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Achieving Radical Alignment with Alex Jamieson & Bob Gower

Welcome back to another episode of the Robin Zander Show!

My guests today are Alex Jamieson and Bob Gower, co-authors of the new book, Radical Alignment. This book is designed to help people achieve more joy and less drama – at work and in daily life.

Bob Gower is an organizational design consultant. He supported my curation leading up to the first Responsive Conference, where he gave a talk on “How Not To Join a Cult.”

Alex Jamieson was the co-producer and co-star of the academy award nominated documentary, Super Size Me. She is a leadership coach, radio show host, and nutrition consultant.

Together, Bob and Alex gave a talk at Responsive Conference 2018 on “Getting to Hell Yes.”

In their new book, Radical Alignment, they teach a simple process for individuals and teams to establish clear boundaries with less drama and more joy.

I hope you enjoy this conversation!

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We’re All In Different Boats

When the pandemic hit in early March, everyone had to make changes. In addition to observing my own responses, it was interesting to see how other people reacted, as well. Everybody I’ve talked to this year has been impacted, but nobody has been impacted in quite the same way.

I first heard the metaphor that strikes me best to describe this scenario from Katelin Holloway at Responsive Conference 2019: “We are all in the same storm, but we are weathering it in different boats.”

This was true of parenthood and work, which was the theme of Katelin’s talk last year, but it is even more true now across all of our lives.

For me, as the leader of a company, as well as a colleague, friend, brother, and son, recognizing the reality of this metaphor has been an exercise in humility. We never truly know what someone else is going through. And acknowledging this has never been more true than during the current crisis. 

On a day that I might be feeling hopeful, energetic, and ready to get work done, it’s necessary to remember that another member of my team may be in a completely different state. And whereas they might have been able to communicate that clearly to me in the pre-pandemic era, even the expectation that people are able to describe their experience or ask for help, needs to be adjusted in the current times.

The global recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement has increased many people’s awareness that the daily experience of a black person is fundamentally different than that of a white person. So, too, the day-to-day experience of someone who has children at home is completely different than another person without kids. This is true of a wide variety of situations and circumstances: mental health, living situations, physical wellbeing, and more.

There is no simple solution to this challenge. Throughout this year, I’ve had to remind myself that I, too, have never lived through a global pandemic and am figuring things out as I go along. The best that any of us can do is recognize that our experiences do not necessarily echo another person’s, and we must continually update our awareness.

We are all in different boats. We don’t know what someone else is experiencing. The only recourse is to show up with greater empathy.

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Love, Guide & Let Go

One of the premises of Responsive.org is that the rate of change is accelerating. Over the six years that I have run events about the Future of Work, we have seen that the ways we work and organize are changing ever faster.

The COVID-19 pandemic has expedited this rate of change and fast-forwarded the Future of Work into “now.” All of the trends that define what we were calling the Future of Work are now abruptly commonplace: distributed work, digital collaboration, rapid adaptability.

But one of the most important, and under-valued, aspects of this sudden shift is the increasing emphasis it places on leadership and our people.

My philosophy on leadership is “love, guide, let go.”

  • Love – Support your people with empathy and understanding.
  • Guide – Guide people towards desired outcomes and objectives.
  • Let go – Let go of what you cannot control, and hold people accountable for their actions.

By placing people first, supporting them where they are, and recognizing that we are not ultimately able to control others, we are able to build more successful organizations. 

There are lots of tactics for treating people more kindly. At Zander Media, we begin every meeting with a Check-In Round, which is a chance to connect personally before discussing business. Check-In Rounds consist of a simple question like “what is a book or movie you are enjoying?” to something much more vulnerable like “what is something about the current crisis that you are scared about?” These questions provide an opportunity to get to know your people, while safely developing the habit of vulnerability across a team.

Ultimately, though, tactics are much less important. When we show up as humans first, and only secondarily prioritize business performance, we are able to build companies that can not only keep up with the current times, but flourish.

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Chris Fussell, former Navy SEAL, on How to Organize during Crisis

I’m really pleased to share my live conversation with Chris Fussell, former Navy SEAL and Chief of Staff to General Stanley McChrystal, who was himself in charge of Special Operations during the Iraq War.

Chris is now the President of the McChrystal Group and spoke onstage at Responsive Conference 2016. He is the first person I look to about how we can respond to crisis and we spent this webinar with the Responsive.org community discussing how people around the world can organize amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic.

I hope you find this useful!

If you are interested in more from Chris, here is the talk he gave at the first annual Responsive Conference.

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The Practice of Resilience

A week ago, I conducted a webinar with former Navy SEAL, Chris Fussell, about the Coronavirus Pandemic. Chris was a speaker at the First Annual Responsive Conference, and we have maintained contact ever since.

I started the interview asking about a longtime curiosity – what makes high performers, like the military special forces – calm under duress? Chris described the intense training Navy SEALs are subjected to, including long periods of sleep deprivation, rigorous physical and mental exercise. But then he went on to say that whether resilience is inherent or learned is debated even within the special forces.

We expect a Navy SEAL to be calm amidst crisis, but for the rest of us, who have not spent our lives preparing for catastrophe, what do we do?

Emotional resilience has been a lifelong practice for me, of necessity, because I have always been very sensitive. As a child, I was always deeply impacted by my surroundings, and it has been the work of more than 2 decades to learn to leverage this as a strength. We are all struggling with the COVID-19 crisis, each of us in our own way. In calls over the last two weeks, several people have asked me for help maintaining a positive outlook. 

For me, the key to resilience is not about always staying positive. Throughout my life, I’ve often gotten overwhelmed! The practice has become picking myself back up again and getting back to work. It is okay to feel discouraged, stressed, and afraid. The solution – the practice of emotional resilience – is to take care of yourself sufficiently so that you can come back ready to try again.

In our interview, Chris also provided one key which got him through Navy SEAL training: helping others. We are all struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing world. The practice is one of getting overwhelmed, working through it, and then – when we can – turning to somebody next to us and offering support.

We don’t know what the world is going to look like on the other side, but by taking care of ourselves first, and then supporting those around us, we can keep practicing resilience together.

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Resilience & Leadership in Challenging Times

The Coronavirus Pandemic has the entire world in an uproar. In this blog post, I am including  my personal reflections on resilience and leadership, but first and foremost, please make sure that you and your loved ones are staying safe. 

The world has changed in the last couple of weeks more quickly and more abruptly than it ever has before. These chaotic times call for resilience and leadership more than ever. 

Resilience

By resilience, I mean the ability to get back up when you are knocked down; the ability to redirect when you’ve gone offcourse. 

I have been following the Coronavirus Pandemic for about four weeks and have been asking my parents (both over 70) to prepare. A few days ago, upon finding that they had left their home unexpectedly, I got angry. Resilience means coming back to the conversation hours later more calmly and communicating even more lovingly.

Resilience is a learned experience and takes practice. Have patience with yourself and your loved ones. Keep practicing.

Leadership

I recently read this tweet by General Stan McChrystal, the 4 star general responsible for special operations during the Iraq War. (Also, a great guy.)

As we lead through this time of crisis, leaders are more important than ever. Communicate relentlessly, match your internal operating pace with that of your external environment, and continue to reiterate what ‘winning’ looks like to your organization.

Leadership, whether with our families, teams, or in the highest levels of government, has never been more important. But what does that mean for me and you? Stan’s idea of intentionally matching our internal states with the needs of the circumstances resonates for me, especially as someone who is often operating at a very different speed than those around me.

In the last week, I’ve been alone at home, reading too much Twitter, and talking with family and friends. But in the past I’ve also been in the midst of medical crises. There are times that call for adrenaline and urgency; there are times where it is more effective to slow down. Practice matching your internal tempo to the needs of your situation!

And what does “winning” look like? For me, that is making sure that my family stays in lockdown (please don’t leave the house!). It means checking in with my team and making sure they are staying safe and sane. It means communicating calmly and intentionally to the communities I’m a part of or managing.

The clearer we can be internally, the more clearly we can support those we hold dear, our communities, and the world.

Stay strong!
Robin

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David Hanrahan, CHRO of Eventbrite, on Remote Work, Parenting, and Mental Health in the time of Coronavirus

Welcome back to the Robin Zander Show, and an entirely different world. The Coronavirus Pandemic has the entire world in an uproar.

In today’s podcast, I have a conversation with David Hanrahan, CHRO of Eventbrite, about taking a large company entirely remote in under 2 weeks, parenting tactics when so many of us are working from home, changes to the events business, and maintaining mental health.

We keep our conversation short and tactical sharing specific tools and practices that can help you at home.

Enjoy!

If you want more from David Hanrahan, you might enjoy his talk at Responsive Conference 2019 on Mental Health at Work.

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“Master Your Code” with Darren Gold of The Trium Group

I meet with a lot of individuals and companies exploring both personal and professional performance. Especially through curating Responsive Conference over the last five years, I’ve had the great privilege to meet with change leaders around the world. There are a lot of very innovative approaches to change being practiced in the world today!

One intersection that I rarely see well addressed in the delicate balance between personal and professional development. The Trium Group is an exception.

In this interview, I sit down with Darren Gold, managing partner of The Trium Group, to discuss peak performance, his very unusual background, and his new book “Master Your Code.”

Enjoy!

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An Interview about Culture Culture, Talent Development, and the Circus with Greg Russell

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Greg Russell, Head of People and Talent at Snapdocs to talk about talent development.

The conversation ended up covering a great deal more including company culture, special needs, human development, and my own eclectic background.

I hope you enjoy!

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Memento Mori: Remember Death

How would you live your life differently if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?

We’re all so busy rushing through our lives that we sometimes forget to pause and remember that we have fleeting time on this earth. Watch this short vlog for a reminder to be grateful for what you do have in your life, and the time you do have available now.

Memento Mori. Remember that you will die.

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“Florida Priming” and Simple Tools To Trigger Improved Performance

There’s a concept in cognitive psychology called priming. In its most abstract, this means that if we are given a reminder of a stimulus before being presented with that stimulus, we are more likely to behave favorable towards that stimulus. People who are shown pictures of money before being asked to calculate the cost of groceries are more rapid in their calculations and people who are reminded of aging through subtle cue words like “Florida” and “retirement” are more likely to walk slowly immediately afterwards.

Some of these priming examples have unfortunate consequences (like the so-called old-aging “Florida priming” example) but I’d like to look at how we might use these realities to improve our performance, too.

The Pink Elephant in the Room (Photo: Crispy)

Here are two cases studies:

Asian Test priming: asian students who are reminded of their ethnicity prior to tests, perform better than the same students not reminded that of asian-students-make-good-test-takers stereotype. In this case, students are simply being reminded of the biases they themselves might hold. My curiosity then is how else might we use our current beliefs to stimulate behavior in accordance with those beliefs?

Age priming: In the “Florida priming” example, participants in the study walk more slowly due to the reminders of behaviors of the elderly.  In this example, participants are performing according to the dictates of a different stereotyped group. How then could we stimulate performance according to the group different then our own?

I am going to examine both of these cognitive biases from the perspective of learning ballet, but the lessons can be applied across any physical or mental discipline.

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Speaking at Ignite San Francisco (And How to Create an Effective Talk)

I recently gave a talk at Ignite San Francisco. The presentation was well received and fun to deliver. Below are my slides from the talk. In this post I’ll break down my process for becoming one of the speakers (hint: just ask!) and how I built my talk.

If you don’t know Ignite, take a look at some of these. I learned about Ignite from my friend Karen Cheng, who had given talk previously. I asked for an introduction to the organizers and asked Karen’s advice on how to get chosen for a position among the speakers.

Ask For Help

Which brings me to the first things I learned from this experience: Ask for help! Even if you don’t need it, but especially if you can use it – ask people you respect for their thoughts and opinions. When possible, ask from a place of excitement rather than desperation. I’ve been on both sides and know that asking from desperation or being asked from a desperate person are both no fun. Karen gave me two pieces of advice. The first was an introduction to the organizers. The second, which I would never have thought to do myself, was submit three talk requests to be considered. I don’t know which of these made a bigger difference, but together they worked.

Introductions Matter

This idea is tossed around a lot but my experience of speaking at Ignite reinforced the idea. Having a friend on the inside, of course, means I’ll be more likely considered for a speaking position. This isn’t biased and unfair treatment, it just makes sense that the organizers are busy, have limited time, and are more likely to choose someone who is, by affiliation, not crazy, than someone they don’t know.

Scratching For An Idea

I take the word “scratching” from Twyla Tharp, who discusses scratching as a part of the creation process in The Creative Habit. My scratching looked like this:

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How to Give an Effective Speech

I have given a lot of talks in the last couple of years. I’ve used the same set of public speaking skills to give presentations ranging from autism to how to learn handstands and how not to stretch. I am currently attending a course on public speaking and group facilitation at the Option Institute in Sheffield, MA and decided to put down some of these tools in writing.

For starters, here is a 3-minute talk on my recent mastery of the Gymnastics Giant.

What’s Your Purpose

Most of the time when I give a short speech I have two goals:

  • The Content
  • The Ask

The Content

For many introductory talks I am the content. Even when giving a talk on advanced topics what makes the content stick is my personal stories. The content is only relevant to the extent an audience can connect with the speaker. Throughout my life I get many of the same questions. Probably most people do. “What do you do for work?” And for me: “What did you do in the circus?!” A short presentation designed to share a story from my life is a chance to share the answers to a lot of those basic questions so that I can rapidly move relationships on to some more advanced topics and areas of play. I’m happy to talk about my dance company or a workshop I am putting on. And if I can get the basics out of the way in a group it saves us time for more juicy topics later.

The Ask

The ask is a bit more complicated and depends on the audience and the context of my talk. Almost always when I’m giving a talk, though, I have a clear purpose behind the situation, something that I’d like to get, teach or contribute. When I have a clear ask I usually save it for the end to give my audience something clear to remember when they think of my talk.

Recall is heavily weighted towards the combination of the beginning and end. Thus, I like to start out my talks with something pretty hard-hitting about myself (when that’s the topic of the talk) and end with a clear ask (when I have one). What comes in between established authority or context for my talk, tells the story.

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How to Overcome the Fear of Humiliation – Using Daily Documentation to Learn Porteño Spanish

My taxi driver was gesticulating wildly, swerving in and out of traffic, as he impressed upon me his opinions of Argentine politicians. I was very silent in the back seat.

I have been warned to avoid discussing politics with Argentinians, but I was silent for a completely different reason: I was too scared to talk. Growing up in California I was exposed to a lot of Spanish and have a good ear for the language.  So long as we are speaking slow and in the present tense, I have about the capacity for conversation of a precocious 4-year-old. The reason I was silent in that back of that taxi was that I was more scared of speaking poorly then I had interest in engaging in the conversation.

I’ve just returned from two weeks in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in this post I’ll share my fears of language learning and the newly launched Start-Up 100, which I’ll be using to overcome that fear.

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Jonah Lehrer on Neuroscience and Humanity

On Tuesday night I went to the Herbst theatre in San Francisco to hear neuro-scientist and writer Jonah Lehrer in conversation with Roy Eisenhardt.  While I grew up listening to City Arts and Lecturs, this was my first live discussion and a much needed return to academic discourse (not to be confused with discussion, debate, or dialogue).  As an alumnus of Columbia and Oxford Universities, Lehrer is now a contributor to Scientific American,  National Public Radio, and Wired Magazine, among others.  He has published articles in The New Yorker, Nature, Seed, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe and maintains the blog The Frontal Cortex.

Lehrer’s talk was especially interesting personally because of his combination of academic affiliations and real-world application.  As a scientific correspondent Lehrer straddles disciplines with which I myself struggle: the balance of academic research and real-world application.  Lehrer speaks and writes with the ease of a well-read academic.  In discussing one of his two books – Proust Was a Neuroscientist – Lehrer cited Plato to confirm his thesis that some fundamental ideas currently espoused by popular neuroscience were conceptualized by the Greeks.   (I grow bored with the use of the classics merely for the edification of ones argument though this trend is by no means exclusive to Lehrer.  In my opinion, references should be accessible to the audience to which they are cited.)  However, I heartily concur with Lehrer’s argument that the humanities use different methods to answer fundamentally human questions about thought, cognition, existence, humanity… .  What artist, writer, poet, dancer – who?! – does not seek to answer such questions through whatever medium their profession employs?
Jonah Lehrer’s most recent book, How We Decide, encompasses decision making throughout the development of research psychology all the way to recent publications in neuroscience.  I have a pretty thorough grounding in classic Behaviorism (B. F. Skinner, etc.) and Cognitive Psychology.   It was interesting, then, to hear studies with which I am very familiar (the classic example of Pavlov’s dogs trained to salivate at the sound of a bell which ques food) in the context of neuroscience.  Lehrer discussed Chimpanzees being fed squirts of apple juice and conditioned to respond to a bell just as Skinner’s dogs were, with the important difference that these Chimps were also undergoing brain scanners.  The brain scans showed anticipation of food as clearly as did Skinner’s dog’s saliva.  My cognitive psychology profession Dan Reisberg used to argue that neuroscience would not replace cognitive psychology but merely confirm what we (as cognitive psychologists) had already learned.  I saw echos of this throughout Lehrer’s discussion.

In all, I very much enjoyed Lehrer for his wit, humor, and melding of neuroscience with the news.  I am critical of academic’s trend to use lofty references to establish credibility but I see this everywhere that academics publish.  And truly, Plato had some interesting things to say.   I will be adding The Frontal Cortex to my blogroll and will certainly be posting about Lehrer in the future.

As an aside I am also amused by Lehrer’s public image:

This rumpled look is awfully reminiscent of the graduate students I know in the sciences at UCSF.

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CNS (Central Nervous System is Sexy)

A couple of clarifying notes as relate to my most recent post on Neurons and Excitability…

Often, when one hears Central Nervous System the inclination is to think of the brain.  This is accurate but not a complete picture.  The CNS also includes a region of the spine down to about the waist line – the spinal cord.  It is important to note that the spinal cord does not extend the full length of the spinal column.

Sensory information may arrive at a wide variety of points along the spinal cord or reach the brain itself.  Information that is processed along the spinal cord without reaching the brain results in what we call reflexes.  This is why reflexive actions occur so quickly: they need not travel the length of the spine and into the brain.

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Muscle Fibers and Nerve Excitability

I have spent a great deal of time dissecting cadavers this year.  This has been an amazing opportunity to learn in person about human anatomy and physiology and is deeply informative for my continuing work with clients seeking to overcome pain.  In examining these bodies, generously donated to UCSF/SFSU, I have spent a great deal of time isolating muscles as well as bony landmarks and nerve bundles.  A muscle cell, technically called a muscle fiber, is composed of interconnected proteins which contract and release.  The first part of my revelation was that each of these fibers is the full length of the muscle of which it is part.  This means that a fiber (remember, that means a muscle cell) which makes up a small part of the Rectus Femoris (the outermost of the quadriceps muscles, it runs from the pelvis down to the knee cap) also runs the full length from the pelvis to the knee.  My second breakthrough was in connecting this fact to a similar detail about nerve cells.  A nerve cell is called a neuron and the aspect of the cell responsible for transmitting electrical impulses from the body of the cell to the outputting ends is called the axon.   Note the axon of the neuron below, covered in a myelin sheath.

Nerve

When I bump my toe everything happens so fast that it is nearly impossible to tell what is going on.  The sensory neurons in my toe send a signal to my spinal cord or my brain for processing, which then facilitates either a reflex or a processed reaction to the stimulus.  Perhaps, I withdraw my toe and cradle it in pain.  The signal, as it travels in both directions, is traveling from neuron to neuron or along the axon of many neurons, from extremity to the central nervous system (CNS, see following post for further discussion of this system) and back out again.  Some of the axons responsible for conducting the impulse to and from the toe are the length of the distance from toe to CNS!  Once the signal reaches the injured extremity it excites muscles fibers which contract (too late) to bring the toe out of harm’s way.  In these contractions, remember, fibers the length of the muscle are contracting.

Given two facts – that muscle fibers run the length of a muscle and that axons may run the distance between an extremity and the central nervous system – we can begin to understand why we can experience pain in parts of the body distant from a specific injury.  Neurons begin to respond when other neurons in their vicinity are excited.  Thus a wave of signals traveling away from the CNS may excite offshoots and facilitate muscle contraction in an area not directly impacted by the original stimulus.  As part of the healing process, this interconnectivity may be utilized by subtly adjusting areas peripheral to the site of injury.

I was recently working with a client, a professional dancer, who suffered injury to his ankle some years ago.  Since that time his career has been successful but he reports always having noticed less mobility at the site of injury.  He had seen physical therapists and massage practitioners about the issue with little or no success.  He reported that these practitioners had spent considerable time working directly on his foot and ankle and wondered aloud why I was dedicating so much attention elsewhere on his body.  But consider: if muscle fibers systematically run the length of a muscle and the axons of nerves may run from an extremity to the CNS, what impact might working elsewhere i.e. on the same leg have on the point of injury?  Muscle cells that directly connect to the area may be as far away as the knee.  Neurons that directly relate the the area may end as far as the upper spine or head.  Conceivably – just given these two facts – we could have worked on his head and seen results in his foot.  Certainly, my clients saw results!

That muscle fibers and neurons can be the lengths discussed should not be taken to completely explain interconnection throughout the body.  How neurons communicate is a very active field of research.  How axons come to be a certain length is not thoroughly understood.  Nor should the story of my client be an incentive to start poking at a friend’s head in hopes of provoking a response in her foot.  It probably will only serve to get you a good swift kick.  Of course, none of this changes the two tenants of the discussion.

Next time you stub your toe, consider: where did your responses originate?

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The Lives of a Cell: Notes of A Biology Watcher

The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas does not contain of the exclusive scientific vocabulary one might expect from a Doctor of Medicine who was professor, chairman, and dean at some of the most prestigious hospitals and medical universities in the United States. Thomas writes not as a scientist but as a scientifically-minded poet.  The book is a slim volume which covers a great deal of territory: each of the ten chapters takes a different perspective on issues relating to micro-biology, human evolution, the natural world, the pursuit of science.  The consistent humor and delicacy with which Thomas delves into difficult issues is a primary connection between the essays’ diverse topics.

Before properly beginning the book properly I turned to a random page and read:

Watching television, you’d think we lived at bay, in total jeopardy, surrounded on all sides by human-seeking germs, shielded against infection and death only by a chemical technology that enables us to keep killing them off.

These descriptions of our fearful actions continue for a lengthy paragraph and it is only at the end of the page that Thomas begins an outright discussion of the chapter’s topics of disease and the micro-organisms held responsible.  He sheds light on human behavior as relates to germs, behavior based not on knowledge of the cells themselves but rather on our own immune responses.  Thomas elaborates on several cases in which changing our approach could achieve more productive outcomes.

Lives of a Cell covers much more than just a discussion of micro-biology, even as relates to human behavior.  In “Some Biomythology” Thomas seriously discusses mythical beasts from a diversity of cultures and casually compares what these have to teach us about the animal kingdom with what recently-discovered micro-organisms can reveal of biology to the public.

In “Ceti” Thomas discusses Tau Ceti – a nearby start which resembles our sun, the CETI (Conference on Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence), and the logistics of communicating with intelligent life beyond our solar system.  He revels in the potential miscommunication. What of ourselves would we choose to share with newly-found intelligent life if the beginning of our conversation spanned hundreds of years?  Our recent discoveries in science would be an embarrassment 300 years later.  He draws the reader into the realization of how quickly human society is changing, and proposes that perhaps music – Thomas favors Bach, specifically – could be our greatest ally.

Lewis Thomas’ prose are not what one might expect from the highest echelons of academia.  He is far too human and humble in his stringing together of abstract ideas; too good at reaching a broad audience.  I cannot wait to get my hands on his earlier book The Medusa and the Snail, on his many published articles, maybe even articles published by his colleagues, to discover whether the beauty of his thoughts and writing extend beyond these pages.  I hope they do.