The True Value of the Liberal Arts Practitioner

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

We have become a people of shortcuts.

For every challenge, there’s an app to address it; for every problem, a lifehack. The rapid proliferation and distribution of the Internet has fundamentally altered how we approach life’s challenges, adding a speed of efficiency we never could have dreamed of before. 

That efficiency, as more are beginning to realize, came at a cost. Much has been made about how we are changing our very brain chemistry through our use of the Internet, whether those behaviors include hyperlinks, scanning content, multimedia and, of course, social media. It seems our ability to multitask has made us all a little ADHD. 

The cure has become the disease, as fewer and fewer take the long road home anymore.

It’s not a genuine problem until we need to learn something which can’t be gained through a shortcut. Some things simply can’t be learned through shortcuts: to learn how to ride a bike, you need to get on it and gain muscle-memory. 

The discovery of what we are doing to ourselves is often found when we pick up something with more density, such as literature or philosophy. Our capacity to focus, read, and think about one topic for extended periods has been compromised by our daily use of apps, lifehacks, and other shortcuts. 

Another subject that can’t be learned through shortcuts? Humans.

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The Value of an Ethnographic Life

Estimated read time: 6 minutes

“Were you intimidated?”

My friend paused. Just a few days prior, he gave a speech to a group of homeless men at a local shelter, part of a church initiative focused on mentorship. After a few moments, he chuckled.

“Yes,” he drawled for a moment. “I have to say, I was!”

It was ironic, given my friend’s resume. He gave lectures and presentations all the time, both in his community and to those in Washington. His past experience included flying planes in war zones. In spite of all of his experiences, he was intimidated by a group of men with no stature. 

“You know what would overcome this?” I asked rhetorically. “If you spent a night in the homeless shelter, mingling with those men and talking to them about their life experience.”

He agreed, but he was also honest with me: he couldn’t bring himself to do it. I was empathetic with his response because I know what holds him back.

Ethnography, after all, can be downright terrifying.

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The Standard Approaches to Fixing Organizational Cultures (and what you can do differently)

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

There’s an adage related to culture: the fish are the last ones to know they’re in the water. 

A fish wouldn’t be aware of the water surrounding it, anymore than you are consciously aware of the air you breathe. The only time you become conscious of air is when it’s suddenly absent, polluted, or you fall into water.

Culture is like water to fish, and air to you: you were born into it, it’s always been there, and you likely haven’t given it much thought. You become aware of your culture when you are alone for an extended period of time (culture necessarily includes people), it becomes toxic, or you’re placed in a different culture. The more radical the experience, the more conscious you become of your own cultural upbringing. 

There’s another similarity between culture, water, and air: the health of the occupants is partially determined by the health of the environment. Like dirty water or air, if your organization is not obtaining the results you want (i.e., it’s not healthy), your culture is likely the primary cause. 

You now have a clean-up project on your hands. “What am I going to do?” 

This post was written for you. 

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Changing Your Organizational Culture? Find a Catalyst.

Transforming an organizational culture is not like a pre-packaged meal, cooked in the microwave and served to your followers. Many consultancy-driven initiatives approach culture in this way. Many fail.

Instead, it is a handcrafted recipe, deliberately prepared utilizing the unique flavors already present in the organization, marinated before cooking slowly over a low heat. 

Not only does this require following Drucker’s advice and working with what you have, it also requires patience and courage in addition to people-centered leadership. 

It also requires a key ingredient to begin the marination: a catalyst. 

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How to Obtain the Best From Your Employees

Estimated read time: 10 minutes

“I’m not going to like this guy,” he said while chuckling.

It was my friend’s first impression of me, in a group where he was the newcomer and I was an established voice. After I provided my viewpoint on something neither of us could no longer remember, this was the unspoken thought he shared with me. 

“Really?!” I exclaimed in astonishment. 

“Yea,” he continued, “but after the third meeting, I had a different thought: ‘Ya know, I think I like this guy!’” Now we were both laughing.

It wasn’t the first time I heard something similar. A high school friend of mine affectionately labeled me “the fungus”. “He’s like a fungus; he grows on you,” he would say while grinning (um, thanks?). Others would later express it more constructively: “I like you; you keep it real.” 

Yet, it was in the conversation with the friend from that group where I had an epiphany. Each of these statements was a reaction to a character trait I have sought since I was young: authenticity. And I was pleased to be someone’s fungus.

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The Two Prerequisites for Transforming a Culture

Estimated reading time: 2.5 minutes

Peter Drucker once said that “company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” 

And what have we got? The research studies tell us the same thing every year: people love what they do, but hate where they do it (eighty-six and sixty-six percent respectively, last I heard). If employers could listen in on their employees around the water cooler or during happy hour, they wouldn’t need statistics. 

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Three Principles for all Successful Relationships

Estimated read time: 12 minutes

Better culture needs better communication. 

Everyone agrees with this, but not everyone understands the factors involved with better communication. It’s not just about skills; it’s also about the character of those communicating, specifically how they view each other. If I hate you, your communication skills are not going to matter very much.

I consistently teach and model three principles, no matter where I am or who I am with, principles that I have found to be consistently true no matter where I am. These principles work wonders for improving organizational culture. When internalized by a group of people, conflict disappears. In its place arises constructive communication, better work relationships and, most importantly, teamwork.

These principles exist in every healthy culture, just as they exist in every healthy relationship. I come back to these principles time and again throughout my writing. Here I summarize them.

So, without further ado… 

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A Foolproof Approach to Handling People

Reading time: 5 minutes

You don’t need to be an expert in communication strategies to know when someone is listening to you.

Think back to the last conversation you had with someone who loves you. It was a pleasant conversation, wasn’t it? They asked questions to clarify what you were saying. They summarized you after you were finished (“so, if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying…”) They validated your opinions and feelings, whether they agreed or not. If they did disagree, they didn’t allow the disagreement to get in the way of the relationship. 

And you likely returned the favor. You do love each other, after all. Truth is, almost everyone knows and practices good communication skills. 

So why do so many feel they are not being heard? 

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Why you need an MSW (and why you don’t)

(Estimated reading time: 22 minutes)

It starts with one factor which may have prevented you from reading this today.

How many emails did you get today? How many texts? Maybe you haven’t noticed the exponential increase anymore; you’re too busy trying to keep up. If you told an earlier version of yourself just how many emails and texts you would handle each day, your younger self would likely be scared. If not, telling s/he about the prevalence of social media in your life might do the trick. Isn’t it funny how some things intended to make our lives easier have instead made it more complicated? 

This may not apply to you. Some of us have a knack for juggling asynchronous communication (the younger the better, it seems). But I’m sure I could find something else, because digital communication is just one example of what we are all struggling with: change

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About Me

(For previous subscribers, follow the link below)

I am not a great writer.

A good writer? Yes, or so I’ve been told. Yet, I doubt I will ever be a great writer, because my goal is not to be a great writer.

What is my goal? Doing what I write about. 

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