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Outside the Mainstream

“Outside the Mainstream” regularly brings articles, columns and research that challenge conventional thinking. The past two weeks have provided a deluge of challenges to conventional commitments and thinking, many of which should be taken very seriously.Is there such a thing as “honest graft,” can we learn from annoying workers and are we little more than “puppets of our biochemistry?” These are questions from outside the mainstream everyday life.Jonathan Rauch, The Case for Corruption: Why Washington needs more honest graftis not only spellbinding, but also absolutely correct in its recognition that we’ve gone too far in our demands for transparency and the removal of earmarks. A classic case of unintended consequences, Rauch points out that “regular order” has been replaced by “regular chaos.” “Public ultimatums supplanted private negotiations, games of chicken replaced mutual back-scratching, and bumptious Republican House members took to dictating terms to their putative leadership.” As Rauch argues, loyalty gets you only so far, and ideology is divisive. Political machines need to exist and they need to work. . . .Earnest campaigns to take the politics out of politics …
can make governing more difficult, with results that serve no one very well. The next time you see some new reform scheme touted in the name of stopping corruption, pause to recall the wisdom of another old-school pol, the late Representative Jimmy Burke, of Massachusetts: ‘The trouble with some people is that they think this place is on the level.’”Peggy Drexler, The Value of Annoying Co-Workers will drive some employees nuts. But Drexler has her finger on very significant truths for them. She deals openly and constructively with the narcissistic colleague, but also the passive-aggressive, the score-keeper, the obsessive as well as the office gossip. Drexler argues that though there are plenty of downsides to these folk, they also often make significant contributions to company and colleagues with their upside.  Adapting to these difficult personality types doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your principles. But it does mean that sometimes the most annoying people have something to teach us.Eleanor Barkhorn, What Americans Don’t Know About Science is an illuminating report. Take, for example, the finding in this recent report by the National Science Foundation that 74% of Americans said that the earth revolves around the sun. The survey, a set of short, factual questions, doesn’t assume to provide a comprehensive picture about our country’s scientific literacy. Thoughtfully, the report says that “generalizations about Americans’ knowledge of science should be made cautiously.” This study has been replicated for many years, but uniquely, American performance hasn’t changed over the past 20 years. The report draws a number of fascinating conclusions that may stop you in your tracks. Most significantly, some of the questions are based not on knowledge of the issue, but on religious belief. What will that do to our need for scientists from the younger generation? Scary stuff.  Joel Kurtzman, Gloominess About the Economy Is a Choice challenges the widespread notions about permanent unemployment. No question but what emerging nations, including China, are up-and-comers. But are they “eating our lunch?” Kurtzman argues that the gloominess in books, articles and even The Economist are inferences that don’t and won’t hold true. He compares the gloominess of the 1960s to today, but reminds us that the 1960s were followed by 50 years of exceptional national growth. In short, gloominess for Kurtzman is a choice. His article lays out a number of intriguing and challenging insights. Although Kurtzman doesn’t mention it, what we’re faced with here are the foibles of expert intuition. Daniel Kahneman has an excellent chapter on expert intuition in Thinking  Fast and Slow, asking when we can trust it. Although I lean to reason rather than dispositional psychology, both obviously play a part in choices like that of “gloominess.” In any instance, Kurtzman presents a clear-cut challenge to the majority of economic players.Paul Bloom, The War on Reason challenges the idea that we are “little more than puppets of (our) biochemistry.” Bloom, Yale’s eminent, chaired professor of psychology, is the guy to argue on the side of reason. His research focuses on the development and nature of our common-sense understanding of ourselves and other people. I’ve not only found him trustworthy, but exceptionally balanced for a psychologist with background in neuroscience. In his recent article he concludes with, This is how moral progress happens. We don’t become better merely through good intentions and force of will, just as we don’t usually lose weight or give up smoking merely by wanting to. We use our intelligence. We establish laws, create social institutions, write constitutions, and evolve customs. We manage information and constrain options, allowing our better selves to overcome those gut feelings and appetites that we believe we would be better off without. Yes, we are physical beings, and yes, we are continually swayed by factors beyond our control. But as Aristotle recognized long ago, what’s so interesting about us is our capacity for reason, which reigns over all. If you miss this, you miss almost everything that matters. His article is a keeper, downloadable for your reference files. It can serve as a fine resource whenever you find yourself rolling over to pessimism about our world.Flickr photo: Anne Marie Grgich
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Mainstream“Outside the Mainstream” regularly brings articles, columns and research that challenge conventional thinking. The past two weeks have provided a deluge of challenges to conventional commitments and thinking, many of which should be taken very seriously.

Is there such a thing as “honest graft,” can we learn from annoying workers and are we little more than “puppets of our biochemistry?” These are questions from outside the mainstream everyday life.

Jonathan Rauch, The Case for Corruption: Why Washington needs more honest graft is not only spellbinding, but also absolutely correct in its recognition that we’ve gone too far in our demands for transparency and the removal of earmarks. A classic case of unintended consequences, Rauch points out that “regular order” has been replaced by “regular chaos.” “Public ultimatums supplanted private negotiations, games of chicken replaced mutual back-scratching, and bumptious Republican House members took to dictating terms to their putative leadership.” As Rauch argues, loyalty gets you only so far, and ideology is divisive. Political machines need to exist and they need to work. . . .Earnest campaigns to take the politics out of politics can make governing more difficult, with results that serve no one very well. The next time you see some new reform scheme touted in the name of stopping corruption, pause to recall the wisdom of another old-school pol, the late Representative Jimmy Burke, of Massachusetts: ‘The trouble with some people is that they think this place is on the level.’”

Peggy Drexler, The Value of Annoying Co-Workers will drive some employees nuts. But Drexler has her finger on very significant truths for them. She deals openly and constructively with the narcissistic colleague, but also the passive-aggressive, the score-keeper, the obsessive as well as the office gossip. Drexler argues that though there are plenty of downsides to these folk, they also often make significant contributions to company and colleagues with their upside.  Adapting to these difficult personality types doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your principles. But it does mean that sometimes the most annoying people have something to teach us.

Eleanor Barkhorn, What Americans Don’t Know About Science is an illuminating report. Take, for example, the finding in this recent report by the National Science Foundation that 74% of Americans said that the earth revolves around the sun. The survey, a set of short, factual questions, doesn’t assume to provide a comprehensive picture about our country’s scientific literacy. Thoughtfully, the report says that “generalizations about Americans’ knowledge of science should be made cautiously.” This study has been replicated for many years, but uniquely, American performance hasn’t changed over the past 20 years. The report draws a number of fascinating conclusions that may stop you in your tracks. Most significantly, some of the questions are based not on knowledge of the issue, but on religious belief. What will that do to our need for scientists from the younger generation? Scary stuff.  

Joel Kurtzman, Gloominess About the Economy Is a Choice challenges the widespread notions about permanent unemployment. No question but what emerging nations, including China, are up-and-comers. But are they “eating our lunch?” Kurtzman argues that the gloominess in books, articles and even The Economist are inferences that don’t and won’t hold true. He compares the gloominess of the 1960s to today, but reminds us that the 1960s were followed by 50 years of exceptional national growth. In short, gloominess for Kurtzman is a choice. His article lays out a number of intriguing and challenging insights. Although Kurtzman doesn’t mention it, what we’re faced with here are the foibles of expert intuition. Daniel Kahneman has an excellent chapter on expert intuition in Thinking  Fast and Slow, asking when we can trust it. Although I lean to reason rather than dispositional psychology, both obviously play a part in choices like that of “gloominess.” In any instance, Kurtzman presents a clear-cut challenge to the majority of economic players.

Paul Bloom, The War on Reason challenges the idea that we are “little more than puppets of (our) biochemistry.” Bloom, Yale’s eminent, chaired professor of psychology, is the guy to argue on the side of reason. His research focuses on the development and nature of our common-sense understanding of ourselves and other people. I’ve not only found him trustworthy, but exceptionally balanced for a psychologist with background in neuroscience. In his recent article he concludes with, This is how moral progress happens. We don’t become better merely through good intentions and force of will, just as we don’t usually lose weight or give up smoking merely by wanting to. We use our intelligence. We establish laws, create social institutions, write constitutions, and evolve customs. We manage information and constrain options, allowing our better selves to overcome those gut feelings and appetites that we believe we would be better off without. Yes, we are physical beings, and yes, we are continually swayed by factors beyond our control. But as Aristotle recognized long ago, what’s so interesting about us is our capacity for reason, which reigns over all. If you miss this, you miss almost everything that matters. His article is a keeper, downloadable for your reference files. It can serve as a fine resource whenever you find yourself rolling over to pessimism about our world.

Flickr photo: Anne Marie Grgich

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To a significant degree much creative and innovative thinking is a rejection of conventional knowledge. Indeed, a strategic orientation to creativity may target conventional wisdom as a fundamental tactic. Outside the Mainstream will regularly bring articles, columns and research that challenges the conventional. Adam Grant, 5 Myths About Introverts and Extraverts at Work Get ready to be challenged. Grant shoots down a number of old chestnuts built primarily on the MBTI. Long overdue, his research deals with how the two styles approach matters as diverse as networking, public speaking, relationships and even sales. So you won’t want to forget the ambiverts in the middle of the continuum. This will curdle some stomachs.Susan Dominus, How to Get a Job with a Philosophy Degree. I’ve been holding this for February, about when graduating seniors start to get really serious about their job hunt. The recommendations don’t just apply to philosophy. And this is not just for seniors, but also for their parents. Maybe we need to learn not to be totally focused on …
 majors that supposedly are a direct line to a career. Whatever. This is reassuring.
Peter Beinart, What Liberal Zionists Should Say When We’re Called Naive. If you get tired of the endless Israel/Palestine arguments, this is a smart, new take on the issue in Haaretz by the well-known Peter Beinart. It’s nuanced, clear, different and intriguing. Essentially, Beinart goes the third mile, arguing that though most Palestinians wish Israel didn’t exist, that doesn’t mean they can’t accept it as a tragic reality in exchange for a state of their own. And this, too, will curdle some stomachs.Ana Marie Cox, If the 1% Wants Class Warfare, Maybe It’s Time to Start Fighting Back. With Tom Perkins WSJ article on income equality and speaking for the top 1%, the politics takes a new turn. Although Perkins backed off publicly from his statement that progressive radicalism is the descendant of Kristallnacht (the night when the Nazis carried out a series of attacks on Jews in Berlin). Perkins and his 1% economist see themselves as the underdog. Perkins thinks higher taxes will mean the “economic extinction” of the 1%. Nonsense! Cox is just the right person to go after Perkins, and she does a fine job.Robert Samuelson, Why the UAW Lost. Since the attempt to unionize the Vokswagen plant in Chattanooga was supported by VW, many have interpreted the failure. But no one has done a better job of that than Samuelson. His interpretation serves as an analysis of the current state of the worker and unionism in America. He analyzes why, in spite of the union’s non-adversarial and collaborative approach, the vote failed.Scott Berinato, Dan Ariely on 23andMe and the Burden of Knowledge. This past December the genetic testing services $99 kit  for home use was withdrawn by the FDA for regulatory review. Coincidentally, Dan Ariely, the celebrated MIT behavioral economist, had seen the early offer. Curious, he’d made the kit available to his lab people and taken the test himself. When he got the results, he knew he wanted to put his research lens on it, because “this was standard, classic, even an exggerated case of information overload. I wanted to analyze it from the point of what we can do with this information, and what we should do.” Berinato’s interview is a tour de force with Ariely. You’ll also want to read some of the comments on Berinato’s interview. Just fascinating from the get-go.Flickr photo: Anne Marie Grgich
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MainstreamTo a significant degree much creative and innovative thinking is a rejection of conventional knowledge. Indeed, a strategic orientation to creativity may target conventional wisdom as a fundamental tactic. Outside the Mainstream will regularly bring articles, columns and research that challenges the conventional.

Adam Grant, 5 Myths About Introverts and Extraverts at Work Get ready to be challenged. Grant shoots down a number of old chestnuts built primarily on the MBTI. Long overdue, his research deals with how the two styles approach matters as diverse as networking, public speaking, relationships and even sales. So you won’t want to forget the ambiverts in the middle of the continuum. This will curdle some stomachs.

Susan Dominus, How to Get a Job with a Philosophy Degree. I’ve been holding this for February, about when graduating seniors start to get really serious about their job hunt. The recommendations don’t just apply to philosophy. And this is not just for seniors, but also for their parents. Maybe we need to learn not to be totally focused on majors that supposedly are a direct line to a career. Whatever. This is reassuring.

Peter Beinart, What Liberal Zionists Should Say When We’re Called Naive. If you get tired of the endless Israel/Palestine arguments, this is a smart, new take on the issue in Haaretz by the well-known Peter Beinart. It’s nuanced, clear, different and intriguing. Essentially, Beinart goes the third mile, arguing that though most Palestinians wish Israel didn’t exist, that doesn’t mean they can’t accept it as a tragic reality in exchange for a state of their own. And this, too, will curdle some stomachs.

Ana Marie Cox, If the 1% Wants Class Warfare, Maybe It’s Time to Start Fighting Back. With Tom Perkins WSJ article on income equality and speaking for the top 1%, the politics takes a new turn. Although Perkins backed off publicly from his statement that progressive radicalism is the descendant of Kristallnacht (the night when the Nazis carried out a series of attacks on Jews in Berlin). Perkins and his 1% economist see themselves as the underdog. Perkins thinks higher taxes will mean the “economic extinction” of the 1%. Nonsense! Cox is just the right person to go after Perkins, and she does a fine job.

Robert Samuelson, Why the UAW Lost. Since the attempt to unionize the Vokswagen plant in Chattanooga was supported by VW, many have interpreted the failure. But no one has done a better job of that than Samuelson. His interpretation serves as an analysis of the current state of the worker and unionism in America. He analyzes why, in spite of the union’s non-adversarial and collaborative approach, the vote failed.

Scott Berinato, Dan Ariely on 23andMe and the Burden of Knowledge. This past December the genetic testing services $99 kit  for home use was withdrawn by the FDA for regulatory review. Coincidentally, Dan Ariely, the celebrated MIT behavioral economist, had seen the early offer. Curious, he’d made the kit available to his lab people and taken the test himself. When he got the results, he knew he wanted to put his research lens on it, because “this was standard, classic, even an exggerated case of information overload. I wanted to analyze it from the point of what we can do with this information, and what we should do.” Berinato’s interview is a tour de force with Ariely. You’ll also want to read some of the comments on Berinato’s interview. Just fascinating from the get-go.

Flickr photo: Anne Marie Grgich

0 Comments

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