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The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.

 

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Brain Networks Linked to Human Intelligence

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Newly Discovered Gene Networks Impact Intelligence

Scientists at Imperial College London have identified two networks of genes in the human brain that appear to govern memory, attention, processing speed and reasoning—the cognitive functions that combine in intelligence.

Complex traits such as intelligence are influenced by large groups of genes working together, according to Dr. Michael Johnson, a neurologist at Imperial College, rather “like a football team made up of players in different positions.” Dr. Johnson is deputy head of the Centre for Clinical Translation in the college’s Division of Brain Sciences.  In a paper published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, he and an international team of scientists describe the gene clusters they discovered. A story on the Imperial College website describes the discovery as the first of its kind, and one that could lead to treatment and amelioration of neurodevelopmental disorders and the cognitive impairments associated with them.

The newly identified gene networks, called MI and M3, appear to be under the control of master regulator switches. The researchers hope to identify the switches and explore whether they can be therapeutically manipulated.  The M1 network has more than 1,100 genes, according to a story in sci-news.com, and the M3 network has more than 150 genes. An NIH paper explains that at least a third of the approximately 20,000 different genes that make up the human genome are expressed, or turned on, in the brain. The brain has a higher proportion of expressed genes than any other part of the body.

“What’s exciting about this is that the genes we have found are likely to share a common regulator, which means that potentially we can manipulate a whole set of genes whose activity is linked to human intelligence,” Dr. Johnson said published interviews. “Our research suggests it might be possible to work with these genes to modify intelligence, but that is only a theoretical possibility at the moment. We have just taken a first step along that road.”

The researchers examined samples of human brains from patients who had undergone neurosurgery for epilepsy. They looked at thousands of genes expressed in the brain, and combined the those observations with genetic information from healthy people who had taken IQ tests, and information from people who had such neurological conditions as autism spectrum disorders and cognitive disabilities.  Using multiple computational analyses they were able to identify the gene networks that influence healthy cognitive abilities and begin to get some clues about how the genes interact.

 

Interestingly, Dr. Johnson reported the researchers found that some genes can be both helpful and harmful: Some of the genes that influence working intelligence in healthy people are the same genes that cause seizure disorders and cognitive impairments when they are mutated. The researchers believe use of large genomic datasets can be used to help uncover new aspects of human brain function in both health and disease or disorder, and new treatment possibilities

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Ingenious Simplicity Saving Babies

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Wednesday, January 13, 2016

 

Kangaroo Care: Ingenuity, Simplicity, Survival

At the Mother and Child Institute in Bogota, the  oldest maternity hospital in Colombia and one of the poorest, nearly everything was in short supply, including doctors, nurses and medicines. Incubators were so scarce that as many as three newborns had to be crowded into one, increasing the risk of   infection and death among fragile premature infants.

Tina Rosenberg, in her New York Times column Fixes, describes how Dr. Edgar Rey, chief of pediatrics came up with a way to save babies that avoided a time consuming and politically fraught fight for funds for more equipment and staff. His idea was to strap newborn infants, wearing only  diaper and head covering, to their mothers’ bare chests so that the baby has skin to skin contact and the mother’s breathing and heartbeat helps stabilize the infant’s heart and respiration. Everything but the baby’s head is under the mother’s shirt. The baby stays warm, can nurse at will,  is secure, and remains in an upright position to help avoid reflex and apnea. Dr. Rey first had mothers act as human incubators in 1978.  Rosenberg reports that the practice, now called kangaroo care, is used in some form in U.S hospitals and around the world. The diffusion did not happen accidentally. .   

The Colombian physician and nurse advocates formed an organization,  Fundacion Canguro,  to help support use of this ancient life-saving practice in modern hospitals, Rosenberg explains in a separate column. Much of the financing for teaching kangaroo care today comes from the U.S. Agency for International Development, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Save the Children.    

Innovators trying to save babies have historically taken inspiration  from different cultures and fields. Steven Johnson, in his book  Where Good Ideas Come From, tells how French obstetrician Stephane Tarnier saw baby chicks hatching in a heated enclosure at the Paris Zoo in the 1870s and thought about the two thirds of low weight babies who died within weeks of their birth. He had similar warm boxes built for babies, and infant survival at his hospital soared. Within a few  years, incubators were required in Parisian maternity hospitals. Bizarre exhibits of Incubators with live babies were shown  in Europe and one called a baby hatchery in New York’s Coney Island lasted well into the twentieth century and the use of incubators in hospitals spread.  

Modern incubators are expensive technological wonders that offer many protections for fragile preemies. Their complexity daunted medical practitioners in the developing world and sparked ingenuity at the same time. Johnson tells what MIT Professor Timothy Prospero did in 2008 when he visited an Indonesian hospital in an area still recovering from the Indian Ocean Tsunami four years earlier. Eight incubators donated by international aid groups were out of order because of power surges and tropical humidity. Prospero realized much complex equipment donated to developing world institutions is useless when it  breaks because spare parts and trained maintenance technicians aren’t available. Prospero had founded an organization called Design that Matters. He and his team realized that local people might not know how to repair high tech medical devices, but they knew a great deal keeping old cars running. So after many iterations they arrived at an incubator design that looked sleek and modern on the outside, but its insides were automotive.  Special sealed headlights provided the warmth, for example, and it could be powered by an adapted cigarette lighter. Hospital employees and helpful neighbors were quite adept at keeping it in fine functioning condition.

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The Spaces In Between

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, December 04, 2015
Seeing and Hearing the Spaces in Between
 
"With the publication of his general theory of relativity a century ago," New York Times science writer Natalie Angier tells us, "Albert Einstein swept aside traditional notions of a static and unchanging space and instead gave us the stretchy supple miracle fabric of the space-time continuum."

Einsteinian space, she continues, has "heft, shape, and a sense of place," and the ability to bend "around giant suns and plunge down the throats of black holes." As a result, she says, we've never again been able to think of space as an emptiness between earthly objects or a vast nothingness between stars.

The importance of space in art, music, the design of buildings and cities, and social relationships now compels our attention. Angier describes the cultural impact of differently conceived spaces in a New York Times science story. A companion story by Dennis Overbye tells how Einstein spent years working through his theories of a boundless universe where gravity bends light and space-time directs the movement of matter. These difficult mathematically based abstractions have rippled forward in life-changing ways.

The GPS systems used for military navigation, make air travel safer and guide individual drivers and cell phone users to nearest gas stations and restaurants, for example, are based on relativity. Physics Central writer Clifford Will and Discover Magazine blogger C. Renee James explain how 24 satellites orbiting the, earth carrying clocks precise to the nanosecond, provide information that powers the growing multi-billion dollar GPS industry.

Angier's gracefully written story describes how culture influences our own psychological concept of the personal space around our bodies and our perceptions of the spaces in which we work. She describes how sculptor Rachel Whiteread creates what are often called negative spaces in her works, using resin or other materials to fill in places we might expect to be empty, such as the area under a table. She notes French composer Claude Debussy is believed to have said "Music is there space between the notes" and similar observations have been attributed to Mozart. She quotes one art scholar who says artists like Paul Cezanne thought the space between figures was as important as subjects in the foreground and another who cites Jackson Pollock's work as an ideal of "spatial democracy," where there is no background or foreground, and every inch of the canvas is just as important as every other.

And in jazz, where musicians need to listen closely to reach other and respond in intricately related ways, a great individual contribution may be sensing the moment not to play. Paul Haidet, a physician and amateur jazz musician, writes that when doctors create space in communications with patients, patients are able to tell the stories that put their symptoms in medical and personal context. Read Angier's story here and Haidet's article here.

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Dr. Jeffrey Cohn Steps Down as Plexus CEO, Assumes New Position

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, December 04, 2015
November  19,2015
Dear Plexus Community,
 
I wanted to share with you the news that Plexus President, Dr. Jeff Cohn, has recently accepted a new position as Medical Director at Common Practice. I want to share his letter with you.
 
"It is with very mixed emotions that I'd like to share the news that I've accepted a new position and am no longer Plexus Institute President. I came to Plexus in 2012 with the feeling that I was responding to a calling. It was clear to me that many of the challenges being faced by individuals, organizations and communities were complexity challenges. The pathways to the different and better outcomes being sought were going to be discovered and created through the sorts of adaptive methods that we at Plexus have become so dedicated to, like Liberating Structures and Positive Deviance. By helping these individuals, organizations, and communities learn how to apply these methods and the accompanying mindset that complexity practitioners carry with them, far-reaching impact could be accomplished across diverse industries and stakeholder groups.
 
What I've learned over this three plus year experience is that I'm still a physician at heart. While the methods, the theory, and the learning is critically important to me, the application to people at risk of and/or experiencing the pain and hardship of illness is where my heart and head lie. I've (re)discovered I'm particularly drawn to the challenges experienced by patients and families as illness and age progress. Too often our healthcare delivery fails to be aligned with the values, beliefs, and preferences of patients. Too often we even fail to ask what those values, beliefs, and preferences even are. I'm committed to do what I can using the skills and principles I've learned with and from so many of you to be a facilitator and catalyst for change across the boundaries of organizations and stakeholder roles. To this end I've become the Medical Director at Common Practice, a healthcare innovation firm focusing on enabling conversations related to living and dying well in the face of advancing age and illness. These conversations are too often poorly and painfully done, or, worse yet, avoided altogether.
 
I view the work on which I now embark as a set of challenges that represent complexity in all its mystery and possibility. I thank Plexus Institute and you, the Plexus community, for the opportunity to learn so much in the past 3 years. We've helped advance the field of patient safety and public school education. I'd particularly like to thank the Board Chairs with whom I've worked, Trish Silber and Michael Arena, for their support over these 3 years. I'd also like to thank Joelle Everett and especially Prucia Buscell for their support of our organization and our community. So much of what we've learned together has happened due to their work. I'd also like to thank my Plexus predecessors, Curt Lindberg and Lisa Kimball, for sharing their insights and guidance during my time at Plexus. I'd like to thank Dave Rampulla, Director of Research, for his willingness to learn and take on difficult and unfamiliar tasks on behalf of Plexus - and for his friendship. Belatedly, I'd like to thank Susan Doherty for all that she did for Plexus during her tenure as Director for Operations for Plexus. She worked on behalf of the organization with little recognition being sought by her, and she put systems into place that will continue to support the organization into wherever the future takes us. And I'd like to thank you, the Plexus community, for accepting me into your midst and learning with me. I count many of you as friends and hope we continue to stay in touch and learn together."
 
Sincerely,
 
Jeffrey Cohn
 
As we thank Jeff for his years of stewardship and wish him the best of luck in his new venture, Plexus will continue to evaluate leadership and strategic possibilities to shepherd the Institute during this transition and best fulfill its mission to foster the health of individuals, families, communities, and organizations through ideas and practices rooted in the principles of complexity.
 
Warmest regards,
 
Michael Arena
Chair, Plexus Institute Board of Trustees

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Facing Uncetainty? Forget Positivity. Worry!

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, December 04, 2015
Facing Uncertainty? Forget Positivity. Worry!

Embracing anxiety in the face of uncertainty can be productive. A new study suggests people who worry during long waits are more elated with good news and better prepared for disappointments.

Kate Sweeney,an associate professor of psychology At the University of California, Riverside, and colleagues, wanted to examine consequences of how people think during periods of high stakes limbo: when they are awaiting results of a biopsy, a college application, a job offer or a really important test like a bar exam where results aren't immediately available. The researchers studied coping mechanisms of 230 law school graduates as they waited four months for results of the July 2013 California bar exam.

In a New York Science Times story by Jan Hoffman, Sweeney described three common strategies people use to endure the discomforts of contemplating unknown outcomes. Some try to immerse themselves in unrelated activities such as exercise, binge TV watching and games, but these quick fixes tend not to work over the long haul. As Sweeney told the Times, "The more you try not to pay attention, the more aware you become."Others aspire to make lemonade from lemons. They look to adversity as fuel for person growth. But as Sweeney says, that's a defensive posture that may not help. A more productive approach, researchers say, is to hope for the best and brace for the worst, using defensive pessimismand proactive coping. Or as the Times story puts it, "dive into the worry maelstrom (and) surface with contingency plans."

Julie K. Norem, a psychology professor at Wellesley and author of "The Positive Power of Negative Thinking," was not involved in the study. But she advises, "Set your expectations low and think through the negative possibilities. It drives optimists crazy, but it drives your attention away from feelings of anxiety to what you can do to address the disaster that might happen."

Evaluating bad possibilities may also make success sweeter. Sweeney reports that anxious waiters did well when news came, whatever it was. They were thrilled with good news, and had plans ready for bad news. She said those who sailed unperturbed through the waiting, on the other hand, were shattered by bad news and if they got good news, they were underwhelmed. Read the Times story here.

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Is it Ever OK to Avoid Empathy? And Can We Choose?

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Monday, October 26, 2015

Have We Lost Empathy in Recent Decades? 

  Jamil  Zaki wants you to forget everything you think you know about empathy.

One very old and still dominant theory is that empathy is automatic, something that  just happens without our control. Zaki is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab. Studying the history of empathy, Professor Zaki finds the first modern account in Adam Smith’s 1759 book The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith describes what he calls “fellow feeling” that makes people take on the emotional states of others, as when people in a crowd share the anxiety of watching a tight rope walker wobble over a precipice.  Smith felt—and many modern thinkers agree—this is reflexive and not something we choose.  Zaki’s lab has done studies that produced fMRI images showing that when a person sees another person have an experience, the witness’s response is a  “neural resonance,” in which the n brain generates a pattern of activity consistent with the brain of the person having the experience.

So why don’t we always feel empathy? In inter group setting, Zaki writes in an Edge.org essay,  that when people are divided by war, opposing political and social views, and team rivalries,  empathy often collapses and people fail to share, or even be concerned with, the emotional states of those outside their own group.  Zaki says studies have shown people demonstrate less neural resonance if they see an out-group member experiencing pain than they do seeing one on their own suffers.  Sometimes, he writes, empathy is expensive: in a war too much empathy toward an enemy with a gun could be dangerous. Even in situations that aren’t life threatening, empathy could be a costly emotion.  If someone needs help we can’t or won’t give, we might choose to avoid empathy to avoid feeling guilty or having to part with money.

If we know empathy is socially approved, we are likely to demonstrate more of it.  Zaki even notes a study in which  men were more empathetic after scientists convinced them that women are more attracted to sensitive guys.  This and other studies show we can choose to be, or not be, empathetic.

Zaki likes the work of Dan Batson, who has researched  empathetic human connection as a force for cooperation and altruism.

But empathy can have a dark side. Psychopaths, con artists, and the practitioners of enhanced interrogation may have terrific understanding of other people’s feelings, but they use it for their own nefarious purposes.

A 2010 study by Sara Konrath and colleagues at the University of Michigan that analyzed 30 years worth of data on 14,000 college students found that students’ empathy had declined over the three decades examined, and that the sharpest drop came after 2000. Some theorists have blamed the decline on social media that reduces face to face contact, and others have looked at increased academic and career competition. Zaki speculates that empathy may not have change, but the idea of empathy may be different or less desirable than it was 30 years ago.  He’d like to see more research, and he wants to emphasize  that empathy is a choice that deserves serious thought and conscious decisions.  Read Zaki’s Edge.org essay here.

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Seize Uncertainty: It May be Good for You

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, October 20, 2015

 

Urge for Closure Can Distort Perceptions

 
Ambiguity and confusion can be stressful, but social psychologists say a pressing need for certitude can lead to all sorts of misconceptions and bad decisions.

Jamie Holmes, the author of Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, argues we'd all be better off if we learned to embrace uncertainty and be less intent on finding immediate answers for every question. In an interview with Scientific American writer Gareth Cook, Holmes explains his own interest in uncertainty was piqued by childhood moves that plunged him into different physical and social environments and the need to comprehend new languages. That led him to wonder how new experiences change our views.

The work of social psychologist Arie Kruglanski, who wrote The Psychology of Closed Mindedness, studied the "need for closure" which he defined as the desire for firm answers questions and an aversion toward ambiguity, and a drive for certainty in the face of a less than certain world. Kruglanski concluded that everyone at some time needs definite answers, and that clarity and order can be comforting when things happening around us seem inexplicable or disturbing. Kruglanski and colleagues developed a scale to examine the degree to which we seek closure. Assessing preference for order, predictability and decisiveness along with discomfort with ambiguity and closed-mindedness, can indicate how high a person's need for cognitive closure is at any given time. Heightened need can bias our choices and ruin mood. Kruglanski says influenced by urge for quick certitude produce fewer hypotheses, search less thoroughly for information, overlook variables, and seize upon first impressions and early clues. Take a short version on the test on Holmes' website.

Holmes says the urge for definitive answers can also influence how we deal with perceived threats, decide who to trust, whether we stereotype and even how creative we are. He adds studies have shown that our need for certitude is likely to be higher if we are tired, anxious and rushed. He told Cook multicultural experiences, whether they involve, music, cuisine, or people from differing backgrounds, can help reduce the need for closure and encourage more deliberation before decisions. Reading fiction can also help, he suggests, because getting into the heads of literary characters is a safe invitation to open our thinking to new ideas, places and life situations.
Interest in ambiguity and uncertainty, and how to embrace it, has grown among entrepreneurs and business people, Holmes says, because the future in many business sectors is in constant flux and far from certainty.

 He notes examples of disruptive business models cited by Thomas Friedman: Uber, the biggest taxi company in the world, owns no cars; Facebook doesn't create media; Alibaba has no inventory; and Airbnb doesn't own the real estate it uses. Friedman says he business world is changing dramatically, and even the experts really don't know exactly what the future holds. Holmes observes business people sy we are in a VUCA world - and acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.


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Everyone is a student of Storytelling

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, October 20, 2015
 
Stories From Cuneiform to Smartphones

Is evolving technology changing what we consider a good story?

New York Times writer Terrence  Rafferty thinks that at least among television viewers, the concept of plot is changing. Just a few decades ago, he writes, we liked TV entertainment that let us settle down once a week to watch characters we like doing something we like seeing them do.  We wanted big stars, some action and a mystery. We enjoyed Jim Rockford, played by James Garner, pursuing the clues and figuring out the crime.

Today's audiences, especially the younger ones, have different expectations about the story line, Rafferty write.  They can time shift, binge-watch and view on multiple platforms, Rafferty  quotes entertainment critic Matt Zoller Seitz, who suggests heavily packed plots and "narrative profligacy" are the preferred model for today's scripted TV.  Seitz thinks that's because today's viewers are more sophisticated and more impatient. "In the age of recaps, Facebook instant reactions and live tweeting, everyone is a student of storytelling," Seitz writes" They know the tropes and tricks because they're a constant, often humorous topic of online chatter."

Rafferty says that makes TV more like a game than mere passive entertainment. Viewers guess what will happen and when, and share their predictions instantly on social media, then register glee or chagrin. He says TV writers are struggling to keep up, with varying success.  By way of example, he writes that lots of viewers complained about the second season of HBO's True Detective, and the angriest dissatisfaction was that the plot was impossible to follow.  Rafferty says plots in shows like "Humans," "Mr. Robot," and "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D" make viewers feel as though following the narrative is a test.  If they feel they are failing the test, they get frustrated and irritable.

Rafferty says binge-watching allows for densely packed plots along with an overarching story line that has a beginning, middle and end. Such shows can be devoured all at once like a novel, and there is less need for periodic social testing.  Binge-able series may become  TV's preferred mode of storytelling, Rafferty writes. But then again, maybe not.  "Whatever happens with TV storytelling," he writes, "it's probably going to be hard to follow."

Do new expectations for TV stories extend to stories in other arenas? Do people read War and Peace on Smatphones? Technology and social media writer Clive Thompson read it on his IPhone and wrote an interesting essay about the experience. It's futuristic, and oddly, echoes from the deep past. He notes that in eighteenth century books published in octavo format, the view of each page was very much like what you see on a smartphone screen. 

Even mare startling was his discovery about cuneiform  tablets humans started using about 5,000 years ago, which encoded transactions of merchandise and possessions, and even The Epic of Gilgamesh, the most ancient existing piece of literature preserved in permanent language. It's about the same weight and shape as an early mobile phone. "Humanity's crazy adventure with writing began with something small in our hands," Thompson writes, "waiting for the text speak to us, trying to still our minds long enough to listen the voice of another.  That part, it seems, hasn't changed." 

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Leadership Flexibility and Coordination Saved Lives After Bombing

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Coordination, Leadership Flexibility, Saved Lives After Bombing
Flexible leadership, swam intelligence and smooth collaboration and coordination among members of the medical community, police and other city, state and federal agencies saved lives after the April 2013 explosion of two bombs at the Boston Marathon, according to new research.
Three people died at the scene, and 264 bombing victims, many with life threatening injuries, were taken to 27 area hospitals. A least 14 of the injured required immediate amputations but none of those taken to hospital died. One reason for that, researchers found, was the high level of flexibility and autonomous decision making among physician leaders.
The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI) is a joint venture of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health's Division of Policy Translation and Leadership Development and the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership. Experts from the NPLI and colleagues from Boston hospitals and several Israeli institutions analyzed the role of organizational dynamics and leadership in the aftermath of the bombing. The NPLI focuses on training leaders for crisis and emergencies and has studied many disasters across the country, including the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in 2012 and Hurricane Sandy in 2013. A Harvard news story by Karen Feldscher describes the NPLI Boston bombing study.  
"We wanted to know what leaders were thinking, what they were doing and how they were working together because there was an extraordinary outcome in the wake of the bombing: coordination and collaboration were smoother and more seamless than we've seen in other events," said Eric McNulty, NPLI director of research and professional programs. NPLI researchers said the exceptional coordination was an example of swarm intelligence, in which individuals work together effectively toward a goal even when no one is in charge.
Researchers identified five principles that applied to leaders in fostering the kind swarm intelligence they saw at work: unity of purpose, with all intent on saving lives; generosity of spirit; people focused on their own jobs and helped others with theirs; no ego no blame; and a foundation of strong relationships. Though no one person was directing operations, those involved kept order and coordinated complex decisions and actions over the 102 hours between the explosions and the capture of suspects.
Resident physician helped clear emergency rooms by moving patients quickly into wards. When ell phone service was disrupted after the bombings, hospital staff improvised with runners, radio, social media and more face to face communications. Seriously injured patients needed medications, fluids, blood and often surgery. Hospital staffers found it hard to keep track of the names of large numbers of unknown patients who couldn't always speak and weren't carrying identification. To help with this problem in the future, Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) presented its findings to federal emergency preparedness officials for possible use in establishing a national naming convention.
Practice apparently helped. Eric Goralnick, medical director of emergency preparedness and assistant professor of emergency medicine at BWH and a faculty associate at NPLI, described past practice programs and the marathon bombing response at BWH in a New England Journal of Medicine article. He said in an eight year period, BWH activated its emergency response team on 78 occasions, boh for real events, and drills based on an assortment of scenarios, including chemical attacks, blizzards, train wrecks and building evacuations. "These drills have been departmental, hospital-wide, citywide and statewide," he wrote. "They taught us familiarity, comfort, trust and routines. On April 15 these routine saved lives."   

With thanks to Sonali Vaid. 

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Leadership Success Varies With Conditions and Context

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Friday, September 25, 2015

When Did CEOs Become Celebrities?

When A. G. Lafleyretired as CEO of Proctor & Gamble in 2009, Fortune Magazine noted he was beginning a "gilded semi-retirement" hailed as an "in-demand guru on corporate strategy." Since taking over leadership in 2000, he had built the company into a consumer powerhouse and a hotbed of innovation in new products, marketing, sales and rigorous costumer focus. Business writers praised what appeared to be a carefully executed hand-off to the new CEO Robert McDonald, a highly qualified corporate insider.

Things didn't go as planned. By 2013, sales were below expectations, P&G market share was down, and critics complained about slack financial performance. McDonald, who now heads the Veterans Affairs Administration, resigned under pressure and P&G brought Lafley back.According to James Surowiecki and other analysts, Lafley's efforts have been OK.

And that raises the question of why highly successful leaders may not be able to repeat earlier achievements.In the New Yorker story "Comeback Conundrum," Surowiecki writes that such inconsistent performances challenge the common conception of the "corporate savior," from whom heroic skill and capacities are expected. In an interesting earlier article, Surowiecki blamed ascent of the flamboyant 1980s chief executive of Chrysler, Lee Iacocca,for a dramatic change in American attitudes toward CEOs. In earlier eras, CEOs were viewed as competent buttoned-down organization men, Surowiecki writes. But Iacocca's marketing savvy, individuality and tough-guy image had mass appeal. He became a celebrity. The media called him a mogul, his autobiography became a best seller, and there was talk of his running for president.

Lackluster CEO comeback performances aren't always the fault of the CEO, Surowiecki writes, and while top leadership is vital, success depends on many elements beyond any individual's control: demographic shifts, changing consumer tastes, and the state of the economy as well as expectations about leadership. 

Leaders well suited for one period may be ill equipped for the next. Surowiecki cites Henry Ford as a classic example. He was brilliant at efficiency, but less astute on customer appeal. He apparently did say people could buy his Model T in any color "as long as it's black."

Lafley earned his reputation as a visionary during a booming economic period when his expansions and acquisitions were highly successful. Upon his return, he began sweeping cost cuts, reorganization, and planned to shed more than half of P&G's brands to get out of some unprofitable business areas.
A Strategy+ Business piece Lafley wrote in 2008 describe some of the early successes of his first tenure that he had to dismantle in his second. Surowiecki writes that despite Lafley's experience and capabilities, P&G faces the same problems now it did when he returned.

Surowiecki quotes Dartmouth Management Professor Sydney Finkelstein as saying it's a sign of trouble when firms rehire a former CEO. Further, the professor notes, luck plays a bigger part in success than most of us like to admit. He adds that companies that most perfectly fir their current environments are the most vulnerable when conditions change, whoever is in charge. David Taylor, a P&G veteran, has been designated the new CEO will take over in November. Read the New Yorker story here.     

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