Are we really different?

People think they are different if they have different colors, races, nationalities, gender, age, languages, religions, beliefs, social capital, financial capabilities, cognitive and mental abilities, or even values and principles. Maybe we are just temporarily different but we are all humans.  I am not a big fan of computer jargon or using technology as metaphors, but it is the closest I found so far to serve my argument. Here it is: our hardware is the same “have identical physiology “and our operating system is the same “have similar needs”. The only difference is our installed applications; I mean we are all programmed to behave differently when we come across similar situations. Yes, we are different in terms of what we believe and do, at the end of the day though, we are still the same species.

The fallacy is that we do believe we are born different. Our differences are perceived not permanent. We change our beliefs at least once over the course of our lives and our attached behaviors change accordingly. We are all equal because we are the same. This is common sense, but as one said: “common sense is not common” the reality is that we behave based on the false assumption of that we are different because we have different genes. Think about the countless times you hated or disgraced or stayed away from other people just because you thought they have different colors, values, religious beliefs, etc… then either your life circumstances make you see the other side of them and completely forget about the differences and consider them trivial, or you might change your values yourself and start building a new criteria for good or bad humans, making yesterdays’ aliens your today’s best friends. The opposite situation is also true; you start a relationship with someone because he or she belongs to the same social group, or speaks the same language or has the same nationality, then you find out that he or she is different, the relationship eventually dies and you then start over with someone from a different background.

We all need a wake-up call every once and while, something that can awaken the human within us, update our system and uninstall the outdated programs. A book, a neutral but constructive feedback could act as the antivirus against biases and shallow stereotypes. The best bet is everyday’ reflection, five or ten minutes every day would gradually challenge our comfort zone and status-quo and make us immune from drifting into the illusion of permanent differences.



The Perception of Fairness and the Principle of Cumulative Advantage


Fairness and the Principle of Cumulative Advantage

I would like to start with a short story this time. A middle-class family of seven brothers and three sisters were raised together in a 3 bedroom apartment. They were educated, yet, the lack of resources and the absence of good parenthood created ongoing interpersonal conflict between the siblings. The father wanted to let his eldest two boys to do their undergrad in a different country to pursue majors that were not available then in their homeland country. That created extra financial burdens on the family and led some of the younger siblings to think that their father favors the elder brothers. Many years after, the siblings built their own families, but the envy feeling inside them grew even more.  Whenever they faced a life obstacle, challenge or financial hardship, they blamed their father and their elder brothers for that. They perceived any academic or career achievement of their eldest brothers or even their children as cumulative advantage because of the preferential treatment and unfairness of the father. They thought the the elder brothers are richer and their children are more educated just because of they got the opportunity to study abroad while the other siblings didn’t get the same opportunity.

Fairness in its simplest definition is the perception of justice.  It correlates with the principle of the cumulative advantage. The stronger the enabling environment for cumulative advantage, the more inequality and unfairness we get, and eventually, we end up with a malfunctioning society. Although the siblings story is not necessarily about cumulative advantage, yet it illustrates the perception the people get when they feel that they were not treated equally at least within the same group.

A classical example of of cumulative advantage is when a teacher treats students differently. If the teacher gives some student more attention than the other students, those who are treated better tend to succeed more, get better grades and get more rewards. The more rewards they get, the better performers they are expected to be. The gap between them and those who were not treated equally will get bigger till they get a better social, financial status. You can apply this example to any context you want.


What is misleading about Leadership?


Have you asked yourself how many leadership publications are out there? Textbooks, academic papers, best sellers, professional articles, feel-good and airport books, newspapers and magazine columns, blogs…? Guess a number and then go and google the word “Leadership” and see if you are close. On Amazon only there more than 100,000 results when you look for the word “Leadership”. We are only talking about those written in English, what about those who were written in other languages?  You do the math!

Why that many?  Maybe because Leadership has been always an interesting and hot subject to talk about. Fortune 500 companies, top business schools, among many others spend billions of dollars annually on executive leadership training and leadership development programs with the assumption that, leadership really matters, and leaders are actually the main reason behind the rise and fall of their organizations. In the past, the “leadership” term had been has been misled by mostly associating it with the power of authority. I would argue that one of the main reasons behind this countless number of books and articles is just to introduce the new meaning of leadership.  We know that at this is not necessarily the case anymore, yet we are having a new and a bigger dilemma, which is what is leadership?  A lot of us think that you can name almost any positive trait and it should be fine if you call it a leader trait, decisiveness, honesty, supportive, smart, visionary, aware, etc…

Almost every single day, another scholar, best-seller to be, celebrity CEO or entrepreneur, rises to the fame by claiming that he/she has found the DNA of true leadership and broken the source code of it by introducing the new, ever right, the bulletproof and magic model of leadership, that if followed, we will have more leaders who could solve the problem of the worlds. You can imagine how many definitions for “Leadership” we would end up with! Again, you do the math.

The question is leadership that complicated so we need that endless resources of academic and nonacademic books and training to fill that gap of knowledge. I would say not really!

My assumption is that, although we have different types of leaders, the leadership process could be similar to a large distinction in any given situation. Look at how a scholar would define Leadership:  “Taking responsibility for seeing what is needed and acting with integrity to influence and support others so they commit to achieving new goals” (S. Green).

I am certainly not claiming that this the flawless definition of leadership, and I would be falling in the same trap if I did so, but the question that should addressed: How many definitions for leaders and leadership we have to come up with to confuse more people and end up with more leader-like and less true leaders who can solve the problems of th world.For now, I will take this definition for granted so I can have something to start with, but I will be tackling tomorrow a question, that I believe hasn’t not been tackled enough. When Not to lead?

So you think you are Innovative?


Most of the people I know –or do not know- use creativity and innovation interchangeably when they want to refer to new ideas, technology, design, product or service.  If you ask a random person about the difference; he or she may not know or even may not care. We all would agree on the word “New” as one of the first words –if not the very first- that could jump to your mind when you think about either innovation or creativity, yet what comes after the “new” part is what actually matters. Here is why: Ask yourself how many ideas you generate every day, every hour or even every minute, Ten? Hundreds? More? Ok, they are not all “wow” ideas, but they are still ideas. To make them great ideas, they should be different and applicable. Freeing your mind, practicing to unlearn common practice and practicing to be original when possible, would be the first step toward unleashing the “creative you” and boost the flow of crazy ideas of your mind, in which others might see them as brilliant ones.

Let’s assume that you agree with me, now draw a picture of a pyramid of three levels in your mind, the base is everybody, the middle level is for creative people, the highest level, is definitely reserved for those whom I call “innovative” .

Antoine Ego, a fictional character said once: “Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist *can* come from *anywhere”. That should tell you where I am going and what I am trying to get across with this endless introduction. Here is the takeaway: If creativity is about ideas, Innovation is about action. If you have the ability to generate ideas and wow people every time you speak, you are creative, but if you are the type of person who goes and make something (new) happen, and then you are innovative. Scale that up to a macro level (organizational level). Corporate who are obsessed with hiring creative employees without having a system in place to implement their ideas, they are actually creativity killers. A system them takes its input of creative ideas of everybody with cascading sponsorship of senior leadership would definitely create an enduring organization with a competitive advantage (public and non-profits are not exceptions). They would be more as Innovation Leaders rather than creative by coincidence.

This chart says it best:


Based on this definition of innovation and creativity, try to re-categorize friends, celebrity entrepreneurs, fortune 500 companies, … whom you considered creative or innovative in the past and see if this fits with them anymore.

Boiler Up and Hammer Down


Such a great feeling of honor to stick to (study and work) a prestigious BigTen institution like Purdue. the footprint of people like Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, John Wooden, the best basketball coach and leadership guru of all time, Ichi Negishi, a Nobel laureate, and (Iyad Yacoub soon!) has largely impact our world.

Over and above, Purdue attracts the world business leaders. Last week for example, Jeffrey R. Immelt, the CEO of General Electric and the successor of the Jack Welsh, came to Purdue and co-delivered an exceptional speech with Purdue president Mitch Daniels (Syrian-origin from Homs and former governor of Indiana) on how innovation and talent development affect GE’s global business environment.

GE has been the top employer of Purdue graduates over the most recent five-year period. (Exactly, WoW!)
This is the third CEO of a Fortune 500 company I had the pleasure to personally attend their speeches at Purdue (Sam Allen of John Deere in 2010 and Robert McDonalds of Proctor & Gamble in 2012).

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