Archive for October, 2015
The super-affluent throw tens of millions of dollars into candidate and “super PAC” coffers, seeking to influence the 2016 presidential race.
From Fracking to Finance, a Torrent of Campaign Cash
By ERIC LICHTBLAU and NICHOLAS CONFESSOREOCT. 10, 2015
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Each dot represents
a family of donors.
Joe and Marlene Ricketts, owners of the Chicago Cubs, gave $5 million to Scott Walker’s organization.
Robert Mercer, hedge-fund magnate, contributed $11 million to the super PAC backing Ted Cruz.
The Wilks family, fracking-business billionaires, donated $15 million in support of Ted Cruz.
Palm Beach area
Sources: F.E.C. and I.R.S. filings; voter registrations; property assessment and deed records; corporate filings. One primary house per family is shown.
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A look at some of the business, personal and ideological ties that bind megadonors in the 2016 presidential campaign.
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The great American energy boom of the last decade has produced a wave of new billionaires and multimillionaires. Now they are throwing tens of millions of dollars into the presidential campaign, with the biggest checks going almost exclusively to Republicans and their “super PACs.” The top donors include Trevor Rees-Jones, who left a law practice in Dallas and turned $4,000 in savings into an energy empire as the head of Chief Oil and Gas; Dan and Farris Wilks, abortion opponents whose trucking and equipment business struck gold in the fracking boom; and Karen Buchwald Wright, the head of Ariel Corporation, an Ohio manufacturer of gas compressors.
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Two of the donors live on Indian Creek Island Road in Florida, the most expensive street in the United States, according to Zillow.
Buying Power: The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential ElectionOCT. 10, 2015
Established Texas oil families are deeply involved in the campaign, too. Descendants of the late gambler and oil speculator H.L. Hunt – once thought to be the richest man in America – account for at least $2.3 million in donations in this presidential campaign. Mr. Hunt’s fortune, feuds and multiple marriages are the stuff of legend: In the late 1970s, two of his sons reputedly tried to corner the silver market, and some say the Hunts inspired the classic television series “Dallas.” At least three of his descendants have followed his path in Republican politics in the 2016 campaign. Among them is Ray Lee Hunt, the sole surviving Hunt heir with enough wealth to make the Forbes list of billionaires. (Mr. Hunt is No. 92 in the United States.) The family business, Hunt Oil, remains among the largest privately held oil companies in the country. Mr. Hunt and his wife have put more than $2 million behind Mr. Bush.
Hedge Fund Partners, Political Opposites
They may disagree on politics, but they earned fortunes together. The hedge fund investor George Soros, who earned $1 billion in a bet against the British pound in 1992, is a prominent liberal donor and philanthropist who has given $1 million to a super PAC backing Hillary Rodham Clinton. His partner on that trade was Stanley F. Druckenmiller, who would become a prominent hedge fund manager in his own right, and is now close to Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a Republican. Mr. Druckenmiller is a strong advocate of reduced spending on entitlement programs, which he has called “current seniors stealing from future seniors.” He has put a total of more than $300,000 behind Mr. Christie, Jeb Bush and Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio.
Some of the largest donations came from donors whose backgrounds and occupations were difficult to determine from public records. A man named Chen Shu Te gave $500,000 to Right to Rise USA, a super PAC backing Mr. Bush, which told the Federal Election Commission that Mr. Chen lives in Hong Kong. But public records reveal almost nothing about him, or even if he is an American citizen. (Green card holders may contribute, but other foreign nationals may not.) Hundreds of thousands of dollars in other contributions came from limited liability corporations whose ownership is unclear. Among them is TH Holdings L.L.C., which shares a New York City office suite with Neuberger Berman, an investment management firm headed by a cousin of Mr. Bush’s. More than a dozen of the firm’s other employees or executives have given to Mr. Bush’s campaign or the super PAC, but under their own names.
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The Preston Hollow neighborhood, home to former President George W. Bush and other leading Dallas Republicans, accounts for nearly $13 million of the money flowing to the presidential candidates and their super PACs. Much of it went to help Jeb Bush, who has leveraged his family and political connections in both Florida, where he was governor, and Texas, where his brother George held the same office. But some of the neighborhood’s biggest donors backed Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who has since dropped out of the race. The Dallas pipeline owner Kelcy Warren gave a super PAC supporting Mr. Perry’s committee $6 million, while another neighbor, Darwin Deason, pitched in $5 million.
The Moneyed Left
Many of the biggest donors to Mrs. Clinton’s super PAC have ties to the Democracy Alliance, a club that has strived to build a “progressive infrastructure” of left-leaning think tanks, activist groups and grassroots organizations. They include Mr. Soros, a founding member of the alliance; a fellow hedge fund investor, S. Donald Sussman; and Stephen M. Silberstein, a San Francisco-area programmer who made his fortune developing library computer systems. Mrs. Clinton is also backed by Amy Goldman Fowler, a philanthropist and heiress to a New York real estate fortune, and Patricia A. Stryker, one member of an influential group of Colorado progressive donors known as “the Gang of Four.”
The Top Early Donors in the Presidential Race
The Wilks family of Texas — brothers Farris and Dan and their spouses, Jo Ann and Staci — earned billions in the fracking boom.
Robert Mercer, a Wall Street hedge fund magnate, and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer.
Co-founder of a private equity firm and son of Representative Randy Neugebauer, Republican of Texas.
Dallas billionaire and chief executive of an energy company.
Joe Ricketts founded the online brokerage TD Ameritrade and is the patriarch of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs.
Darwin Deason is a Dallas-based billionaire who made his fortune by selling a data processing company to Xerox.
Co-founder of a Wisconsin-based roofing company.
Billionaire auto dealer in Florida, and a longtime patron of Marco Rubio.
Miguel “Mike” Fernandez built a series of health care services firms and now runs a private equity company.
Ronald M. Cameron
Chief executive of the agribusiness giant Mountaire.
Former chief executive of Oracle Corporation.
Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein
Owners of a Wisconsin packaging supply company, Mr. Uihlein also is descended from a founder of the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Co.
Health care executive and owner of Besilu stables.
Heirs to the late oil billionaire H. L. Hunt.
Jeffrey S. Yass
Executive of the Susquehanna International Group, an investment company.
Richard D. and Nancy Kinder
Mr. Kinder is executive chairman of a Houston pipeline company; Mrs. Kinder is president of the Kinder Foundation
Family of Francis Rooney, a longtime supporter of the Bush family and owner of Manhattan Construction Group.
The billionaire media investor Haim Saban and his wife, Cheryl, a philanthropist.
Family of Robert C. McNair, owner of the Houston Texans in the N.F.L.
Hushang Ansary, a Houston businessman and former Iranian ambassador to the United States, and his wife, Shahla.
The oil billionaire Trevor D. Rees-Jones and his wife, Jan.
The hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen and his wife, Alexandra.
Isaac Perlmutter is chief executive of Marvel Entertainment.
Donald J. Trump
Presidential candidate, second-generation real estate developer and entertainer.
A Russian-born American citizen who is the richest man in Britain, according to Forbes.
A. Jerrold Perenchio, former chairman of Univision, and his wife, Margaret.
Co-founder of Home Depot.
William E. Oberndorf
Founding partner of SPO Partners, an investment firm.
Wife of Charles R. Schwab, the brokerage company founder.
Technology entrepreneur and investor.
Buchwald Wright Family
Karen Buchwald Wright, chief executive of an Ohio natural gas-compressor manufacturing company, and her husband, Tom Rastin.
Thomas H. Lee
Private equity and leveraged-buyout pioneer.
Robert A. Day
Grandson of the founder of Superior Oil and a longtime Bush family fund-raiser.
Nevada-based businessman and technology entrepreneur.
Gregory W. Wendt
Equity portfolio manager.
Founder of Tiger Management, a hedge fund.
Charles B. Johnson
Financier and part-owner of the San Francisco Giants baseball franchise.
Family of George Soros, billionaire philanthropist and hedge fund investor.
President of Louisiana shipping company.
James L. Robo
Mr. Robo gave $2,700; NextEra Energy, where he is chairman and chief executive, made corporate contributions of more than $1 million.
Family of Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation.
Thomas F. Stephenson
Silicon Valley venture capitalist.
Reebok founder and owner of a Nevada ranch.
Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, and his mother, Betty.
Al Hoffman Jr.
Retired Florida developer who served as ambassador to Portugal under President George W. Bush.
Chairman of a California private equity firm.
The film director J.J. Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath.
Leslie H. Wexner
Chairman and chief executive of L Brands (formerly Limited).
Stephen M. Silberstein
Co-founder of a company that develops data systems for libraries.
Film director and co-principal of DreamWorks.
Herbert M. Sandler
Founder, with his late wife, Marion, of Golden West Financial, the giant California savings and loan bought by the Wachovia Corporation in 2006.
Ronald O. Perelman
Billionaire businessman and art collector.
Founder of a home medical equipment company.
Louis Moore Bacon
Founder of the hedge fund Moore Capital Management.
S. Donald Sussman
Founder of Paloma Partners, a hedge fund in Greenwich, Conn.
President of the real estate company Schottenstein Management.
Billionaire coal mogul.
The Republican candidate Jeb Bush and family, including two ex-presidents, his father, George, and his brother George W.
David E. Shaw
Computer scientist and hedge fund founder.
Willis J. Johnson
Founder of Copart, a vehicle auction website.
Douglas L. Foshee
Chairman and chief executive of Sallyport Investments; former chief executive of El Paso Corp.
Duke Buchan III, founder of the hedge fund Hunter Global Investors, and his wife, Hannah.
Patricia A. Stryker
Heir to medical supply company fortune.
Founder of Quicken Loans.
The horse racing magnate Richard L. Duchossois and his children.
Venture capital executives.
Lawrence F. DeGeorge
Financial advisory executive.
Kenny A. Troutt, founder of a long-distance phone company, and his wife, Lisa.
Chicago investor and former Goldman Sachs executive.
Marc Stern is chairman of the TCW Group, a Los Angeles-based asset management firm.
Family of James H. Simons, founder of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies.
Founder of Houston investment firm.
Morton S. Bouchard
President and chief executive of an oil barge company.
Owners of Jackson Healthcare LLC.
Family that owns Herschend Family Entertainment, a theme park operator.
Peter and Julianna Holt
Principal owners of the N.B.A.’s San Antonio Spurs.
Doug Leone is partner in the venture capital firm Sequoia Capital.
Founder of Bridger Management, a hedge fund.
Hedge fund manager and activist investor.
John L. Nau
Chief executive of Silver Eagle Distributors.
S. Javaid Anwar
Pakistan-born founder of a West Texas energy company.
Howard E. Cox Jr.
Partner at Greylock, a venture capital firm.
Philip H. Geier Jr.
Former chairman and chief executive at the Interpublic Group of Companies.
Former chief executive of the insurance broker Willis Group Holdings.
Rex A. Sinquefield
An early pioneer of index funds, now retired and active in Missouri politics.
James A. Rubright
Retired chairman and chief executive of Rock-Tenn Company, a manufacturer of consumer packaging.
John P. McConnell
Chairman and chief executive of a steel company.
Chairman of the cruise operator Carnival Corporation and owner of pro basketball’s Miami Heat.
Bruce S. Sherman
Co-founder of Private Capital Management.
Ted E. Schlein
Senior partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Co-founder of Compuware.
Robert D. Walter
Founder of Cardinal Health.
Chen Shu Te
A retiree living in Hong Kong — but public records reveal little else about him.
The Goldman Family
John D. Goldman, a San Francisco insurance executive, is a son of the late philanthropist Richard N. Goldman.
Founders of Harbour Group, a St. Louis-based investment firm, and longtime Bush family allies.
R. William Becker
Owner of Peace River Citrus Products.
Founder of 5-hour Energy drinks.
Family of Itzhak Ezratti, president of G.L. Homes of Florida.
Heirs to the Motorola fortune.
Candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Family behind the grocery retailing chain Publix Super Markets.
Walter W. Buckley, founder of a Bethlehem, Pa., investment management firm, and his wife, Marjorie.
William C. Edwards
Venture capital executive.
Family behind Kojaian Management Corp., a real estate investment firm based in Michigan.
Stephen M. Lessing
Partner for Aqueduct Capital Group and former George W. Bush fund-raiser.
Owners of a dental benefits company.
Florida sugar barons, led by four brothers born in Cuba.
Stanley F. Druckenmiller
Investor and hedge fund manager.
John W. Childs
Florida-based founder of a Massachusetts-based private equity firm.
Lee Roy Mitchell
Chairman of Cinemark, a chain of movie theaters.
Kenneth C. Griffin
Hedge fund manager ranked as the richest man in Illinois.
Heirs to Kohler manufacturing fortune.
John C. Cushman III
Chairman of Cushman & Wakefield, a commercial real estate firm.
Detroit businessman and owner of the Ambassador International Bridge, the only privately-owned border crossing between the U.S. and Canada.
Victor F. Ganzi
President and chairman of the board of the P.G.A. Tour.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
C. Boyden Gray
Washington lawyer and conservative activist.
Former professional wrestling executive, who spent close to $100 million on two failed Senate bids in Connecticut.
Chairman of asset management firm.
Former Goldman Sachs banker.
Children of the late McHenry Tichenor Sr., a media mogul and pioneer of Spanish-language radio.
David B. Miller
Co-founder of a private equity firm that focuses on the oil and gas industry.
G. Brint Ryan
Chief executive of tax services firm.
Owners of Roch Capital, a Pennsylvania-based investment firm.
Thomas F. Petway III
Executive at Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the New York-based private equity firm.
James C. Flores
Brandon T. Steele
Financial services executive.
Founder of Falcon Cable.
Chairman and chief executive of Epoch Residential, a luxury construction company.
Scott T. Ford
Arkansas commodity executive.
Thomas L. Corr
Head of a petroleum distributor.
John M. Angelo
Co-founded an investment firm.
Amy P. Goldman
The daughter of the late Sol Goldman, a wealthy New York real estate investor, Ms. Goldman has written three books about growing heirloom fruits and vegetables.
Beverly Hills car dealer.
Founder of oil and natural gas exploration and production company.
John A. Gunn
Chairman emeritus of Dodge & Cox.
Hedge fund founder.
Kenneth M. Garschina
Founder of a New York hedge fund and longtime backer of Rand Paul.
Private equity investor.
Roger C. Altman
Investment banker who served as deputy secretary of Treasury during the Clinton administration.
Robert J. Bishop
Hedge fund founder.
Kenneth G. Langone
A founder of Home Depot and longtime supporter of Chris Christie.
One of the highest-earning hedge fund founders in the country, specializing in distressed assets.
Tracy W. Krohn
Auto racing enthusiast and founder of W&T Offshore, and independent oil and natural gas company.
Richard T. Farmer
Founder of Cintas Corp.
Barrett A. Toan
Former chief executive of a mail-order pharmacy company.
Owners of Crown Equipment Corp.
Founder and chairman of Penske Corp.
Owners of Miller & Long Real Estate in Bethesda, Md.
Fred Cunningham II
George M. Rapier
Chairman and chief executive of WellMed Medical Management.
Former owners of The Columbus Dispatch.
Art E. Favre
Founder of Performance Contractors.
The Lipsky Family
New Jersey hospital owners.
Robert E. Murray
Republican activist and chief executive of an Ohio coal mining company.
Co-founder of PCS Wireless.
Sources: F.E.C. and I.R.S. filings; voter registrations; property assessment and deed records; corporate filings.
Graphics and additional research by Wilson Andrews, Kitty Bennett, Jeremy Bowers, Sarah Cohen, Amanda Cox, Chase Davis, Alicia DeSantis, Ken Schwencke, Derek Watkins and Karen Yourish
Karen Yourish and Sarah Cohen contributed to this report.
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The super-affluent throw tens of millions of dollars into candidate and “super PAC” coffers, seeking to influence the 2016 presidential race.
Antioxidant Use May Promote Melanoma Metastasis Click Image To Enlarge + Results from a new study suggest that cancer patients should not supplement their diet with large doses of antioxidants. [grThirteen/iStock] Decades ago Nobel laureate and American chemist Linus Pauling espoused the benefits of taking megadoses of vitamin C to prevent and treat various diseases. This controversial practice has led many to promote the taking of antioxidant supplements to prevent everything from the common cold to cancer and has become an almost engrained practice for individual healthcare—unfortunately, with little scientific evidence to support the ritual. Now, researchers at the Children’s Research Institute at UT Southwestern (CRI) has uncovered evidence that suggests cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells, raising concerns about the use of dietary antioxidant supplements by patients with cancer. The investigators utilized a specialized mice model that had been transplanted with melanoma cells from patients, which previous work showed recapitulated metastasis of human melanoma cells and was predictive of their metastasis in patients. The CRI team found that when antioxidants were administered to the mice, the cancer spread more quickly than in mice that did not get antioxidants. “We discovered that metastasizing melanoma cells experience very high levels of oxidative stress, which leads to the death of most metastasizing cells,” explained senior author Sean Morrison, Ph.D., CRI director and chair in pediatric genetics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Administration of antioxidants to the mice allowed more of the metastasizing melanoma cells to survive, increasing metastatic disease burden.” The findings from this study were published online today in Nature through an article entitled “Oxidative stress inhibits distant metastasis by human melanoma cells.” It has long been known that the spread of cancer cells from one part of the body to another is an inefficient process in which the vast majority of cancer cells that enter the blood fail to survive, due to the highly oxidative environment and exposure to immune cells. “The idea that antioxidants are good for you has been so strong that there have been clinical trials done in which cancer patients were administered antioxidants,” noted Dr. Morrison. “Some of those trials had to be stopped because the patients getting the antioxidants were dying faster. Our data suggest the reason for this: cancer cells benefit more from antioxidants than normal cells do.” The CRI researchers were intrigued by their findings and acknowledged that although the study’s results have not yet been tested in people, they surmise that cancer should be treated with pro-oxidants and that cancer patients should not supplement their diet with large doses of antioxidants. “This finding also opens up the possibility that when treating cancer, we should test whether increasing oxidative stress through the use of pro-oxidants would prevent metastasis,” Dr. Morrison stated. “One potential approach is to target the folate pathway that melanoma cells use to survive oxidative stress, which would increase the level of oxidative stress in the cancer cells.”
The American Society of Clinical Oncology unveiled its framework for assessing cancer drugs earlier this summer, breaking new ground in helping doctors size up competing treatments. Now, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network is going a few steps farther.As Reuters reports, the NCCN will offer a tool to compare various drugs by their costs, benefits and side effects, in an effort to steer demand away from costly drugs that do little to improve patients’ survival.An alliance of 26 top U.S. cancer treatment centers, the NCCN already publishes influential treatment guidelines that advise doctors on treatment, taking into account disease stage, patients’ underlying health, and cancer type. The idea is to add the new cost-effectiveness tool into this mix, first on the NCCN website and in print–and eventually, within healthcare IT systems used by hospitals, the news service notes.
The model minority is losing patience
Asian-Americans are the United States’ most successful minority, but they are complaining ever more vigorously about discrimination, especially in academia
MICHAEL WANG, a young Californian, came second in his class of 1,002 students; his ACT score was 36, the maximum possible; he sang at Barack Obama’s inauguration; he got third place in a national piano contest; he was in the top 150 of a national maths competition; he was in several national debating-competition finals. But when it came to his university application he faced a serious disappointment for the first time in his glittering career. He was rejected by six of the seven Ivy League colleges to which he applied.
“I saw people less qualified than me get better offers,” says Mr Wang. “At first I was just angry. Then I decided to turn that anger to productive use.” He wrote to the universities concerned. “I asked: what more could I have done to get into your college? Was it based on race, or what was it based on?” He got vague responses—or none. So he complained to the Department of Education. Nothing came of it. “The department said they needed a smoking gun.”
In May this year Mr Wang joined a group of 64 Asian-American organisations that made a joint complaint to the Department of Education against Harvard, alleging racial discrimination. That follows a lawsuit filed last year against Harvard and the University of North Carolina by a group of Asian-American students making similar charges. The department rejected the claim in July, but another two complaints have since been filed by Asian-Americans, one against Harvard and one against nine other universities.
On October 3rd 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act into law, sweeping away a system that favoured white Europeans over other races. One of its main consequences was the beginning of mass immigration to America from Asia. By most indicators, these incomers have done better than any other ethnic minority group. Indeed, they have long been described as the “model minority”: prosperous, well-educated and quiescent. But there are problems, as a result of which they are becoming somewhat less quiescent than they once were.
Before the 1965 act, the experience of Asian-American immigrants had not been entirely happy. The largest mass lynching in American history, in 1871, in which 17 Chinese were murdered; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited Chinese immigration; the internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans in the second world war, when relatively few German- or Italian-Americans were interned: all were symptoms of a racism that was reserved not just for African-Americans.
Things changed after the war. The Chinese and Indians were seen as allies, and the internment of Japanese came to be seen as wrong. As the civil-rights campaign changed attitudes to race, the new immigration act enabled people to be admitted on the basis of skills and family relationships. Asia’s large population and fast-developing economies have meant an abundant supply of skilled aspirant Americans. In 2013 the numbers of both Chinese and Indian migrants overtook Mexicans for the first time.
Asia being a big place, Asian-Americans are a various lot, who came at different times, for different reasons and with different levels of education and prosperity. The Japanese mostly arrived before the second world war, the Chinese from the 1980s onwards. The Indians and Chinese are on average well educated and prosperous, whereas the (small numbers of) Cambodians, Laotians and Hmong are struggling. The Japanese—the only Asian group mostly born in America and more likely than not to marry a non-Asian—are closer in attitudes and educational level to the American population as a whole. But on average Asian-Americans are unusually well educated, prosperous, married, satisfied with their lot and willing to believe in the American dream: 69% of Asians, compared with 58% of the general public, think that “most people who want to get ahead can make it if they are willing to work hard.”
It is their educational outperformance that is most remarkable: 49% of Asian-Americans have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 28% of the general population. Whereas Asian-Americans make up 5.6% of the population of the United States, according to the complaint to the Department of Education they make up more than 30% of the recent American maths and physics Olympiad teams and Presidential Scholars, and 25-30% of National Merit Scholarships. Among those offered admission in 2013 to New York’s most selective public high schools, Stuyvesant High School and Bronx High School of Science, 75% and 60% respectively were Asian. The Asian population of New York City is 13%. Surging immigration is likely to increase the disparity between Asians and other groups, because recent immigrants are even more highly qualified than earlier cohorts: 61% of recent immigrants from Asia have a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30% of recent non-Asian migrants.
Why do they do so well? Amy Hsin of the City University of New York and Yu Xie of the University of Michigan examined the progress of 6,000 white and Asian children, from toddlers through school, to find an answer. They rejected the idea that Asians were just innately much cleverer than whites: there was an early gap in cognitive abilities, but it declined to insignificance through school. The higher socioeconomic status of Asian parents provided part of the explanation, but only a small part. Their data suggested that Asian outperformance is thanks in large part to hard work. Ms Hsin and Ms Xie’s study showed a sizeable gap in effort between Asian and white children, which grew during their school careers.
When the researchers asked the children about their attitudes to work, two differences emerged between Asian and white children. The Asians were likelier to believe that mathematical ability is learned, not innate; and Asian parents expected more of their children than white ones did. The notion that A- is an “Asian F” is widespread. Another study, by Zurishaddai Garcia of the University of Utah, shows that Asian-American parents are a lot likelier to spend at least 20 minutes a day helping their children with their homework than any other ethnic group.
In “The Asian American Achievement Paradox”, a study based on interviews with young Chinese and Vietnamese in Los Angeles, as well as Mexicans, whites and blacks, Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou argue that it is not just what happens at home that matters. They point to “ethnic capital”—the fact that these groups belong to communities that support education—as part of the explanation.
The Asian-American interviewees recall wearily their parents dangling the PhDs of cousins and neighbours in front of them. Being part of an entrepreneurial society helps. The four-inch-thick Southern California Chinese Yellow Pages, which lists Chinese businesses, offers thousands of listings for Chinese-run SAT prep and tutoring services. Close links to the motherland are also an advantage, to parents at least. Children who rebel may be threatened with being sent to stay with family in China, and they know from relations there that teenagers in America, even Asian ones, get off relatively lightly compared with those in China.
Thanks to such pressures and hard work, many Asian-Americans do end up in top universities—but not as many as their high-school performance would seem to merit. Some Asians allege that the Ivy Leagues have put an implicit limit on the number of Asians they will admit. They point to Asians’ soaring academic achievements and to the work of Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford of Princeton, who looked at the data on admissions and concluded that Asian-Americans need 140 SAT points out of 1,600 more than whites to get a place at a private university, and that blacks need 310 fewer points. Yet in California, where public universities are allowed to use economic but not racial criteria in admissions, 41% of Berkeley’s enrolments in 2014 were Asian-Americans and at the California Institute of Technology 44% were (see chart).
Racial prejudice of the sort that Jews faced may or may not be part of the problem, but affirmative action certainly is. Top universities tend to admit blacks and Hispanics with lower scores because of their history of disadvantage; and once the legacies, the sports stars, the politically well-connected and the rich people likely to donate new buildings (few of whom tend to be Asian) have been allotted their places, the number for people who are just high achievers is limited. Since the Ivies will not stop giving places to the privileged, because their finances depend on the generosity of the rich, the argument homes in on affirmative action.
Several states have banned the use of race as a criterion for admission to their public institutions and there have been several lawsuits against affirmative action. One, brought by Abigail Fisher (who is white) against the University of Texas, has been ricocheting between the Supreme Court and lower courts for seven years; in June the Supreme Court agreed to hear her appeal. In September, 117 Asian-American outfits under the umbrella of the Asian-American Coalition for Education filed a brief to back Ms Fisher. That case’s outcome will bear on the one brought by the group of Asian students against Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Given that several Supreme Court judges, including John Roberts, the chief justice, are unsympathetic to affirmative action, the court seems quite likely to rule against it.
Too successful by half
For the moment the court has taken the view that universities may take race into account, but racial quotas are not on. The Ivies deny running a racial quota. But in its comment on the Asian groups’ complaint, Harvard defends the use of race as a criterion in admission—“a class that is diverse on multiple dimensions, including on race, transforms the educational experience of students from every background and prepares our graduates for an increasingly pluralistic world”—and describes its admissions process as “holistic”, meaning it takes into account considerations wider than mere test scores.
Many Asian parents think this is wrong. They woke up a long time ago to the need to counter the stereotype of the maths-nerd Asian who does nothing but work, and encouraged their children to diversify—into music, debating, charity work, sports, everything that is supposed to increase students’ chances of admission. But many who have excelled in those areas, including Mr Wang and Irene Liu, a student from Massachusetts with a similarly stellar CV, were rejected by the Ivy League. Ms Liu’s mother, Tricia, says, “I feel angry about it. We came for the American dream: you work hard, you do well. This just doesn’t add up.” Irene has accepted a place at a top Canadian university, and is happy about it. Her mother isn’t: “It breaks my heart that she’s going abroad. If she had gone to Harvard, I could have brought her dumplings.”
Mr Wang doubts that Asians, in reaction, are likely to slack off. Asian parenting, he says, “isn’t getting more relaxed. It’s probably getting stricter, because parents realise they’re going to have to work even harder. Standards are rising for everybody, but they’re rising faster for Asians than for everybody else.” As Arnold Jia, a 14-year-old from Short Hills, New Jersey, points out, the problem becomes circular. “To counter affirmative action we have to work harder than everybody else,” he says. “And that reinforces the stereotype.”
But the Asian-American community is unwilling on the whole to oppose affirmative action. It tends to vote Democratic, and many of its members recall the years when they were a despised, not a model, minority. So those who dislike the way the system works tend to argue for it to be adjusted, not abolished; and some say that Asians should actually support it.
It is true that although Asian-Americans do remarkably well at school and university, and have high average incomes, in the workplace they are under-represented in top jobs. A “bamboo ceiling” seems to apply. Asians do well in the lower and middle levels of companies and professions, but are less visible in the upper echelons. Buck Gee, Janet Wong and Denise Peck, Asian-American executives who put together data from Google, Intel, Hewlett Packard, LinkedIn and Yahoo for a report published by Ascend, an Asian-American organisation, found that 27% of professionals, 19% of managers and 14% of executives were Asian-American (see chart).
A similar effect is visible in the law. In 2014, whereas 11% of law-firm associates were Asian, 3% of partners were. Recruiters at the top firms typically throw out applications from all but the top universities and scan the remainder for their extracurriculars, says Lauren Rivera of Northwestern University. “They’re particularly interested in sports, such as lacrosse, squash and [rowing] crew. When you look at the demographic base of these sports, Asian-Americans are not heavily represented.”
At the very top of the tree, Asian-Americans are nigh-invisible. According to a study of Fortune 500 CEOs by Richard Zweigenhaft of Guilford College, in 2000 eight were Asian-American, and in 2014 ten were, whereas the women’s tally in the same period rose from four to 24. Academia, similarly, is stuffed with Asian-American professors, but among America’s 3,000 colleges there are fewer than ten Asian-American presidents, says Mr Gee.
High-flying Asian-Americans, like the three authors of the Ascend report, suggest that cultural patterns may contribute to the group’s under-representation at the top. “There’s something in the upbringing that makes Asians shy,” says Mr Gee. “Engineers are nerds, but within that self-selected group of nerds, Asians are even more nerdy.” “We’re brought up to be humble,” says Ms Wong. “My parents didn’t want to rock the boat. It’s about being quiet, not making waves, being part of the team. In corporate life, you have to learn to toot your horn.” “There’s a natural order of human relationships in Confucianism,” says Ms Peck. “You don’t argue, you don’t contradict authority.” Asian-Americans are a large, diverse group exposed to a range of influences, but those who do reflect such patterns may be less likely to bid for leadership, even if they are highly qualified. The comparative prominence of South Asians, who are less likely to be told not to “rock the boat”—for instance, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo and Ajay Banga at MasterCard—is cited as anecdotal evidence.
Mr Gee, Ms Wong and Ms Peck, who run training courses to help Asians get promoted, recommend that they should network harder. But another study suggests that Asians may find getting mentors particularly tough. Researchers at Wharton Business School, Columbia University and New York University wrote an identical e-mail to 6,500 professors, ostensibly from students wanting to meet the academic. White men got notably more responses than other groups; Asian-Americans of both sexes got fewer. Since the Ivies produce a disproportionate number of CEOs, Congressmen and judges, the apparent bias against Asian-Americans at leading universities may also keep Asians out of leadership spots. “The ladder is being pulled away from our feet,” says Tricia Liu. “If we can’t go to the Ivy League universities, how can we get the positions in Wall Street, or Congress, or the Supreme Court?”
As Jerome Karabel’s study of Jews and the Ivy League (“The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton”) shows, it was only when Jews had gained political power that the Ivies stopped discriminating against them. And Asian-Americans are under-represented in politics as well as in business. Only 2.4% of the 113th Congress were Asian-Americans; by one count, fewer than 2% of state legislators are.
Where is Senator Kim?
South Asians, though less numerous than East Asians, are more visible. Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina, and Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, both Indian-Americans, are the only Asian-American governors in the lower 48 (David Ige, a Japanese-American, is governor of Hawaii). The contrasting political traditions of India and China may also be a factor. “We come from the largest democracy in the world,” says Sayu Bhojwani, who runs the New American Leaders project, which helps train immigrants to flourish in politics. “We’re prepared for it in the way that East Asians are not.”
In China, by contrast, “We went through the cultural revolution,” says Chunyan Li, a former employee of the Chinese finance ministry, now a professor of accountancy at Pace University in New York. “There’s a lack of trust in politics.”
Perceptions that Asian-Americans are being treated unfairly, especially in the workplace, may push more of them into politics. Andrew Hahn, a Korean-American partner in Duane Morris, a law firm, says, “I used to be a Twinkie, or maybe a banana—yellow outside, white inside—but once I hit the legal profession, I became a radical.”
College admissions—and the lawsuit against Harvard—may provide a spark to fire Asian-Americans into becoming more assertively political. Many in California were infuriated last year by a bill to rescind the state’s ban on using race in university admissions promoted by a Hispanic state senator. A Change.org petition and 36 organisations, 26 of them Asian-American, opposed the bill, and it was dropped. “There’s a growing community angst,” says Mr Hahn of the belief among Asian-Americans that they are being discriminated against. “What’s next? Law school admissions? Employment?” He organises political fund-raisers, and says that the coffers have opened. “Hedge-fund money, private equity, lawyers. They’re giving huge sums …It took the Jews half a century to get where they are,” he adds. “I hope it doesn’t take us that long.”
Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, the online shoe and clothing store, lives in a trailer park in downtown Las Vegas. The Airstream Park, as it’s called, occupies about half a city block, surrounded by a tall fence crowned with barbed wire and punctuated with palm trees. When I arrived in April, Adirondack chairs, picnic tables, and a colorful assortment of portable seating encircled a pair of fire pits. On one side of the park was a low stage, directly opposite a large two-story Airstream, known as the Llamamobile, equipped with a roof deck and a third fire pit and decorated with a mural of a lone llama grazing in a limitless lush green field. Next to the Airstream, modified shipping containers painted in primary colors revealed a laundry room, kitchen, and a pantry stocked with cases of Fernet, an Italian digestif. Scratched into a concrete step was the word “Llamalopolis.”
Hsieh sleeps in a 22-foot Airstream, and the park serves as his preferred location for hanging out with friends and colleagues, for entertainment, and for much of his business life. In personal style he is aggressively casual, wearing a daily uniform of blue jeans, black sneakers, and a Zappos T-shirt. Everyone calls him Tony. Although he is reserved and quiet, Hsieh clearly enjoys a good party. In his memoir, Delivering Happiness, he wrote that one of the primary reasons he sold his first company, LinkExchange, to Microsoft in 1998 was that running the business had ceased to be fun. So it comes as no surprise that the atmosphere Hsieh has created around himself in Las Vegas, where he moved the company from San Francisco in 2004, is aggressively festive. “South by Southwest meets TED meets Burning Man,” he told me. “But as a lifestyle, not a festival.”–advertisement–
Although Hsieh did not found Zappos—he was an early investor and joined the company as CEO in 2000—he encountered the same sense of connection and tribal identification in running the online shoe company that he had once felt at raves. His new company became his tribe, and although there were some tough times during the early years—the dot-com crash, layoffs, salary reductions, and extremely long hours—Hsieh’s focus was always about making the company culture as positive and caring and fun as possible.
That “tribal” focus remains strong today, and the company’s culture is decidedly wacky. An unofficial dress-code of T-shirts and sneakers predominates in its expansive open-plan offices; large tattoos, high-fives, and hugs abound; severed neckties, liberated from stuffed-shirt visitors, adorn a wall behind the lobby reception desk. Conventional job titles hardly exist, and top executives are referred to as “monkeys”; assistants, on the other hand, are “ninjas.” Stuffed animals, toys, and murals decorate most surfaces. Upbeat music blares from speakers in the headquarters’ courtyard. Zapponians, as the employees call one another, like to talk about “work-life integration” rather than work-life balance.
In recent years, however, Hsieh’s experiments with corporate culture have become more philosophical. About three years ago, he introduced an arcane management system, called Holacracy, that baffled many longtime Zapponians. Then, in March, he sent out an email to all 1,443 Zappos employees. “This is a long email,” he wrote. “Please take 30 minutes to read through the email in its entirety.” Ominous words to see in a message from one’s CEO. Were layoffs coming? Was Hsieh resigning? Was Amazon, which acquired Zappos for an estimated $800 million in 2009, finally going to impose its famously cutthroat corporate culture? No, it was nothing like that, though the news was certainly dramatic. After four paragraphs salted with esoteric terms such as “Teal organization,” “self-organization,” and “Glass Frog,” Hsieh finally reached the point: “As of 4/30/15, in order to eliminate the legacy management hierarchy, there will be effectively no more people managers.”
Zappos, Hsieh explained, was moving from “Green” to “Teal,” the next stage of its collective corporate evolution, and managers were no longer valued by the company. To make the transition easier, former managers would be permitted to keep their salaries, though not their responsibilities, through the end of 2015, if they chose to find new roles with the company. The email landed like a bomb at Zappos. People inside the company were upset. People on the outside were just confused, and a flurry of perplexed news items appeared in the business press. Clearly, some kind of corporate revolution was underway—though exactly what all this meant was far from obvious—and Hsieh wanted to make sure that his employees were on board. For those who were not, a new version of Zappos’s famous “offer” would be available. New Zappos employees typically undergo several weeks of training and education in the culture and traditions of the company, a period that includes at least one week working in the call center, or CLT (Customer Loyalty Team). At that point, new hires have the option to accept the offer: a no-questions-asked $3,000 payment if they’d simply like to walk away. In the March email, Hsieh asked everyone in his company to read Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux—generally referred to as “the book” by Zapponians—and to make their intentions known by April 30. If they decided to leave, they would receive a minimum of three months severance, or one month for each year on the job.
What was “Teal,” and why was it better than being “Green”? And what did it mean for an online retailer with annual sales of more than $1 billion, that fills 280,000 orders per week, to be “self-organized”? These were open questions, and no one at Zappos, including Hsieh, claimed to have the answers. But Hsieh had forcefully positioned himself at the vanguard of a growing movement that hopes to bring about the end of corporate management as we know it.
After I settled into the trailer where I would be staying for the next several nights, I walked around the park, where I met several bearded men. One was doing a handstand. They were working on a movie called Poor Boy. Lou Pucci, who had a long beard and ripped jeans exposing a painfully fresh tattoo on his leg, told me that he and his friends were trying to hang out here in the park as much as possible, because out there (he pointed vaguely toward the casinos in the distance) people were trying to corrupt them. “In the last couple of weeks I got engaged,” he said dramatically, swaying slightly. “And I got this big tattoo!”
Two of Hsieh’s close colleagues, Jeanne Markel and Maggie Hsu, arrived to give me a tour of the Downtown Project, a real-estate development and business incubator that over the last three years has transformed a formerly derelict section of Las Vegas known as Fremont East. The DTP, as everyone calls it, comprises about 60 acres of real estate, almost 300 buildings, and includes about 50 small businesses as well as various startups. The project was born about the time Zappos moved from Henderson, a suburb 15 miles outside of town, into the former Las Vegas City Hall downtown. Employees weren’t very enthusiastic at first, since the surrounding area was rundown and dangerous, so Hsieh decided to invest $350 million of his own money to transform the neighborhood. The DTP is not technically a part of Zappos, though in practice it’s often hard to tell the difference. Markel has moved back-and-forth, but now works at Zappos, basically as Hsieh’s shadow, while Hsu works for DTP. From what I could tell, Hsieh’s enthusiasm for his urban experiment seems to outstrip his interest in selling shoes.
After wandering through a hip collection of retail establishments, including a vinyl record shop, an independent bookstore, and several restaurants, we arrived at the large open courtyard of the Zappos headquarters, a squat, almost Brutalist, building. A petting zoo had been installed for the afternoon. After half an hour watching small children toddle around in cages chasing exotic armadillos and capybaras, I headed back to the Airstream Park, stopping first at a shopping center called the Container Park, which was guarded by a giant praying mantis perched on what appeared to be an armored personnel carrier, to grab a couple of tacos.
Back in the park, I selected a Corona from the communal pantry and deposited a dollar in a huge lifelike spotted piggybank. I sat down in an Adirondack chair near a fireless fire pit and chatted with a red-bearded Zapponian named Tyler Williams as he set up microphones and amplifiers on the Airstream stage for a biweekly jam session called Open Air. Williams, whose job title was “fun-gineer,” spotted my beer, told me I had the right idea, and got one for himself. More musicians arrived, and I was befriended by Gio, a charming six-and-a-half-year-old boy who lives in the park with his mother and sister. As I spoke with him, I noticed Hsieh walking back-and-forth, back-and-forth, across the ovular expanse of asphalt in the center of the trailer park. He was deep in conversation with a thirtysomething woman wearing shorts and a T-shirt. She did not look happy. Not at all. Catherine Cook, who works for Zappos in marketing and public relations, showed up, and then so did Markel and Hsu. Shadows were getting long, and people were starting to do sound checks. A blow-up movie screen had appeared behind the stage, and an array of stage lights had been set up as well. Hsieh was still walking back-and-forth, deep in conversation with the unhappy-looking woman. I met a Zapponian named Laura Krosky, who started in customer service and then moved to public relations. She was a marketing ninja for a while, and then answered Hsieh’s email. Before joining Zappos she worked as a blackjack dealer at Planet Hollywood.
Evening was coming on when I met the woman who had spent the previous two hours in the walking meeting with Hsieh. Her name was Rachel Murch. I mentioned I was writing about the changes at Zappos and she gave me a sharp, skeptical look and said, somewhat cryptically, “Or whatever all this will mean for Zappos.” Around 10 p.m. Hsieh and several other Zapponians went up to the top of the big Airstream for a meeting. I could see what they meant by work-life integration. By the time Lou Pucci took the stage and sang “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” the band had swelled. A guy named Joey was playing trumpet, and another named Daniel was tearing it up on an electric fiddle. A lovely dark-haired high school girl who sang and played guitar announced from the stage that she had an algebra test tomorrow, so she had to go home. I saw Hsieh pick up a tambourine and heard a couple of straight-laced guys—clearly not Zappos employees, possibly Germans—making plans to go sky diving with a slick start-up dude sporting stiff gelled hair and a leather jacket. From my conversations with various Zapponians, I gathered that this idyllic scene was typical of life in Tony Hsieh’s magical kingdom. Work was fun, which is good, because people never really stopped working. Meetings might be scheduled at 10 p.m. on a Sunday, in the middle of what appeared to be a party but was really just an extension of the all-encompassing Zappos corporate culture. Was this what Hsieh meant by self-organization? Did going Teal mean selling shoes and designer purses plus open mic sessions and Fernet shots?
I pondered these questions as I headed for my trailer. Right then I saw Murch approach Hsieh. They spoke for a moment and then walked away from the stage. I sensed the beginning of another walking meeting. The next morning I checked Hsieh’s public Evernote log, on which he memorializes his emails and meetings and often includes the number of steps he’s taken on a particular day. The previous day he had logged 12,916 steps. Last night he simply recorded “steps.”
On my second day in Las Vegas, I reported to the lobby of the Zappos headquarters building to meet my guide, Josh Pedro. Like many other employees, Pedro began his career in CLT, working the phones. After a few years, he moved to ZCON, the Zappos concierge team, which handles tours and the reception of vendors and guests. More recently, he had moved to the marketing team, which handles public relations. After checking me in at the front desk, we stepped out into the bright courtyard. “Tainted Love,” by Soft Cell, was blaring from outdoor speakers.
As we walked through the former city hall, passing stuffed giraffes and a tiger, Pedro explained the basic tenets of Zappos culture, which can be summarized by its ten core values, the most important of which seemed to be “deliver WOW through service,” “pursue growth and learning,” “create fun and a little weirdness,” and “embrace and drive change.” Naturally I had read about these core values before I arrived, and I had read Hsieh’s book, in which he argues that a company’s brand is best understood as a reflection of its culture. Even so, most corporate (and nonprofit) mission statements might as well be written on toilet paper in the chief executive’s bathroom. Not so at Zappos, which is renowned for its commitment to customer service. Shockingly, everyone also seemed to believe in the other values. The company encourages its 600 CLT representatives to make personal connections with callers, and to send flowers, cookies, or thank-you cards. Desks were adorned with balloons, wacky signs, streamers, stuffed animals, and other toys. Some walls were covered with murals painted by artistic employees; others advertised the company’s generous benefits packages as well as convenient services such as the on-site haircuts, laundry pickup and delivery, car washes, and oil changes. Most people wore sneakers and T-shirts, of course, but dry cleaning and shoe shines were available as well. Each floor seemed to have multiple kitchens and break rooms, vending machines, and mini-fridges filled with free snacks. Everywhere we went, I saw signs of creativity, fun, and moderate weirdness. People called out greetings to one another, and I saw multiple hugs and high-fives. Almost everyone was smiling. At first the earnest happy vibe felt slightly creepy, but I soon grew to appreciate it. The business of selling things over the internet was going on all around me. Orders were being placed on the web site, but that’s invisible when you walk the floor. People sat at desks and talked on the phone with customers, or they emailed or chatted with customers. Also invisible were all the warehouse personnel, who used to work in Kentucky for Zappos but now all work directly for Amazon—and, to judge from news reports, that doesn’t sound like very much fun at all. Most of the people I spoke to over the course of the next several days were extremely enthusiastic about the future of Zappos. But there were signs of trouble. At one point, I saw a samizdat Post-it in the elevator. It read: “sli.do/teal have something to say?” Later, when I went to the URL, I found signs of secret Zappos sadness:
Anonymous: “What on earth were they thinking having all of these changes going on at once? Why not hammer out one thing at a time?”
Anonymous: “I’m afraid to speak up in my circle because I’m afraid my lead link might retaliate. What resources are available to me?”
Anonymous: “Upvote this if you don’t trust Tony anymore.”
When the deadline arrived on the last day of April, 14 percent of the company, 210 people, took the offer. Twenty of them were managers, I was told, out of a total of 246. It was a difficult day. Tear-stained faces replaced the typical smiles on the Zappos campus.
My first formal interview at Zappos was with John Bunch, a tall and lanky former professional poker player who joined the company five years ago as a software developer. He told me he had been on a typical management path, running a team of other developers, when he saw an announcement for a new job shadowing Hsieh for a year as a technical adviser. Soon Bunch was taking on other projects, one of which was a pilot Holacracy program. Bunch quickly became a strong advocate, and when the decision was made to roll out Holacracy to the rest of the company, he led the effort.
Many of the reactions in the business media to the changes at Zappos have focused on Holacracy, probably because it’s a well-established brand, but that’s a bit like mistaking the finger for the moon. It is, in fact, just one example of a growing movement, driven largely, but by no means exclusively, by the technology industry, that seeks to apply insights derived from evolutionary biology and psychology, systems and chaos theory, as well as New Age spirituality and postmodern philosophy, to corporate management practices.
Of course, business school professors have been proposing far-reaching programs to reform the workplace, especially the corporate workplace, for as long as we’ve had business schools. They study successful companies, write up case studies, and publish their results in publications like the Harvard Business Review. Then they write inspirational how-to books. Entrepreneurs and heroic CEOs, like Hsieh and Jack Welch, also write best-selling “how I did it” books. Every now and then, a management guru like Clayton Christensen strikes a chord, and suddenly everyone is talking about “disruption.”
Another stream of the corporate reform movement grows out of a general dissatisfaction with bottom-line materialism and a lingering sense that devoting one’s life to the pursuit of naked profit leaves people emotionally exhausted and spiritually barren. You can see its roots as far back as the 1920s and 1930s, when Mary Parker Follet wrote a series of influential articles on the subject. Companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia came of age in the 1970s, and their founders strove to align their business strategies with their moral values. Nowadays “purpose” has emerged as a bankable buzzword.
Often these management trends are simply fads, voguish recipes for business success that do little but exchange one set of buzzwords for another. But every couple of decades, a new generation of management theorists comes along and applies the latest and greatest scientific paradigms to the corporation. The current wave of scientific management has been bubbling up for years. Managers have tried to make large slow-moving companies function like small agile startups. They’ve eliminated luxurious corner offices and imposed open-plan workspaces on middle managers and executive teams alike. Offices where the CEO occupies a regular desk like anyone else are now commonplace, and these changes have introduced a more casual and superficially democratic ethos to corporate America.
What’s interesting about the Zappos version of corporate reform is that it combines several familiar tropes of management theory. Hsieh is a successful entrepreneur and a heroic CEO and an inspirational “happiness” guru (his book’s subtitle is A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose) who happens to be fascinated with ideas derived from network theory and evolutionary biology, with systems that are at least partially self-regulating and self-organizing, like ant colonies and, to some extent, cities. Thus, it’s not really surprising that he would be attracted to a management technique like Holacracy.
Holacracy is, at its core, a commercial product. It was created by Brian Robertson, the founder of a defunct startup called Ternary Software. Robertson bills Holacracy as an organizational operating system, “social technology.” The word itself, a coinage derived from Arthur Koestler’s concept of the “holon” (sort of like a fractal, a whole that is part of a larger whole), is a registered trademark, and though the system is nominally free to use, companies must license Robertson’s proprietary web-based application, called Glass Frog, on which the system depends for its strict implementation. And by strict, I mean strict. A Holacracy meeting follows a rigid script, with a facilitator who directs conversational traffic. No chitchat allowed, no crosstalk. It is a model of efficiency but also inflexible and highly abstract and stultifying to describe in detail. The point is that all meetings follow the script, and decisions and action plans must be recorded in Glass Frog.–advertisement–
In general terms, though, the idea behind Holacracy is simple enough and follows from a few assumptions, such as the belief that people are inherently creative. Another is that old-fashioned management hierarchies stifle innovation, because they naturally generate informal rules and cliques of powerful insiders, which is inefficient and demoralizing, so a new and better system would be founded on clear, transparent rules. Even better, the rules should be flexible and adaptable, so governance procedures should be incorporated into the system.
So instead of having jobs, in Holacracy people have roles. Each role belongs to a circle rather than a department, and circles are guided not by managers but by lead links. Circles overlap, and individuals hold many different roles. Of course, in traditional organizations, individuals occupy a variety of roles as well, but this is often an implicit and de facto state of affairs. Holacracy codifies that reality, so that dynamic roles replace static jobs. Authority becomes distributed, rather like packets of information on the internet. People being people, conflicts and problems will naturally arise, and so a mechanism—“sensing a tension”—must be devised to handle conflicts and resolve them. A tension is not necessarily a bad thing, however. Tensions might arise from anything that prevents getting work done, any gap between what is and what ought to be. As its adherents often say, in Holacracy “tensions drive everything.”
The tension I sense in many readers right now is that this all sounds unnecessarily confusing and abstract. It sounds like something invented by a software engineer, and that’s exactly what it is. Companies that implement the system tend to be small and tech-oriented, like Medium, the blog publisher created by Twitter and Blogger co-founder Evan Williams. Zappos is by far the largest company to adopt Holacracy.
Of course not every meeting at Zappos follows the Holacratic script—that would be intolerable—but watching a well-run Holacracy meeting in action can be revelatory, because when everyone knows the drill it eliminates much of the time-wasting verbosity and psychological microdrama that often turns workdays into an endless series of unproductive jaw-sessions. Glass Frog, despite the twee name, is a decent mechanism for capturing the work that people actually do and helps in a meeting to memorialize what happened and who was supposed to do what as a result of the decisions made by the group. But it’s basically just a well-designed database and to-do list that teams use to define the work they’re supposed to be doing and to hold themselves accountable for those tasks. Of course, everyone also complains about its limitations.
When I was speaking with John Bunch, it was clear to me that he was passionate about the utility of Holacracy, but when I asked whether Holacracy was the goal or simply a tool, he didn’t hesitate. He sees Holacracy not as an endpoint but as a means of ascent toward that elusive state known at Zappos as Teal.
The language of Teal comes from “the book,” with its deceptively banal title, Reinventing Organizations. Zapponians use the book the way a certain kind of Marxist used to refer to the Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital. Teal, in Laloux’s grand narrative of human history, isn’t so much about work or workplaces, but a new stage in the evolution of humanity’s consciousness. Full-fledged Teal organizations, very much like true Communist societies, have yet to fully emerge, Laloux writes, but that claim often feels like a postmodernist hedge, because he freely describes the companies that he profiles as “Teal organizations.” Laloux devotes a few dozen pages of his very long manifesto to Holacracy, but far fewer than he does to a series of other businesses, all instances of a growing corporate reform movement dedicated to the idea that work should be invested with meaning and purpose, but also with flexible and innovative practices that avoid the traps of conventional management. Some of the companies Laloux profiles are familiar, such as Patagonia, but others are relatively small and are typically based outside the United States, such as Buurtzorg, a Dutch nonprofit that supplies home nursing care to the elderly. He also mentions Hsieh’s experiments at Zappos.
In Laloux’s scheme, old-fashioned bureaucratic corporations are wretched, miserable, soulless places. Filled with political infighting, turf wars, and meaningless procedures, they are slow to adapt to changing markets and technologies. They are like lumbering dinosaurs gazing up in befuddlement as a screaming asteroid comes across the sky, marking them for extinction. Teal organizations, by contrast, are—or will be—nimble, innovative, and dynamic, filled with joy and purpose. Many of the companies Laloux discusses have been around for decades, but HolacracyOne, Robertson’s firm, now occupies a special niche in the contemporary proto-Teal vanguard, primarily because of its adoption by Zappos. The central concept among the Tealiocrats is “self-organization.”
Laloux devotes many pages to a colorful typology of organizations that correspond, in his account, with different stages in the evolution of human consciousness—all of which aim, teleologically, toward self-organization. Human history thus begins with Reactive-Infrared (small family bands of hunter-gatherers) before progressing to Magic-Magenta (larger groups of up to a few hundred who explain the world using primitive animist mythologies), followed by Impulsive-Red. Red organizations emerge from war and conquest, and in the modern world still can be seen in street gangs and the mafia. Conformist-Amber comes next. “When Conformist-Amber consciousness emerged,” Laloux writes, “humankind leaped from a tribal world subsisting on horticulture to the age of agriculture, states and civilizations, institutions, bureaucracies, and organized religions.” As examples of Amber organizations, Laloux mentions the Catholic Church, government agencies, public schools, and the military.
Out of the Amber mindset grows the Achievement-Orange paradigm, which is based on science, progress, and material success. Orange organizations are all about innovation, research and development, meritocracy and accountability. Modern global corporations, such as Nike, Walmart, and Coca-Cola, are their embodiment. Many internet companies, like Amazon, despite their otherwise nontraditional cultures, also fall into the Orange paradigm. Yet as successful and profitable as Orange companies might be, for many people they remain unsatisfying. The relentless materialism of the Orange worldview causes many individuals to yearn for more meaningful lives. Enter the Pluralistic-Green paradigm. Green organizations (like Zappos in its pre-Holacracy incarnation) build upon the successes of Orange, yet seek to inject meaning, purpose, and fairness into their business models. Green organizations, such as Southwest Airlines and Ben & Jerry’s, often use the metaphor of family to describe themselves, and they have experimented with worker-ownership, rotating leadership, and other forms of power sharing. Most often, however, they devolve into a form of benign dictatorship; Green organizations often stand or fall with the presence of heroic and parental CEOs. Ben & Jerry’s, for example, was an iconic brand, known for its social and environmental activism. In 2000, however, after struggling for a few years, it was acquired by Unilever, the global food conglomerate, which promised its new employees everything would continue as before, but soon began downsizing and closing plants.
According to Laloux, each stage in the evolution of human organization has come as a result of a leap forward in the evolution of human consciousness. The move from Red to Amber happens when Red learns to internalize rules that allow it to control its impulses; the shift to Orange when Amber stops fully identifying with group values and norms; Green organizations emerge from the recognition that Orange organizations are devastating society and the planet. And, according to Laloux, “The shift to Evolutionary-Teal happens when we learn to disidentify from our own ego. By looking at our ego from a distance, we can suddenly see how its fears, ambitions, and desires often run our life.” Teal organizations are those that have freed themselves from their ego-fears and begun “to trust in the abundance of life.” People who have achieved the Teal mindset, Laloux writes, are often interested in wisdom traditions, transpersonal psychology, yoga, meditation, and martial arts. Rather than being preoccupied with social norms, success, or wealth, or even the Green value of harmony, Teal people are focused on internal yardsticks and self-actualization. “We do not pursue recognition, success, wealth, and belonging to live a good life,” Laloux explains. “We pursue a life well-lived, and the consequence might just be recognition, success, wealth, and love.”
At its heart, a Teal organization is one that seeks to empower its members to be creative, independent, adaptable, and self-directed—an alliance of entrepreneurs rather than an army of servile corporate drones. Mindful of the lures and snares of the Green mindset, they avoid the quagmire of consensus. As they undergo the transition to Teal, organizations do away with hierarchies of people and of power and replace them with a hierarchy of purpose. The three basic “breakthroughs” that Laloux attributes to Teal organizations are self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose. What being Teal means for any one company, then, will vary considerably. At Zappos, the most urgent question, one very much up in the air, is the following: What exactly will Teal mean for us? Which is just another way of saying, What does Teal mean for Tony?
From the Cave to the C-Suite
Illustrations by Ty Dale
When I sat down with Hsieh in late April, in a small conference room off the Zappos lobby, I asked him to describe what attracted him to the principles of self-organization. Hsieh spoke rapidly, in an almost affectless monotone; he was wearing his trademark jeans and a Zappos T-shirt. He gave several answers. First was the business perspective. The world is moving too fast, he said, and the business environment is too unpredictable to do things the old-fashioned way. He wants everyone at Zappos to approach their work like an entrepreneur, to be adaptable, flexible, resourceful, and creative. He spoke about cities and how resilient they are and cited a finding that when cities grow in size, the productivity of residents increases as well. Precisely the opposite happens with organizations. “Companies all die at some point,” he said. “But cities often don’t.” From a human perspective, he continued, Zappos has always encouraged its employees to bring their full creative selves to work, rather than leaving a big part of themselves at home. Keeping employees satisfied and engaged, for Hsieh, isn’t just a matter of benevolence. “There’s just so much untapped potential,” he said. “With 1,500 employees, I think the answers for almost anything we want to do are here.”
Holacracy, for Hsieh, has been useful as a means for making explicit what Zappos was already doing, and as a tool for reproducing his preferred practices throughout the company. The same could be said for “the book.” It’s a useful compendium of practices and case studies that will help Zappos as it evolves as a company.
When we spoke about principles of self-organization, our conversation inevitably turned to parties, and what makes a great one. When he lived in San Francisco, Hsieh bought a large loft primarily so that he and his friends would have a place to hang out. Now he uses the Airstream Park in the same way, and though parties are an important metaphor for Hsieh, he’s not the kind of person who thrives on being the center of the action. He prefers to be off to the side, “part of the energy,” but not occupying the stage. Watching what emerges seems to be the main attraction.
Hsieh told me he didn’t really think there was anything surprising or newsworthy about the March offer. Zappos has been on the path to Holacracy for some time, and they’d been talking about Teal for months. Employees have been urged to read “the book,” and free copies are available to all. “As far as the offer goes,” he said, “some were upset about the relatively short time-line. To me, that’s weird, because nobody was being forced to take it. If you don’t like the offer, just rewind a week and pretend that we never gave the offer.”
A number of the Zapponians I interviewed agreed. Brian Kirby, a software engineer who formerly worked at Adobe, told me he was “all Teal all the time.” Kirby is a big guy with a full beard, a receding hairline, and a huge personality. For him, Teal was all about personal liberty, and he even wrote a manifesto comparing Teal to the American Revolution. He told me the tech department had been slow to adopt Holacracy, and middle managers had actively resisted it. The attitude among some of his colleagues had been that Holacracy was just the flavor of the month. They preferred to ignore it, or adopt it superficially. That resistance among the tech department was borne out by the fact that 53 out of 257 people in tech, or just over 21 percent, took the offer.
As far as Kirby was concerned, that was just fine. He had joined Zappos because he saw the potential of self-organizing principles latent in Delivering Happiness, and he was sick of fighting with other middle managers. But the question of compensation was a real one. Kirby has a large family, and he told me if his compensation drops significantly after the new year, the deadline for former managers to establish their new roles in the company, he’ll have to leave. All this talk about higher stages of consciousness is fine, but even gung-ho Tealiocrats like Kirby are unwilling to live on the bleeding edge if they have to take a pay cut.
And so far, even months later, no one seems to know whether they will. It wasn’t just that management roles have been deprecated. Almost every management policy has been called into question. Everything—including compensation, performance management, discipline, time management and attendance, appointments and promotions, recruitment and dismissal—was very much in flux.
The resulting uncertainty explains why many Zapponians were upset by the April offer, even if they were fully onboard with the Zappos culture, Teal, and self-organization. Rachel Murch, the woman I had observed walking back-and-forth with Hsieh at the Airstream Park, was not at all happy with the way the change had been handled. A Las Vegas native who was recruited five years ago as a change manager, Murch told me she saw a draft of Hsieh’s March email before it was sent out. “I thought, ‘Oh my God. I have to figure out a way to make this better.’” She believes the final version was better than it had been, but she still thinks the whole thing had been handled badly. She immediately set out to organize a series of weekly “Teal Talks” to help employees make sense of the changes.–advertisement–
Murch believes the talks have been helpful, but feels like she and the other organizers were playing catch-up. “We’re now doing what we should have done months ago, before the offer was made, to prepare people and educate them,” she said. “Tony had no idea how people would take this.”
Murch didn’t take the offer, but she introduced me to someone who did. Chris Coy joined Zappos in 2014, so he hadn’t been at the company very long at all. I spoke to him by phone the week after he took the offer. Coy was hired as a user experience designer, to work on the web site, but Zappos’s customer-facing web site has been basically frozen for the last few years while the company migrates its backend systems to Amazon’s platforms, a multiyear project known as Supercloud.
In Holacratic terms, Coy’s role at the company fell within the “user experience community of practice,” a group that met from time to time to talk about their craft as designers, but, for the most part, he and his tech colleagues worked alone or in small teams. Coy told me he didn’t object to the principles of self-organization, and, in fact, he considers his whole career trajectory to have been self-organized. “It’s not the ideas, it’s the execution,” he said. “We’re not a culture of critique or open dialogue.” So people don’t feel free to speak openly because of the “subtle culture of coercive positivity.” He pointed out that you see the same thing in politics and religion all the time. An order gets handed down from above, and most people just fall in line. “Power is just reframing itself in this new ideology.” When I asked him why he thought things had been handled the way they were, Coy replied that change at Zappos has always been sudden and jarring. Over the last few years, as the company has grown, he believes the company’s leadership has simply struggled with the complexities that are inherent in such a large organization. “I think what we’re seeing,” Coy continued, “is an untethered leadership, especially at the executive level.”
It wasn’t just Hsieh who was out of touch with the lives of normal employees, Coy said. Other members of the core leadership were having a hard time empathizing with people in the call center, who, Coy said, were having a difficult time adjusting to all the changes. They’re at the bottom of the totem pole and, like most people who seek corporate jobs, they’re looking for security and stability. They tend to be risk averse, he said, even if they do have tattoos and piercings. He described one manager who said the people who don’t like the new state of affairs can always get another job. But entry-level jobs aren’t that easy to come by in Las Vegas (or anywhere), Coy responded, and for people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, a job that’s always in flux can be pretty terrifying.
“People who live in trailers,” he said darkly, “generally do so because they’re broke, not because it’s a fun social experiment.”
Meanwhile, the migration of Zappos’s entire IT infrastructure to Amazon—which means figuring out a way to move an extraordinarily complex set of custom software programs that power a billion-dollar-a-year e-commerce site over to an entirely new environment—continues. The difficulty of this effort is almost unfathomable. Imagine taking a million square pegs and attempting to insert them into a million round holes, except you don’t even know if all the holes exist, or where the holes might be located, and you have to negotiate access to the holes with dozens of different teams of hostile software engineers. The project has consumed Zappos’s tech department for more than two years, and during that time, the Zappos site has been almost completely static. That means no improvements or innovations and only minimal bug fixes.
Barry Van Beek, the project’s program manager, told me he thought Supercloud was the single largest e-commerce replatforming in history. “No one has ever attempted this before, on this scale.” Van Beek, who has been at Zappos for eight years, said Supercloud has about 20 different teams, with 250 to 350 people, including contractors, working with more than 100 different Amazon teams. When they began, they had no idea what they were getting into. It took months to figure out what was available on the Amazon side, and for well over a year, Van Beek wasn’t even sure the migration was technically possible. But, he said, Supercloud is an Amazon-mandated goal, and they didn’t have any choice. So they figured it out. “The level of effort,” he said, “was almost incomprehensible.”
As Van Beek described the enormous scale of the project, which was introduced by Zappos leadership in March 2013, I couldn’t help but notice that Supercloud happened to correspond almost exactly with the introduction of Holacracy. Van Beek agreed. “Anytime you introduce companywide or departmentwide change, it’s going to have a negative effect on your progress,” he said. “We were prepared for that. Zappos is a place of never-ending change anyway.” Holacracy was a big change, he said, but it wasn’t really all that disruptive. Software projects often tend to be self-organizing, and Supercloud, because of its vast scale, had to be broken up into largely autonomous teams anyway. Each team was given broad goals, but how they ended up meeting those targets was left to the individual members. The introduction of Teal, however, was something else entirely. Teal has been “far more disruptive to our progress,” Van Beek said. “And I think it’s had more of an effect on morale. Mostly because it’s personal.”
For managers, having that identity stripped from them was personal; being told their compensation might change was personal. Van Beek’s title of program manager will no longer exist. All of a sudden, as the deadline for the completion of Supercloud loomed at the end of 2015, instead of thinking about how they were going to get the web site’s shopping cart to work on an Amazon server, Zapponians were worried about whether they should stay at the company or take the severance package. As a result, almost immediately after the original offer, damage control kicked in, and the tech department was given a deferred offer and a deadline of January 1, 2016. “If we hadn’t put together the deferred offer,” he said, “I think we would have seen a level of attrition in tech that probably wouldn’t have allowed us to complete it at all this year.”
Even so, the offer hit tech hardest. Whole teams were devastated. Now Van Beek had to worry about replacing extremely talented and expensive employees. Then, once the April 30 deadline had passed, Zappos published a list of who had taken the offer. That took everyone by surprise. “A lot of people didn’t get to tell their colleagues and friends that they took the offer before the list came out.”
For the engineers, developers, and programmers who stayed, the road to Teal will not be easy. Each of them must grapple with significant questions. As Van Beek put it, “Not only do I have to decide whether I want to work at Zappos anymore, but is my role going to be relevant? Is it even possible for me to stay, and if so, in what context? Will I be using the skills that I’m passionate about?”
I asked Van Beek if he would have preferred for Hsieh to wait until after Supercloud to make the Teal offer. He laughed pretty hard at that question. “Oh, absolutely. I call it executive interruption. That’s expected, especially at Zappos. But when Supercloud began, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine executive interruption at this scale, especially toward the end of what we’re trying to do. Not saying that the decision was right or wrong. Just happens to be at a time when we’re trying to finish what is probably the most complex thing we’ll ever work on.”
Van Beek told me he is confident Supercloud can be completed, but he worries the disruptions caused by the offer, as well as unforeseeable delays on the Amazon side, will slow their progress. When Zappos does complete the migration, he hopes the tech department will be able to turn its attention to innovating in the e-commerce space, tackling challenges such as the size and fit problem. If customers are more likely to arrive at a good fit before they order, eliminating returns and the associated restocking and shipping costs will improve margins.
Somehow I doubt Hsieh will be satisfied with such mundane improvements. Every few years, he decides to turn his company upside down. First it was the move to Las Vegas, then the move downtown, then the introduction of Holacracy. Now it was Teal and the offer. Hsieh said he expects the offer to be “something we’ll probably randomly end up doing in the future. Not on a set schedule, but call it every three-to-five years.” Next time around there will likely be some new theory of organizations that will motivate him. It’s a recipe for permanent revolution, a revolution that is driven, above all, by his instincts and intuitions. Maybe he just gets bored.
But the disconnections, miscommunications, and “executive interruptions” described by Murch, Coy, and Van Beek suggest that Hsieh’s relentless organizational experimentation may no longer be as sustainable as it once was, when Zappos was a much smaller company. When the CEO becomes a distant figure, sheer force of personality and charisma cease to be enough to motivate hundreds of employees as they weather wave after wave of perpetual organizational flux.
In June, I contacted Murch to see if things were beginning to settle down at work. “No one knows how to get things done anymore,” she wrote to me in an email. “It’s easy when there are bosses with budgets. Now we still don’t have any answers to how budgets are going to work, and no one is willing to make any decisions because they don’t know if they have the authority to do so. My Zappos life is not very productive right now and I hate that. Hopefully things will get better soon.”
When I followed up in September, Murch told me things were slowly improving, or at least that people were figuring out how to get their work done. When I asked if anything had been decided about how compensation was going to be set, however, she sounded less enthusiastic. In fact, she sounded pretty frustrated. Increasingly, she said, compensation at Zappos was being tied to something called “badges” and a confusing new internal currency called “People Points.” Everyone at Zappos has 100 People Points that add up, roughly, to the percentage of time they spend on all of their roles.
The badging system seems to be modeled on scouting merit badges. Employees can earn badges for attending workshops or events. These are “suit up-show up” badges, Murch said. And badges exist for a variety of accomplishments, which are created mostly by employees themselves, or perhaps by lead links in particular circles, or by Hsieh. Then there are the compensation badges, and these, she said, were getting a lot of attention right then, for obvious reasons. “People are starting to go, OK, I’m ready for a raise, what do I have to do?”
One thing Zapponians now have to do is their own research about salaries, to find out the market rate for jobs at other companies that correspond to their roles. In a normal corporation, such things are taken care of by the human resources department. Not at Zappos, not anymore. Instead, if Murch wants a raise, she has to do all the research into what she’s worth, create a badge, come up with qualifications for receiving the badge, and then design the actual look of the badge. Then it all has to be approved by the People Pool & Comp circle. And who happens to be the lead link of that circle? “Now, instead of trying to convince your boss that you deserve more money,” said Murch, incredulously, “you have to convince Tony Hsieh.”
The emphasis on badges and People Points has been building for some time, and Murch, for one, has tried to ignore it, but she knew that eventually she was going to have to get with the program, goofy as it was, if she ever wanted another raise, or even a cost-of-living increase. Murch also mentioned something new, something that seems to have been invented since the Teal offer, known as “the Beach,” which is where people “go” if they don’t have a role. If a lead link doesn’t like you, or doesn’t think you’re good at your job, that person can remove you from the role. The lead link can’t fire you anymore, so someone at Zappos came up with the fairly terrifying idea that people with no roles should be “on the Beach.”
Murch put me in touch with a former manager named Tammy Williams who has been trying to reform the Beach. Williams, who joined Zappos in October 2014 after a 30-year career in Toronto, was hired as a senior manager in HR, and relocated to Las Vegas just a few months before her job was eliminated with the advent of Teal. She chose not to take the offer, however, because she saw the changes as an opportunity. She could act almost as an independent contractor or entrepreneur within a large company. Plus she looked around and saw obvious needs that she could meet.
Zappos culture, she said, had always been one of “hire slow and fire fast.” People who were identified as bad “culture fits” were quickly weeded out. With the coming of Teal, however, and the creation of the Beach as a kind of holding pen or killing floor, the culture had taken a brutal turn. Some people who got beached found themselves being shunned as if they were contagious. These were people who, for whatever reason, were not successful at manning the phones, for example, but perhaps could make a contribution elsewhere in the company. It’s not that they were suddenly bad people. They just needed help.
So Williams rechristened the Beach as the Why Space, a kind of in-company outplacement agency. “Tony has allowed me two weeks to three months,” Williams said, for “beachgoers” to reinvent themselves. All beachgoers who enter the Why Space start off with two weeks, and Williams extends their stay a week at a time, “as long as they are doing the work,” which means keeping a journal, attending workshops, and taking personality assessments as they seek to be redeployed within the company.
Williams told me the story of one woman, named Rosemary, who had been removed from her role in CLT shortly after she completed new hire training. Her lead link didn’t think she was connecting emotionally with customers, even though the woman had 13 years of call-center experience. As it turned out, Williams said, Rosemary was simply too polite. She said, “Yes, ma’am,” and, “Yes, sir,” because that’s how she had been trained to address customers, but such old-fashioned formal manners were foreign to her lead link, who demanded a grittier personal style. Rosemary was the first beachgoer to keep a journal, which is now a requirement of the Why Space. At a recent all-hands meeting, Williams asked Rosemary to read her journal in front of the entire company, to show people how hurt she’d been when her new Zappos friends had ostracized her after she was beached. After reading the journal, Rosemary was offered a new role right there onstage.
The theme of the all-hands meeting had been “Hero’s Journey,” and was organized around the work of Joseph Campbell, whose popular writings on myth are heavily infused with Jungian psychoanalysis. Everyone was so inspired by Rosemary’s example, by the way she had “slain her dragon,” that the Why Space was rebranded as Hero’s Journey—though as often happens at Zappos, with its frequent changes of nomenclature, Zapponians will probably always use the Beach, Why Space, and Hero’s Journey interchangeably, thus giving new hires and visiting journalists even more to scratch their heads about. “Beachgoers” and “Why Spacers” are also now known as “Explorers.”
I asked Williams about the badges. “There was just an email—finally, everyone’s been waiting on it—probably 15 minutes before our call, from Tony’s circle, the People Pool & Comp circle, and they have come right out and said explicitly now that in the future they’re moving the compensation structure to badging skill sets that you bring to the workplace.” The email she mentioned, also known as a “shard” from Glass Frog, included a link to the new compensation policy, which outlined a labyrinthine process that has defeated my most strenuous attempts at comprehension. At Zappos, Williams said, the traditional HR concept of a career path is out the window. “We’re being encouraged to think in terms of a choose-your-own-career adventure.”
The contemporary movement of corporate reform, the drive to make the workplace more humane and meaningful, to imbue companies with joy and a higher purpose, will not stand or fall with Zappos. But if it does fail, if Amazon clamps down and assimilates the happy-wacky Zapponian culture and absorbs all those smiles and hugs and high-fives into its vale of tears, the rest of the reform movement will suffer. The stakes are pretty high, at least for people who would prefer not to spend their days in a live-action Dilbert comic strip. Unfortunately, right now it seems that most of the self-organizing and self-actualization at Zappos is being carried out by Hsieh. Everybody else is just following along.
One night in Las Vegas, I was sitting around a fire pit in the Airstream Park with a group of visitors when Hsieh showed up and decided to give everyone a tour of the Downtown Project. Eventually we found ourselves on Fremont Street next to the giant praying mantis, which Hsieh bought one year at Burning Man. Behind the praying mantis was a geodesic dome the size of a small house, illuminated from within by colored lights. Hsieh was using a special iPhone app to control the lighting, changing colors, and making them pulse on and off. Suddenly, the mantis began belching fire from its antennae. The noise and the heat were almost too much. Small children scattered, laughing and screaming with delight and terror. Hsieh made a quick gesture, and the mantis operator descended with a simple push-button controller. We each took turns working the mantis, shooting fire into the desert air in time with AC/DC and Queen. Off to one side, Hsieh quietly presided over the spectacle, the puppet master in his element, in the flow but well out of the spotlight, his face aglow, eyes flashing.
Roger D. Hodge is national editor of The Intercept. He is the former editor of the Oxford American and Harper’s Magazine, and the author of The Mendacity of Hope: Presidential Power, Corporate Money, and the Politics of Corrupt Influence. He is @rogerdhodge on Twitter.
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Inside Zappos’ radical experiment to reinvent the American workplace.
We’re social animals — it’s just the way the cookie crumbled. For the most part, even the most introverted of human beings need some sort of human contact every once in a while, and face-to-face interactions may still be better than sending an email or a text. Despite what we may think about staying connected via technological advances, a new study suggests that when it comes to staving off depression, actually seeing your friends does a whole lot more good than sending them an emoji. The effects of actually seeing your friends in person are particularly salient in older individuals, and according to the Oregon Health and Science University study, those who reported “regular interactions with family and friends” were 5 percent less likely to face depression when compared to peers who only maintained phone, text, or email relationships. “We see a dose dependent effect with in-person contact,” says Dr. Alan Teo, a professor of psychiatry at OHSU. “The more face-to-face meetings, the lower the [depression] rates go.” Related: Apple’s newest iPhone isn’t as popular as its predecessors In conducting their study, researchers examined the interpersonal interactions of more than 11,000 Americans aged 50 years and older. Study participants were then monitored for two years for risks and signs of depression (other factors including health status, distance from family members, and mental health history were also taken into account). Ultimately, doctors found that respondents who had regular face-to-face interactions with their friends and family (at least three times a week), faced only a 6.5 percent chance of developing depression. On the other hand, those who only saw their friends or family once every few months or even more infrequently had an 11.3 percent risk of developing depression. Overall, some 9.5 percent of American adults suffer from depression at some point in their lives, so study results would suggest that having these in-person meetings with loved ones more frequently actually helps with overall psychological health. Of course, this isn’t to say that emails, texts, and other digital forms of communication are bad for us as a society. Indeed, an increase in messaging devices and mediums certainly allows human beings to stay more connected to one another. But at the end of the day, Teo says, emails, texts, and even phone calls, “are no substitute for face-to face contact.” While the study only examined older Americans, researchers believe that similar results may be extrapolated to millennials as well. However, with young adults’ widespread adoption of various social media outlets, Teo is curious as to the effects of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms on feelings of depression, anxiety, and isolation. “In one of my next studies,” he said, “I am now trying to measure all different types of social media use to see how that plays out with mental health outcomes, particularly in younger adults.” So take note, friends. The next time you’re sharing a laugh or a gif via text or email, consider actually sharing some time in person. You may just put yourself in a better mood by doing so.
Scientists were looking for planets forming in the large disk of dust surrounding a young star when they encountered a surprise: fast-moving, wavelike arches racing across the disk like ripples in water. The team first spotted the five structures in data from the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile while searching for lumps and bumps that might indicate planets forming around the young star. When the researchers looked back at images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope in 2010 and 2011, they managed to spot the same features — but in new locations. A new video of the mysterious ripples, describes the strange features as seen by ESO scientists. “Our observations have shown something unexpected,” Anthony Boccaletti, a researcher from LESIA (Observatoire de Paris/CNRS/UPMC/Paris-Diderot) in France and lead author on the paper, said in a statement. “The images from [the Very Large Telescope instrument] SPHERE show a set of unexplained features in the disk, which have an archlike or wavelike structure unlike anything that has ever been observed before.” [The Top 10 Strangest Things in Space]
The studies, based on data collected from 30 women who participated in the Kinsey Institute’s WISH Study – Women, Immunity and Sexual Health – were both lead by Tierney Lorenz, a visiting research scientist at the Kinsey Institute of Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University in Bloomington.
“It’s a common recommendation that partners trying to have a baby should engage in regular intercourse to increase the woman’s changes of getting pregnant – even during so-called ‘non-fertile’ periods – although it’s unclear how this works,” Lorenz said in a press release. “This research is the first to show that the sexual activity may cause the body to promote types of immunity that support conception.”
In the paper published in Fertility and Sterility, Lorenz and colleagues collected saliva samples from 30 healthy premenopausal women, 16 of which were abstaining from sex – and 14 who were sexually active – at the four phases of the women’s cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory and luteal phases.
Lorenz and colleagues found significantly higher levels of type 2 helper T cells, which are believed to help the body accept changes associated with pregnancy, during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. They also found higher levels of type 1 helper T cells, which act as the body’s defense against illness or disease, in the same women during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.
“We’re actually seeing the immune system responding to a social behavior: sexual activity,” Lorenz said in the release. “The sexually active women’s immune systems were preparing in advance to the mere possibility of pregnancy.”
In the paper published in Physiology and Behavior, Lorenz and colleagues collected the same type of saliva samples from 32 healthy premenopausal women – 15 sexually active and 17 abstinent. Once again, the sexually active women showed greater changes to helper T cells and proteins that T cells use to communicate to the body that it’s ready for pregnancy.
More Sex May Mean Better Fertility was originally published on U.S. News & World Report
Public health doctor: ‘these mass shooting that are happening in public places are definitely contagious’ | Reading Eagle – APAuthor: SupremePundit
How can we prevent future tragedies like the shooting that took place in Roseburg, Ore., on Thursday?TODAY’S SPONSOR:
Some doctors believe that the key to preventing this kind of violence is to literally treat it like disease. One is Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who spent a decade fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and cholera in Asia and Africa.
After returning to the U.S. in the 1990s, Slutkin had a realization. The patterns of violence he saw in U.S. cities looked eerily similar to how he had seen infectious disease spread in communities around the world. He went on to found a group called Cure Violence, which advocates treating violence with the same public health approaches that are widely used to fight disease.
This model is being used to prevent community violence in 15 U.S. cities and seven countries, the group says. But Slutkin believes that it has a much bigger role to play in helping to the U.S. address the tragedy of mass shootings, like the one that occurred in Roseburg, Oregon.
I spoke with Slutkin, who now teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, about why he sees violence in America as an unrecognized epidemic. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Treating violence as a public health issue is still somewhat controversial in the U.S. For example, the NRA pushed to delay the confirmation of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy last year after he said that that gun violence should be treated as a public health issue. What’s the history of this idea?
A. What has been meant by this in the past is that you can approach violence with epidemiological methods, which essentially means that you can apply science to it, figure out where it is, and predict it.
But we’ve gotten much more sophisticated since then, and now we have very specific health methods for reducing it. We understand that the people doing violence have picked up a set of behavioral patterns by the way the brain copies things. And also that people follow their peers, and there are strong brain processes that encourage you to do that.
If you go beyond thinking about violence as a moral problem and instead try to understand it as a health issue, many things that were previously unexplainable can be explained. People are always saying “senseless acts of violence,” but that’s really because we haven’t made sense of it.
Q. What is the main opposition to this idea?
A. There are health researchers who are highly focused on guns themselves, and they think that it being a health problem has something to do with that, and it doesn’t necessarily. Our scientific understanding at the Institute of Medicine is much more fundamental — it’s understanding behavior. Arguably the most important thing that we do in public health is change behavior, such as eating, smoking, exercise, sex.
The end game here is really to understand and change the behaviors. And we’ve been able to show that you can drop the amount of shootings and killings very fast by using health-based detection and behavior change methods. Health workers can drop the numbers of shootings and killings in a neighborhood 50%, 70%, up to 100%.
Q. How do health workers do that specifically?
A. In cities like Chicago, Baltimore, Kansas City and New York, there are workers called interrupters. And their job is to find out who is upset or angry or thinking about doing a shooting. No event has happened yet, but maybe someone was mad at someone last night at a party, or someone messed around with somebody’s girlfriend.
Because of how they were selected and trained, those interrupters are trusted, and they find out who is at risk in the neighborhood. These workers approach the person, and they help cool people down and try to find some kind of resolution. And the research has shown that we can stop those events.
These workers act the same way as other health workers, who are looking for active cases of tuberculosis that could spread. Right now, there is very little plague or bird flu or SARS, why is that? Because there are health workers out there looking for cases, and they’re able to prevent a first case, or if there is a first case, they’re able to prevent the spread.
Q. Do these methods really apply for a mass shooting incident like the one that happened in Oregon? Mass shootings seem much more sporadic and difficult to predict than the kind of community violence you’re talking about.
A. I understand how they appear differently. But these mass shooting that are happening in public places are definitely contagious. They become more frequent after each event. That’s part of how the brain imprints things — people do the same thing they saw.
So they can be managed in a similar way, having health-based detection and interruption networks that spread out along wide nets. What I suggest is that statewide health departments begin to look for where there is a lot of susceptibility. And when you do that, you end up finding a lot of other people who also need help and have different levels of the same problem.
We see the same profile repeatedly of highly marginalized, socially disconnected and depressed people. In people who are really marginalized, who have been really socially disconnected, the brain lights up in an area that is associated with pain. They have real pain. Some people are living with that chronically, and these people need to be helped.
Our society has developed too many people who are like this, and we need to turn a corner by understanding what’s going on here. And that’s what health is about. It’s not exactly the common view, because there’s a lot of anger. But the health sector really tries to understand a problem, not to judge it or blame, and very practically come up with solutions.
Q. Is it really practical to deploy health workers to help all of the socially disconnected and depressed people in America? It just seems like the scale of this problem is so huge, would health workers really be able to address it?
A. The answer is certainly yes, this can be done. It will require a large number of health workers. This is a large job opportunity for the country and particularly a job opportunity for people in the community.
I’ll give you an example. I worked in refugee camps in Somalia. We had six doctors, and there were a million refugees in 40 camps. There was serious malnutrition, an unimaginable rate of death from diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria. So it seemed like this was an unmanageable problem. But what we did is we recruited tens of thousands of health workers, who were taught just a few simple things that needed to be done.
These are paid jobs, but they’re paid at a scale that’s different than the people who have gone to 10 years of school. Because what’s required to help a mom manage diarrhea, or talk to a sex worker about safe sex, or talk to someone who is suffering a lot, it’s often not that complicated. We’re either giving people nothing or super-everything, and it makes absolutely no sense.
God knows there are tens or hundreds of thousands of people who could use some kind of help in this arena. The country is suffering. Anxiety and depression scores in high school and college are much higher than they were 30 or 40 years ago.
Q. Why do you think that might be?
A. It’s a very achievement-oriented, status-directed, individualistic culture, which also somehow leaves an awful lot of people behind. And the people that are left behind are in some cases invisible to others, but they’re suffering. And their suffering really affects all of us.
Q. It’s easy for us to understand how a disease can be transmitted from one person to another. But how does this work for violence?
A. The thing to understand is how the brain acquires behaviors or responses. TB replicates itself in the lung. Cholera multiplies in the intestine. The brain is the intermediary that takes in violence – having seen it, or having experienced it — and then produces more of it.
It’s more than one thing that’s set up to do this. Copying is the main way we learn things, and it’s evolutionarily functional in most cases. We are now aware that there are circuits in the cortex of the brain that fundamentally just do what they see.
There are also reward pathways that correspond with getting your friends’ approval. And there’s a whole other system that keeps you locked in if everyone’s doing something but you’re not, and that’s the pain side. And then having an underdeveloped frontal lobe, like teenagers do, means behaviors are more predicted by what their friends are doing than what the consequence could be, for example, going to prison or dying.
This was an epiphany for me when I was doing HIV AIDS work – whether people used a condom or not was not primarily predicted by whether people knew anything about AIDS, it was largely about what their friends were doing.
Violence is a particularly contagious behavior because it is very, very emotional. Al Bandura at Stanford figured this out years ago, that the more salient the action, the more attention it gets, the more likely it is to be copied.
Q. What can you do after an incident like this shooting to stop the contagion?
A. It actually isn’t so complicated, which is really fortunate. State and health departments should get funds, and they should develop detection and interruption networks that look at high risk areas, where there are a lot of individuals who are possibly socially marginalized, where mental health problems are common, and start to get into detection.
Yes, these are rare events, but the payoff is going to be so much more than the prevention of these events. There are going to be so many more people who will be helped, and that will benefit our healthcare system, our schools and our prison systems.
It’s just that our world view on this is still stuck saying that these are bad people. In a way you’re telling the world that the earth is round, even though it doesn’t appear to be. You’re telling people to hydrate their child when he has diarrhea, even though it appears to make diarrhea worse. It’s not intuitive, but it’s what science has revealed.
That’s how we turned the corner on leprosy and plague and TB and most infectious disease. We stopped seeing these as moralistic issues, and realized that there are invisible things going on, and suddenly we understood it. We began doing hand washing, rat control, immunizations, and a whole host of new strategies that were not in play in the early 1800s. Even in recent history, we were blaming people for alcoholism or for mental illness, and some people still do that. But this is in the same category, these are brain processes.
When a problem is going on and on, and people are saying the same thing, and they’re blaming the same thing, and everyone is angry, what does that mean? What is the diagnosis of that? It’s because people don’t understand what’s going on, or they haven’t found a solution that is feasible. And it’s because people don’t see this as a health problem that is contagious, and possible to detect and interrupt.
We do it all the time in public health, and no one sees it. No one sees why there isn’t smallpox or the plague or bird flu. That’s public health doing its job, and that’s what needs to be applied for these shootings.
– See more at: http://www.readingeagle.com/ap/article/public-health-doctor-these-mass-shooting-that-are-happening-in-public-places-are-definitely-contagious#sthash.EgpLyc1z.dpuf
(c) 2015, The Washington Post.How can we prevent future tragedies like the shooting that took place in Roseburg, Ore., on Thursday?Some doctors belie
Commuting affects your mental health, your physical health, and even the way you think about other people. And these changes are more profound than you might think.
The average commuter spends about an hour a day heading to and from work, but plenty spend as much as three hours commuting. Those hours we spend in the car can have profound psychological and physical impacts on us. A growing body of research shows that there are far more nuanced problems with driving than the ones you’ve probably heard about.
Driving is the most stressful way to commute
Sure: Driving is stressful. Traffic is stressful. Being late is stressful. These aren’t groundbreaking observations, but researchers are finding that specific types of commuting produce very different levels of stress. In August, a team of researchers from McGill University published a paper in Transportation Research that asked a seemingly simple question: Which type of commuter endures the most stress: Walkers, transit riders, or drivers?
Their study included almost 4,000 subjects who commute to work or school at McGill University in Montreal, and were surveyed at the end of a long winter when it was still very cold. The results showed something interesting: Even though they were polling in the deep Montreal winter, walkers had the least stressful commute. The second-ranking type of commute was public transit—and even then, the subjects said that the most enjoyable part of their commute was the walk to and from the train or bus.
So even though walkers had to traverse the cold Montreal winters, they also endured the least stress on their way to work. Not everyone enjoys the luxury of living close enough to work to walk, but even when respondents took transit, they still enjoyed the walk the most. By far the most stressful mode was driving, in part because subjects had to budget in a lot of extra time just in case something went wrong.
It’s also bad for your health
You’re probably wondering whether we can really trust how commuters responded to any of the study surveys above. Self-reporting is a notoriously fragile methodology, right?
Sure, but there are studies that give us more objective evidence, too, as UC Irvine researcher Raymond Novaco summarizes in this useful overview of research about commuting and wellbeing. For example, in 1998, two Florida scientists named Steven M. White and James Rotton decided to test how commuting affected blood pressure and heart rate—and got around the self-selection question by assigning subjects their commuting mode randomly. People who drove had significantly higher blood pressure and heart rate, and “lower frustration tolerance,” than those who took the bus.
Since then, more evidence has accumulated about the physical tolls of driving to work. In 2012, a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine tracked the health of more than 4,200 drivers across Texas cities over several years. The researchers took weekly measurements of drivers’ health–everything from their glucose levels to their cholesterol and metabolic levels, as well as things like BMI and weight.
In doing so, they got a very clear picture of how commuting distance is associated with medical health: The longer the distance a person had to drive, the worse their cardiorespiratory fitness was–and the higher their blood pressure and BMI were, even when adjusted for how much physical activity a driver got.
Other studies peg the increase at an exact number: Every hour you spend in a car makes you 6 percent more likely to be obese. Every kilometer you walk (about .6 of a mile) reduces it by almost 5 percent.
It’s bad for your relationships and community, too
That driving is physically and mentally stressful may not come as a surprise. But this may: Driving seems to affect the social and economic health of your whole city by lessening your trust in other people and compelling you not to engage socially in your community.
A recent study of more than 21,000 people in Scania, Sweden, found that people who commute by car not only are less social–attending fewer social events, family gatherings, or public events–but they have lower trust, with more drivers reporting that they couldn’t trust most people. Meanwhile, active commuters—walking or biking—and even transit commuters reported much higher social participation and trust in others.
The results, published this year in Environment and Behavior, suggest that commuting by car actually harms the creation of “social capital,” a term for social relationships that lead to community building and economic development, or “the glue that holds societies together and without which there can be no economic growth or human well-being.”
The authors make a compelling argument: Bad urban planning is actually harming the economic and social development of humans. “Car commuting was associated with lower levels of social participation and general trust,” the authors conclude, adding that we need to consider how growing cities balance their growing labor markets with the commute those workers will need to endure.
When we design cities that make long drives to work necessary, we harm the social health of those cities. Active commuting doesn’t just lead to healthier people: It leads to healthier cities.
Riding or walking to work makes you healthier and happier
What’s so intriguing about the Swedish study was that biking and walking helped people develop a greater trust in their peers and engage more in their cities. There’s also research showing that it does a lot for your happiness and health.
One oft-cited University of East Anglia study of roughly 18,000 adults in the UK from last year showed that the shift from driving to walking (or riding) reported feeling better and having better concentration. And even if they had to take a train or bus, they were still happier than drivers, as lead author Adam Martin explained:
One surprising finding was that commuters reported feeling better when travelling by public transport, compared to driving. You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress. But as buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialise, and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up.
As Gizmodo’s own Alissa Walker has explained before, increasing the number of people who walk in a neighborhood has the power to increase property values and neighborhood community. “Walking is the simplest, most cost-efficient way to improve a city’s economic and environmental viability,” Walker writes.
Meanwhile, a good overview of this evidence about cycling to work is a sprawling review in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports called Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review, that evaluated 16 different studies dealing with everything from an association between cycling and lower instances of colon cancer to simple cardiovascular fitness benefits. But overall, 14 of the 16 studies showed health benefits to cycling to work, even when the pace is slower and the distance short.
More importantly, 14 of the studies showed that there’s a strong inverse relationship between cycling and mortality–whether from cardiovascular disease or colon cancer. Their conclusion is straight forward: Riding work will improve your fitness, reduce the risk of death by cardiovascular disease or cancer, as well as risk of obesity.
… And the benefits vastly outweigh the risks
There’s one big argument against riding to work that you hear again and again, and one smaller one. The first is the physical danger of commuting by bike, and the second is the hazard of inhaling car exhaust while riding on city streets. Many people may reason that despite the fact that riding or walking might make them emotionally and physically healthier, they don’t want to risk an accident. Fair enough.
But it turns out this exact risk/reward assessment has been subjected to scientific study, too. In fact, the authors of one major study even tallied the relationship between riding to work and life length—down to the month.
A few years ago, a Dutch study from the University of Utrecht calculated the mortality rates if a group of 500,000 Dutch adults made the switch from driving to riding their bikes. Using census data and data about air pollution, physical exercise, and accidents, they found first that the switch to riding would add between three months to 14 months to your life expectancy. Seem small? Well, it’s huge compared to what air pollution and accidents took away. Breathing in pollution on the street only subtracted between .8 days and a little over a month over the course of a lifetime, while accidents subtracted between five and nine days.
Overall, riding to work was nine times as beneficial than the risks posed by accidents or air pollution.
As great as it is that we can point to scientific evidence of the benefits of active commuting, it’s harder to articulate the less empirical effects of riding or walking to work. An essay by Tim Kreider from a few years ago is one of my personal favorites when trying to explain the joy of riding to work, and how it seems to quell the sea of anxiety some of us feel. Kreider says:
I’m convinced these are the conditions in which we evolved to thrive: under moderate threat of death at all times, brain and body fully integrated, senses on high alert, completely engaged with our environment. It is, if not how we’re happiest — we’re probably happiest in a hot tub with a martini and a very good naked friend — how we are most fully and electrically alive.
After all, our bodies were designed to move–it’s unsurprising that we feel better when they do.
Is it possible to fall or crash on a bike or on a walk to work? Absolutely. But it’s also possible we’ll be slowly struck down by longer-term ills that driving seems to be associated with. Figuring out how to get to work on two wheels or two feet may sound stressful. But once you’re out there, you might find yourself enjoying it.
Commuting affects your mental health, your physical health, and even the way you think about other people. And these changes are more profound than you might think.
New research reveals more than 1000 molecular changes in the body that happen during exercise, which researchers believe could help lead to an “exercise pill.”
SYDNEY, Oct. 5 (UPI) — New research reveals more than 1000 molecular changes in the body that happen during exercise, which researchers at the University of Sydney believe could help lead to an “exercise pill.”
Scientists said the research provides a roadmap of the complex, cascading series of reactions to exercise in human muscles. While previous work has shown a small number of changes in the body, researchers said this is the first time they have deciphered so much of the process.
“Exercise is the most powerful therapy for many human diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and neurological disorders,” said Dr. David James, a professor at the University of Sydney, in a press release. “However, for many people, exercise isn’t a viable treatment option. This means it is essential we find ways of developing drugs that mimic the benefits of exercise.”
The researchers worked with 4 untrained men, asking them to engage in 10 minutes of high intensity exercise and took biopsies from skeletal muscle. The biopsies were analyzed using mass spectrometry to study a process called protein phosphorylation.
Using mathematical- and engineering-based analysis of the biopsy results, which revealed more than 1000 changes to muscle after intense exercise, the researchers began to narrow down therapeutic possibilities to aim a drug treatment at.
“While scientists have long suspected that exercise causes a complicated series of changes to human muscle, this is the first time we have been able to map exactly what happens,” said Dr. Nolan Hoffman, a researcher at the University of Sydney. “This is a major breakthrough, as it allows scientists to use this information to design a drug that mimics the true beneficial changes caused by exercise.”
The study is published in Cell Metabolism.
Why Kindergarten in Finland Is All About Playtime (and Why That Could Be More Stimulating Than the Common Core) – The AtlanticAuthor: SupremePundit
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
A working paper, “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” confirms what many experts have suspected for years: The American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—and at the expense of play. The late psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim, even raised the concern in an article for The Atlantic in 1987.
The American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—and at the expense of play.
Researchers at the University of Virginia, led by the education-policy researcher Daphna Bassok, analyzed survey responses from American kindergarten teachers between 1998 and 2010. “Almost every dimension that we examined,” noted Bassok, “had major shifts over this period towards a heightened focus on academics, and particularly a heightened focus on literacy, and within literacy, a focus on more advanced skills than what had been taught before.”
In the study, the percentage of kindergarten teachers who reported that they agreed (or strongly agreed) that children should learn to read in kindergarten greatly increased from 30 percent in 1998 to 80 percent in 2010.
Bassok and her colleagues found that while time spent on literacy in American kindergarten classrooms went up, time spent on arts, music, and child-selected activities (like station time) significantly dropped. Teacher-directed instruction also increased, revealing what Bassok described as “striking increases in the use of textbooks and worksheets… and very large increases in the use of assessments.”
But Finland—a Nordic nation of 5.5 million people, where I’ve lived and taught fifth and sixth graders over the last two years—appears to be on the other end of the kindergarten spectrum. Before moving to Helsinki, I had heard that most Finnish children start compulsory, government-paid kindergarten—or what Finns call “preschool”—at age 6. And not only that, but I learned through my Finnish mother-in-law—a preschool teacher—that Finland’s kindergartners spend a sizable chunk of each day playing, not filling out worksheets.
Finnish schools have received substantial media attention for years now—largely because of the consistently strong performance of its 15-year-olds on international tests like the PISA. But I haven’t seen much coverage on Finland’s youngest students.
So, a month ago, I scheduled a visit to a Finnish public kindergarten—where a typical school day is just four hours long.
* * *
Approaching the school’s playground that morning, I watched as an army of 5- and 6-year-old boys patrolled a zigzagging stream behind Niirala Preschool in the city of Kuopio, unfazed by the warm August drizzle. When I clumsily unhinged the steel gate to the school’s playground, the young children didn’t even lift their eyes from the ground; they just kept dragging and pushing their tiny shovels through the mud.
At 9:30 a.m., the boys were called to line up for a daily activity called Morning Circle. (The girls were already inside—having chosen to play boardgames indoors.) They trudged across the yard in their rubber boots, pleading with their teachers to play longer—even though they had already been outside for an hour. As they stood in file, I asked them to describe what they’d been doing on the playground.
“Making dams,” sang a chorus of three boys.
“Nothing else?” one of their teachers prodded.
“Nothing else,” they confirmed.
“[Children] learn so well through play,” Anni-Kaisa Osei Ntiamoah, one of the preschool’s “kindergarten” teachers, who’s in her seventh year in the classroom, told me. “They don’t even realize that they are learning because they’re so interested [in what they’re doing].”
“[Children] learn so well through play. They don’t even realize that they are learning because they’re so interested.”
When children play, Osei Ntiamoah continued, they’re developing their language, math, and social-interaction skills. A recent research summary “The Power of Play” supports her findings: “In the short and long term, play benefits cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development…When play is fun and child-directed, children are motivated to engage in opportunities to learn,” the researcher concluded.
Osei Ntiamoah’s colleagues all seemed to share her enthusiasm for play-based learning, as did the school’s director, Maarit Reinikka: “It’s not a natural way for a child to learn when the teacher says, ‘Take this pencil and sit still.’” The school’s kindergarten educators have their students engage in desk work—like handwriting—just one day a week. Reinikka, who directs several preschools in Kuopio, assured me that kindergartners throughout Finland—like the ones at Niirala Preschool—are rarely sitting down to complete traditional paper-and-pencil exercises.
And there’s no such thing as a typical day of kindergarten at the preschool, the teachers said. Instead of a daily itinerary, two of them showed me a weekly schedule with no more than several major activities per day: Mondays, for example, are dedicated to field trips, ballgames, and running, while Fridays—the day I visited—are for songs and stations.
Once, Morning Circle—a communal time of songs and chants—wrapped up, the children disbanded and flocked to the station of their choice: There was one involving fort-making with bed sheets, one for arts and crafts, and one where kids could run a pretend ice-cream shop. “I’ll take two scoops of pear and two scoops of strawberry—in a waffle cone,” I told the two kindergarten girls who had positioned themselves at the ice-cream table; I had a (fake) 10€ bill to spend, courtesy of one of the teachers. As one of the girls served me—using blue tack to stick laminated cutouts of scoops together—I handed the money to her classmate.
Throughout the morning I noticed that the kindergartners played in two different ways: One was spontaneous and free form, while the other was more guided and pedagogical.
With a determined expression reminiscent of the boys in the mud with their shovels, the young cashier stared at the price list. After a long pause, one of her teachers—perhaps sensing a good opportunity to step in—helped her calculate the difference between the price of my order and the 10€. Once I received my change (a few plastic coins), the girls giggled as I pretended to lick my ice cream.
Throughout the morning I noticed that the kindergartners played in two different ways: One was spontaneous and free form (like the boys building dams), while the other was more guided and pedagogical (like the girls selling ice cream).
In fact, Finland requires its kindergarten teachers to offer playful learning opportunities—including both kinds of play—to every kindergartner on a regular basis, according to Arja-Sisko Holappa, a counselor for the Finnish National Board of Education. What’s more, Holappa, who also leads the development of the country’s pre-primary core curriculum, said that play is being emphasized more than ever in latest version of that curriculum, which goes into effect in kindergartens next fall.
“Play is a very efficient way of learning for children,” she told me. “And we can use it in a way that children will learn with joy.”
“Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”
The word “joy” caught me off guard—I’m certainly not used to hearing the word in conversations about education in America, where I received my training and taught for several years. But Holappa, detecting my surprise, reiterated that the country’s early-childhood education program indeed places a heavy emphasis on “joy,” which along with play is explicitly written into the curriculum as a learning concept. “There’s an old Finnish saying,” Holappa said. “Those things you learn without joy you will forget easily.”
* * *
After two hours of visiting a Finnish kindergarten, I still hadn’t seen children reading. I was, however, hearing a lot of pre-literacy instruction sprinkled throughout the morning—clapping out syllables and rhyming in Morning Circle, for example. I recalled learning in my master’s degree courses in education that building phonemic awareness—an ability to recognize sounds without involving written language—was viewed as the groundwork of literacy development.
Just before lunch, a kindergarten teacher took out a basket brimming with children’s books. But for these 5- and 6-year-olds, “reading” looked just like how my two toddlers approach their books: The kindergartners, sitting in different corners of the room, flipped through pages, savoring the pictures but, for the most part, not actually deciphering the words. Osei Ntiamoah told me that just one of the 15 students in her class can currently read syllable by syllable. Many of them, she added, will read by the end of the year. “We don’t push them but they learn just because they are ready for it. If the child is willing and interested, we will help the child.”
Nowadays, Finnish teachers are free to teach reading if they determine a child is “willing and interested” to learn.
There was a time in Finland—in the not so distant past—when kindergarten teachers weren’t even allowed to teach reading. This was viewed as the job of the first-grade teacher. But, as with America, things have changed: Nowadays, Finnish teachers are free to teach reading if they determine a child is—just as Osei Ntiamoah put it—“willing and interested” to learn.
Throughout Finland, kindergarten teachers and parents meet during the fall to make an individualized learning plan, shaped by each child’s interests and levels of readiness, which could include the goal of learning how to read. For Finnish kindergartners who seem primed for reading instruction, Holappa told me it’s still possible to teach them in a playful manner. She recommended the work of the Norwegian researcher Arne Trageton—a pioneer in the area of play-based literacy instruction.
Meanwhile across the Atlantic, kindergarten students like that of the Arkansas teacher are generally expected—by the end of the year—to master literacy skills that are far more complex, like reading books with two to three sentences of unpredictable text per page. “These are 5- to 6-year-olds!” the Arkansas teacher wrote in disbelief.
More than 40 states—including Arkansas—have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which contain dozens of reading expectations for kindergartners. In the United States—where 22 percent of the nation’s children live in poverty (more than 16 million in total)—the Common Core’s emphasis on rigorous language-learning in kindergarten could be viewed as a strategy for closing the alarming “Thirty Million Word Gap” between America’s rich and poor—holding schools accountable for having high expectations for their youngest students.
Furthermore, unlike the reality of teaching kindergarten in Finland where the poverty rate is 10 percent and the student-teacher ratio is typically 14:1 (based on national guidelines), most American kindergarten teachers don’t have a choice whether or not they teach reading. Under the Common Core, children should be able to “read emergent-texts with purpose and understanding” by the end of kindergarten. Ultimately, they’re expected to, at the very least, be able to decode basic texts without the support of a teacher.
“But there isn’t any solid evidence that shows that children who are taught to read in kindergarten have any long-term benefit from it,” Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emeritus of early childhood education at Lesley University, explained in a video published by the advocacy group Defending the Early Years.
“But there isn’t any solid evidence that shows that children who are taught to read in kindergarten have any long-term benefit from it.”
Research by Sebastian Suggate, a former Ph.D. candidate at New Zealand’s University of Otago studying educational psychology, confirms Carlsson-Paige’s findings. One of Suggate’s studies compared children from Rudolf Steiner schools—who typically begin to read at the age of seven—with children at state-run schools in New Zealand, who start reading at the age of five. By age 11, students from the former group caught up with their peers in the latter, demonstrating equivalent reading skills.
“This research then raises the question,” he said in an interview published by the University of Otago. “If there aren’t advantages to learning to read from the age of five, could there be disadvantages to starting teaching children to read earlier?”
* * *
At the end of my visit to the Finnish kindergarten, I joined the 22 children and their two teachers for a Friday event that only happens on weeks when children are celebrating their birthdays. The birthday child that week sat at the front of the classroom in a chair facing his peers and teachers, all of whom sat in a semicircle, and a table with a candleholder to his left.
I expected the celebration to end after the lighting of candles and “Happy Birthday” song, but it didn’t. One of the boy’s classmates, donning a hat that looked like a beret and wearing a mail carrier’s sling over his shoulder, took him by the hand, and the two proceeded to dance as we sang the Finnish children’s song, “Little Boy Postman.”
Once the song was complete, the little postman took out a card and handed it to his classmate. “Would you like me to help you read this?” one of the birthday boy’s teachers asked. “You help,” he responded, a hint that hadn’t quite mastered the skill yet. I watched his face carefully, searching for any hint of shame. I found none—but then again, why should he have felt embarrassed?
The flickering six candles reminded me he’s only a little kid.
There is a time in the life of every predicament where it is ripe for resolution. Emotions provide the cue to act when a problem is big enough to see, yet still small enough to solve. By understanding your emotions, you can move adeptly through your current challenges and prevent future ones.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the “something” in each of us that is a bit intangible. It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results. Emotional intelligence is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others, and your ability to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.
Emotional Intelligence Can Make Your Career
Decades of research now point to emotional intelligence as the critical factor that sets star performers apart from the rest of the pack. It’s a powerful way to focus your energy in one direction with a tremendous result. TalentSmart tested emotional intelligence alongside 33 other important workplace skills, and found that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs.
Of all the people we’ve studied at work, we’ve found that 90% of top performers are also high in emotional intelligence. On the flip side, just 20% of bottom performers are high in emotional intelligence. You can be a top performer without emotional intelligence, but the chances are slim.
Naturally, people with a high degree of emotional intelligence make more money—an average of $29,000 more per year than people with a low degree of emotional intelligence. The link between emotional intelligence and earnings is so direct that every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary. These findings hold true for people in all industries, at all levels, in every region of the world. We haven’t yet been able to find a job in which performance and pay aren’t tied closely to emotional intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence Can Save Your Life
When you stuff your feelings, they quickly build into the uncomfortable sensations of tension, stress, and anxiety. Unaddressed emotions strain the mind and body. Your emotional intelligence skills help make stress more manageable by enabling you to spot and tackle tough situations before things escalate.
People who fail to use their emotional intelligence skills are more likely to turn to other, less effective means of managing their mood. They are twice as likely to experience anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even thoughts of suicide.
Scores of research studies have come forth linking emotional intelligence and susceptibility to disease. Stress, anxiety, and depression suppress the immune system, creating a vulnerability to everything from the common cold to cancer. The potency of your immune system is tied to your emotional state via neuropeptides: complex chemicals that act as messengers between the mind and body. When your mind is flooded with tension or distress, it signals the body to decrease energy directed towards fighting disease. This change increases your vulnerability to an attack.
Research even shows a definitive link between emotional distress and serious forms of illness, such as cancer. One of the first long-term studies measured women’s stress levels over a 24-year period. Researchers tracked the degree to which each woman experienced tension, fear, anxiety, and sleep disturbances─all forms of emotional distress resulting from unresolved conflict and unmanaged emotion. Women who experienced higher levels of stress during this 24-year period were twice as likely to develop breast cancer.
Emotional intelligence skills can also be taught to speed the body’s recovery from disease. People who develop their emotional intelligence skills during treatment recover faster from a variety of ailments, including the two biggest killers in America─heart disease and cancer. Teaching emotional intelligence skills to people with life-threatening illnesses has been shown to reduce the rate of recurrence, shrink recovery times, and lower death rates.
Researchers at Ohio State University studied 227 women diagnosed with breast cancer and saw remarkable effects from teaching emotional intelligence skills during recovery. Women who were randomly assigned to this treatment had reduced levels of stress, kept a better diet, and built stronger immune systems. Research presented to the American Heart Association revealed a similar outcome for men and women taught emotional intelligence skills while recovering from a heart attack.
Emotional intelligence has a strong influence on health-related outcomes because it reduces the perception of stress in response to trying situations. Emotional intelligence skills strengthen your brain’s ability to cope with emotional distress. This resilience keeps your immune system strong and protects you from disease.
Bringing It All Together
It’s nice to know that working on your EQ can have benefits in some of the most important areas of your life. A healthy career and a healthy body ticks a couple of very important boxes.
Have you begun working on your emotional intelligence? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below as I learn just as much from you as you do from me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmart, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.
If you’d like to learn how to increase your emotional intelligence (EQ), consider taking the online Emotional Intelligence Appraisal test that’s included with the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 book. Your test results will pinpoint which of the book’s 66 emotional intelligence strategies will increase your EQ the most.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that more corporate executives should have been prosecuted for their actions leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.Bernanke told USA Today that the U.S. Justice Department and other law enforcement agencies focused on investigating or indicting financial firms.”But it would have been my preference to have more investigation of individual action, since obviously everything that went wrong or was illegal was done by some individual, not by an abstract firm,” Bernanke was quoted as saying.Bernanke, who presided over the U.S. central bank during the financial crisis considered the worst since the Great Depression, said it was not up to him to decide whether to prosecute individuals, noting: “The Fed is not a law-enforcement agency.””The Department of Justice and others are responsible for that, and a lot of their efforts have been to indict or threaten to indict financial firms,” Bernanke added. “Now a financial firm is of course a legal fiction; it’s not a person. You can’t put a financial firm in jail.”Bernanke, who retired from the Fed last year after eight years as chairman, said of the financial crisis: “I think there was a reasonably good chance that, barring stabilization of the financial system, that we could have gone into a 1930s-style depression.”In the interview, Bernanke, whose memoir is being published this week, acknowledged that analysts were slow to realize how serious the economic downturn would become and faulted himself for not doing more to explain why it was in the public’s interest to rescue the financial firms that helped cause the crisis.”Every time I saw a bumper sticker which said, ‘Where’s my bailout?’ it hurt,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Extras currently filming for HBO’s forthcoming Westworld series are facing some unusually taxing demands—or, depending on their dispositions, fringe benefits. Consent agreements from Central Casting informed the background actors that their roles require full nudity, riding people as if they were horses, and performing an abstruse act the casting company calls “genital-to-genital touching.” The list of activities is too titillating not to publish in full:
This document serves to inform you that this project will require you to be fully nude and/or witness others fully nude and participate in graphic sexual situations. By accepting this Project assignment, you may be required to do any of the following: appear fully nude; wear a pubic hair patch; perform genital-to-genital touching; have your genitals painted; simulate oral sex with hand-to-genital touching; contort to form a table-like shape while being fully nude; pose on all fours while others who are fully nude ride on your back; ride on someone’s back while you are both fully nude; and other assorted acts the Project may require.
If this listing triggered images of a John Cameron Mitchell–orchestrated orgy to dance in your head, that’s because the sexual activities described in the consent form sound a lot like, well, sex. (FYI, genital-to-genital touching between two people with vaginas has earned the disquietingly sharp term of “scissoring,” which Orange Is the New Black dubbed mythical but which is actually a fine-and-dandy sex act.)
The line between pornography and a film with unsimulated sex often lies less in the actual sexual acts than in the non-sexual parts. Films that feature unsimulated sex, like Mitchell’s Shortbus, aren’t generally thought of as porn if they have substantial artistic and emotional merit. Actors in non-pornographic films, including the Westworld extras, are backed by SAG-AFTRA, a notoriously exacting union with highly specific requirements for sex scenes and nude scenes. The set must be closed; no still photos can be taken without written consent; and, perhaps most importantly, the actors can retract their consent for the scene any time before it’s filmed. For this reason, the Westworld consent agreement is unenforceable. Porn actors, by contrast, have no union or stipulations to protect them on set.
“It’s important that performers understand their rights, especially in circumstances like these that pose a high risk of exploitation,” SAG-AFTRA’s chief communications and marketing officer Pamela Greenwalt told me. “Employers should not be requiring performers to sign consent forms that do not accurately describe their rights under the collective bargaining agreement.”
The premise of Westworld doesn’t offer any immediate clues vis-à-vis the kinds of genital-to-genital touching viewers can anticipate. The series, based on a 1973 sci-fi thriller, takes place in a theme park of the future, where patrons can “kill” and have sex with lifelike androids in a historically accurate reenactment of the old American West. What with the bordellos, the transient gunslingers, and the outfits I’ve witnessed at those old-timey photo studios on the boardwalk, the possibilities for genital-to-genital touching seem endless!
In a 2012 interview, actor Richard Benjamin discussed the skills that helped him get the lead in the 1973 film, and they’re not nearly as strenuous or carnal as what today’s extras must do:
Well, it probably was the only way I was ever going to get into a Western, and certainly into a science-fiction Western. It’s that old thing when actors come out here from New York. [Casting directors] say, “Can you ride a horse?” And you say, “Oh, sure,” and then [you’ve] got to go out quick and learn how to ride a horse. But I did know how to ride a horse!