Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Adventures in 2016

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Dear Friends and Family,

It has been unusually, unacceptably too long since I've written to you.  But since progress is all about the baby steps, sitting down to this blank page is already a win. 

2016 has been a wild ride.  And while it is not the year in which I've explored the most new cities, it is the year that I've traveled most often.  Google Calendar tells me I was on 34 flights.  No cancellations and no crashes!  That's already something to be thankful for.  I had the opportunity to explore at least 6 new cities / islands:  Munich, Divonne (France), Rome, the island of Sardinia (Italy), Copenhagen, and the island of Fuerteventura (Canary Islands).   



In a dream.  Ajuy, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Developing Expertise

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About 8-ish years ago I was in a car somewhere, apparently in an English-speaking country, listening to the radio, when the broadcaster asked, "What's the difference between experts and the rest of us?"  His interlocutor thought for a minute and replied, 
"The thing about experts isn't necessarily that they know that much more than the rest of us... It's about how they structure their knowledge."

I remember it hitting me like a revelation.  It felt liberating, in a way, to know that if I ever wanted to become an expert in something, I wouldn't have to know every last thing there is to know about the field.  But I would need to figure out how what I do know fits together.  Expertise felt accessible.  I started to think of developing expertise as detective work.

***

Yesterday, as I sat in the first lecture of the bachelor Entrepreneurship course I'm assistant teaching this semester, I was reminded again of that broadcast while listening to my PhD supervisor, Prof. Dr. Marc Gruber, as he introduced the field of entrepreneurship to 40 wide-eyed third year students.   Marc definitely knows much much much more than most others about this field, but not only that. What's really special is the way he sees connections and can communicate both simplifying overviews as well as nuanced details to the person or class en face.  

I left thinking, "Wow, I'm glad he was here, I could have never given such a lecture today."  But I also realized, looking back over my research notes, that one day I might. He is training me to think the same way. 

I'm going to defend my three-year research plan in a few weeks, and as I was writing up the document, I recall Marc telling me that a key part of this exam is being able to show the professors on my committee that I'm able to discuss the phenomena I'm investigating on multiple levels. I must be able to situate my research in the vast space of the social sciences, the higher-level discussions taking place in management in particular, and then be able to comment specifically on how the studies I propose are moving forward the conversation around some specific theories.  Of course the chosen methods and execution plan need to make sense as well, in light of the larger context. 

"Give a broad overview, but also be able to zoom in.  That's the mark of an expert," he said.

It's much harder than it sounds, and my pursuit of being able to place my research within the larger field of management led me on some wild-goose-chases which ultimately led to a broader perspective, a lot of hours reading theory I may or may not use later, and a lot of options for contextualising and positioning my dissertation.  

I discovered that it's both fun and challenging to tell the story on multiple levels.  There are just so many ways to go about it and there's no one right answer.  You're the author.  It's about the story you want to tell.  Pick an interesting one.  And if you want to publish it, make sure it's an angle that is interesting (or could be made interesting) to many others beside yourself. 

***

Will I one day wake up and think, "Now I'm an expert" ?  Probably not.  But hopefully I'll find some interesting things to contribute along the way.  I think of developing expertise as more of a lifelong pursuit than a title to attain, of every new day as an opportunity to add to the bank of knowledge and experience.  For now I'll content myself with being awed by real experts who are offering some super fascinating new perspectives.  (Not all experts do.  But I'll share as I come across more that wow me.)

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Being, and the road to Becoming

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As I spend much of my time reading, getting deeper into my PhD work which revolves around the concept of identity, I feel like I'm re-considering many ideas that feel vaguely familiar, as if at one time I was convinced of their truth based on pure intuition.  A pretty amazing thing about studying identity is that at every turn of a page you're forced to reconsider the very essence of yourself, how you understand yourself, how you see yourself in relation to the world around you, and how you are evolving.

It turns out that (social) identity is somewhat malleable: it can change and fluctuate over time, it is influenced by the social environment we are born into -- a social environment whose philosophies and social practices have been mutually reinforcing for centuries.  I'm tempted to talk about different social universes, because it seems that most people never break out of the one they're born into.  Having traveled extensively for a decade, I'm only now coming to understand the true magnitude of social structures and their implications for our everyday life.  Richard E. Nisbett's The Geography of Thought is currently blowing my mind...

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

3 Formidable Letters

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I don't recall if I've yet shared here on NJW my new 4-year plan.   It includes the letters: P, H, and D.  In that order.  As I prep this evening for an upcoming retreat in which I should present a few possible research questions, the magnitude of this decision is looming overhead.

Four years is a long time to spend on a project.  Okay, so if I'm going to do this whole PhD thing, I'm going to do it right. Basically, I have huge expectations. You might call me naive, insane. But I'm not looking for a passable research question that will earn me a title so I can, I don't know, earn a higher salary or something.

I'm looking for a real game changer. A big question. I want to do something that changes the way we see some part of the world.  Something that has potential to be applied in a way that yields real impact for real people.


So..
Exploration and development of scientific methods: yes.
Theoretical contribution: yes.
Become an expert in a field: yes.
But I'm adding another criteria: do something really big. That's just how I roll.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Relocating, and Other Stories from Public Transportation

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Many of my most memorable experiences did not take place at a destination.  It's always the getting there, the journey, that incurs the most fun.  Well, at least what I call fun.  You might call it hell.  It's all a matter of perspective.

The first time I visited Finland, I traveled by ferry boat from St. Petersburg, Russia to Helsinki.  Having hopped off at the ferry terminal and walked just a few blocks to the Russian Embassy to renew my visa, I distinctly remember hauling my luggage back out of the consular office, down a tree-lined street, sitting down in the sun on some giant moss-covered rocks, looking out over the Baltic sea on the horizon and the Helsinki city skyline, and deciding right then and there:  I'm going to live here someday.  I had been there only four hours when my heart - not my rational brain - seemed to commit itself to a pursuit of residence in Finland.  

That was in April 2010.  I wouldn't actually move to Helsinki to start my master degree until September 2012, but when I finally arrived I wasn't all that surprised to be back.  It just seemed right.  I struggled financially as a student there, working and studying 16-18 hours a day for the first year and still barely making ends meet.  But nevertheless I was genuinely happy.  I was exactly where I dreamed of being, in an incredibly beautiful city built around forest and sea and archipelago.  My school offered amazing facilities and opportunities at the low cost of free tuition, and my classmates were creative and inspiring.  And during that first year and a half I grew more in my personal life than I had since my first international move to Belgium six years prior: amid my intense lack of resources, I learned to rely on God completely for provision and in the process grew more spiritually than I ever had before.  It was in Helsinki, walking each evening along the seashore or riding a city bus across bridges connecting islands, that I found a quiet place -- not only externally but somewhere inside my own heart and mind. As I began to avail myself of those moments in solitude, I developed a habit of praying through everything that was going on in my life, laying it all out there in conversation with God.  And for the first time in my life, in that quiet place my ears became attuned to God's voice, to what he was saying, doing, and teaching.  I began to see my prayers answered in incredible ways, far beyond what I had requested.  I thought to myself, God will never take me away from Finland; this is my sanctuary. 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tacos, and the True Meaning of Leadership

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On the way home today, I passed a digital sign in front of the Del Taco fast food joint down the street that read: "Are you a leader?"   I immediately thought to myself,  Everyone's always talking about leadership, about being a leader, but what about the content behind leadership?  Who do they think we should be leading, and what exactly does Del Taco want people to lead others in?  Besides, if everyone is leading and there's no one around to follow, "leadership" would lose its meaning, right?

For some reason the question stuck with me throughout the day.  Am I a leader?  
When we think of "leaders", often the first people who come to mind are global changemakers, leaders of huge movements, and we think of them as having a lot of power and perhaps controlling a lot of assets such as money, things, events, people's mindsets, etc.

I can recall this view of mega-scale leadership being reinforced during college. There were nationally renowned speakers, authors, and leaders constantly coming in to speak on our campus.  A lot of them were musicians-turned-philanthropists or turned-activists who decided they were going to change the world.   Don't get me wrong, they're fabulous people doing great things and are all very inspiring in their own right, but the flood of huge names and huge campaigns seemed to have a narrowing effect on my perception of leadership.

It wasn't until today, thanks to this Del Taco sign, that I straightened out my thinking about leadership. I'm going to share my not-very-official definition of leadership, the way I think of it in my head:   To me, leadership is saying "Hey guys, here's what I'm doing, here's where I'm going;  I think it's a worthy pursuit, wanna join?"

Sunday, November 16, 2014

To Each Her Own Sanctuary

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The landscapes are intriguing, beautiful, even breathtaking, but what really keeps me traveling is the people.  Like snowflakes covering northern lands, no two people are exactly the same; each twirls and soars and falls and lands differently.  Each has a different journey.  Through conversations and shared experiences, I love to discover all sorts of people.  But there is one kind of person that particularly inspires me.

This kind of person is found among both young and old, educated and uneducated, travelers and homebodies.  I've found them in every country I've ever been to.  It's the person who finds a passion, a purpose, and joyfully throws him- or herself into it wholeheartedly.  It's the person who finds what that special thing is that gives back even more in personal satisfaction than the work and time and money and energy they may have put into it.  As the author of this next excerpt so elegantly puts it, it's one's own "sanctuary".
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