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Deborah Mills-scofield's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
Tuesday
May192015

Why Language Matters for Everything

How many languages do you speak? Only 7% of American college kids study a language.  Think this is a problem? It is a huge socio-economic-global-geopolitical-security one!  Amelia Friedman didn't set out to start a business learning languages from her peers - like Bengali, Thai, Tamil... but she has.  We need to communicate like never before - and language is how.  So be a part of the solution - try learning a language and give to Student Language Exchange to make sure our next generation does. 

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em·pa·thy (n): the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

Building empathy has been a priority among parents and educators for decades. Why? If the next generation of leaders cares for others in their community and across the world, they just might be able to make one another’s lives better.

More recently, empathy has become a priority for business leaders. In fact, entrepreneurs regularly use empathy maps when trying to understand their target customer. Empathy has become part of an entrepreneur’s tool belt, helping them rise above the competition.

There is debate about whether empathy is something that can be taught. I believe we can teach empathy by listening to and learning from people who are different from us. By asking questions. By meeting others on their level. By immersing ourselves in another culture.

In other words: We can build empathy by learning another language.

lan·guage (n): the system of communication used by a particular community or country

Language is so much more than a collection of words and rules for the order in which they should be spoken. It includes all aspects of communication: the way you should greet someone when they’re in mourning, the requirement that a gift need be refused three times before accepted, or the importance of covering one’s hair when in public— that is all a part of language.

A language is a doorway into another culture; it paves the road toward empathy.

ex·change (n): an act of giving one thing and receiving another in return

I didn’t originally found the Student Language Exchange with the intention of changing the world. The first courses we ran were a reflection of my curiosity and the curiosity of students around me. We just wanted to learn from one another’s experiences, so we ran semester-long courses where our peers could share their languages and cultures.

We came to understand dowry practices in Kenya, limitations of French language in Haiti and the aftereffects of English colonialism in Calcutta. We gifted one another the knowledge that we had gleaned in the first 20 years of our lives. And we learned to listen, ask questions, and empathize.

My formal coursework in language didn’t always allow me to really understand the people that spoke it, and the communities I could learn about at my university were limited, mostly to those of Europe.

At last count, there were 197,757 U.S. college students studying French and 64 studying Bengali. Globally, there are 193 million people who speak Bengali and only 75 million who speak French. In fact, Arne Duncan tells us that 95% of all language enrollments are in a Western language.

We tend to learn about cultures that are similar to our own. But this is holding us back. It keeps us from building empathy, from pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones, and from building bridges between peoples.

Our world isn’t perfect. Tragedies, whether man-made as in the case of the Rohingya Crisis or natural in the case of the Nepal earthquakes, plague our global society. We can’t be perfect either, but we can strive to empathize with those affected and respectfully communicate with people in these regions. Through open communication—and through connecting our privilege with their opportunity—we can do our part to make the world a little bit better.

In our SLE courses, students learn to think differently; they learn about other languages and cultures so that they can better understand different people.

I may not have originally intended to build a social enterprise, but somewhere along the way we began to see the impact we were having on our students and the communities they touched.

Today, only 7% of American college students are studying a language. Few Americans—our next-generation leaders—take the time to learn about a new culture and to build the skills they need to communicate with its stakeholders. If we can push that needle a little further to the right, we can make an immense impact.

And as these students will tell you, we already well on our way. Will you join us?

 

Amelia Friedman founded the Student Language Exchange while a student at Brown University (’14). An active advocate of global engagement, she has written about language education for the Atlantic, USA Today, Forbes, and the Huffington Post. She is the product of a marriage between a Jew from Maryland and a Catholic from Montevideo, Uruguay that demonstrate the importance of empathy every day. Amelia is a current Halcyon fellow living in Washington, DC.

In full disclosure, I have been Amelia's mentor since her time at Brown and am on the board of SLE, with great pride and admiration for her work.

Tuesday
May052015

Why CEOs have Liberal Arts Degrees

Some of today's top CEOs were history, political science, sociology, chinese and music majors in college. They are leading global airline, chemical, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and financial companies, among others. There are very practical reasons for a Liberal Arts degree, and Samanee Mahbub (Brown '18) thinks the reasons are crystal clear.  Let's hear it from her. 
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A “Practical” Liberal Arts Degree

“Samanee, what on earth are you going to do with a history degree? I’m not sending you to college to become a historian.”

Those were the words my mother told me when I mentioned the idea of switching from the ever so pragmatic economics major to my newfound passion in studying the past. Not exactly resounding support.

As a college student in this technological era, I’ve felt the constant burden of having to pursue a “practical” degree. My uncle pushes engineering. My brother insists I take computer science. My dad says if I don’t like STEM, then economics is the best option for a woman who wants to pursue business. Yet my mind doesn’t light up the same way in microeconomics as it does learning about the overlapping women’s movement, anti-war movement and civil rights movements of the 1960s.  

Educating myself about the fall of the Roman Empire may not provide direct, transferable skills to the corporate office, the quirky startup, or any particular field of work. But I argue it gives me something even better: critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking skills. Quite the buzzword these days. The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking defines it as an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.” I have a much simpler and arguably, more relevant definition: the ability to rationally use a mental toolkit to analyze a situation with which one might not have had previous experience.

History provides me with this mental toolkit. Through my classes, I’ve been forced to question the intentions of authors of primary sources, understand biases present within my readings and even my professor, observe the tone of speakers in context to their audience, and seek out further information to support the claims I make when I write my history papers. Now let me change some of the words in this paragraph and show you how my history major will prepare me for the business world.

Through my classes, I’ve been forced to question the intentions of [investors who want to pursue a particular M&A deal], understand biases present within [reports that do not recognize key factors that affect a company’s growth], observe the tone of my [interviewer] in context [of my interview], and seek out further information to support the claims I make when [I recommend a company to diversify their revenue streams in order to save their bottom line].

The situations I study in history are different, but as seen above, the skills used are the same. History, philosophy, sociology, or any liberal arts degree will not prevent me from pursuing a career in business. These disciplines provide me with a tool kit to navigate any situation I am presented, and in my opinion, make me a better employee.

So I’m going to take that Shakespeare class (or maybe not), I will learn about Karl Marx’s theory of alienation, and I’m going to delve further into Middle Eastern history. These are my passions. Even though they don’t directly align with my career aspirations, they will not take me out of the game. A career advisor once told me that those who pursue liberal arts majors and enter finance, consulting or technology are not the exceptions. They are the norm.

Therefore, I urge everyone who loves the liberal arts to pursue their passion. These pursuits are not lost in a world where STEM is rising. You will succeed because of the thinking skills you’ve acquired. And if you’re still not convinced, just remember, the CEO of Goldman Sachs is a government major.

Samanee Mahbub is originally from Bangladesh but has explored over 19 countries.  She's dreams of leading her country out of poverty.  While in high school, she started a 50-student organization supporting Acid Survivors Foundation to help rehabilitate burn survivors of acid attacks.  She is now the core programming director for the Brown Entrepreneurship Program and Head of Design for The Intercollegiate Finance Journal.  She's spending the summer in Dhaka doing microfinance. 

Monday
Mar302015

If You Can't Deal with Conflict, Can You Lead?

Dan Rockwell, also known as Leadershipfreak, writes a daily blog that is simply astounding with wisdom and insight - you must sign up! With his permission, I'm reposting a rather critical one that all leaders must read and address.  When we don't deal with conflict, we inflict great damage on our organization.  Here's how to address it. Thank you Dan, for letting me repost! 
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12 WAYS TO OVERCOME FEAR AND CONFRONT LIKE A MASTER

March 7, 2015

Excellence requires confrontation.

Leaders who can’t confront:

  1. Live with nagging frustration.
  2. Fall below their potential.
  3. Lead unremarkable organizations.

4 reasons you avoid confrontation:

  1. Self interest. What if they get upset with you?
  2. False compassion. Real compassion confronts. False compassion avoids.
  3. Beliefs that confrontation is cruel. If confrontation isn’t helpful, don’t do it.
  4. Concern you won’t confront well.

12 ways to overcome fear and confront like a master:

  1. Believe in the ability of others. Protecting people prolongs weakness.
  2. Commit to serve others and make things better. Stress decreases the more you focus on serving others and bringing value.
  3. Reflect on past successes and failures, before confrontation. What worked? What didn’t work in the past? Confront your own failures or you’ll repeat them.
  4. Define what you want, but don’t practice (over-rehearse) what you say. Too much rehearsal makes you sound fake.
  5. Expand perspective. Pain limits perspective. All you think about is the toothache. Remember the big picture.
  6. Develop alternatives and chose one. Don’t look for “the” way. Find “a” way.
  7. Agree on issues. Confrontation means bringing up issues someone hasn’t acknowledged.
  8. Respond to defensiveness by asking, “What am I missing?”
  9. Use their language. One of the most challenging things I’ve heard was a simple question that contained my own words. I mentioned something I’d like to do, but had put on the back burner. He asked, “How could you move this to the front burner?” I immediately felt responsibility.
  10. Limit scope. “Everyone feels this way,” expands issues. “Here’s what I need from you,” narrows conversations to the immediate realm of control.
  11. Focus on what matters. Leaders who argue insignificant points stall progress. Ego needs to win all the time.
  12. Build relationships that withstand confrontation. How would you treat teammates today, if you knew confrontation was coming next month?

 How might leaders confront like pros?

Monday
Mar232015

Light the Fire and Clear the Path


In Jon Mertz’s new book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders, Jon talks about Soul Sparks:

“Soul sparks are those small ignitions of inspiration that fan into big changes, new directions, or fresh works. They come from deep down inside. Make your body and mind shake with excitement. These are soul sparks.” 

I am blessed to have had bosses who saw soul sparks in me and gave me opportunities to develop and spread them. These bosses mentored and supported my soul sparks up to the highest levels of the company and made sure I succeeded.  They viewed their job as lighting the fire and clearing the path for me.  Because that was how I was managed and led from the start of my career, because that was really all I personally and gratefully knew, that was how I managed and led others; how could I know otherwise?

Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts. ~ Leo Tolstoy

In my career, I’ve helped clients ignite soul sparks and surpass goals we thought were long shots.  I’ve had C-suiters give air cover to employees with soul sparks that when implemented changed industries, delivered value propositions for their customers’ customers and created opportunities for new hires and employee growth.   Needless to say, this is fun, rewarding and keeps sparks spreading.

Perhaps most joyful has been fueling soul sparks with Millennials I’m privileged to mentor who also mentor me.  Serendipitously, many of their stories are posted on Swearer Sparks! I love “my” Millennials sense of entitlement.  Yes! Entitlement –of being entitled to pursue their soul sparks to change the world and ignite soul sparks in others.  

Soul Sparks challenge orthodoxy

Sidney Kusher founded CCChampions as a junior in college to match kids going through the horrors of cancer treatment with pro athletes and heroes, to help them feel like champions.   Sidney’s soul spark changes the lives of these kids, their families, their doctors and nurses and their “champions” in ways he never could have anticipated.  And it changes the lives of those of us who have been a part of this journey.   I’ve been privileged to help Sidney keep the spark going when the daily frustrations of managing a staff, fundraising, and emotional drain of cancer’s reality take a toll. But soul sparks cannot be contained.  Soul sparks are contagious.  I don’t know who benefits more – Sidney when I help him be the leader at 24 I wasn’t at 30 or me from his wisdom, honestly and authenticity.  Despite the rapid growth of kids in need without the rapid growth in staff to support it, CCChampions March Madness March to Friendship surpassed all expectations and broke records – raising enough funds to support 40 new kids with cancer! 

Soul Sparks ignite when the focus is on others, not on oneself.

Jayson Marwaha and Han Sheng Chia started MED-International as sophomores in college providing medical equipment and tools for maintenance in emerging markets.  They started in Zanzibar with incubators and X-ray machines that were too ‘old’ for us in America.  Computer science and engineering students caught the spark, developing tools to track and repair equipment so it could be up and running to save and heal lives.  MED tried to grow into other emerging markets, but no viable business model emerged. After a summer of research in Tanzania and Ghana, they realized that to scale and impact patient care, they needed to be on the ground most of the time.  As a board member, I should have pushed shutting the business down earlier, since there was no viable path to profitability.  As a mentor, I knew they needed to come to that conclusion on their own, having tried all possibilities.  In the end, they created an elegant, gracious and compassionate solution – they open-sourced the software so it can be used in any hospital anywhere in the world.  In the four years MED was running, it saved lives.  Not many of us can claim that.

Soul Sparks are real.  They drive us to innovate and to make an impact.  So what will you do to ignite the Soul Spark in others? Find a way, because it will ignite a spark within you!

 

This post is part of a community-wide initiative on Soul Sparks celebrating the launch of Jon Mertz’s book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders.  Please read it and visit his site, Thin Difference

Thursday
Mar052015

What's Missing? 


When we are looking for patterns, trying to understand or discover customer needs, trying to learn something in general, we tend to look for what’s there.  We look for what we see, hear, touch, smell, taste – for what we observe.  This can take time and focus.  Sometimes we have to look at the negative space as well, the empty space around the ‘thing’ we are observing.   Negative space is used a lot in art and optical illusions.  For instance, look at this key, the logo for the American Institute for Architects in New York:

It looks like a key, right? But look at the cuts in the key’s blade – it’s the NYC skyline! If you took a quick look, you might not notice that it’s a skyline, let alone NYC’s.  So when we are looking, it’s important to look at the equivalent of the ‘negative space’ around the ‘thing’ we are observing.

But what if we ‘looked’ for what’s NOT there? What if we looked for what was missing?  This sounds strange – how can you look for something that’s not there?  Maybe we’re not actually ‘looking’ in the literal sense, but we are trying to see what is missing – what should/could/ought to be there but isn’t.  In Episode 7 of Serial*, one of the lawyers says, “That’s what we’re not seeing.”  Those few words stopped me in my tracks. 

What we are NOT seeing!  We are so used to looking and making sense of what’s there that we rarely stop and look at what’s NOT there… at what’s missing.   Ok, so you can’t see something that’s not there – but maybe you can!  Maybe you can ‘see’ what is normally, typically, usually there in a certain situation or circumstance.  Its absence should raise a flag.  If you question and examine, you’ll ask why something isn’t there, or isn’t there in a way it should be.  Ask Why.  Why didn’t this happen? Why wasn’t that there? Why wasn’t that used? Why wasn’t that tightened? Why wasn’t that next to this?

So the next time you’re observing to learn – to build a new product or service or feature, to understand a customer segment or need – ask yourself what’s missing.  Ask yourself what should be there that isn’t and ask why.  Who knows what you will discover!

 

*If you haven't listened to Serial yet, you must! Aside from the 'entertainment' value which is very high, the lessons on looking, observing, over-looking, ignoring, missing are applicable to so much of our lives - personally and professionally.

Have you figured out what’s missing in the picture of the robots at the top? Do you want to know? If yes, keep reading.  If no, STOP!

(Look at Robot Robbie's center graphic with the gears; there's only 1 red ‘canister’ on the right).