Monday, December 30, 2013

The genius in all of us: Why everything you’ve been told about genetics, talent, and IQ is wrong

The genius in all of us: Why everything you’ve been told about genetics, talent, and IQ is wrong
By David Shenk

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

One of the most interesting features of this 302-page book (total pages) is that there is only 134 pages of text. There is an 18 page bibliography (pages 279-297), and there is a 138-page "Sources and Notes, Clarifications and Amplifications" section (pages 139-277). There is no index.

Just a note here on the "Sources and Notes. . ." section: Shenk uses 134 pages of text to make his case, and it is engrossing reading. But, if you think "Sources and Notes" would be a long, tedious, boring section of the book, you would be sadly mistaken here. For each and every assertion that Shenk makes in his argument (we’ll get to that in a moment), he has a source or note to verify it. This is a highly researched, evidence specific, thoroughly developed argument that is worth every minute you spend with it.

If you are looking for a motivational book that will support all that you do in life, this is where to start. If you think for one moment that you are limited by the genes with which you were born, think again. Shenk claims your genetic heritage may account for only about 50% of your talent, and the other 50% is determined by nurture and your environment. What you do, and how you feel about what you do matters.

If I was looking for support for all of the motivational essays, speeches, articles, and books I have written throughout the years, this would be the book — and the evidence. What Shenk is saying is that the intensity of your motivation, ambition, persistence, and self-discipline are not genetically determined but are shaped by nurture and environment. Just as you teach children how to take responsibility for their lives, you, too, can have a direct, sustained, ongoing, positive, and productive influence on your own talent and ability. This is good news, and if you don’t believe it, read this book, and bathe in the evidence that supports his assertions.

All of the books that have been (and are being) written on neuroplasticity — "[the] term referring to the ability of the brain and nervous system in all species to change structurally and functionally as a result of input from the environment" — gain support from Shenk’s work. Shenk makes the case for the plasticity of intelligence.

Shenk explains how genes really work, that intelligence is a process not a thing, that talents are not innate gifts "but the result of a slow, invisible accretion of skills," as well as how to be a genius, how to inspire children, how to foster cultural excellence, and how to improve your genes. This is an amazing book!

Having been an advocate of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow, I was delighted to find Shenk referring to Csikszentmihalyi: " . . . intelligence isn’t fixed. Intelligence isn’t general. Intelligence is not a thing. Intelligence is a dynamic, diffuse, and ongoing process. This finding fits perfectly with the earlier work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and colleagues, who concluded that ‘high academic achievers are not necessarily born ‘smarter’ than others, but work harder and develop more self-discipline’" (p. 42).

Whether you are a supporter of the interactionist perspective or not, the book will introduce you to the way genius is made. That is especially interesting to read.

I think the author made a superb decision to separate his argument and the evidence used to support his argument. He is an excellent writer, and 134 pages may be all you have to read. I have found that the more technical you become by incorporating all your evidence and references within your narrative turns off more readers than it encourages. Shenk’s argument is so well presented, so smoothly offered, and so effective that it should be readable by a large audience — especially, I might add, educators. Educators are often those prone to picking out and doting upon their brighter students. After reading and absorbing what Shenk has to say may make them think twice about this approach.

The use of examples such as David Beckham, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche, Beethoven, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was delightful information.

Because of Shenk’s argument, and because of his emphasis on the interaction between genes, nurture, and environment, I loved the following paragraph: "For deliberate practice to work, the demands have to be serious and sustained. Simply playing lots of chess or soccer or golf isn’t enough. Simply taking lessons from a wonderful teacher is not enough. Simply wanting it badly enough is not enough. Deliberate practice requires a mind-set of never, ever, being satisfied with your current ability. It requires a constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one’s capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again and again" (p.55). Talk about motivation to excel!

Now, after writing a paragraph like that, Shenk offers a realistic assessment of what it takes to excel: "It also requires enormous, life-altering amounts of time—a daily grinding commitment to becoming better. In the long term, the results can be highly satisfying. But in the short term, from day to day and month to month, there’s nothing particularly fun about the process or the substantial sacrifices involved" (p. 55). Do you wonder why the information in this book — even when read by those seemingly committed to change — is likely to go in one ear and out the other?

Oh well. Even if you are familiar with the ideas here, even if you wave off social-science research as bogus, and even if you believe that talent comes primarily from genetic inheritance, this book is a good read. Shenk makes you think — and that’s a healthy thing to do whether you agree or disagree with him. Five stars out of five!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Humor

Be careful during parties

I would like to share a personal experience with all of you about drinking and driving.

As you well know, some of us have been known to have had brushes with the authorities on our way home from an occasional social session over the years.

A couple of nights ago, I was out for an evening with friends and had a couple of cocktails and some rather nice red wine.

Knowing full well I may have been slightly over the limit, I did something I've never done before, I took a cab home. Sure enough, I passed a police road block, but since it was a cab, they waved it past.

I arrived home safely without incident, which was a real surprise, as I have never driven a cab before and am not sure where I got it or what to do with it now that it's in my garage...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Humor

A young guy from West Virginia moves to Florida and goes to a big "everything under one roof" department store looking for a job.

The Manager says, "Do you have any sales experience?" The kid says "Yeah. I was a vacuum salesman back in West Virginia."

Well, the boss was unsure, but he liked the kid and figured he'd give him a shot, so he gave him the job.

"You start tomorrow. I'll come down after we close and see how you did."

His first day on the job was rough, but he got through it. After the store was locked up, the boss came down to the sales floor.

"How many customers bought something from you today?" The kid frowns and looks at the floor and mutters, "One". The boss says "Just one?!!? Our sales people average sales to 20 to 30 customers a day.

That will have to change, and soon, if you'd like to continue your employment here. We have very strict standards for our sales force here in Florida. One sale a day might have been acceptable in West Virginia, but you're not in the mines anymore, son."

The kid took his beating, but continued to look at his shoes, so the boss felt kinda bad for chewing him out on his first day. He asked (semi-sarcastically), "So, how much was your one sale for?"

The kid looks up at his boss and says "$101,237.65".

The boss, astonished, says $101,237.65?!? What the heck did you sell?"

The kid says, "Well, first, I sold him some new fish hooks. Then I sold him a new fishing rod to go with his new hooks. Then I asked him where he was going fishing and he said down the coast, so I told him he was going to need a boat, so we went down to the boat department, and I sold him a twin engine Chris Craft. Then he said he didn't think
his Honda Civic would pull it, so I took him down to the automotive department and sold him that 4x4 Expedition."

The boss said "A guy came in here to buy a fish hook and you sold him a boat and a TRUCK!?"

The kid said "No, the guy came in here to buy tampons for his wife, and I said, 'Dude, your weekend's shot, you should go fishing....

Friday, December 13, 2013

Friday Humor

An elderly man in Louisiana had owned a large farm for several years. He
had a large pond in the back. It was properly shaped for swimming, so he
fixed it up nice... picnic tables, horseshoe pits, and some apple and peach

One evening the old farmer decided to go down to the pond, as he hadn't
been there for a while, and look it over. He grabbed a five-gallon bucket
to bring back some fruit. As he neared the pond, he heard voices shouting
and laughing with glee. As he came closer, he saw it was a bunch of young
women skinny-dipping in his pond.

He made the women aware of his presence and they all went to the deep end. One of the young women shouted to him, "We're not coming out until you leave!"

The old man frowned, "I didn't come down here to watch you ladies swim
naked or make you get out of the pond naked."

Holding the bucket up he said, "I'm here to feed the alligator."

Some old men can still think fast.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sugar nation: The hidden truth behind America’s deadliest habit and the simple way to beat it

By Jeff O'Connell

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

What surprised me at the outset of reading O’Connell’s book is a confession he made in the introduction. It isn’t his ignorance of type 2 diabetes, it is that as an executive writer for Men’s health and editor-in-chief for a magazine called Muscle & Fitness, that he would not be aware that "hamburger buns, French fires, and glazed doughnuts" (page 3) would not be good for you in the long run. I mean, he learned this less than five years ago (in 2006) — four years before this book was copyrighted. "So I changed my ways with a vengeance," he writes. Good heavens!

And I thought it was only the illiterate, ignorant/uneducated, or idiots who did not know that! Many, of course, know it and ignore it: "It won’t happen to me!"

On page 29, O’Connell again confesses: "Yet over those two decades, I had somehow acquired a disease of the overweight, or at least what I thought was a disease only for the overweight. Unfortunately I had been eating a lot of unhealthy foods with impunity because they didn’t cause me to pack on pounds. But they were unhealthy nonetheless." Once again, it is hard for me to believe that this author had never learned the long-term effects of eating in this manner!

I am happy that he finally came to the conclusion that careless eating would eventually take its toll on his body, I’m just shocked that it hadn’t happened sooner. He said he had relied on fast food for years!

Once again (a bit later in the book) he said, "After working out at the gym, I’d swing by 7-Eleven for a Butterfinger or an Almond Joy and a twenty-ounce bottle of Gatorade" (p. 29). Gheesh! It’s no wonder that he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes! I’m not shocked regarding his diagnosis coupled with his confessions!

When driving from Woodland Hills, California, to Zionsville, Pennsylvania, he would stop for "a Big Mac with a large order of french fries, washed down with a large Coca-Cola Classic" (p. 32). At Arby’s he would order "a large roast beef sandwich and a large chocolate shake" (p. 32). It never dawned on him that his diet was killing him? If that wasn’t enough, he would order "the premium fish fillet sandwich, large original chocolate Frosty, and medium french fries" at Wendy’s" (p. 32).

It is clear the point he is making (that this is the way many Americans eat), it is simply the irony of a man so closely associated with health and fitness seemingly totally unaware of his horrible dietary habits.

That said, this is a terrific book. Not just because it is well-written, not just because he has 20 pages of notes (250 in a 265-page (of text information) book), but because O’Connell is a great story teller. He is truly engaging.

Also, I liked the way O’Connell incorporates the incredible amount of evidence on the subject. He gives the professional initials of the researcher(s), identifies the university or institute with which he or she is associated, and then clearly and specifically discusses the study or studies accomplished, and the conclusions which follow. Not only that, he effectively relates the information to the point he is making at the time. His quotations were relevant, to the point, and interesting.

The real problem with type-2 diabetes occurs on page 196: "Along with a low-carb eating plan, a gym membership is the most potent antidote to type 2 diabetes" (p. 196).

He cites a Finnish study on diabetes that "found that regular exercise reduced diabetes incidence in subjects by nearly 70 percent compared with subjects who didn’t exercise" (p. 196). Ironically (again!), just 50 pages prior to these statements O’Connell writes, "the diabetes epidemic boils down to two main variables. The first variable is the decline in physical activity over the past century, to the extent that one in four Americans engage in nothing that could reasonably be deemed physical activity. They are couch potatoes, firmly rooted. Sixty percent of Americans don’t engage in enough activity to derive any health benefit" (p. 143) The second factor "is the increase in the consumption of calories" (p. 143).

After reading the paragraph above, is there any wonder why, "The number of Americans with diagnosed diabetes is projected to increase 165% from 11 million in 2000 . . . to 29 million in 2050" ("Projection of Diabetes Burden Through 2050," American Diabetes Association ) ? There needs to be a dedicated, serious, well-advertised national movement.

I loved this book, and I loved the author’s emphasis on exercise; however, anyone reading this review already knows that those who need this information most 1) will not (cannot?) read this book, and 2) will not follow the necessary suggestions (even if they read the book!). Our society, unfortunately, has become negligent, lackadaisical, sloppy — slovenly. Yes, it is too bad, but it is a fact of life with which O’Connell is fully aware.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Humor

I am passing this on to you because it definitely worked for me and we
all could use a little more calmness in our lives. By following the simple advice I heard on the Dr. Phil show, I have finally found inner peace.

Dr. Phil proclaimed, "The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you've started and never finished."

So, I looked around my house to see all the things I started and hadn't finished, and before leaving this morning, I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of White Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey's Bristol Cream, a bottle of Kahlua, a package of Oreos, the remainder of my old Prozac prescription, the rest of the cheesecake, some saltines and a box of chocolates.

I have truly achieved inner peace, and I know I'm a better person because of it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People

By Gary D. Chapman and Paul E. White

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

Let me say at the outset that I was biased TOWARD this book before I even opened it. First, it was to discuss "languages," and all of my professional life I have taught, lectured, and written about the use of language. Second, it had to do with interpersonal communication — work relationships. My book on Understanding Interpersonal Communication (now out of print) went through seven editions. Third, it examined how to improve or human encounters — what effective communication is all about. Fourth, it treated workplace communication. In my book, Communicating Effectively, 10e (McGraw-Hill, 2012), I have a chapter on "Communicating Professionally . . .," which has continually received positive reviews. I am always in search of additional information with which to enhance that chapter and readers’ experiences with workplace communication.

It is not my normal form to mention my publications at the outset of a book review, but in this case, my biases were important for readers to understand prior to reading my review. I wanted to like this book a lot before turning the first page!

I have not read any of the books in Gary Chapman’s "five languages" series, thus, I have had no previous experience with his ideas. When I read about the five appreciation languages (words of affirmation, tangible gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch) my first impression was: This is common sense. There is nothing here that a sensitive, concerned, open, expressive, responsive, and aware person would not already know — and, to be honest, would not already be practicing. But that may, indeed, be the key: Utilizing the five appreciation languages may be the way for those who are not sensitive, concerned, open, expressive, responsive, and aware, to become so or . . . more so.

Like many other self-help books, it is unlikely that those who need this information the most will read it. How likely is it that an insensitive, unconcerned, closed, non-expressive, unresponsive, and unaware person would find or be led to this book? And, what’s more, if led to it, would consider him- or herself in need of this information? Unlikely, to be sure.

The examples used throughout the book are useful and interesting.

The MBA (Motivating by Appreciation) Inventory is a handy, well-conceived tool. What I find most interesting is that the idea that any person has a single preferred way of either receiving or giving appreciation, to me, begs a more important question: To what extent is giving (or receiving) appreciation situation specific? I would think, just as an outside observer, that the kind of appreciation I would give (or receive) would depend entirely on the situation I was in, the person who was either delivering the appreciation or the person to whom appreciation was to be expressed, the degree of need I experienced, the other people involved, whether or not I was being observed, how much credit or appreciation I thought I deserved, and, probably, a fair number of other variables. It’s a little like assessing — or trying to interpret — nonverbal communication. You cannot do it exempt of the circumstances in which it occurs.

The authors contend that "each individual has a primary language of appreciation. Speak that language and they will feel appreciated. Fail to speak that language and they will not feel appreciated" (p. 117). How about expressing appreciation in a wide variety of different modes? In that way 1) if one way misses the mark, another will likely hit it, and 2) one mode of appreciation will skillfully and aptly reinforce, buttress, fortify, and bolster up the others. A person would quickly come to know and understand exactly how much appreciation was being expressed.

I think the alternatives to the MBA Inventory are excellent suggestions for improving communication: 1) Observe their (coworkers’) behavior, 2) Observe what they request of others, and 3) Listen to their complaints. (Pp. 121-123)

I liked the book, but I thought it wasn’t totally necessary; and I missed having an index. I thought there was a great deal of padding once the basic appreciation languages were described and the MBA was explained. Many of the additional application chapters just seemed repetitive and could have been grouped, summarized, and shortened.