Sunday, December 26, 2010

Why Dancing Hippos?

I'm a big fan of Radiolab. If you haven't heard of it, it's the NPR show where for one hour each week the hosts take complex and esoteric scientific concepts and turn them into approachable, digestible, and above all fascinating ideas.  I'll let them speak for themselves:

"Radiolab believes your ears are a portal to another world. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. Big questions are investigated, tinkered with, and encouraged to grow. Bring your curiosity, and we'll feed it with possibility."

On one of their recent podcasts, they spoke about what it is that they were trying to do, and how they were trying to do it.  Jad, one of the two hosts, compared the heavy, ponderous ideas they tackled- such as conscious technology or  gravitational anarchy- to a hippo.  They are large, hard to manage, and impossible to get your hands around.  And then he explained that what he and Robert try to do is to make these "hippo ideas" dance.
how dainty.

They break these difficult ideas down, set them to music and sound effects, and make them light, manageable and beautiful.  Most of all, they turn the big ugly hippo concepts into graceful and simple ideas that are compelling to us.  Often these ideas continue dancing in our heads long after the hour-long show is ended.

Ok, so what does this have to do with this blog?  And why did I borrow their wonderful phrase "making the hippo dance"?  It is because what they are attempting with science I want to achieve with advanced leadership concepts and ideas.  In all the years I have been a management consultant and business and leadership scholar, both in the boardroom and in the classroom, I have seen that there is a problem with taking complex and valuable leadership ideas and applying them to real life, in real business settings, for real results.

In my opinion, much that is written about leadership falls under three categories: (1) vague and meaningless, (2) new-agey and inspirational, or (3) technical, dry, and academic.

The vague and meaningless stuff usually uses catchwords and never gives any concrete recommendations, and it takes little time for the intelligent person to realize it provides no real value:
I can think of lots of types of trails that first penguin could be leaving

The new-agey and inspirational type usually turns people off because it is all warm and fuzzy feeling with no substance, and you get the feeling that maybe the person creating it doesn't know what leadership means either:
"To Do Today: 3pm- Reach for a Star"
The third category, academic, has the most potentially to offer, but usually obscures its valuable findings in layers of technical jargon and in-group special language, making it unpalatable and difficult to the general public:
simple, right?

and then there are those approaches to leadership that defy easy analysis:
I mean, who DOESN'T think of pickles when they think of leadership?

My point is that most of the current approaches to this meaningful and valuable topic just turn people off.  As a result, no matter how intelligent or curious they are, most people get a far-away and bored look in their eyes when anyone talks about leadership.
oh, we're talking about leadership?  great.

It is a word and concept much used and little understood.  But the reality is that there is so much real benefit that anyone can take- easily- from the study and application of leadership, if there was just a way to make the ideas approachable and interesting, to make that hippo dance.

So that's what I'll be doing in this blog- trying to make that hippo dance.  This is a place where the boundaries will blur not between science, philosophy, and the human experience, but between academia, the results-driven business world, and the experience of the person grappling with the significant constraints of the 21st century world:

 Oh, and one more thing- I will make every attempt to make sure this blog has substance and value to you, because my time is valuable and I assume yours is too.  In short, there will be none of this:

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