Month: May 2018

How Do We Know What We Know?

In recent weeks, a friend acquired a book by Rebecca Solnit, an author I admire.  I immediately offered to read it at the same time, in order to discuss it together.  Having read the book several years before, why return to this one when I had so many unread books in piles around the house? The answer comes in understanding how we know what we know.  That’s been on my mind recently as I’ve thought about topics as wide ranging as cultural norms, untold histories, political divisiveness, and generational perspectives. Just how do we—as humans—shape our personal world view? In rereading Solnit’s book, I came to the material at a very different time in my life and that of our country. I had vaguely remembered parts of the book from my first reading, but frankly there were whole sections that seemingly had escaped my notice or understanding the first time through.  But I also realized how much more of the book aligned with my current “model” of how the world works. And I don’t think …

Bad Stories

I am in the middle of an impressive yet troubling book by Steve Almond entitled Bad Stories.  This work about the American psyche in 2018, by the New York Times best-selling author and co-host of the Dear Sugars podcast (with fellow writer Cheryl Strayed), looks at the many reasons we came to be where we are today as a nation. There is much to consider in this work, and I may return to it in future posts.  But for now, I want to focus on stories—good and bad—and what they can mean personally and professionally for those of us who look to “tell the full American story.” Almond writes, “I’ve placed my faith in stories because I believe them to be the basic unit of human consciousness. The stories we tell, and the ones we absorb, are what allow us to pluck meaning from the rush of experience.”  He then quotes the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, who insists that our species came to dominate the world in part because of “our unique cognitive ability …

Work With Your Door Open

At a recent staff retreat, I urged everyone to “work with their door open.” It may have seemed like a strange request since we don’t have offices with doors in our headquarters at the National Trust, and many of our historic sites and field offices also utilize open plan design.  But whatever the personal office situation of those in the room, I was making the request in a more figurative sense. In an observation that isn’t original but aligns with my own, I have noticed that people who have the door to their office closed throughout the day may get more work done today and tomorrow, and may be more productive than most in the short term. However, several years later somehow they don’t quite know what problems are worth working on. All the hard work they do can be tangential in importance. On the other hand, those who work with the door open get all kinds of interruptions.  But they also occasionally get clues as to what is really going on in the world …

Procrastination

I’ll tell you all about the downsides of procrastination later.  When I get around to it. Seriously, indecisiveness can be bad.  Indecisiveness can also lead to better choices and better results. To discern which it is, we must understand why we may be waiting to make a decision. If you find yourself chronically putting off difficult tasks you know you should tackle, then you’ll find this path leads to the loss of time, the loss of respect of co-workers and family, and it can cost you in results. Perhaps when you are in a situation where you don’t enjoy or admire your work, you have to force yourself to push forward. When that happens, Paul Graham suggests, “the results are distinctly inferior.” However, if you are doing work you enjoy and still worry that you are indecisive, Graham and others see us making better choices with more creative outcomes by waiting for a more deliberate answer.  Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin says, “You call it procrastination,  I call it thinking.” “There are three variants of procrastination, depending …