When characters will not conform

Write about what?

Jeff 2007The social psychologist Solomon Asch  is famous for his experiments on  how peer pressure affects our perceptions in 1950s.  According to Asch if all those answering before the research participant selected the same incorrect answer approximately 76% of the people would choose that same obviously incorrect answer. [1] So if most people are in a group of ten or twelve people and all of the others say the sky is normally red, the average person will agree and somehow rationalize agreeing with a statement that they know to be false. Perhaps the question is about Mars, and not Earth. The sky is normally red on Mars, isn’t it?  This really has not changed since this 1950s, if anything differs it is the fact that less than 24% of the people tend to disagree when they know that the others are wrong.

But there is something else about conformity that…

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When characters confuse

Write about what?

IMAGE0043a copyWhen Edgar Allen Poe published “Murders in the Rue Morgue” in 1841 the murder mystery was a relatively new genre. He wrote a few more of these increasingly popular detective stories before leaving behind his own mystery. In 1849 he was was found wandering injured and delirious through the streets of Baltimore. The brilliant writer never regained his wits enough to explain what had happen to him. He died a few days later leaving behind a real unsolved mystery.

Current detectives have more techniques for identifying possible suspect but still lean heavily on the use of a psychological profile. You are probably familiar with a few of the terms they throw around, such as calling card, MO, and motive.  These are not just reserved for suspects in murder mysteries.  Fictional characters take on their own personalities when you remember to consider each of these features. Paying attention to these aspects  doesn’t…

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Writing like you talk

Write about what?

aside2When reading a professional author’s discussion thread, I noted that more than one person assumed the trick to creating a unique writer’s voice was “writing like you talk.”  There is some truth to this if you are a good verbal storyteller. But many good writers are do not excel at public speaking.

Recently I was discussing a book written by a prominent newscaster, mimicking his unique conversational mannerisms. One of the people made an interesting observation. He said, “You can really hear him speaking as you read it, and that really slows you down.” Now, I prefer reading to listening for the very reason that I can read about three times faster than I can listen. This led me to consider the complications of writing like you speak.

Most people tend to be more dramatic and less accurate when speaking. This allows them to be heard over competing voices. Frequent repetition…

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Delusion and Imagery

Write about what?

NY toll road (1) _a copyImagery is one of the harder to pinpoint concepts in poetry. What exactly is the difference between describing something in poetry and creating imagery?  This concept is not always easy to explain.  So I looked at what some experts in the fields of communication and language said about imagery.

Marshall McLuhan, a modern philosopher well known for his communication and media theories, was particularly in the application of these theories. He wrote extensively on how marketing and advertisement appeals to people. He stepped into the realm of politics to comment:

Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.[1]

Noam Chomsky, a linguist and cognitive scientist, who is known for his political involvement looked at McLuhan’s area of expertise, how the public perceives advertisements. According…

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What makes a character, a character?

Write about what?

457px-Théophile_Emmanuel_Duverger_Two_children_reading cRecently I was following a thread of writers discussing how to find names that make characters memorable.  Honestly I believe that writers should be looking at the reverse situation.  It is the skillful creation of a character whose strengths and weaknesses  strike a chord of truth in the reader that make the character’s name memorable. Names like Scarlet, Sherlock, Romeo and Ulysses invoke images of their fictional counterparts.

People seek out empathetic protagonists when they read. These characters are constructed so that people can relate to them and  even feel an emotional connection with them. One critical thing to remember is not everybody will identify with the same kind of character, which is fortunate because I would hate to be reading about the same person over and over again. It’s fairly clear that the ideal fictional character is a mix of strengths and weakness  – neither perfect or perfectly rotten –…

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A healthy suspicion

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While researching how successful people were in transferring leadership skills from one type of business to another (like the route of going from acting to politics that a number have traveled), I came across an article entitled “7 Reasons Leaders Can’t Transfer their Success to Other Organizations.” It sounded like a good place to start digging for ideas. Only the seven reasons were a list of universal characteristics of that could be applied to leadership at any place[1]– not the challenges which leaders face making it hard for them to succeed in another organization.

Why did the title not match the content? The author’s main premise was that leadership was either something you had or didn’t have, showing definite bias towards the belief that leaders are born. But the article hedged on the saying that leadership was strictly innate, instead ambiguously stating that “Leadership can be taught, but leadership is more of an attitude than a set of learned skills.”[2]

Research has been done on how to change attitudes, and apparently attitudes are not stable. They can change due to social pressure. Often people assimilate the behaviors of people around them, even when it rubs against their beliefs because that causes less friction.[3] However a resulting cognitive dissonance occurs. A longitudinal study found that most people change their beliefs to match their actions.[4] Other researchers have found that there is not a high correlation between attitudes and overt behaviors.[5]  People can comply with the demands of peers without changing their internal beliefs.

Individual motivation can also cause as change in attitudes. Often this is generated by a traumatic event, or a long period of suffering. Sometimes the resulting attitude is a stronger desire to be inclusive, or do what one considers right, and sometimes it is a retreat into bitterness. This is probably not a technique that people would be willing to pay for in order to learn leadership skills. Also, there is the likelihood that it will not work.

How about people who march to a different drummer, for whom the pressures of society have little effect on their attitudes. They may become a leader or an outcast or sometimes both. How many leaders can you name than were imprisoned at one time? Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Leon Trotsky, Adolf Hitler…. Now, you may not agree with all of their ideas, but enough people did for them to become leaders in their countries. You may recognize that these people are exceptions, typically when it comes to leaders, the majority of people prefer someone who supports the status quo, or a return to an idealized past, something that they can picture because they are familiar with it.

So this leaves us with few options for changing of attitudes (if leadership skill is actually based on attitudes). People can either surround themselves with those who have the leadership style attitudes and try to imitate them, or start acting like they own these attitude, whether they do or not. However, this very behavior has a common nickname, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” that brings it inyo obvious conflict with “Be Authentic” another attitude in the article “7 Reasons Leaders Can’t Transfer their Success to Other Organizations.” [6]

My conclusion?  Have a healthy suspicion of anyone who claims to be able to easily improve your leadership ability. It is a long hard road, which does include extensive learned skills and the willingness to go through experiences that will stretch you and even make you suffer.

 

[1] Llopis, Glenn. 7 Reasons Leaders Can’t Transfer their Success to Other Organizations. Forbes, 2012, Jan 10 @ 09:46 AM 11,
[2] Llopis, Glenn. Ibid.
[3] Cialdini, Robert B.; Goldstein, Noah J. (2004). “SOCIAL INFLUENCE: Compliance and Conformity”. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 55: 591–621. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.55.090902.142015.
[4] Fotuhi, Omid, et al. “Patterns of cognitive dissonance-reducing beliefs among smokers: a longitudinal analysis from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey.” Tobacco control (2012): tobaccocontrol-2011.
[5] Wicker, A. W. Attitudes versus actions: The relationship of verbal and overt behavioral responses to attitude objects. Journal of Social Issues, 1969, 25, 41-78.
[6] Llopis, Glenn. Ibid
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Filling the boots of a past generation

DSCN4016 (c)In centuries past leadership was earned by people as they aged, survived difficulties, gained wisdom, and expertise through years of experience, or often it was grasped by ambitious persons with a touch of ruthlessness. Throughout the history of humans, leaders who rose above the rank and file bestowed leadership positions on their progeny.  Two or three generations after the founding of a dynasty, there was frequently trouble within. Evidently bringing up children in a privileged state was not ideal for turning them into good leaders.

The population in the United States was suspicious of the power passed down by the kings and nobility to their offspring. Single-minded ambition and hard work could also bring about a rise to power as easily as receiving it from the patriarch of a well-known and wealthy family.  At least that is what Americans used to think, but that perception is fading. Perhaps because of the growing income disparity in the income and the establishment of a wealthy upper class passing on business leadership to their children.

When the Baby Boomer generation reached the age of employment, leadership training was sparse. A degree from college was considered adequate for those who wanted to move up in a company, but this advancement also required years of experience. Evidently the Millennial mindset is different. They know that a college degree is not worth as much as it used to be, but they are also eager for company-provided leadership training.

There is a shift to identifying high potential individual early and grooming their leadership skills. Many millennials feel that if their abilities have not been recognized after a few years they might as well pack up and move to another employer. Yet this threat really doesn’t have employers quaking in their boots. They verbally acknowledge the need to train millennials for leadership but do not take it seriously. [1]  There are still enough members of Generation X (and Baby Boomers without enough funds for retirement) that will hang in there with the company. (Bringing back a retire person to work contract/part-time without benefits can actually save companies money.)

So why is the media flooded with the necessity for providing training for Millennials? It’s a new start-up business, and the way to start a business is to create a need. The purveyors of this training claim they know what makes millennials ticks, because the vast majority are Millennials. They want you to read their articles, buy their books, and buy their training. They insist there is a dire need for leadership training so that Millennials can fill the boots of retiring Baby Boomers.

But do these peddlers of the need for leadership training really know what it takes to mold a generation that is often accused of being entitled, with little loyalty to employers and high demands for feedback and work-life balance into leaders? Of course there is always a caveat offered that Millennials will lead in a new and different way. Usually with an emphasis on collaboration and technology. This will spreading out the leadership responsibility, ideally making room for more of the upcoming generation to be leaders, and lessen the need to live at the office to be successful.

But that brings up the question, does leadership need to be redesigned to suit the Millennial’s style, or should they be seeking to learn the skills required to lead in the future? And exactly what are these skills? That’s what we will dive into next.

[1] Leadership Development For Millennials Not Seen As A Priority by Karen Higginbottom, Forbes MAR 14, 2016 @ 02:08 PM

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How do you define a generation?

IMAGE0087As people age they get more experienced handling the real world. So older people will tell stories about the younger generation throwing tantrums, crying and protesting over elections. However, riots over elections has occurred before. Ever hear of the Chicago eight? Or the Kent State riots? I recall a lot of Baby Boomers taking to the streets to protest what went on when they were young. In fact, we did a lot more protesting than the millennials have done.

So in review how do millennials really differ from earlier generations?

They know more about the culture of their parent’s generation, but less about the politics. When it comes to politics, the millennials have not paid as much attention to it as those age 18 to 35 did in the sixties and seventies. They often avoided involvement due to a growing distrust of politicians. But that seems to be changing.

Millennials have had a much more structured upbringing with less free time and less time spent with their parents than the previous generations. They face increasing pressure to spend more time working on a successful a career. And their attitude towards wealth shows that. Most didn’t go to college for broadening their minds. They went to college to get jobs that make more money.

However, making more money is not easy in the current economy. So they live at home longer, put off marriage and family longer and move from company to company hoping to move up sooner. Most still want to avoid becoming the “workaholic” type. They find building reputation and a following are as important for their career as gaining experience.

Millennials also flock to social media create this reputation for themselves. Even though the birthrate is slowing down in industrialized countries, the population still grows due to immigration  Millennials are more diverse than the last three generations. Over 50% of them have a parent that immigrated to the United States. Also, the older generations are simply not dying off as fast as they did a century ago.More people means the need to  distinguish themselves.

Finally, they have grown up with technology and masses of data that must be handled with computers. If changes in technology continue to increase exponentially, you can expect increasing problems with information overload. And this is the challenge that will likely define the millennial generation.

 American Freshman survey by the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA
http://www.gallup.com/reports/189830/millennials-work-live.aspx
http://www.wmfc.org/uploads/GenerationalDifferencesChart.pdf
U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement
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Which generation is greener?

view-oct-sun-059It was April 22, 1970, and I was so envious of my friend. Warm buttery sunshine flowed from a mostly cloudless sky, and the breeze was just a gentle brush of air. Basically a picture perfect day in the small college town in the middle of the Illinois prairie. And I was stuck in the confines of a brick and concrete high school while my friend had joined a group from Illinois State University outside. All my parents had to do was sign a form permitting me to go, but my mother didn’t think it was wise for me to be mingling with the much older college students.

My friend came back to school that afternoon wearing her swingy hippy-style printed caftan top that complemented the faint reddish glow on her arms and face from the sun her skin absorbed during the march out to the edge of town, where they planted the symbolic tree. She friend was probably more excited about being out of school and getting the first blush of a summer suntan than the importance of involvement in the first Earth Day celebration. Still ask almost any Baby Boomer back in the seventies and the preserving the natural environment was a favorite cause, on a similar footing to halting the war in Vietnam.

Often my generation is criticized for global warming and other damage to the environment that has occurred over the past fifty years. It is true that Baby Boomers have become less concerned about the earth, as they became more concerned about energy to run the new technological advances. However, 60% of current Baby Boomers agree with 71% of Millennials in saying that we should development of alternative energy sources that are less polluting rather than expanding exploration of oil, coal and natural gas. It is the majority of the Silent generation that preferred not looking for alternative sources of energy that have directed much of our emphasis in drilling oil in the past. [1]

As a look back on my teenage years I realize the newly heightened interest in preserving what the earth, separated the Boomers from those that that the earth had plenty to offer with little impact on our environment. I am a little worried that the percentage of Millennials who are interested being active to preserve the environment has decreased by a third, compared to the Baby Boomers when they were young.[2] As a generation ages, there is a tendency to become less idealistic and less involved in causes they believe in. Currently there is a much smaller number of Millennials actively concerned with the environment than there were among my peers when I was young. However there is some hope; the most recent generation has grown up with recycling, distrust of excessive pesticides and appreciation for cars that use less gas as part of their everyday life. Finally, I realize that many Millennials are bummed about the fact that they will have a lower standard of living than their parents, but this is actually a good thing for the environment.

Photo by S.L. Listman

[1] http://www.people-press.org/2011/11/03/section-8-domestic-and-foreign-policy-views/ “The Generation Gap and the 2012 Election, Section 8: Domestic and Foreign Policy Views“ Pew Research Center, November 3, 2011
[2] http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/03/fame-giving.aspx “Recent Generations Focus More on Fame, Money Than Giving Back” American Psychological Association, March 15, 2012

 

 

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Changing the meaning of money

SC_charleston_houseTo my grandparents, born around 1900, money meant a kind of stability that allowed them to stay in one place and raise a family. Both of my grandparents had moved frequently as children. My grandfather wanted to buy a farm to provide a living that didn’t have depend on the whims of working for a boss in a company. Inauspiciously, he borrowed money to do this a few years before the crash of 1929. During the depression the farm provided food, but very little money as most people simply didn’t have the extra funds to buy fresh produce. Sometimes they would receive clothes or other goods for fresh truck crops. The person who loaned him the money was wise enough wait to for his money rather than take over a farm he probably could not sell to anyone else. My grandparent’s less fortunate relatives came to stay with them, so having the money was not as important as a place to call home.

My mother grew up and lived in one house until she left for college. My father did not have that luxury as his own father died when he was still young. He was not averse to leaving familiar places behind for opportunities. After serving 6 years in the military during World War II, he took advantage of the GI bill to pay for his degree. During the sixties and seventies we moved every few years because my father worked for company with the innovative idea of developing engineers by moving them to experience all facets of the company business. That might be great for developing people with a greater competency across the company, but it was tough on families to constantly face the challenges of adapting to a new community, new school, etc. It also made it nearly impossible for my mother to have her own career. However, for my father the importance of money was not to secure a single homestead, but as the sole provider for his family it was to give his family a life free from need and his children the opportunity to attend college.

My transient upbringing was not the same thing that occurred to most of my peers. They grew up in one place and moved into a larger nearby house as their family had more children and accumulated more possession. Money was a source not only of necessities but also “play things” which became a sign of status. After the sixtes, the United States economic growth met little bumps of recessions but kept recovering nicely until the economy started a steep decline that hit bottom in 2009. Being wealthy allowed some Baby Boomers to foot the bill for sky-rocketing education costs for their own children.

Meanwhile the idea crept in that one had to have money to make money, as a number of people had previously made money investing while  interest rate on savings had become laughably low. For Generation X and the Millennials that followed them, having money was a way to prevent the slide into a lower, struggling class. The lower class that they fear slipping into still has more in material possession than my parents did when growing up during the depression. That didn’t matter as they had no memory of life in the Great Depression. The chance to pull oneself up by the bootstraps seemed to have passed, so starting off with an advantage seemed to be a necessity to keep from losing ground.

The younger generation is really not imagining that they have something to fear:

“Millennials have benefited the least from the economic recovery following the Great Recession, as average incomes for this generation have fallen at twice the general adult population’s total drop and are likely to be on a path toward lower incomes for at least another decade.”[1]

So now you have a glimpse into why millennials have indicated that being wealthy is much more important to them than did the generations that came before them.

[1] Smith, Elliot Blair. “American Dream Fades for Generation Y Professionals.” Bloomberg L.P. 20 December 2012
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