I wrote about the benefits of reading literary fiction for Harvard Business Review last week. I interviewed some really interesting people who are bringing guided literature discussions to a place you’d least expect: corporate America.
You can read my article, “The Case for Reading Fiction,” here. Come back and tell me you always knew reading fiction was good for the soul!
Do you think you could talk your organizational leadership into doing reading groups?
I’m an achievement addict, and I’m working on breaking that addiction.
Before I go on, I want to be clear that this isn’t a humble brag. This is not the equivalent of the person who walks around fake-lamenting about how they wish they weren’t so talented at absolutely everything! This isn’t about talent; it’s about a deep emotional attachment to defining myself by what I produce.
I’m talking about a mindset where the search for achievement overrides everything else. It’s a kind of obsession that drives every decision you make. It’s exhausting and it’s dangerous. It sustains ideologies about work that are bad for everyone. It’s a monolithic goal that stands in the way of happiness because it clouds judgment and overvalues production.
I’m pretty convinced these days that productivity often functions as a cult. Do you ever feel like you are committing a cardinal sin if you aren’t constantly trying to maximize your output and produce as much as possible? Do you feel guilty about not doing something productive? Do you fetishize being busy as a way of feeling important?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be in the productivity cult. And once in, it’s so hard to get out. So hard!
When your productivity practice becomes the goal — and you are no longer thinking about what you produce, how you produce it, and whether or not you should produce anything at all — you might have become a productivity cult member.
Don’t feel bad if you are card-carrying member because you are not alone. Let’s practice un-brainwashing together.
Tell me how you will resist the productivity cult.
Earlier this month, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, blamed Leonardo DiCaprio for setting forest fires in the Amazon rain forest. “Leonardo DiCaprio is a great guy, isn’t he?” President Bolsonaro said facetiously. Bolsonaro went on to say that DiCaprio “donat[ed] money to set the Amazon on fire” for his own personal gain.
DiCaprio responded on Instagram by reiterating his support for the people of Brazil and for the continued protection of the rain forest.
But the whole incident got me thinking: What if we could just blame everything on Leonardo DiCaprio? What if all the bad things in the world—real or imagined— could just be attributed to him? Wouldn’t that be cathartic?
So in no particular order, here are the things—real or imagined—I intend to blame on Leonardo from here on out:
He handwrites letters to children telling them there is no Santa Claus.
I have a secret vice: It’s productivity self-help literature. I read everything about it because I secretly believe that there’s some elusive–but ultimately accessible–method for producing more and more and more and more.
I’m here to say there is definitely a method for producing more. In fact, there are many methods. It turns out they aren’t so elusive, nor are they particularly hard to implement. Many of them work very well.
But I recently realized I’m asking the wrong question. Yes, I can be more productive, but the bigger question is should I be more productive? And if so, at what? All work isn’t good work.
When we talk about productivity, we lack the language to even interrogate the concept because we’ve built virtuousness right into the definition. We can’t examine, critique, or even question productivity without accidentally endorsing laziness, a cardinal sin in our culture. Questioning productivity is like trying to make an argument against generosity or kindness.
Anti-productivity is all about questioning what we are doing so that we can ensure we’re doing the right things.
I get that checking luggage is a giant pain. It takes longer upon arrival, not to mention that the airlines charge an arm and leg for our privilege of traveling with clean underwear.
In the past, I have traveled with just a carry-on bag, but I usually check my bag because I enjoy being able to shut the door in the tiny airport bathroom stalls that aren’t meant to accommodate luggage.
Now that everyone brings the largest carry-on possible, it takes three days to board the plane while people stow their steamer trunks. Upon landing, you have enough time to knit your own suitcase while you wait for everyone to find their overhead compartment and pull out their luggage filled with gold bricks.
I fully admit to being irrationally (and quietly) annoyed with people pretty much 132% of the time, so my latest rant about carry-on luggage should probably be filed along with my other public policy proposals to legally enforce silence in grocery stores and pass laws making small talk on planes punishable by immediate ejection.
Nevertheless, I propose that anyone who doesn’t have a carry-on should be allowed to exit the plane first. Anyone with a giant carry-on should be strategically placed in some kind of labeled area that we checked-bag-people can file past with superior smirks on our faces.
I know, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t been consulted by the airlines yet to discuss my amazing ideas. It’s probably because some fat cat airline CEO is flying on his private jet, fully funded by my checked bagged fees.
If I ever get a hold of that guy, though, I have some flowcharts I’d like to share with him.
Ever wonder why people believe in fake news? I used to believe it was confirmation bias, which is the usual explanation. Confirmation bias says we tend to believe what we want to believe based on what we already believe. In other words, if you have an abiding hatred for networking events, as I do, you’d be delighted to read a news story that says networking events are the leading cause of all natural disasters and were actually invented by Hitler. You and I would very much like to believe that story.
But it turns out that confirmation bias is only part of the problem. The real issue is that some people just don’t like to think. And it’s the lack of critical thinking that is keeping fake news from dying. We believe fake news because we don’t have enough energy, desire, or ability to think our way through it.
We’ve become inured to incivility because we just expect it. For instance, a million years ago, I worked in a shoe store on commission with a person who would tell customers that the rest of us were “new” and “didn’t know much.” She used that as a way to build her credibility so customers would ask for her. That’s incivility.
In another job, I had a senior co-worker who regularly asked me for personal favors (outside of work hours). If I said no to a request–like the time she asked me to take her to the airport at 4 am–she would pout and tell me that I “owed” her tasks at work to make up for this. That’s incivility.
A friend told me about a time she’d sent out an organization-wide email about the death of a colleague. She’d accidentally included a very small typo in the email that didn’t change the meaning of it. A co-worker called her and told her that she was unprofessional and should be ashamed of her shoddy work. That’s incivility.
So what can we do about incivility? We can kill it. We can refuse to stand for it. Here’s an article I wrote about how to do that.
What incivilities have you encountered? Have you been uncivil? (I admit that I’ve been guilty of incivilities.)