A path lit by words

Where writing and "real life" converge


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Doodle your way to creativity

A recent LinkedIn post described how teachers are encouraging doodling in the classroom to increase information retention and recall, and to deepen comprehension. It reminded me of a blog I wrote some years ago, after the New York Times ran an article titled Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price. Multiple studies quoted there suggested that juggling email, texts, phone calls, and all the other information that bombards us destroys our ability to concentrate and focus. Electronic multitasking, it said, “inflicts deep cuts on creativity and deep thought.” That is a problem not just for schoolchildren but also for executives and managers, since creativity has long been considered and remains a critical leadership competency.

Back then, I asked how we might reverse—or better yet, avoid—the damage and, in its place, foster creativity. One answer I found was surprising. Before we could text on our phones or check email (or our brackets during March Madness), when we were distracted or bored, we doodled. Doodling is good for us. It helps us remember things because it forces our brains to expend enough energy to stop us from daydreaming but not so much that we don’t pay attention.

Dashe & Thomson, purveyors of change management, training, and communication services, suggest that drawing has three benefits: It makes you a better thinker, as it aids recall while allowing you to see things from different perspectives; a better explainer, using pictures and stories to enhance communication; and a better information processor because drawing requires you to engage multiple senses.

Take that, electronic gadgets! Or not. Because if you look up doodling today, you will discover that the very instruments we demonized in 2010 have been put to use to help us doodle…electronically. There are stand-alone gadgets and many apps that work on your smart phone or tablet.

If doodling has changed, the importance of creativity has not. According to Joel Basgall in 5 Reasons Innovation is Crucial to Staying Ahead of the Competition, creativity is integral to innovation and innovation is what keeps a company competitive. As long ago as 2008, the Conference Board and the Americans for the Arts conducted a survey on workforce readiness called Ready to Innovate.  It asked three major questions:

  • Are U.S. businesses and K–12 school systems making the link between creative skill sets in the workforce and innovation?
  • Are businesses finding the creative talent they need to generate the innovative solutions and products demanded by the marketplace?
  • And what efforts are both of these groups making to train employees in the needed creative skills?

It concluded that educators and executives were not wholly aligned on the creative readiness of the U.S. workforce, based in large part on the limited availability of high school courses that help develop the creative skills employers seek: creative writing, music, dramatic arts, and studio arts. Most school districts offer them as electives, if at all.

Is it any wonder that reports in the intervening years indicate that creativity and innovation have not improved, or that businesses that seek creative talent are hard-pressed to find it? As funding for the arts diminishes ever more rapidly, shouldn’t we be worried that current and future employees will have no organized way to develop the creative skills that will keep our economy robust and our businesses successful?

Encouraging doodling in our schools is a meager solution, but soon it may be all we can afford. Fortunately, it doesn’t cost much to stimulate your brain the old-fashioned way: Pick up a pencil and doodle.


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Is Your Boss a Psychopath?

On the HBR Blog Network this month, Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries, Distinguished Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change at INSEAD, referenced The Wolf of Wall Street in his post, “Is Your Boss a Psychopath.” It took me back more than ten years, when I started to write a mystery novel—and realized I knew nothing about how villains think.

Forensic psychologist Barbara Kirwin introduced me to sociopaths and psychopaths in The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent. Kirwin used murderers, serial killers, and rapists to illustrate the distinction between insanity and evil. At the core is the M’Naghten Rule—the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Simply put, the psychopath knows the difference. S/he just doesn’t care.

Repelled and intrigued, I moved on to Robert Hare, Ph. D., whose forty-year career includes developing the psychopathy checklist and the P-scan to test for it. In Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, Hare points out the chilling fact that most psychopaths never go to prison. The rest—Hare refers to them as “subcriminal” psychopaths while others call them “successful”—are found in our churches, our governments, our schools, and—badum ching—our corporations.

It was 2002 and we’d just lived through the WorldCom and Enron scandals that gave us Bernie Ebbers, Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andrew Fastow. Hare’s book got me thinking about the CEOs, C-suite executives, and other managers I’d met over the years—some who destroyed one corporation and moved on to the next, others who seemed to thrive on using and abusing their employees. Hare showed me why psychopaths so often end up in leadership positions:  Their essential characteristics—such as superficial charm, self-confidence, and calm reaction to rapid change and chaos—make them attractive to corporate boards in troubled companies. More often than not, their lack of empathy, high tolerance for risk, and love of power sink the ship instead of turning it around.

In 2005, after more scandals had emerged, Fast Company published an article (also called “Is Your Boss a Psychopath?”) that quoted Hare and mentioned the B-scan, an assessment tool adapted by Hare and industrial psychologist Paul Babiak from the P-scan. “We screen police officers [for psychopathy],” Hare said at the time. “Why not people who are going to handle billions of dollars?”

Fast forward through ten years of corporate collapses and scandals and we still don’t have a screening tool suitable for an organizational setting. Apparently, it’s not easy to validate such a tool, and you have to believe there are legal issues. Psychological Assessment recently reported progress with the B-Scan 360, which uses ratings of others to measure an individual’s psychopathic features in workplace settings. Unfortunately, it still isn’t ready for prime time.

While we’re waiting, psychologists like Clive R. Boddy and others writing business and management articles and blogs are teaching us to spot these real-life villains, so we can eradicate them from our careers and our lives—and keep them in fiction, where they belong.