Malcolm Gladwell’s new books has just been published, and here’s a TED Talk that was released today. You might also be interested in my previous posts on his work, including videos of other talks he’s given:
The story is about Konrad Kellen, who, among other things, did interviews with captured Viet Cong guerrillas for the United States to try to figure out what the “enemy” was thinking. It’s a short enough piece that students could read.
Here’s an excerpt:
he would say that his rethinking began with one memorable interview with a senior Vietcong captain. He was asked very early in the interview if he thought the Vietcong could win the war, and he said no.
But pages later, he was asked if he thought that the US could win the war, and he said no.
The second answer profoundly changes the meaning of the first. He didn’t think in terms of winning or losing at all, which is a very different proposition. An enemy who is indifferent to the outcome of a battle is the most dangerous enemy of all.
Now why did Kellen see this and Goure did not? Because Goure didn’t have the gift [of being a good listener].
Goure was someone who filtered what he heard through his own biases.
I always enjoy reading articles in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, as well as his books. He shares great stories, though sometimes I think he stretches his conclusions a bit. I think quite a few of his writings are useful in education, as I’ve shared in previous posts.
He has a new book coming out, and it’s a collection of articles he’s written for The New Yorker. This post at Kottke.org not only shares what will be included, but also includes links to each of those articles so that you can read them all online for free.
As regular readers know, I was a community organizer for nineteen years before becoming a high school teacher ten years ago. So I have a keen interest in thinking about, writing about and actually Building Influence & Creating Social Change.
Today, NPR ran a short piece about the role of technology in starting a small business, and I was struck by the last part of the story which I think — if you just change the words from business to social change — really speaks some wisdom.
I’ll publish that excerpt in a second but, to summarize it, the story suggests that technology now makes it a lot easier to start a small business. However, sustaining and growing it is another story, and that can only be done through developing face-to-face relationships.
That, I think, is a good summary of the role of tech in progressive social change — it makes it easier to start a bit of a groundswell around an issue, but, the vast majority of the time, it has to be followed by face-to-face relationship-building to grow genuine power and trust so it can withstand the challenges that are sure to come.
Here’s the excerpt — and let me know what you think:
Don Weiss, another entrepreneurship professor – he’s at Columbia – says even so it’s still easier to start a business to today. But the hardest part of business remains making and maintaining relationships.
DON WEISS: There’s only one way to do it, and that is by pressing the flesh, by doing things face-to-face and by forming relationships and listening to what your customer or your partner or for that matter your employee has to say.
GLINTON: Weiss says the key to a successful entrepreneur is the ability to listen. And there’s no app for that – not yet at least.
This morning, I was listening to an interview that Dan Pink did with Gladwell and, while he was talking about the battle between David and Goliath, he made an important point that’s known and used by community organizers, and is also something worth remembering by those of us fighting against many of the harmful efforts of “school reformers.” Here it is:
An overly-long article in the Pacific Standard, The Social Life of Genes, highlights a number of recent studies which particularly reinforce some points made my Gladwell — that, yes, genes play a big role, but that people’s environment and how they choose to respond to that environment has a huge influence in if and which genes get activated.
Here are some excerpts:
Changes in gene expression can make you thin, fat, or strikingly different from your supposedly identical twin. When it comes down to it, really, genes don’t make you who you are. Gene expression does. And gene expression varies depending on the life you live.
an individual’s social environment might exert a particularly powerful effect. Who you hung out with and how they behaved, in short, could dramatically affect which of your genes spoke up and which stayed quiet—and thus change who you were.
“You can’t change your genes. But if we’re even half right about all this, you can change the way your genes behave—which is almost the same thing. By adjusting your environment you can adjust your gene activity. That’s what we’re doing as we move through life. We’re constantly trying to hunt down that sweet spot between too much challenge and too little.”
I regularly highlight my picks for the most useful posts for each month — not including “The Best…” lists. I also use some of them in a more extensive monthly newsletter I send-out. You can see older Best Posts of the Month at Websites Of The Month (more recent lists can be found here).
Here are some of the posts I personally think are the best, and most helpful, ones I’ve written during this past month (not in any order of preference):
I have a huge backlog of resources that I’ve been planning to post about in this blog but, just because of time constraints, have not gotten around to doing. Instead of letting that backlog grow bigger, I regularly grab a few and list them here with a minimal description. It forces me to look through these older links, and help me organize them for my own use. I hope others will find them helpful, too. These are resources that I didn’t include in my “Best Tweets” feature because I had planned to post about them, or because I didn’t even get around to sending a tweet sharing them.
Here are This Week’s “Links I Should Have Posted About, But Didn’t”:
For leaders, listening is a central competence for success. At its core, listening is connecting. Your ability to understand the true spirit of a message as it is intended to be communicated, and demonstrate your understanding, is paramount in forming connections and leading effectively. This is why, in 2010, General Electric—long considered the preeminent company for producing leaders—redefined what it seeks in its leaders. Now it places “listening” among the most desirable traits in potential leaders. Indeed, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt has said that “humble listening” is among the top four characteristics in leaders.
Excellent Post On The Different “Levels” Of Listening
Jonah Lehrer provides a good description of the “10,000 hour rule”:
The 10,000 hour rule has become a cliche. This is the idea, first espoused by K. Anders Ericsson, a pyschologist at Florida State University, that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice before any individual can become an expert. The corollary of this rule is that that differences in talent reflect differences in the amount and style of practice, and not differences in innate ability. As Ericsson wrote in his influential review article “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”: “The differences between expert performers and normal adults are not immutable, that is, due to genetically prescribed talent. Instead, these differences reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance.”
Here are my choices for The Best Resources For Learning About The 10,000 Hour Rule & Deliberative Practice:
The New York Times published an opinion piece a couple of weeks ago titled Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters by two professors. In it, they attempt to dismiss the claim popularized by Malcolm Gladwell that you can reach an extremely high level of skill in just about anything after practicing at it for 10,000 hours. The professors claim that innate intellectual ability and working memory capacity is a key determiner of success.
A number of other researchers have since pointed out that the column’s authors dramatically overstate what their evidence shows. In fact, 45% of improvement was attributed to deliberate practice and only 7% to working memory capacity.
I’ve used the 10,000 hour finding effectively as one way to help students see that it can be possible for them to achieve their hopes and dreams.
A lot of my students have plenty of reasons already why they might not accomplish their goals. Perhaps professors should double-check their figures before coming-up with even more….
“An important aspect of the results is that cognitive abilities can increase or decrease,” said Oklahoma State University psychometrician Robert Sternberg, a past president of the American Psychological Association who wasn’t part of the study. “Those who are mentally active will likely benefit. The couch potatoes among us who do not exercise themselves intellectually will pay a price.”
I’m not convinced that these computational models work so well in the real world.
What they’re missing, I think, is that it’s not the initial number that’s most important. What’s key is the “who” and if they are willing to do anything about it.
Saul Alinksy, the father of modern-day community organizing and the person who founded the organization I worked with for nineteen years, believed that two percent would do the trick. Here’s what Nicholas von Hoffman, a longtime colleague, wrote:
“Alinsky sometimes explained to new organizers that if you organized two percent of the population – that energetic minority – you would have enough power to overthrow the government. Not that he had that in mind. But with that two percent a successful and powerful community organization could be established.”
And Alinsky strongly believed that that two percent needed to include many leaders — people with a following, people whose judgment others respected.
In some ways, this focus on the “who” along with their actions might be similar to what Malcolm Gladwell writes about in The Tipping Point.
In the classroom, for example, if I think I need some help in changing a classroom culture or attitude, I focus on winning over a handful of leaders, not just any two or three people. And I talk with them about being active in their help.
Having an arbitrary percentage of people believing something but not willing to do anything about it, or being able to have influence with anyone else, is unlikely to result in any change.
Coincidentally, I was reading a piece by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach today (which I learned about via John Norton) who touches on some related points. It’s titled Thinking Hard While Running On Empty. She discusses Personal Learning Networks, and wonders if they sometimes can result in people just feeling good without leading to action.
Some of the “school reformers,” like Teach For America, seem to have a pretty good grasp on the importance of developing what Alinsky would consider a committed two percent. The Save Our Schools March this weekend and follow-up actions might have the potential of doing the same for effectively promoting a far different, a more fair and more inclusive vision for our schools.
For quite awhile, I’ve been accumulating resources documenting the growth in the United States in wealth and income inequality. I’ve been planning on using them to develop a simple lesson using some of them — both for my Theory of Knowledge class and for my Intermediate English class. I’ve got a few ideas, but thought I’d the resources and solicit suggestions from readers.
I was prompted to write post after reading Nicholas Kristof’s New York Times’ column titled “Our Banana Republic,” which certainly belongs on list. Here’s an excerpt:
The richest 1 percent of Americans now take home almost 24 percent of income, up from almost 9 percent in 1976. As Timothy Noah of Slate noted in an excellent series on inequality, the United States now arguably has a more unequal distribution of wealth than traditional banana republics like Nicaragua, Venezuela and Guyana.
Resources to illustrate kind of disparity on a world-wide basis can be found in two other “The Best…” lists:
The sites on list, though, are specifically related to the United States.
The lesson plans I’ve seen on the Web seem pretty involved and complicated, and I want to develop, or learn about, one that is much simpler. All suggestions are welcome, including ones about additional resources.
I’m dividing list into two sections. The first one includes infographics that might be accessible to English Language Learners. The second part articles that would have to have portions modified to make them accessible.
Here are my choices for The Best Resources About Wealth & Income Inequality:
A History of Poverty is an animated world map showing where poverty (and prosperity) have been most present over the past two hundred years. You can narrow it down by continent or county, too. It’s from the Christian Aid charity. After showing it to students, it could create a wealth of question-asking opportunities.
Recently, filmmaker Michael Moore spoke to public sector workers protesting in Wisconsin and said, “”Just 400 Americans — 400 — have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.” I’m an admirer of Moore, but he can also be guilty sometimes of a little hyperbole. I did find it interesting , though, to read that The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel actually investigated his claim pretty thoroughly. Here’s their last line:
The Guardian has published a very good animated video on income and wealth inequality in the United States. I’m embedding it below, but I’m not sure it will come through on an RSS Reader. If not, you’ll have to click through to the blog to see it.
Income inequality is increasing across much of the developed world, a trend that will continue unless governments move aggressively to arrest it, according to a report released Monday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Income inequality is surging, and there are few countries where it is rising faster than the United States. The distance between rich and poor is greater in America than nearly all other developed countries, making the US a leader in a trend that economists warn has dire consequences. GlobalPost sets out on a reporting journey to get at the ‘ground truth’ of inequality through the lenses of education, race, immigration, health care, government, labor and natural resources. The hope is to hold a mirror up to the US to see how it compares to countries around the world.
I’m embedding the interactive below, but there’s much, much more to the site.
A complicated system assumes expert and rational leaders, top-down planning, smooth implementation of policies, and a clock-like organization that runs smoothly. Work is specified and delegated to particular units.
Certainty about outcomes is in the air the organization breathes. Complicated systems use the most sophisticated math, technical, and engineering expertise in mapping out flow charts to solve problems….
Complex systems like criminal justice, health care, and schools, however, are filled with hundreds of moving parts, scores of players of varied expertise and independence yet missing a “mission control” that runs all these different parts within an ever-changing political, economic, and societal environment. The result: constant adaptations in design and action….
The problem for those who inhabit complex systems like schools is that change, conflict, and unplanned changes occur all the time. So do adaptations because of the web-like independent and interdependent relationships that make up the system. What happens when smart people try to graft procedures from complicated organizations onto complex systems?
If you get a chance, read his post and my previous post and share in the comments what you think…