TIME psychology

Team Building: How to Use Moneyball at the Office to Build Great Teams

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, his exhaustive study of great teams and leaders.

He holds Nucor up as a prime example of perfect team building. These guys were so devoted they chased lazy employees out of the factory.

Via Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t:

The Nucor system did not aim to turn lazy people into hard workers, but to create an environment where hardworking people would thrive and lazy workers would either jump or get thrown right off the bus. In one extreme case, workers chased a lazy teammate right out of the plant with an angle iron.

And the best people are worth it.

Yes, they’re that much better. There are Michael Jordans in every industry.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

There are enormous and well-documented differences between the best and worst performers in numerous endeavors. Psychologist Dean Keith Simonton, who has spent his career studying greatness and genius, concludes: “No matter where you look, the same story can be told, with only minor adjustments. Identify the 10 percent who have contributed the most to some endeavor, whether it be songs, poems, paintings, patents, articles, legislation, battles, films, designs, or anything else. Count all the accomplishments that they have to their credit. Now tally the achievements of the remaining 90 percent who struggled in the same area of achievement. The first tally will equal or surpass the second tally. Period.”

Office workers are no different.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

…superior workers in jobs requiring low skill produced 19 percent more than average workers, superior workers in jobs requiring high skill were 32 percent more productive, and for professionals and managers, superior performance produced 48 percent more output than average performers.

And the above is probably just worthless and depressing information to almost everyone reading this.

You know why?

 

Most people don’t work with the top 2 percent

You’re probably shocked some of your co-workers can dress themselves and find the door out of the house in the morning.

With good reason. A lot of people are just plain dumb.

Via Competitive Advantage Through People: Unleashing the Power of the Work Force:

In an article reporting the declining position of the United States in world trade in telecommunications equipment, the New York Telephone company reported that “it tested 57,000 job applicants in 1987 and found 54,900, or 96.3%, lacked basic skills in math, reading, and reasoning.” A human resource planning document prepared at the Bank of America in 1990 reported that “Chemical Bank in New York must interview 40 applicants to find one who can be successfully trained as a teller”; “at Pacific Bell in Los Angeles, 95% of the 3,500 people who recently took a competency test for entry-level jobs not requiring a high school education failed”; and “at Motorola,80% of its applicants cannot pass a simple 7th grade English comprehension or 5th grade math test. At Bell South in Atlanta, fewer than 1 in 10 applicants meet all qualification standards.”

This is why team building can be a nightmare and most advice is useless: Everyone says “get the best” and that’s rarely an option.

What’s a far more realistic approach?

How do you find diamonds in the rough?

How can you do Moneyball in the average workplace and find the undervalued players who already surround you?

 

Look For The Round Peg In The Square Hole

Research shows we give too much weight to individual personality and efforts and too little to context.

Put an A player in an impossible role and PRESTO! — watch them become indistinguishable from a C player.

This is what the investigative commission realized after the Columbia space shuttle tragedy — NASA was so badly organized that it made good employees into poor performers.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

…the Columbia Accident Investigation board was dismayed to see that, although most of the people had been changed, the same system produced the same mistakes 17 years earlier–it was a system that made it difficult for smart people to do smart things.

Look for the obviously bright people who are struggling in spots where they’re all but set up to fail.

When you’re team building, those are the people you want to steal.

This is how Brad Bird made the Pixar film “The Incredibles.” He targeted the brilliant but floundering.

In an interview with McKinsey Quarterly he said:

I said, “Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to. Give us all the guys who are probably headed out the door.” A lot of them were malcontents because they saw different ways of doing things, but there was little opportunity to try them, since the established way was working very, very well. We gave the black sheep a chance to prove their theories, and we changed the way a number of things are done here.

And with that he made a great movie and helped keep innovation alive at Pixar.

 

He Makes Ten Times As Many Errors? PERFECT!

You might want to consider that employee who makes ten times as many errors.

Seriously.

Teams that reported 10 times the number of errors had the best leadership and best coworker relationships.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

In the mid-1990s, Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmundson, and the Harvard physicians funding her research, were flabbergasted when nurse questionnaires showed that the units with bestleadership and best coworker relationships reported making 10 times more errors than the worst.

Huh?

Everybody makes errors. These teams actually reported them all. So they learned. And got better. And trusted each other.

The real danger was the people who were sweeping errors under the rug — but those are the people who got the best reviews from bosses.

Via Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management:

Edmondson and colleague Anita Tucker concluded that those nurses whom doctors and administrators saw as most talented unwittingly caused the same mistakes to happen over and over. These “ideal” nurses quietly adjust to inadequate materials without complaint, silently correct others’ mistakes without confronting error-makers, create the impression that they never fail, and find ways to quietly do the job without questioning flawed practices. These nurses get sterling evaluations, but their silence and ability to disguise and work around problems undermine organizational learning.

We rarely get the obvious A players.

But the true A players are not always obvious.

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Related posts:

10 Research-Backed Steps To Building A Great Team

Checklist: Are you doing these five things to be more effective at work?

What 5 insights can you learn from the best book on management ever?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 28: A Spiritual Retreat

Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014.
Turkish faithful pray in Ottoman-era Sultanahmet mosque, known as Blue mosque, on "Laylat Al Qadr" during the holy month of Ramadan, in Istanbul late July 23, 2014. Yagiz Karahan—Reuters

Without silence, we cannot hear the voice of our deepest inner soul or of our well reasoned minds.

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

I’m writing this piece at 5am after spending the whole night in what can be called a spiritual retreat (itikaf in Arabic). Thousands of millions of Muslims worldwide spend a day or a few days in the last ten nights of Ramadan secluded away from worldliness to focus solely on their relationship with God.

Every year, I look forward to this spiritual retreat, no matter how short, because it offers an opportunity to just hit the pause button on the hectic life that I, like so many others, live. The retreat is made up of long and thoughtful prayer, chanting of God’s names and praises, recitation of the Qur’an, contemplation of prophetic sayings and biographies, and so on. It is an experience in spiritual immersion where the minutes and hours seem to matter very little other than to organize one’s devotions.

The benefit to this retreat is that it truly brings comfort to the soul. As the Qur’an says, “Surely, in the remembrance of God do hearts find tranquility” (13:28). The Qur’an recited is so soothing for the soul. God’s names chanted in rhythmic tone with people you come to love is an awesome feeling. But, it’s also something more than that — it’s a supernatural presence that you begin to warm up to over the course of the retreat. It’s a presence that seems to be there all along, but really comes alive, or we become alive to it, when there is complete focus and attention on the spiritual. “God is with you wheresoever you may be” and “We [meaning the majestic ‘We’] are closer to you than your jugular vein,” says God in the Qur’an (57:4 and 50:16).

In this way, the mind and soul receive new openings whereby realities begin to become clearer. It is no coincidence that the Prophet Muhammad first received revelation when he was in deep, deep contemplation and after many years of regularly engaging in a spiritual retreat off in the mountains.

Beyond, the experience, engaging in a spiritual retreat also forces one to live an examined life — to truly reflect on the life lived and the life that is yet to be lived. Being away from the world and focused on matters of the soul makes you take a long hard look in the spiritual mirror. The character and habits you have acquired, the addictions and preoccupations you have developed, and so on come into full focus. The early Muslim sage and second caliph of Islam, Umar ibn al-Khattab (d.644), used to say: “Take yourself to account before you are taken to account.” Meaning, from a believer’s perspective, before that inevitable day of standing before God arrives after death, the believer should examine the state of their faith and the book of their deeds. Where goodness is found, steadfastness is prescribed; where shortcomings are found, reform is needed before it’s too late.

In these times that we live in, there seems to be a social need if not obligation to spend sometime in retreat as individuals and as communities. The world in an age of technology can be so overwhelmingly consuming that sometimes it’s hard to find even a minute to think and reflect. We’re used to so much stimulation that quietude almost feels unnerving. But, without silence we cannot hear the voice of our deepest inner soul or of our well reasoned minds. We simply need to disconnect in order to reconnect.

And, as a community, retreats might help us elevate ourselves to a collectively higher spiritual and ethical plane. Too often we get stuck accepting the norm or simply defending ourselves from the “outside” world. Sometimes, and increasingly so, we need to be honest and self-critical of where we are and where we should be as a religious community.

If the 1.6 billion Muslims went on a spiritual retreat together, I think we’d discover that there are many reforms we need to undertake and that our problems are not just some Western conspiracy theory. There is too much bloodshed, too much unhealthy patriarchy, and too little prioritizing of social justice in our community today. Small and silly issues are debated many times over while big and much more serious issues — by any measure including what the Qur’an prioritizes as issues of concern for believers — are woefully neglected.

I pray and hope, against all hope, that the collective experience of a spiritual retreat this Ramadan will move us toward greater introspection and better days ahead. But, for any sort of social reform to happen, it will require a few good women and men to take the serious issues more seriously and to leave off childish games of deflection and blame.

“Let there arise out of you a group of people who invite to all that is good, enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong,” commands the Qur’an (3:104). It is high time we, as Muslims, heed this command by supporting good wherever it is happening and by initiating the good wherever we find it to be lacking. It takes courage, wisdom, and much more. But, it all begins with introspection that comes out of a much needed spiritual retreat.

TIME Disasters

Fear of Flying: Don’t Be Fooled By the Scary News—Air Travel Is as Safe as Ever

If you're like most people, the temptation is to swear off air travel, at least for a while. But you've reached the wrong conclusion.

+ READ ARTICLE

The news from the skies couldn’t get grimmer. In just the week since Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was brought down by a missile strike in Ukraine, killing 298 people, two more planes have gone down or gone missing: On July 23, a TransAsia flight crashed off Taiwan, killing 58 people, probably due to turbulence caused by typhoon Matmo; this morning an Air Algerie plane with 116 people aboard disappeared from radar and is thought to have crashed off of Mali, another possible victim of weather. And all of this comes in the wake of the still-mysterious March 8 disappearance of Malaysian Air flight 370, with 239 people aboard.

If you’re like most people, the temptation is to swear off air travel, at least for a while. And, like most people, you’ve reached the wrong conclusion.

Human beings are very good at a lot of things, but we’re terrible when it comes to risk assessment. That’s not our fault; we’re wired that way. If the tiger comes from one patch of the forest, you avoid that patch. If snakes are in one fruit tree you never return to it. But the modern world presents a whole lot more complexity than our still slowly developing brains are equipped to handle. And few things flummox us more than airplanes.

Start with the fact that we can’t wrap our brains around how they work in the first place. Yes, there are engines and lift and flaps and who-knows what all keeping them up. But the fact is, a fully loaded 747 weighs 975,000 lbs and attains a top speed of 570 mph at altitudes exceeding 6.5 mi. That kind of machine just shouldn’t work and so we always half-assume it won’t.

There is, too, the much discussed helplessness attendant to buckling yourself into an airline seat, obeying all the rules about seat backs and tray tables and turning off electronic equipment and when you can jolly well get up to go to the bathroom. When you’re behind the wheel, you feel like you’re in control. When an anonymous pilot is at the stick, you feel like little more than cargo.

The occasional rash of disasters like the recent ones don’t help matters any. But the fact is, those are just statistical clusters — the airline equivalent of a few people in one country developing a rare form of cancer, which gets people looking for an environmental toxin or some other cause, when in fact it may just be random numbers at play. Yes, flying into a war zone or the teeth of a typhoon is going to increase the danger that something very bad is going to happen to you. But avoid those obvious no-go zones and the odds are very good you’ll be just fine.

In 2010, according to a report by the U.N.’s Civil Aviation Organization, there were a breathtaking 30,566,513 commercial departures worldwide. Yet, according to an authoritative site that tracks all departures and arrivals, there were only 12 crashes of planes carrying more than 18 people and only three of them resulted in more than 99 fatalities. Those deaths were an unspeakable tragedy for the people who lost their lives and the families they left behind, but in the cold calculus of probability, they’re less than a rounding error compared to all the people who flew aboard those 30.5 million flights.

Despite such low individual odds, one thing that scares us off of airplanes is the unavoidably uneven distribution of the crashes that do occur. So the 35 commercial accidents in 1968 and 1969, the 34 in 1972 and 1973, and the 33 in 1989, would have likely had a lot of people reaching for their car keys and hitting the roads instead. And it’s worse when one of the crashes is especially notorious — such as the Dec. 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which directly preceded 1989′s string of comparatively bad luck.

The Sept. 11 attacks, of course, are the darkest example of all. The two flights that brought down the World Trade Towers alone top the list of the world’s worst air disasters, with the 2,907 deaths easily outdistancing the two-plane runway accident that claimed 583 lives on Tenerife in the Canary Islands in 1977.

Air travel suffered badly in the wake of Sept. 11, but so, it turned out, did some of the people who avoided the planes. From October to December 2001 there were 1,000 more highway fatalities than there had been in that same period the year before — the simple result of more people being on the road. “It was called the 9/11 effect,” David Ropeik, an independent risk consultant and a former professor of the Harvard School of Public Health, told me for my 2007 book Simplexity. Nearly 3,000 people died as a direct result of the attacks and a third again as an indirect one.

Air travel, surely, is not risk free, but it’s hardly a new observation to say that nothing is. Statistical clusters do smooth out over even a relatively short period of time and what feels like a grave danger today will seem relatively benign again tomorrow. The tragedy of the lives lost on the recent crashes is a very real thing; but so is the low likelihood of any one person suffering the same sorrowful end.

TIME Music

Weird Al: Pop’s Last King

Weird Al Visits Visits Music Choice's "You & A"
"Weird Al" Yankovic visits Music Choice's "You & A" on July 14, 2014 in New York City. D Dipasupil—Getty Images

Pop music has shattered. Parody is now the language that transcends cultural and generational boundaries.

When Michael Jackson died, people mourned the death of a giant but they also mourned the death of the cultural consensus he represented. They mourned the passing of a figure so huge and so central to pop culture that seemingly everyone knew him, no matter where they fell in the cultural divide. In that respect, I suspect that part of the tidal wave of excitement greeting the release of Mandatory Fun, the ecstatically received new album from preeminent Michael Jackson parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic, comes from the re-emergence of a figure whose popularity transcends cultural and generational boundaries, who can truly be said to be a household name. The album charted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in its first week, a first for the artist.

The mainstream that Jackson personified doesn’t seem to exist anymore. The pop culture world has fractured too violently into too many different warring factions for the center to hold. If a mainstream exists at all anymore, it can be pieced together, makeshift, from the base components of an album like Mandatory Fun. The album cements Yankovic’s status as an invaluable uniter in a wildly divisive music world.

Yankovic’s music unites his older fans with their past, with the MTV or radio-obsessed kids they used to be and the central role he played in their musical education. But it goes beyond that; Yankovic’s polka medleys are a brilliant microcosm for his take on pop music. Mandatory Funs obligatory polka medley, “NOW That’s What I Call Polka,” is essentially Girl Talk for the middle-aged and out of date, a high-energy mash-up of seemingly every inescapable single of the past three years.

One of the overlooked benefits of growing older is the freedom from having to follow pop music closely, from feeling obligated to have an opinion on every important new act or flash in the pan. Part of the brilliance of Yankovic’s albums is that he follows pop music and the rampaging idiocies of the pop chart so that his often middle-aged fans don’t have to, content that dear old Uncle Al will translate the ephemeral ditties and one-hit wonders of the day into language they understand, the musical vocabulary of the genially wacky spoof.

Mandatory Fun might just be the ideal way to experience contemporary pop music. It offers the catchiness of “Blurred Lines” without the rapey gender politics, leering sexism and Robin Thicke’s pervy personality; Miley Cyrus without the twerking and lascivious tongue wraggling; and LMFAO without, well, everything that makes them obnoxious, which is everything.

Yankovic famously released eight videos from the album in eight consecutive days, including the zeitgeist-capturing smashes “Tacky” and “Word Crimes.” It’s a strategy that allowed the savvy and prescient Yankovic to leverage his connections with Internet dynamos like Nerdist, Funny Or Die and College Humor (needless to say, at least some of those kids who grew up worshiping Al ended up in positions of power inside corporate suites), who helped produce the videos and publicized the album, while highlighting the broad-based appeal of an album that includes not only relatively timely hits of smashes from the likes of Lorde, Imagine Dragons, Iggy Azalea and Pharell, but also brazenly untimely homages to Southern Culture On The Skids, The Pixies, Cat Stevens and both a polka and Yankovic’s first-ever March (“Sports Song”).

The every-song-a-single approach is particularly savvy given the central role singles play in the pop landscape. People aren’t buying albums the way they did before; Robin Thicke’s new album Paula, for example, is flopping while the infectious beat for his signature song is doing great things for a man who is impishly using it to play grammar bully to a delighted populace.

YouTube was to supposed to maim, if not destroy, Yankovic’s career by flooding the site with a slew of younger, hungrier and lewder parodists who didn’t need a major label to put out parodies, just a video camera and some goofy new lyrics to a familiar song. Yet in 2014, the parody market is still “Weird Al” Yankovic, followed distantly by everyone else. Considering the ways the industry has changed over the past 10 years, it’s remarkable how little progress everyone else has made. Nostalgia undoubtedly plays a role; the release of a new “Weird Al” album can’t help but inspire wistful memories of long-ago days watching Al goof his way through videos spoofing Madonna, Nirvana, Kurt Cobain and countless other giants who are either gone or irrevocably changed, whereas Al never seems to age.

For all of the changes in the industry, and outside it, a “Weird Al” Yankovic parody of a hit song still feels official and important in a way no other spoof does. For all the pretenders on the Internet, when it comes to parodies, it sure seems like folks still want the 54-year-old they grew up with and still represents the gold standard for funny music.

Pop music parodies occupy one of the smallest, least respected ghettos in pop music. Yankovic has never been one to think small, however, and from the very beginning his domain has been all of popular music, not just the tiny little subsection devoted to his particular specialty. That mindset is paying enormous dividends right now. It is a halcyon moment for an inveterate uniter with a view of pop expansive enough to fit the totality of recorded music snugly inside one of his fat suits.

Nathan Rabin is a staff writer for The Dissolve and the author of Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.

TIME feminism

Stop Fem-Splaining: What ‘Women Against Feminism’ Gets Right

Young woman using laptop on bed
Getty Images

The charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists—but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.

The latest skirmish on the gender battlefield is “Women Against Feminism”: women and girls taking to the social media to declare that they don’t need or want feminism, usually via photos of themselves with handwritten placards. The feminist reaction has ranged from mockery to dismay to somewhat patronizing (or should that be “matronizing”?) lectures on why these dissidents are wrong. But, while the anti-feminist rebellion has its eye-rolling moments, it raises valid questions about the state of Western feminism in the 21st Century — questions that must be addressed if we are to continue making progress toward real gender equality.

Female anti-feminism is nothing new. In the 19th century, plenty of women were hostile to the women’s movement and to women who pursued nontraditional paths. In the 1970s, Marabel Morgan’s regressive manifesto The Total Woman was a top best-seller, and Phyllis Schlafly led opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. But such anti-feminism was invariably about defending women’s traditional roles. Some of today’s “women against feminism” fit that mold: They feel that feminism demeans stay-at-home mothers, or that being a “true woman” means loving to cook and clean for your man. Many others, however, say they repudiate feminism even though — indeed, because — they support equality and female empowerment:

“I don’t need feminism because I believe in equality, not entitlements and supremacy.”

“I don’t need feminism because it reinforces the men as agents/women as victims dichotomy.”

“I do not need modern feminism because it has become confused with misandry which is as bad as misogyny, and whatever I want to do or be in life, I will become through my own hard work.”

Or, more than once: “I don’t need feminism because egalitarianism is better!”

Again and again, the dissenters say that feminism belittles and demonizes men, treating them as presumptive rapists while encouraging women to see themselves as victims. “I am not a victim” and “I can take responsibility for my actions” are recurring themes. Many also challenge the notion that American women in the 21st century are “oppressed,” defiantly asserting that “the patriarchy doesn’t exist” and “there is no rape culture.”

One common response from feminists is to say that Women Against Feminism “don’t understand what feminism is” and to invoke its dictionary definition: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” The new anti-feminists have a rejoinder for that, too: They’re judging modern feminism by its actions, not by the book. And here, they have a point.

Consider the #YesAllWomen Twitter hashtag, dubbed by one blogger “the Arab Spring of 21st Century feminism.” Created in response to Elliot Rodger’s deadly shooting spree in Isla Vista, California — and to reminders that “not all men” are violent misogynists — the tag was a relentless catalog of female victimization by male terrorism and abuse. Some of its most popular tweets seemed to literally dehumanize men, comparing them to sharks or M&M candies of which 10% are poisoned.

Consider assertions that men as a group must be taught “not to rape,” or that to accord the presumption of innocence to a man accused of sexual violence against a woman or girl is to be complicit in “rape culture.” Consider that last year, when an Ohio University student made a rape complaint after getting caught on video engaging in a drunken public sex act, she was championed by campus activists and at least one prominent feminist blogger — but a grand jury declined to hand down charges after reviewing the video of the incident and evidence that both students were inebriated.

Consider that a prominent British feminist writer, Laurie Penny, decries the notion that feminists should avoid such generalizations as “men oppress women”: In her view, all men are steeped in a woman-hating culture and “even the sweetest, gentlest man” benefits from women’s oppression. Consider, too, that an extended quote from Penny’s column was reposted by a mainstream reproductive rights group and shared by nearly 84,000 Tumblr users in six months.

Sure, some Women Against Feminism claims are caricatures based on fringe views — for instance, that feminism mandates hairy armpits, or that feminists regard all heterosexual intercourse as rape. On the other hand, the charge that feminism stereotypes men as predators while reducing women to helpless victims certainly doesn’t apply to all feminists — but it’s a reasonably fair description of a large, influential, highly visible segment of modern feminism.

Are Women Against Feminism ignorant and naïve to insist they are not oppressed? Perhaps some are too giddy with youthful optimism. But they make a strong argument that a “patriarchy” that lets women vote, work, attend college, get divorced, run for political office, and own businesses on the same terms as men isn’t quite living up to its label. They also raise valid questions about politicizing personal violence along gender lines; research shows that surprisingly high numbers of men may have been raped, sometimes by women.

For the most part, Women Against Feminism are quite willing to acknowledge and credit feminism’s past battles for women’s rights in the West, as well as the severe oppression women still suffer in many parts of the world. But they also say that modern Western feminism has become a divisive and sometimes hateful force, a movement that dramatically exaggerates female woes while ignoring men’s problems, stifles dissenting views, and dwells obsessively on men’s misbehavior and women’s personal wrongs. These are trends about which feminists have voiced alarm in the past — including the movement’s founding mother Betty Friedan, who tried in the 1970s to steer feminism from the path of what she called “sex/class warfare.” Friedan would have been aghast had she known that, 50 years after she began her battle, feminist energies were being spent on bashing men who commit the heinous crime of taking too much space on the subway.

Is there still a place in modern-day America for a gender equality movement? I think so. Work-family balance remains a real and complicated challenge. And there are gender-based cultural biases and pressures that still exist — though, in 21st century Western countries, they almost certainly affect men as much as women. A true equality movement would be concerned with the needs and interests of both sexes. It would, for instance, advocate for all victims of domestic and sexual violence regardless of gender — and for fairness to those accused of these offenses. It would support both women and men as workers and as parents.

Should such a movement take back feminism — or, as the new egalitarians suggest, give up on the label altogether because of its inherent connotations of advocating for women only? I’m not sure what the answer is. But Women Against Feminism are asking the right questions. And they deserve to be heard, not harangued. As one of the group’s graphics says: “I have my own mind. Please stop fem-splaining it to me.”

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 24

1. Ten years after the 9/11 commission urged Congress to simplify oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, the problem is worse. Today, the department deals with 92 Congressional committees. That must change.

By the Sunnylands-Aspen Task Force

2. Operation Lifeline Syria: The International Community must tackle this humanitarian crisis head-on. Here’s how to do it.

By Madeleine Albright and David Miliband in Foreign Policy

3. When enforcement of the Clean Water Act becomes a political football, our communities and the nation’s economy will suffer.

By Naveena Sadasivam in Pro Publica

4. It’s easier to move people than jobs: How better public transport can solve the jobs crisis.

By Danielle Kurtzleben in Vox

5. Drones will change – and monitor – the way food gets from farm to table.

By Mary Beth Albright in National Geographic

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Parenting

A Tale of Two Summers for Parents

lustration by serge bloch for time
lustration by Serge Bloch for TIME

It’s not just the heat that makes this season frustrating. It’s the scheduling

Am bad at being a summer mom. I’m always the one Googling “help last minute camp” the day after school gets out. One summer, I got my babysitter to take my kids each day to my gym, which had a pool, and pretend she was me. (Finally, an upside to wearing a skintight latex cap and goggles: anonymity.) Another summer, I managed to sign one of my kids up for an advanced-skills soccer camp, even though he didn’t really play soccer. It’s not surprising that the emergency child-care center at my workplace cottoned on fairly quickly to the fact that my emergencies occurred for a week or two every August.

For many parents, summer is oppressive not mostly because of the heat but because of the scheduling. The lengthening days are a hint of the specter of more than 50 million school-age children with six more hours of free time than usual. It’s a child-care chasm that I usually end up crossing by building an emergency bridge made of cash: for more babysitting, more late fees, more hastily put-together sort of fun-ish activities.

But no matter how unprepared I am, I’ll never be arrested for my choices. That’s what happened to Deborah Harrell, who was taken into custody earlier this month, officially for unlawful conduct toward a child, also known as leaving her 9-year-old daughter in a park in North Augusta, S.C., for several hours while she was at work. Her kid had a cell phone, and the McDonald’s Harrell works at was close by, but the girl was there without any adult supervision for much of the day, a witness said.

The mom’s arrest led to a round of national hair pulling (our own and one another’s) about How a Person Could Even Do That or How a Person Could Even Report That. In fact, about 40% of parents leave their kids on their own, at least for a while, estimates the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Three states have even established a minimum age for being home alone, ranging from 8 years old in Maryland to 14 in Illinois.

Kids have raced around outside by themselves since the dawn of time. That’s why those on the free-range end of the child-raising spectrum blamed the busybody who reported Harrell. Yet she was doing exactly what child-protective-service agencies have asked citizens to do, especially since data indicates that child-abuse reports tend to go down over summer but child-abuse incidents do not.

So, once we get past the finger-pointing, it might be worth having a different conversation: one about the gap between what we expect and what we’re willing to pay for. If, by way of analogy, we go to Harrell’s place of work for our luncheon needs, we cannot order McTruffles. McDonald’s can’t make the numbers work on that. Similarly, we cannot expect somebody to fund enriching child-centric summer activities on minimum wage. She can’t make the numbers work on that.

Age is a factor here. More than 45% of hourly workers whose income falls at or below minimum wage are older than 40, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more than half are women. Harrell is 46. Parents in that type of job are caught in a double bind. The lower their earnings, the more inflexible their job. I could be writing this essay from home, in case my teenage kids suddenly needed help or to accuse someone of ruining their lives. Fast-food workers have to be where the food is. “High-wage jobs are associated with hard-to-replace skills,” says Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute. “[Corporations] need to do something to keep those individuals. Low-wage jobs are generally associated with highly replaceable people, so it’s not worth investing in flexibility.”

Harrell can’t do that job without child care, but at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, she can’t get child care doing that job. End result: she cobbles together something ad hoc, just like I do. The difference is that my bad choices are cushioned by cash and society’s false assumption that people who have it don’t abuse their kids. When I make a mistake, my kids don’t get taken away by social services.

Harrell may get lucky. On July 21, child-abuse charges against 35-year-old Shanesha Taylor, who left two toddlers in a hot Arizona car for more than an hour, were dropped. Taylor left the kids there because she had a job interview and nowhere else to take them. Both women’s plights have touched a nerve; Harrell and Taylor have been given support and thousands of dollars in donations via social media.

As for me, I’m not sure where my 13-year-old daughter is at this moment. I left her some money this morning and told her to have a nice day. If anyone wants to arrest me, I’ll probably be at McDonald’s, getting her some dinner.

TIME conflict

From Gaza to Ukraine, the Effects of World War I Persist

We still live in the long shadow of a war that began a century ago

It was supposed to be over in a matter of weeks. In the summer of 1914, the European war that began in the aftermath of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand drew great armies into the fields, launched ships of war upon the seas and engaged imperial ambitions and fears. There was, however, a sense of optimism among several of the combatants, an expectation that victory would be quick. “You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees,” Kaiser Wilhelm II told the German troops in the first week of August.

Of course, it wasn’t over by the time the leaves fell, and what became known as the Great War really isn’t over even now. From the downing of the civilian Malaysian airliner by Moscow-supported insurgents over Ukraine to the Israeli-Palestinian combat in Gaza to Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Iran, the troubles of our time directly descend from the world of 1914–18, the era that inflamed ethnic and nationalistic impulses and led to the ultimate creation of new nation-states, especially in the Middle East.

To understand the madness of the moment, then, one needs to take a long view–one that begins in 1914 and not, as many Democrats would have it, with the election of George W. Bush or, as many Republicans think, with the election of Barack Obama. The spectrum of political conversation in our time is, to borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln, inadequate to the stormy present.

The 19th century has been said to have ended in 1914, with a war that became, in the words of historian David Fromkin, “in many ways the largest conflict that the planet has ever known.” One could argue that the 20th century lasted only 75 years, ending under the Administration of George H.W. Bush, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union (itself a product of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917). As the news of this summer reminds us, we are now in a world much like that of 1914, without a truly controlling order.

Americans who grew accustomed to a largely static balance of power during the Cold War must teach themselves to think in kaleidoscopic terms, not binary ones. Our national imagination is still partly shaped by the FDR-JFK rhetoric of American responsibility and the idea that we are capable of bearing any burden and paying any price to bend the world to our purposes. Yet we must be realistic–not defeatist but realistic–about our power. While we should never give up the conviction that we can effectively exert our will around the globe, we should also appreciate that any undertaking is inherently limited, a point supported by the experience of the American President of the 1914–18 era, Woodrow Wilson, who believed that the war of that age would end all wars. He was wrong–woefully so. The first Bush was closer to the mark when he spoke, usually privately, of how foreign policy was about “working the problem,” not finding grand, all-encompassing solutions to intrinsically messy questions.

And those questions today remain urgent and dangerous. In his insightful book Europe’s Last Summer, Fromkin writes that “it takes two or more to keep the peace, but only one to start a war … An aggressor can start a major war even today and even if other great powers desire to stay at peace–unless other nations are powerful enough to deter it.” To think of another conventional conflict on the scale of the Great War–16 million dead, 20 million more wounded–stretches credulity. Still, the forces of ambition, greed and pride are perennial in the lives of men and of nations, and wars of any size bring with them large and unintended consequences.

Summing up August 1914, historian Barbara Tuchman wrote, “Men could not sustain a war of such magnitude and pain without hope–the hope that its very enormity would ensure that it could never happen again and the hope that when somehow it had been fought through to a resolution, the foundations of a better-ordered world would have been laid.” We know now that such hope was illusory. It did happen again, from 1939 to 1945, and now, a century on, we live in a world that remains vulnerable to chaos and mischance and misery. Such, though, is the nature of reality and of history, and we have no choice but to muddle through. There is, in the end, no other alternative, whether the leaves are on or off the trees.

TIME In the Arena

In Gaza, a Just but Bloody War

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: Relatives of four boys, all from the Bakr family, killed by Israeli naval bombardment, mourn during their funeral in Gaza City, on July 16, 2014. . ALESSIO ROMENZI
Relatives of four boys from the Bakr family, mourning at their funeral in Gaza City, July 16, 2014. Alessio Romenzi

Hamas provoked this round, and Israel had no choice but to respond

Ori Nir is a man of Peace. He was born and raised in Jerusalem, spent many years as a prominent journalist for Ha’aretz, Israel’s finest newspaper, and is now the spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. He is not shy about disagreeing with the Israeli government, especially when it comes to the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the general bellicosity of Benjamin Netanyahu’s regime. But he hasn’t protested the current Israeli incursion into Gaza. “It is a just war,” he told me, “carried out with a great deal of care.”

This may seem surprising to people who don’t follow the Middle East as closely as Nir does, and you might rightly ask, Why is this incursion different from all other Israeli incursions? Because Hamas, which was in an existential jam this spring, needed a new strategy. It had lost its prime ally in the region when the Egyptian army overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood. (Hamas is the official Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood.) It also alienated another of its supporters, Iran, when it sided with the Brotherhood against Bashar Assad in Syria. Opposition within Gaza to Hamas’ corruption and misrule was also on the rise. What to do?

Provoke Israel. It had worked in the past. A kidnapping of Israeli soldiers on the northern border had led to Israel’s less-than-discriminate assault on Hizballah in Lebanon in 2006. Rocket attacks had provoked Israel’s two previous Gaza incursions, in 2008 and 2012. Hamas and Hizballah had “won” those wars because their fighters resisted the Israelis more effectively than conventional Arab armies had done in the past but also because the images of collapsed buildings and blood-soaked children had bolstered Israel’s growing reputation as an oppressor and a bully in the eyes of the world.

This time is different, however, for several reasons. The initial provocation, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, was indefensible, as was a retaliatory murder of a Palestinian teen. In a moment of moral clarity, Hamas lauded its kidnappers, while a furious Netanyahu called the retaliation “reprehensible.” Indeed, Israel’s actions have been more prudent across the board. It confined its bombing at first to Hamas’ military facilities and leaders. Civilians were killed in the process–as was Hamas’ intent–but these were targeted strikes, not the free-range assault on Gaza City that had occurred in Operation Cast Lead in 2008. The ground campaign that followed was limited as well, confined to Shejaiya, a neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City that was a warren of Palestinian fighters and the launch point for a very elaborate tunnel system from Gaza to Israel. The fighting has been brutal, to be sure. More than 500 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed. But it was not an indiscriminate massacre. Israel was protecting its border, the right of any sovereign nation; its citizens were threatened by Palestinian assaults at the receiving end of the tunnels (several of which were attempted, and foiled, during the fighting). “I don’t like the civilian casualties that result from bombing the homes of the Hamas leaders,” Nir says. “And what’s happening in Shejaiya is horrible, but I think it falls within the normal rules of war. The moral bottom line seems clear.” And then, semi-amazed to be doing so, he quoted Netanyahu: “‘We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.’”

There have been the predictable anti-Israel riots in Europe, mostly populated by Islamic groups; the parlor left has been appalled, on cue, by the alleged Israeli brutality–without questioning the deadly cynicism of Hamas. Meanwhile, Hamas has been outfoxed diplomatically: it opposed the cease-fire agreement proposed by Egypt, which Israel–and the Arab League–supported. If you’re really the aggrieved party, it’s not easy to explain why you won’t accept peace. By now, in a reasonable world, Hamas would have lost all remaining shreds of its tenuous moral credibility.

A cease-fire will be negotiated sooner or later, perhaps even by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It is likely that nothing good will come of it. But Hamas’ weakness, its inability to dictate terms, does leave a tiny possibility for peace. The first step is to restore legal order in Gaza by returning the Palestinian Authority–ousted by Hamas in a 2007 coup–to power and bringing in the U.S.-trained Palestinian security forces who have done such an excellent job of bringing law and order to the West Bank. The next step is free elections in Gaza, which, given Hamas’ current unpopularity, might be won by more moderate factions, perhaps even Fatah.

This is the Middle East, of course. Israel remains intransigent on a West Bank agreement. Peace is a chimera; only the dead bodies are real.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/swampland

TIME psychology

7 Ways You Can Easily Increase Your Willpower

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Hand reaching for chocolate chip cookie jar Mike Kemp—Rubberball/Getty Images

In general, people have an overly positive vision of themselves and their abilities.

But what’s the one thing surveys show most everyone will admit they have a problem with?

Self-control.

And who is most likely to give in to temptation?

Ironically, it’s the people who think they have the most willpower.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Research shows that people who think they have the most willpower are actually the most likely to lose control when tempted. For example, smokers who are the most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are the most likely to relapse four months later, and overoptimistic dieters are the least likely to lose weight.

So how can we really increase willpower? What does science have to say?

I’ve posted a lot about the subject — from research to interviewing the foremost expert on the subject. Let’s round it all up and make it useful.

Here are 7 ways you can increase your own willpower and live a better life:

 

1) “Keystone” Habits Are A Magic Bullet

Everyone wants a magic bullet. One pill that fixes everything. The closest thing in the area of willpower is what are called “keystone habits.”

The primary one is exercise. What’s so special about running or lifting weights? It doesn’t just give you more discipline at the gym…

It also makes you eat better. And helps you use your credit card less. And makes you more productive at work. And more patient with loved ones.

Exercise leads people to create other, often unrelated, good habits:

When people start habitually exercising, even as infrequently as once a week, they start changing other, unrelated patterns in their lives, often unknowingly… “Exercise spills over,” said James Prochaska, a University of Rhode Island researcher. “There’s something about it that makes other good habits easier.”

Going to the gym is too much for you? Try food journaling. Just write down everything you eat, every day. It’s another powerful keystone habit.

(For more on why this works, go here.)

So if you’re going to do anything, keystone habits get the best bang for your buck. What else should you do every day?

 

2) Do Important Things Early

Leading self-control researcher Roy Baumeister, has found that willpower is limited.

It’s highest early in the day but as we make more decisions, it empties like a gas tank.

This leads to a simple answer: do the most important things first. As the day goes on it will only get harder to face big challenges.

When do most self control failures happen?

At night. Roy explains:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

(To see the schedule that the most productive people use, click here.)

So your willpower is limited. What else can this tell us about the best way to use it?

 

3) Improve Willpower By NotUsing Willpower

Productivity guru Tim Ferriss says willpower is overrated. We have a limited amount of it, so relying on it is a bad idea.

Research shows we don’t use much willpower when something is a habit, when our behaviors are automatic.

How do you build good habits? Here’s a fantastic interview with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit:

Building new habits is too hard, you say? Then try this:

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

Hide the cookies and put your running shoes next to the bed.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

People who think they have a lot of willpower expose themselves to more temptation — and eventually cave. So don’t rely on willpower.

(More on building good habits here.)

Now comes the part where I contradict myself…

 

4) Use Willpower To Build Willpower

I know, I know… I just told you not to use willpower, now I’m telling you to use willpower. What gives?

Baumeister compares willpower to a muscle. When you use it too much, it gets tired and gives out.

But by exercising it, over time it gets stronger. So you don’t want to rely on willpower for everything. You want to rely on habits.

But you want to make sure to tap into willpower a bit every day, always pushing yourself a bit to grow that muscle over time.

How simple can your daily self-control exercise be? Merely working on your posture can produce willpower benefits.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

Unexpectedly, the best results came from the group working on posture. That tiresome old advice—“Sit up straight!”—was more useful than anyone had imagined. By overriding their habit of slouching, the students strengthened their willpower and did better at tasks that had nothing to do with posture.

(For more self-control exercises go here.)

Simple is good, right? Want to know other crazy simple things that can help? Want to improve willpower in your sleep?

 

5) Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep

Yes, improving willpower is as easy as eating and getting enough sleep.

When I asked Roy Baumeister the easiest way to quickly boost self-control he simply replied, “Just eat something.

Want to wake up full of willpower? It’s as easy as getting more sleep at night.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

We shouldn’t need to be told something so obvious, but cranky toddlers aren’t the only ones who resist much needed naps. Adults routinely shortchange themselves on sleep, and the result is less self-control.

(More on how to get a great night’s sleep here.)

Eating and sleeping not easy enough for you? Here’s something even easier.

 

6) Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower

Ever been so lazy you put things off that you actually enjoy? This can actually boost self-control.

You don’t even have to say no to every temptation to gain discipline. Just postponing them can help too.

Research shows telling yourself “Not now, but later” is far more powerful than “No, you can’t have that.”

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

…people who had told themselves “Not now, but later” were less troubled with visions of chocolate cake than the other two groups… Those in the postponement condition actually ate significantly less than those in the self-denial condition…

Anything other than just giving in helps strengthen your willpower muscle.

Delay, distraction, or even caving in a defined way can help increase discipline.

(Learn how to beat procrastination here.)

Okay, now’s the time for the bad news…

 

7) You’re Going To Screw Up… But That’s Okay

You’re going to give in to temptation. That’s not defeatist; it’s reality. But what matters is what you do after.

Feeling the urge to beat yourself up over your lack of willpower? Don’t do it. No Mea Culpas are necessary.

Blaming yourself reduces self-control. Showing self-compassionincreases it.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

Study after study shows that self-criticism is consistently associated with less motivation and worse self-control. It is also one of the single biggest predictors of depression, which drains both “I will” power and “I want” power. In contrast, self-compassion— being supportive and kind to yourself, especially in the face of stress and failure— is associated with more motivation and better self-control.

People who cut themselves slack go on to keep trying — and end up succeeding.

(For more on increasing your resilience, click here.)

So how does all of this fit together?

 

Sum Up

Give the 7 a try:

  1. “Keystone Habits” Are A Magic Bullet
  2. Do Important Things Early
  3. Improve Willpower By Not Using Willpower
  4. Use Willpower To Build Willpower
  5. Fundamentals: Eat And Sleep
  6. Procrastinating Can Improve Willpower
  7. You’re Going To Screw Up… And That’s Okay

I’m sure to some people this sounds hard and lonely. But it doesn’t have to be a solitary thing.

Relationships improve willpower: the best way to accomplish any change is by having a supportive group of friends around you.

And the reverse is true as well: willpower improves relationships:

…the more total self-control, the better the relationship fared. Multiple benefits were found for having mutually high self-control, including relationship satisfaction, forgiveness, secure attachment, accommodation, healthy and committed styles of loving, smooth daily interactions, absence of conflict, and absence of feeling rejected.

Willpower is one of the first steps in improving any area of life — and it’s good to know that self-control isn’t selfish.

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Related posts:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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