to mess you up real good.” — University of Missouri-St. Louis professor Dave Robertson

He said the “loose relationships” between legislators and interest groups provides “opportunities for individual to make bad decisions.”

“It’s a free-for-all,” Connor said. “It’s a little bit like the Wild West with respect to campaign funding. It’s like the Wild West with respect to lobbyist gifts. We’re one of the least regulated states with respect to the relationship between lobbyists and legislators.”

UMSL’s Dave Robertson said different organizations have incentives that skew people’s behaviors. For legislators, the desire to raise money for office and to satisfy constituents “leads to a number of consequences that complicate the quest for a completely clean reputation.”

“I wouldn’t say that it changes the fundamental person as much as it gives them incentives to behave a lot differently and in a lot less appealing way,” Robertson said. “Somebody like Jetton, as a number of other people in politics, has an enormous well of ambition. And if you make that ambition a priority over family and other kinds of things, the opportunity is there to mess you up real good.”

To be sure, both Connor and Jetton said there are lawmakers who are able to enter and leave the legislature with their principles and reputation in tact. Still, Jetton does have a word of caution for relatively young political aspirants: It may be best to wait.

“Especially if you live far from Jefferson City, it just takes you away,” Jetton said. “And if you’re a young guy and you want to be a hard charger, you’re not just going to be able to go there and do a typical Monday through Thursday thing. You’re going to want to go to some events and do some extra stuff that makes you travel even more. I guess would say ‘think about this for sure and see if you’re a little older and the kids are gone.’

“But if you do it, I would give them a copy of the book and say, ‘Hey, I know you don’t think this can happen to you.’,” he added.

John Y’s Musings from the Middle: Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis.

finding meaningI just bought a book to read with my Rebecca.

Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life by James Hollis.

As Paris Hilton would say, “That’s hot!”

Yeah, I know. When we met I never really saw a book like this as a future gift we could enjoy together. But check out the intro:

“Your life is addressing these questions to you: What has brought you to this place in your journey, this moment in your life?

What gods, what forces, what family, what social environment, has framed your reality, perhaps supported, perhaps constricted it? Whose life have you been living? Why, even when things are going well, do things not feel quite right?

Why does so much seem a disappointment, a betrayal, a bankruptcy of expectations?

Why do you believe that you have to hide so much, from others, from yourself? Why does life seem a script written elsewhere, and you barely consulted, if at all?

jyb_musingsWhy have you come to this book, or why has it come to you, now? Why does the idea of your soul trouble you, and feel familiar as a long lost companion? Is the life you are living too small for the soul’s desire?

Why is now the time, if ever it is to happen, for you to answer the summons of the soul, the invitation to the second, larger life?”

If you are in middle life, that is pretty hot–in its own way!

Paris Hilton notwithstanding.

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