The Curious Incident of Our Dog in the Night-Time

My wife woke me up at 2:30 this morning with the words, “Nellie’s gone.”

Mary had gone downstairs a few minutes earlier to let our dog Nellie out into our backyard. However, Nellie did not come back pawing at the door in her usual time frame, so Mary went outside to call her in.

Unfortunately, Nellie was nowhere to be seen. So the first thing we decided to do was to drive around our neighborhood, hoping we would spot her roaming the streets. At three in the morning, as you might expect, there isn’t much activity, so we had the streets to ourselves.

Having no success, we decided to drive back home, and then go for a walk through our neighborhood, hoping that might be more effective. Once again, no sign of Nellie.

By this time it was after 4:00 am, and we thought it might be helpful to take a break and begin our search again when it was a little brighter out.

Before calling it a night, we went into our backyard to see if we could see how she might have escaped, since we have a fenced-in yard. We then noticed that there were a couple of spots along the fence where Nellie had been digging, apparently over a long time period. I guess the holes had reached the tipping point last night, and she was able to slip under the fence and gain her freedom.

It sort of reminded me of Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, who used a little rock hammer to chip away at the prison wall, just a little bit at a time, and 19 years later, he escapes through the tunnel he has dug.

Anyway, we also posted a missing pet message to the local web site, Nextdoor, and then went back to bed for a couple of hours. During that time, my wife kept checking the front and back doors, and then on one of those trips, at about 6:30 am, there was Nellie, waiting at our front door.

Needless to say we were quite relieved. We weren’t sure if Nellie would be able to find her way home. We have had her for a little less than a year, and she has never impressed us as having Lassie-like abilities.

But she did find her way back home. When Mary opened the door, Nellie ran in, jumped right up onto the couch, and has proceeded to essentially spend the rest of the day sleeping on the couch.

One of our neighbors had given Nellie the nickname “El Chapo” a few months ago, because of her fondness for digging holes. Well it turned out to be quite prescient.

I am sure we will never know what Nellie did for those four hours, but we hope that whatever motivated her to escape is now out of her system, and that she has no interest in furthering her legend as the El Chapo of the canine world.

Happiness, According to Wikipedia

Nikhil Sonnad, a reporter for the online site Quartz, wrote a fascinating article tracking the evolving definition of the word “happiness” at Wikipedia.

Part of what I found fascinating was not only the changing definition of happiness, but also a sort of behind the scenes look at how the editing process works at Wikipedia.

The earliest Wikipedia page on “happiness,” from January 2003, read, in full:

Happiness is the state of being happy.

Not very insightful, to say the least.

But 6,000 edits later, by over 3,000 users, and we’ve arrived at the definition that has been at the start of the Wikipedia page on happiness for over a year:

Happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. Happy mental states may also reflect judgements by a person about their overall well-being. A variety of biological, psychological, economic, religious and philosophical approaches have striven to define happiness and identify its sources. Various research groups, including positive psychology and happiness economics are employing the scientific method to research questions about what “happiness” is, and how it might be attained.

That’s a big improvement, to say the least.

Sonnad has downloaded, read, and analyzed all of the Wikipedia revisions on “happiness” over the course of 14 years. He notes that the journey was not pretty—the happiness page has endured a continuous barrage of hate speech, vandalism, assertions that happiness is not real, or more sorrowfully, that it is unknown to the person making the edit.

I was not aware that you could actually review the entire history of a Wikipedia page, and see how it has changed over the years.

My curiosity was piqued enough to want to explore this process further.

In total, the English Wikipedia has 5,387,263 articles, which have been edited 885,334,937 times,  and averages 800 new articles per day.

To mark the occasion of its 15th anniversary in January 2016, the site published a list of the 15 most heavily edited English-language articles.

  1. George W. Bush (45,862)
  2. List of WWE personnel (42,863)
  3. United States (35,742)
  4. Wikipedia (33,958)
  5. Michael Jackson (28,152)
  6. Jesus (28,084)
  7. Catholic Church (26,421)
  8. List of programs broadcast by ABS-CBN (25,188)
  9. Barack Obama (24,708)
  10. Adolf Hitler (24,612)
  11. Britney Spears (23,802)
  12. World War II (23,739)
  13. Deaths in 2013 (22,529)
  14. The Beatles (22,399)
  15. India (22,271)

(I find it somewhat ironic, and telling, that the second most edited page, the World Wrestling Entertainment page is, in a roundabout sort of way, all about fake news. I guess people really like that type of entertainment. It also suggests that wrestling fans spend a lot of time on Wikipedia.)

If you would like to see and hear a visual and audio illustration of live editing activity on Wikipedia, click here; it’s pretty cool. I’ve had it playing in the background while writing this blog, and the sounds are actually quite soothing.

Anyway, I think we can all agree that Wikipedia is an amazing resource, that is only getting better over time, as shown by the changing definition of happiness over the past 14 years.

And getting back to the topic of happiness. If I were to add my own two cents to the definition of happiness, it would be something like this:

a warm summer day at the beach, surrounded by family and friends, drinking a green smoothie, with my exercise and blog already done for the day

Just thinking about it makes me happy…

The Amazing Make-A-Wish Foundation

I was reading the Philadelphia Inquirer today, and a story about a local boy’s dream to deliver a weather forecast on the Weather Channel and meet his hero, weatherman Jim Cantore, caught my attention.

11-year old Ryland Mishura from New Jersey, has a rare genetic disorder called isovaleric acidemia, and his mom had sent an application to the Make-A-Wish foundation, noting that Ryland’s wish was to deliver a weather forecast before a national audience. Ryland has been watching the Weather Channel every day since he was 7, and often narrates the forecast from his mom’s smartphone in the style of a weather professional. While Ryan was at the Weather Channel studios in Atlanta, he even submitted a resume for a meteorological position!


It was a heartwarming story, and made me think about the other times I’ve heard about the good work of the Make-A-Wish foundation. While I knew the basic idea behind the foundation, I really didn’t know much about how it works, so I decided to investigate.

From the foundation’s web site, here is a description of its mission:

Wishes are more than just a nice thing. A wish experience can be a game-changer for a child with a life-threatening medical condition. This one belief guides us in everything we do at Make-A-Wish®. It inspires us to grant wishes that change the lives of the kids we serve. It compels us to be creative in exceeding the expectations of every wish kid. It drives us to make our donated resources go as far as possible. Most of all, it’s the founding principle of our vision to grant the wish of every eligible child. Wishes are more than just a nice thing. And they are far more than gifts, or singular events in time. Wishes impact everyone involved – wish kids, volunteers, donors, sponsors, medical professionals and communities. The impact varies. For wish kids, just the act of making their wish come true can give them the courage to comply with their medical treatments. Parents might finally feel like they can be optimistic. And still others might realize all they have to offer the world through volunteer work or philanthropy. Whatever the odds, whatever the obstacles … wishes find a way to make the world better.

Make-A-Wish got its start in the spring of 1980. 7-year-old Christopher James Greicius  was being treated for leukemia. He aspired to be a police officer. U.S. Customs Officer Tommy Austin befriended Chris and worked with officers at the Arizona Department of Public Safety to plan an experience to lift Greicius’ spirits. Chris spent the day as a police officer, rode in a police helicopter, received a custom-tailored police uniform, and was sworn in as the first honorary Public Safety patrolman in state history. Greicius died soon after, but his wish became inspiration for the Make-A-Wish wish-granting organization.

Today, tens of thousands of volunteers, donors and supporters advance the Make-A-Wish®vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition. In the United States and its territories, on average, a wish is granted every 40 minutes. To date, more than 180,000 wishes have been granted. The average cost to fulfill a wish is slightly over $10,000, and the family is not responsible for any of the costs.

There is a four-step process involved in granting a wish:

  • Step 1: Referral – MAW relies on medical professionals, parents and children themselves for referrals. Children who have reached the age of 2½ and are under the age of 18 at the time of referral – and have not received a wish from another wish-granting organization – may be eligible for a wish.
  • Step 2: Medical Eligibility – MAW determines a child’s medical eligibility with the help of the treating physician. To receive a wish, the child must be diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition
  • Step 3: The Wish – MAW sends one of its wish teams to learn the child’s one true wish. These committed volunteers connect with wish children, awaken their imaginations and help them envision an experience with the power to change lives.
  • Step 4: Creating Joy – MAW’s wish granters create an unforgettable experience driven by the child’s creativity. They strive to personalize each wish and to make it match the wish kid’s idea of a perfect day.

Most wishes involve travel. In fact, of the 14,000 unique wishes Make-A-Wish® grants each year, 10,000 of them involve a trip somewhere. Here is a listing of the top 10 destinations requested:

  1. Orlando – Just last year, Disney World granted its 100,000th wish.
  2. Hawaii
  3. Los Angeles
  4. The Caribbean
  5. New York City
  6. San Diego
  7. France
  8. Italy
  9. Australia
  10. Alaska

Many other wishes involve wanting to meet a celebrity. Here is a listing of the most “givingest” celebrities:

  1. John Cena, professional wrestler. In a little more than 10 years of work with the foundation, Cena has nearly doubled the efforts of all other generous celebrity givers. He recently granted his 500th wish.
  2. Michael Jordan, basketball player
  3. Jeff Gordon, race car driver
  4. Hulk Hogan, professional wrestler
  5. Dale Earnhardt, race car driver
  6. Justin Bieber, singer

So  a big thank you to the many people involved with Make-A-Wish. It is a remarkable organization, bringing hopes and smiles to those who need them the most.

P.S. While searching around Google for info about Make-A-Wish, I did see this funny headline from The Onion:

“Child Bankrupts Make-A-Wish Foundation With Wish For Unlimited Wishes”

Let’s hope that never happens…

Choosing My Religion*

I’ve always wanted to attend an outdoor, Easter sunrise service, and given how nice the weather was forecast to be, it seemed like today would be the perfect day to do so.

However, we could not find any local Catholic churches that were having such a service, but there was a church, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian, that was having an outdoor mass at 6:30, and so my wife and I decided to go.

It was a beautiful service, with the sun rising in the background as the service began. We were blessed to have some young men attending the service who had incredible voices, making the songs even more appealing.

There was also a baptism of two young boys, which made the service even more special, particularly on Easter. Coincidentally, both boys had “IV” as a suffix to their name…

At the end of the service, each member of the congregation had the chance to place a flower on a cross (see photo above).

It was a lovely way to start the day, and I want to thank Bryn Mawr Presbyterian for offering such a service, and for being so welcoming.

I’ll admit that I had some reservations about not attending a Catholic mass on such an important day, but afterwards I realized that there was quite a bit in common between the two churches, not only in their approach to Sunday service but to religion in general.

From the Sunday worship perspective, the services both start with a song, there’s a reading from the Bible, there’s a homily, some more singing, and the Our Father.

And from a big picture perspective, both churches are trying to create a sense of community, a sense of belonging for its members. Both churches are helping their members improve their lives, while at the same time providing a great deal of outreach to help improve the lives of those in need.

So for the second time this week, the theme of my blog is about looking for what we have in common, whether it’s in the games we played as children, or in how we practice our faith as adults.

Today’s service has created a desire to explore the Sunday services at other churches. I am sure that there will be differences, but I’m also confident that I’ll find that what we have in common will far outweigh the differences.

And I think that will be the biggest lesson of all.

P.S. Fun fact about Bryn Mawr Presbyterian – it’s the church Woodrow Wilson attended while he was on the faculty at Bryn Mawr College.

*in homage to R.E.M.

Dan Ariely’s Suggestion on How to Break a Bad Habit

Dan Ariely, a noted behavioral economist at Duke University, and author of several best selling books, shared a way to break a bad habit in today’s Wall Street Journal.

A reader had written in, asking Dan how he could break a soda drinking habit.

Ariely referred to a study from 2005 by Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University and his colleagues from 2005. In the study, the researchers compared the craving for cigarettes of Orthodox Jewish smokers on weekdays with their craving on the Sabbath, when religious law forbids them to start fires or smoke. The results indicated that  their irritability and yearning for a smoke were lower on the Sabbath than during the week—seemingly because the demands of Sabbath observance were so ingrained that forgoing smoking felt meaningful. By contrast, not smoking on, say, Tuesday took much more willpower.

Ariely then offers the following recommendation:

Try making a concrete rule against drinking soda, and try to tie it to something you care deeply about—like your health or your family.

This seems to make sense, but I wonder if it works just as well when trying to establish a healthy habit, like exercising every day or meditating every day.

I’ve written about habits before, and it may be helpful to share some of the tips from that post as well.


Research has shown that it takes, on average, 66 days to establish a habit.  And it’s no surprise that how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In the research study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

But before you look at those numbers of 66 days or 254 days, and think that seems way too long, there are some helpful takeaways from the research.

  • “First, there is no reason to get down on yourself if you try something for a few weeks and it doesn’t become a habit. It’s supposed to take longer than that! There is no need to judge yourself if you can’t master a behavior in 21 short days. Embrace the long, slow walk to greatness and focus on putting in your reps.”
  • “Second, you don’t have to be perfect. Making a mistake once or twice has no measurable impact on your long-term habits. This is why you should treat failure like a scientist, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and develop strategies for getting back on track quickly.”
  • “And third, embracing longer timelines can help us realize that habits are a process and not an event. All of the “21 Days” hype can make it really easy to think, “Oh, I’ll just do this and it’ll be done.” But habits never work that way. You have to embrace the process. You have to commit to the system.”

So the basic takeaway, from both Ariely and my older blog post noted above, is that you have to have a good reason fro why you want to form a new habit, and you have to be patient, both with how long the process will take, as well as with yourself when you occasionally fall back into the old habit.

Change is often difficult, but that makes you enjoy the eventual change that eventually takes place.



A Better Way to Learn?

Olga Khazan of the The Atlantic recently had an interview with Ulrich Boser, author of Learn Better.

Boser shares some tips on what are some effective strategies for learning new material, and what are some ineffective ways.

For example, Boser notes how useful it is to explain a new concept to ourselves, quiz oursleves, or teach someone else the concept. All of these approaches are much more effective than highlighting or simply re-reading the new material.

I’ve always felt that the best way to learn something was to try and teach someone else, and it is nice to see some cognitive research that supports such a notion.

Boser states, “The other thing that’s particularly helpful about teaching other people is that you have to think about what is confusing about something, and how you’d explain that in a simpler way, and so that makes you shift the way that you’re thinking about a certain topic.”

Boser notes that it’s also helpful if you can make what you are trying to learn more salient, more meaningful to you. He also suggests that learning should be a bit difficult; when we are challenged, we better develop our skills.

Another helpful suggestion was to distribute learning over time. This means that if we know we are going to forget some knowledge that we have just acquired, we should revisit that knowledge at some point before we forget it. Doing so enables us to retain that knowledge for longer periods of time.

Finally, Bose points out the value of finding some time for reflection, noting that there’s one or two studies that have found that reflection can be more effective than practice itself.

I can see the value and relevance of all of the ideas that Boser shares in this article, particularly as both as a teacher and a student.

As a teacher, it seems like there is value in assigning homework, and then having a test on that material at a future date. Doing so would require the student to revisit the material at least a second time, which seems to aid in the learning process. It seems like it would also be helpful if I could think of a way to have students teach the material on occasion. The problem I see with that is that the students would get very familiar with the material they are teaching, but most likely not nearly as familiar with the material they would not be teaching. I’d also like to somehow include reflection in the learning process, I’m just not sure how to do that, or what it would look like. It’s got me thinking though…

As a student, I agree that re-reading something doesn’t help too much with the learning process, particularly for fields that require problem solving, such as math or accounting. I tell my students all the time that the best way to learn accounting is to practice, practice, practice. While I may not have followed such advice when I was in college 40 years ago, it seems to be working well as I take classes now as an older adult.

If only I knew then what I know now…

Let’s Get Back to the Games We Played as Kids

Tonight my wife, son, and I played cards, rummy to be specific. As we were playing, it brought back memories of some of the games I used to play as a kid.

Since we were playing cards, the first one that came to mind was a game called “knuckles”. I don’t remember the exact rules, but I vaguely recall that at the end at the end of the game the winner got to hit the loser’s knuckles with the deck of cards. How hard and how often depended on the color of the card drawn and its rank. If you were the one delivering the blows, it was perfectly acceptable to try and draw blood while hitting someone’s knuckles based on the card drawn. I remember some kids showing no mercy while playing this game, making sure they realigned the cards after each blow so as to deliver maximum pain. Looking back, it’s amazing to think that we would voluntarily play such a game,

Another game I remember was “kill the guy with the ball”. The name pretty much says it all, but here’s a good description I came across while searching the web. The article was written by Big Daddy Graham, a local comedian, who I’ve seen a few times:

Normally played with a football with virtually no rules. Five guys could play. Fifteen could play. Someone would throw the ball in the air and whoever caught it then ran like the dickens, because the other participants were then allowed to tackle that guy and do whatever they could to get that ball away from him. Punch, kick, scratch, bite, whatever it took. All for the right to then have everyone rip YOU to shreds to get that ball. Some logic, huh?

Big Daddy mentions a few other games he played as a kid, including knuckles. One of the other games he mentions, which I seem to recall also playing when I was a kid, was Buck-Buck. Once again, here’s his description of Buck-Buck:

One guy would wrap his fingers through a chain link fence and bend over. Then another guy would wrap his arms around that guy’s waist line forming a two-man chain. Then a third guy would run about fifty yards and jump into the air and come down on the back of one of these guys trying to break the chain. If he failed, he then joined the chain and some other joker would then get the opportunity to break it. Eventually, some three hundred pound slob would come rumbling down the lane and destroy the chain and the backs of everyone playing leading to neighborhood chiropractors making a healthy living.

Finally, Big Daddy mentions a game I don’t ever remember playing, and for that I think I am grateful. The game was called Hide the Belt, and like Knuckles, sounded like it could be pretty painful:

If you thought KNUCKLES was a fun, sadistic game, then HIDE THE BELT is right up your alley. And that’s where it was usually played. In an alley. The guy with the biggest, heaviest belt buckle took his belt off and hid it. Then the other guys would try to hide it while they guy who hid it barked out hints pertaining to where the belt was. Whoever found the belt then had the right to beat the other players with that belt until they ran back on to a predetermined base.

Big Daddy notes that these were games he played growing up in Philly, and so I was curious if these games were unique to the area.

  • Wikipedia talks about a game called Scabby Queen that was played in the UK that sounds quite similar to knuckles.
  • Wikipedia has an entry that talks about American street football, and one of the variations mentioned is Kill the Guy with the ball.
  • Wikipedia also has an entry about Buck-Buck, which seems to be played all around the world. In fact, the picture above is Children’s Gamesan oil-on-panel painting by Flemish renaissance artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1560. If you look in the bottom right of the photo, it appears that a group of children are playing buck-buck.
  • Reddit has a reference to someone from California recalling playing hide the belt.

So I guess these games weren’t unique to our little part of the world, which is kind of nice to know. It seems likely that most people around the world have many similar childhood experiences, such as the games noted above.

If only we could focus on what we have in common, like playing buck-buck as kids, instead of our differences, I think the world would be a better place.

Maybe what we need are to have international disputes settled by a game of knuckles or buck buck. There might be some pain involved, but hopefully, just like when I played those games as a kid, everyone would be friends afterwards.

Another Day, Another Win for Offline Communication

In yesterday’s post, I shared the results of a study that concluded that “the nature and quality of this sort of connection (Facebook/social media) is no substitute for the real world interaction we need for a healthy life.”

Well today there was an article by Vanessa K. Bohns on the Harvard Business Review web site that shared the results of a study which revealed that “A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful than an Email“.

However, the study also showed that most people tend to think the email ask will be more effective. The reason is that the requesters fail to anticipate what the recipients of their emails were likely to see: an untrustworthy email asking them to click on a suspicious link.

The researchers found that it was the nonverbal cues requesters conveyed during a face-to-face interaction which made all the difference in how people viewed the legitimacy of their requests, and respond in a more favorable way.

Bohns concluded that even though it may be more convenient and comfortable to use text-based communication than to approach someone in-person, you may overestimate the effectiveness of such media, and unknowingly choose inferior means of influence. The solution is simple – more face to face conversations.

There’s no doubt that email is a much easier, and less time-consuming approach for making a request, compared to face-to-face meetings.

And to me, I would think that the nature of the request can make a difference.

I’ve funded a few people who participate in things like MS Bike Rides and Cancer Walks, and the funding was done completely online, initiating with either a Facebook post or a direct email request.

I think such an approach (email) is certainly much easier for the requester. It’s also much easier for the donor to make a contribution, and I would think the organization raising the funds is likely to have more success in fundraising simply because of the sheer number of people you can ask, either through email or Facebook, compared to trying to schedule a meeting. I also think it is easier for the donor to say “no” when using email,since you get to avoid confrontation that is more apparent in a face-to-face meeting.

I think the takeaway from yesterday’s post and today’s is that we should not rely on technology for all of our communication needs.

It’s healthy to step away from our electronic devices and to chat with people. It’s a great way to not only build and maintain relationships, but possibly a more effective way to get people to say yes to our requests.


A New Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel

There was an interesting article on the Harvard Business Review web site today, titled “A New, More Rigorous Study Confirms: The More You Use Facebook, the Worse You Feel“, by Holly B. Shakya and Nicholas A. Christakis.

The authors note that thousands of studies have concluded that most human beings thrive when they have strong, positive relationships with other human beings. However, not as much is known about the effects of using social media as a way to establish and maintain relationships.

They write, “Prior research has shown that the use of social media may detract from face-to-face relationships, reduce investment in meaningful activities, increase sedentary behavior by encouraging more screen time, lead to internet addiction, and erode self-esteem through unfavorable social comparison… But some skeptics have wondered if perhaps people with lower well-being are more likely to use social media, rather than social media causing lower well-being. Moreover, other studies have found that social media use has a positive impact on well-being through increased social support and reinforcement of  real world relationships.”

So the authors set out to conduct a more rigorous study of the impact of social media on relationships. You can read the details of how the study was conducted here, but here is what they found:

while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year. We found consistently that both liking others’ content and clicking links significantly predicted a subsequent reduction in self-reported physical health, mental health, and life satisfaction… The results (also) suggest that well-being declines are also a matter of quantity of use rather than only quality of use.

They did not find much difference between the three types of activity that were measured — liking, posting, and clicking links  — and the impact on the user.

The authors conclude “that the nature and quality of this sort of connection (social media) is no substitute for the real world interaction we need for a healthy life.”

I must admit that I check Facebook multiple times per day, but I would still consider myself a low to average user of Facebook. I don’t do much liking or commenting, and beyond posting a link on Facebook to my blog each day, I don’t post that often either.

But at the same time, I am subject to the temptation to check to see who is doing what and if anyone has commented on my blog posts, and it is hard to resist such a temptation.

So I am going to see if I can get through the next three days without checking Facebook at all. I know lots of people have talked about such social media diets, but I didn’t think I needed to go on one.

Since I still plan to post my blog to Facebook and Twitter, I have installed a WordPress plugin that will enable me to do so right from the WordPress. This should allow me to avoid having to open up Facebook or Twitter, and getting sucked into a time warp on those sites.

I’ll check things on Saturday and let you know how my little experiment has gone.

In the meantime, if you too would like having to use Facebook to get my posts, you can always just hit the subscribe button on the left, and you’ll get an email with a link to my post delivered to your inbox every day.

I’ve given up meat and alcohol, I think I can give up Facebook for three days…


Forget About Leadership, This Is What We Need More Of

As I was thinking about to write about today, I came across two articles about leadership. One article, by Margarita Mayo, If Humble People Make the Best Leaders, Why Do We Fall for Charismatic Narcissists?, looks at why humble people make the best leaders, but we often fall for the charisma of a narcissistic leader instead.

According to Mayo, “humble leaders improve the performance of a company in the long run because they create more collaborative environments. They have a balanced view of themselves – both their virtues and shortcomings – and a strong appreciation of others’ strengths and contributions, while being open to new ideas and feedback. These “unsung heroes” help their believers to build their self-esteem, go beyond their expectations, and create a community that channels individual efforts into an organized group that works for the good of the collective.” She also notes that one can be both humble and charismatic, what she refers to as socialized charisma. Although the socialized charismatic leader has the aura of a hero, it is counteracted with low authoritarianism and a genuine interest in the collective welfare.

The second article, by a trio of McKinsey consultants, looked at “What makes a CEO ‘exceptional’?“. In a study of the very top performers (top 5%) in a data set of roughly 600 CEOs at S&P 500 companies between 2004 and 2014, the authors share three lessons that emerged from close scrutiny of these exceptional leaders:

  • Exceptional CEOs are twice as likely to have been hired from outside the company
  • Exceptional CEOs were more likely to conduct a strategic review early in their tenure
  • Exceptional CEOs were less likely to undertake organizational redesign or management-team reshuffles in the first two years in office.

These are not the first articles I have read about leadership; I’ve probably read several dozen articles and a few books about the topic. There’s a lot written about leadership; when I type “leadership” into Google, it returns 797,000,000 results.

But as fate would have it, I was also scrolling through Adam Grant’s monthly newsletter, and he shared an article from the New York Times that offers a different look at leadership. “Not Leadership Material? Good. The World Needs Followers“, written by Susan Cain, author of the bestselling book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”.

Cain notes how many colleges stress the importance of leadership in their application materials, leading to throngs of high school students looking for leadership positions while in high school, simply for the point of having it on their resume. The glorification of “leadership skills” attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve. It teaches students to be a leader for the sake of being in charge, rather than in the name of a cause or idea they care about deeply.

While some have concluded that what we need are more followers, a term coined by Robert Kelley, a professor of management and organizational behavior. Kelley defined the term in a 1988 Harvard Business Review article, in which he listed the qualities of a good follower, including being committed to “a purpose, principle or person outside themselves” and being “courageous, honest and credible. While the study of followership has grown in popularity, it is nowhere near as popular as leadership. A Google search of followership returned 823,000 results.

I’m not sure that’s the right term, or the right type of individual, for what we need most to make the world a better place.

If I were to give a name to the type of person we need, it would be “doer”.

As one Ivy League professor points out, it would be nice if admissions officers looked for those wishing to make advances in solving mathematical problems or being the best poet of the century.

Cain tells the story of a high school senior who was kicked out of a leadership program because she wasn’t outgoing enough. This set her free to discover her true calling, science. She started working after school with her genetics teacher, another behind-the-scenes soul. She published her first scientific paper when she was 18, and won the highest scholarship her university has to offer, majoring in biomedical engineering and cello.

Cain notes that we need the soloists who forge their own paths in the worlds of art and science; such people are neither leaders not followers. but they certainly make the world a better place.

She concludes by saying that if we seek a society of caring, creative and committed people, and leaders who feel called to service rather than to stature, then we need to do a better job of making that clear.

So maybe what we need is a new field of research – doership. You heard it here first.