Several months back I read an article on a leadership program that General Electric (GE) created in the 1970s. GE worried that its executives lacked a broad view of society or even life itself. GE needed more employees capable of guiding the company rather than following instructions or responding to obvious crises. They focused on a liberal arts oriented program. This reminded me of something an old history teacher would say to me time and time again.
“A well-trained man knows how to answer questions, but an educated man knows what questions are worth asking.”
It was with this belief they formed a partnership with a well known university to create a training program in which executives read and discussed the great books of the past, studied architecture, and went to museums.
I have thought how little time any of us has to reflect on what questions are worth asking, look broader, and think deeply.
With humanistic studies in mind, I asked a diverse group of industry thinkers, CEOs, and entrepreneurs what writing has had a huge impact on them, and that they would recommend to others. What they sent back was a diverse and intriguing collection of writings that is bound to stir the soul and challenge the mind. Following are their recommendations.
John Micthell Jr., President, Treat America Food Services
‘The Singularity is Near’ by Ray Kurzweil
A few years ago, I was discussing the future of vending with my friend Anant Agrawal of Cantaloupe Systems. We were imbibing and lamenting our mutual frustration with the slow pace of technological adoption in the vending industry, at which point Anant suggested I pick up a copy of “The Singularity,” by Ray Kurzweil. Anant expressed hope that if I read the book I might better understand the evolution of technology and thus I might conclude that by embracing technological change (he preferred Cantaloupe’s) I could create an advantage for my company. He said he thought that “The Singularity” would help me see things in a different light. Wow! Was Anant ever right!
The book’s central thesis is that the continuation of Moore’s law combined with extreme miniaturization of mechanical devices (nanotechnology) will drive exponential societal change, and that within this generation, humanity will evolve by literally merging with technology. (Yes – it took me a while to wrap my head around that concept!)
The book is technical and somewhat repetitive, but it convincingly details the arguments that support the conclusion. After reflecting on “The Singularity,” it became clear to me that technology could indeed be the catalyst to re-energize my company and the vending industry. Today, I am a disciple of “The Singularity.” (There is an annual conference for those who follow this book’s ideas, but I don’t anticipate attending.) I have moved my company into the “clouds” (cloud computing), purchased an I-Pad, and I am eagerly awaiting the day when “nanobots” can be implanted in my brain so that I can finally remember people’s names. Oh, and in case you are wondering, no, I was never a Trekkie.
Dr. Ronald Cichy, Director and Professor, The School of Hospitality Business at Michigan State University
‘Into the Silent Land’ by Martin Laird
I just finished reading “Into the Silent Land” written by Martin Laird, O.S.A, a monk at St. Monica’e Priory in London. It is a guide to the Christian practice of contemplation. The author notes that we are all built for contemplation, and his book is about the skills necessary for entering the land of silence within, through disposing ourselves to surrender. The practice of silence positions us to allow something to take place, through our stillness and awareness.
In silence, you hear. It is easy to silence the noise externally -- shut off your radio while driving, sit on a beach, as examples -- however, it is extremely difficult to silence the voice within. That is the voice that tells us what we did wrong or what we did not do. We are our own worse critics. Contemplation attempts to free us from this negative voice, connect us with a new and heightened level of awareness, and encourages us to hear what we do not typically hear. It is a practice that takes a lifetime.