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How Leaders Help People Find Real Hope in the Face of a Pandemic

Like many leaders, my clients are scrambling to adapt to this new “virtual reality” of uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. And now physical distancing will continue through the end of April. In the face of not knowing how best to communicate with their people—what to say, how to say it, when to say it—they are grasping at straws. Afraid of saying the wrong thing and making people more anxious, leaders are tripping over their words and intentions, missing the one thing their people want most: hope.

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The Value of Psychological Flexibility During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic, and our response to it, has foisted considerable uncertainty into the personal and professional lives of humans across the planet. Lockdowns, travel restrictions, physical distancing, and the shift to remote work has the potential to seriously stress and compromise how well both individuals and organizations function. Left unchecked, the economic and personal costs may be devastating. This raises the question: “What might we be doing now to promote individual and organizational resilience and well-being?” Fortunately, a construct from the behavioural-change sciences with documented links to human health and well-being may prove useful in navigating the COVID-19 storm: psychological flexibility.

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The C.R.A.P. Framework for Addressing Workplace Bullshit

Call me naive but I was shocked as an undergraduate to see, in a serious book about George Orwell, an unserious profanity preceding the table of contents. Within the first few pages I read that the author, Christopher Hitchens, dedicated his book “To Robert Conquest — premature anti-fascist, premature anti-Stalinist, poet and mentor, and founder of the ‘united front against bullshit.’” This, in a work of sober historical scholarship, made an impression on me. Naturally, I became curious about what this “united front against bullshit” was but, alas, after some searching, I never found out. This admirable “front” was perhaps an inside joke among literary and humorous friends.

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The Philosopher-for-Hire Who Says Meaningful Work Is an Illusion

Over the last decade, Andrew Taggart has made a name for himself. Outlets like Quartz and Big Think have described him as a gadfly-for-hire, a practical philosopher who offers his conversational and philosophical acumen to the likes of Silicon Valley venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, among others. He told The Guardian that he has executives question whether the existence of their company, or its products, is “actually justified.” Taggart admits the term practical philosopher is redundant. Philosophy, or the love of wisdom, is inherently about action—about what to do, and how. He claims to be a philosopher in the “true sense,” someone concerned with asking and seeking to answer basic questions—about the self, about reality, about the good life—not merely as an intellectual exercise or pursuit, but as a mode of living. It’s not enough to answer  these questions in words, in other words. “The ultimate answer to these ultimate questions,” Taggart wrote to me, in an email, “is how one actually lives” (emphasis his).

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What Management Model Best Stems the Spread of COVID-19?

After reaching pandemic proportions, the novel coronavirus is a perfect example of a high conduct-risk challenge. The rate at which COVID-19 will continue to spread will largely depend on how people manage the risk of contagion and whether they take a number of precautionary measures. Not only can adherence to certain sanitary steps, travel advisories, and quarantine requirements help contain the spread, but it can also reduce more lethal virus mutations in the future. While following safety norms and precautionary guidelines seems the most rational way to act at this point, it is not necessarily how people will most likely behave. As reported in recent news stories, even when exposed to elevated risk, people may selfishly ignore quarantine requirements. Moreover, while safety norms can be especially beneficial when the pandemic is more or less contained, it is precisely at such times that they may be overlooked.

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When Surveillance Is Self-Defeating

In February, Barclays Bank in the United Kingdom announced that it would end a staff-monitoring scheme after the Trades Union Congress accused the bank of using “dystopian Big Brother employment practices.” However, numerous American other companies have already adopted similar approaches, apparently without facing the same backlash. Last year, The Wall Street Journal detailed similar practices at other organizations including Microsoft and Freddie Mac. These companies are tracking the frequency of all forms of communication to analyze relationships, identify socially influential employees, and identify fraud risk. Some employees have embedded microchips for entering buildings, using vending machines, and more. This future of hyper-surveillance we’re arguably facing, where “technological progress,” according to Bloomberg, “is moderate, but a proliferation of sensors allows firms to create value by capturing and analyzing more information on objects, people and the environment,” suggests that behavioral science will grow in the 2020s. The long-term implications and unintended consequences of this are a very long way from being understood.

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The Case for Diversifying the Prototypical Leader

Earlier this month, the commercial real-estate company WeWork, tarnished by financial implosion, hired as its new CEO an industry veteran, Sandeep Mathrani, who’s handled some remarkable turnarounds. He’s revived some suburban malls, for instance, the sort of place online shopping has largely put to rest. WeWork must be hoping Mathrani can work his mall magic for them. The company will, somehow, have to profit from office-space rent in an era when more and more people, like me, either opt to work from home or commute to a less-traditional office. Mathrani, according to Forbes, “could create a new WeWork model of ‘live, work, shop’—with a lot less play than the old WeWork model.”

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Five Takeaways from the Luanda Leaks

In 2013, National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked a large volume of highly classified information to investigative journalists, inspiring a new generation of whistleblowers. Since then, we’ve all been given access to the Panama and Paradise Papers. Last week brought the latest revelatory data dump: The Luanda Leaks have provided damaging new insight into business dealings and corporate relationships of Isobel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s former president. Here are five takeaways.

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Is There a Problem with Meaningful Work?

The eminent philosopher Bertrand Russell, who died exactly 50 years ago at the impressive age of 97, once penned a polemic lauding laziness. Beginning on a humorous note—he wrote of having hopes that, after reading his essay, the leaders of the YMCA would “start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing”—Russell went on to underline the gravity of what he was proposing. “I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work,” he wrote, “and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.” The eight-hour work day, he argued, should be halved. “If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day,” he wrote, “there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment—assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization.” Yet, far from diminishing from life, work today has instead permeated it to an alarming degree.

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Meet Alison Taylor, Ethical Systems’ New Executive Director

Over the years I’ve found it common, interviewing people, to hear that their line of work wasn’t what they envisioned for themselves. A game theorist I spoke to not too long ago, for example, had originally planned to study spacetime but now he models cooperation. Recently, I was curious about the sort of response I’d get from Alison Taylor, the new Executive Director at Ethical Systems.

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