The Mental Deadweight of Permission

Permission is the enemy of speed.

Everyone knows this. But I think what’s less discussed is the negative psychosomatic effect that permission has.

Just knowing that you have to ask permission adds a certain friction that makes everything a bit slower.

You have to think about the mood of the reviewer. You have to think about their availability. And you inevitably spend time wondering what the permission roadblocks are going to be. Even if a permission process normally happens quickly and efficiently, there are so many variables brought in that create mental friction for the creative.

That mental deadweight disappears with the disappearance of unnecessary permissioning. The total amount of time to create may not even significantly change with the de-permissioning of something. But, importantly, the total perceived amount of time to create does shrink, giving the creative person a serious morale boost and mental freedom.

For me, knowing that I don’t have to report hours or ask permission for overtime means I’m more likely to work longer. And knowing that I don’t have to ask permission to publish these blog posts means I find fewer excuses not to publish these every night. I don’t have to think about anything but the resistance to creativity that’s already there.

Don’t put up any more walls if you don’t have to – and (even if your permission processes are efficient) take a hard look to see if you can remove them. You’d be surprised by what a gift of speed de-permissioning can be to yourself and your colleagues.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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One More Reason People-Pleasing Fails

People-pleasing is a poor life strategy for many reasons – ones covered elsewhere by many people wiser than me. But let’s just do a quick rehearsal:

It projects weakness and invites domineering. It projects unoriginality/uncreativity and invites management. And it puts a locus of control and standards of quality and success wholly in the hands of other people, reducing you to the role of a butler instead of a trader.

But there is another simple, practical reason people-pleasing will betray the hard work of people-pleasers.

Assuming most people have a tendency to people-please (or at least to conform) – and they do – you can assume about most people what is true about yourself. Namely, most people will never have the confidence to tell you what they really want.

Remember the last time you asked for honest feedback and someone told you that you need more work-life balance, or that you should collaborate more with people, or that you should appreciate yourself more? Sort of feels like bullshit, right?

Most people find it hard to take opportunities (even ones handed to them) to truly voice the things they most want or think. I know I do.

Different people are differently comfortable with openly asking for things. Most of them hold back and repress a bit (or a lot) of what they really want, whether from some sense of fair play or from their own desire to please you.

Of course, (as with most people who repress emotions) they become resentful anyways when you fail to meet those unvoiced wants. The unvoiced wants just boil over later. You find out that your roommate expected you to iron his shirts (odd) or that your coworker wanted you to do his TPS reports (whatever the hell those are). Then you the people-pleaser will be shocked and confused. “Didn’t I do everything they wanted?”

So if you’ll never entirely win with doing what people ask for, what is the solution?

Once again, the old Steve Jobs dictum is true: that “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”

Your job is still to please people, of course, but it’s not to please people in the incomplete ways they tell you about.

The only way past the resentments and repressions and strange machinations of the human mind is surprise. If you deliver value that people aren’t looking for and didn’t know they wanted, you bypass all of the junk that would be owning you if you were just doing as you were told.

Instead of being ruled by the people you please, throw them a little off-kilter by taking the initiative yourself. You’ll be happier, they’ll be happier, and no one will have to live with the resentment of half-voiced wants and unchosen obligations.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Childhood Play and Independence Are Disappearing; Let Grow Seeks to Change That

Many of us are old enough to remember how childhood used to be. Our afternoons were spent outside playing with the neighborhood kids—no adults or cell phones in sight. Sometimes we got hurt, with occasional scraped knees or hurt egos, but we worked it out. We always knew we could go home. We had paper routes, mowed lawns, ran errands, and babysat at ages much earlier than we allow our own kids. What happened to childhood in just a generation that now prompts neighbors to call the police when they see an eight-year-old walking her dog?

The answer rests on a host of cultural changes over the last few decades. As Lenore Skenazy writes in her book, Free-Range Kids, the combination of 24-hour news media that often sensationalizes rare events like child abductions, as well as the introduction of true crime dramas, often make it seem like the world is less safe today than it used to be—despite crime statistics showing otherwise. As more mothers entered the workforce, demand for full-day kindergarten and after-school care surged, limiting opportunities for afternoon free play. Now, many parents don’t seem to value free play and childhood independence, preferring instead to focus their children’s time on structured, adult-led activities and organized extracurriculars. We have a generation of children today under constant surveillance.

I’m guilty of this, too—hovering over my kids more than I’d like to admit. I’m nervous when my older ones walk to the store or the library despite knowing that I walked much further at their age. I tell them to let me know when they arrive somewhere, although my mother said recently that it never occurred to her to ask the same of me when I was young. Despite a much safer childhood today, we worry more about children and subsequently limit their freedom and independence.

Let Grow

Some parents and educators are pushing back on this troubling trend. Skenazy is now president of Let Grow, a non-profit organization that she co-founded to help families and communities recapture childhood independence and play. One of their most successful initiatives involves teaming up with interested school districts across the country to assign Let Grow Projects to elementary and middle school students. Teachers tell their students to go home and do something independently that they haven’t done before—with their parents’ permission. Some of these projects might be to make themselves a sandwich or ride their bike to the store. As Skenazy told me in a recent interview: “This is so simple but so transformative. We are trying to renormalize letting go.”

Skenazy described one town in Connecticut that has implemented the Let Grow Project community-wide. She explained how an elementary school-age child rode his bike to a local market. At first, the shopkeepers were concerned. Where was the boy’s parent? Why was he alone? When he explained he was doing a Let Grow Project for school and his task was to go to the market by himself, the shopkeepers relaxed. As more children visited, the shopkeepers and customers became accustomed to welcoming children into the store. It became less unusual, less alarming—more like it used to be. All of the resources and suggestions for Let Grow Projects are available for free on the organization’s website and can be implemented by any interested family or group. “The reason we go through schools,” says Skenazy, “is so we can transform whole communities.” It’s not just the parents who are fearful of granting children more freedom and independence; it’s the community as a whole that is unaccustomed to seeing free and independent children.

That said, much of the change is focused on parents. The Let Grow Project encourages parents to give their children more autonomy, to allow kids to take age-appropriate risks and build resilience and confidence. When parents know that they are not the only ones in their community who are providing this freedom, they are more willing to try it. Once they do, they feel great joy in seeing their children successfully take on these solo challenges. Skenazy explains: “The reward for parenting is to let go so you can see what a great job you’ve done, what a great kid you’re raising. The joy is what rewires the parents.”

Bringing Back Play

While offering children more freedom and independence is a central goal of Let Grow, reclaiming childhood play is also a priority. With mounting research showing a link between the decline in play and the rise in childhood mental health disorders, Skenazy and her colleagues feel a sense of urgency in finding ways to bring back free play. The Let Grow Play Club is an initiative to get more schools to open up their playgrounds and gymnasiums for after-school free play. Adults are present to ensure safety, but the goal is for them to stay on the sidelines and allow children of mixed ages to make up their own games, work out their own conflicts, and build important life skills, like collaboration and compromise, through self-directed play. Unlike the Let Grow Project, the Play Clubs have been slower to catch-on. Skenazy thinks this is due in part to the additional, small expense of adult play supervisors, but it’s mostly related to a lack of demand for free play. “We need parents to recognize that these are the skills kids are going to need—resilience, organization, empathy, creativity, negotiation—rather than structured extracurriculars.”

It’s unfortunate, of course, that we need projects and play clubs to grant our children a taste of the freedom and fun we enjoyed as kids. But at a time when children have virtually disappeared from our neighborhood sidewalks and public spaces, efforts to reintroduce children into our communities and let them play should be widely embraced. Those of us who remember the value of an independent and play-filled childhood can be the ones to reintroduce this gift to today’s children.

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US Schools Are Leaving Students Ill-Equipped to Compete with Artificial Intelligence

We have long known that the robots were coming, but now that they are here, the mismatch between our modern education system and the technology-fueled workplace is glaringly apparent. As robots expertly perform routine tasks and increasingly assume broader workforce responsibilities, we must ask ourselves an important question: What is our key human differentiator?

The Power of Creativity

According to Boston University professor Iain Cockburn, who just published a new paper on the impact of artificial intelligence, the human competitive advantage lies in optimizing “what we can do better than machines, which is imagination, creativity, judgment.” In the paper, Cockburn and his colleagues suggest that it’s possible the robots will catch up to us soon in these realms, but they are not there yet. They write:

Instead, recent advances in both robotics and in deep learning are by and large innovations that require a significant level of human planning and that apply to a relatively narrow domain of problem-solving (e.g., face recognition, playing Go, picking up a particular object, etc.). While it is of course possible that further breakthroughs will lead to a technology that can meaningfully mimic the nature of human subjective intelligence and emotion, the recent advances that have attracted scientific and commercial attention are well removed from these domains.

If human imagination, creativity, and judgment are our primary tools for competing successfully with today’s robots, then it would make sense for current education models to focus on cultivating these qualities. The sad fact, however, is that most schooling is stuck in a 19th-century system of command and control, memorization, and regurgitation that may successfully train young people to be robotic workers but not innovative thinkers.

It’s Time to Adapt

Recognizing the inevitable effects of automation, artificial intelligence researchers have been calling for dramatic changes in the education of our youth since computers first appeared. One futurist was Seymour Papert, a renowned mathematician who became co-director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the 1960s.

Papert was a critic of education models based on top-down instruction and passive learning. He believed that “the model of successful learning is the way a child learns to talk, a process that takes place without deliberate and organized teaching.” So firm was his vision of the ways technology could facilitate authentic learning, Papert foreshadowed the end of conventional schooling. In his 1980 book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas, Papert writes that “schools as we know them today will have no place in the future.”

Of course, Papert’s vision hasn’t emerged. Other than the ubiquity of computers, most present schooling looks remarkably similar to schooling in the 1980s, and passive learning and a teach-and-test approach to education endures. American public school students now take more than one hundred required standardized tests from preschool through high school graduation—a number that has skyrocketed in recent years. At the same time, their creativity scores are plummeting. College of William & Mary professor Kyung Hee Kim discovered that American creativity scores have been falling precipitously since the early 1990s, with elementary school-age children experiencing the sharpest drop in creativity.

We should all be alarmed. If human creativity is our key competitive advantage against robots, and that creativity is declining, the forthcoming workplace disruption and job losses that will accompany increased automation will be more severe than they otherwise should be. Some educators suggest doubling down on efforts to foster creativity. John Maeda, the former president of Rhode Island School of Design, said in an interview:

I wouldn’t say [creativity] can be taught in the normal sense of adding knowledge and wisdom to someone. I would say instead it can be re-kindled in people—all children are creative. They just lose their capability to be creative by growing up.

But it’s not a consequence of growing up that causes creativity to decline: It’s our antiquated system of forced schooling that was designed to crush creativity in the name of conformity. As I spotlight in my upcoming book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, young people who learn without school, or in other non-coercive learning environments, retain their natural creativity and curiosity. We don’t need to rekindle creativity; we need to stop destroying it.

To compete with robots, we need an education model that nurtures human imagination and ingenuity. Forced schooling is ill-equipped to do this, but models of learning without conventional schooling are ideally positioned to take on the pending robot challenge.

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No, It’s Not the Degree

I often see people say things like, “Sure, they say you don’t need a fancy degree to get the job, but then they hire people with fancy degrees.”

It’s not because companies are lying about not needing a degree. It’s because candidates are totally lame and uninteresting.

In a pool of generic, flat, 2D resumes and applications, the better formal credential will get more attention, because there’s nothing else to go on. In such a pool it’s also true that anyone who can show anything more interesting than a paper credential will also get more attention. That is a really low bar.

Degrees are incredibly weak, flabby signals. Anyone with average or above intelligence, drive, or ambition is undersold by the signal of a degree, since they are already capable of proving more with just a tiny bit of creativity and work.

Don’t blame the credential. Be more interesting.

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Dear Women: You ARE Your Body, And That Isn’t A Bad Thing; It’s Your Power

The mind/body duality is as fundamental to universal nature as masculine/feminine duality. If you don’t believe in masculine/feminine energy polarities or that there are “masculine” traits and characteristics as well as “feminine” ones, then maybe just stop reading because this article probably isn’t for you. If you do have a deep or even general understanding of this, then continue on…

When it comes to qualities and strengths of the mind and body, it seems fair enough to conclude that the mind is used for more masculine energies (reason, logic, intellect, etc) and the body holds more feminine energy (intuition, flow, sensing, where emotions are stored and felt).

In my opinion, one simple way to break down and describe what so many people call “the patriarchy” is to say it’s a society that fundamentally operates in a way that values the mind (intellect/doing) over the body (intuition/feeling). 

We see this played out everywhere, one of the most obvious and pervasive is the ideology of science and the use of charts, graphs, and measurements to “prove” if something is true or untrue. Science is typically seen as “fixed” and “settled.” There is no room for personal accounts, stories, things that are felt but not seen, etc.

This isn’t to say science is wrong or bad at all. I am simply suggesting that it might not be the ONLY means to discovery. Our dismissal of things like magic, energetics, intuition, and all things meta is a sign of masculine dominance, as these things were quite common and well understood in past times. Some radical feminists point out that the process and politics of modern science is a projection and influence of the western man’s values. Here is an excerpt I like from an article by Dr. Kelly Brogan:

Ever heard the phrase, “…the science is settled?” If so, it didn’t come from the mouth of a true scientist. Scientific dogmas create taboos – things you’re not allowed to ask about or talk about, let alone study and research. But science is not a destination…it is a process of discovery. Moreover, it is a means of studying and honoring the wonder around us and within us. When science is bound and arrested by dogmatic beliefs, it becomes an eviscerated religion that can be co-opted for political gain and control.

Rupert Sheldrake is a brilliant renegade scientist and theorist with this to say on the matter:

“We are, many of us, waking up from a several century long slumber induced by Scientism – the dogmatic belief in the dominant narrative of science as religion. As we wake up to nuance, to new science that defies the old, and to a complexity that often leads us to an awareness of all that we don’t know, those Scientism believers will become more and more uncomfortable. These people may be your family, your doctors, or even your formerly trusted media reporters. They may foam at the mouth and threaten violence at the suggestion that Scientism’s sacred cows (pharmaceuticals, bioengineered foods, industrial chemicals) are not what we have been lead to believe. Stay strong and reconnect to the elegance of a world of natural design, harmony, and regeneration.”

Another way we witness the unconscious cultural belief of mind > body is through this idea that women’s bodies are  “objects” and we should stop appreciating and wanting their beautiful, sexy bodies and instead pursue them for their mind/intellect/creativity. Again, not that the latter qualities are not important, but why isn’t the body seen as equally significant, desirable and powerful?

Ironically, it’s typically other women who I see most demanding to be noticed and recognized for the qualities they possess in their mind, while mocking and ridiculing anything body-centric, essential to female biology (which is a damn powerhouse), is focused on appreciating the female form, or uses intuition as a compass for living.

One might call this the real “internalized misogyny.” The deeply unchecked belief that the mind is more valuable than the body.

In a world where we are so divorced from our bodies and mostly live in the mind, the mind is seen as superior, and all of our ideas and advocating for reform are still rooted in these masculine values of systems, intellect, tests, logic, data, etc…

To me, the new feminism would be a return to embodiment. Yet, as it stands today, it seems we still generally believe the mind is the more sophisticated and trusted between the two, while we depreciate the body as the weaker one. Something susceptible that is to be feared and not trusted. Just a powerless “object” that acts as a distraction to men, couldn’t possibly know when and how to give birth, and offers no healing in and of itself.

I believe if women owned the power of their body, heart, and sex, and made embodiment their practice, that is to say, focused on radically changing “in here” rather than trying to change how everyone responded to us “out there,” then we would see shifts in our world beyond what we could ever imagine.

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