Start With Why: A Critique

I’m not sure when I first heard of Simon Sinek and his exhortation to ‘start with why’, but it made sense immediately. Shared values bring people together, so of course we should first tell the story of why we do what we do, not let it get lost underneath what we do. When I re-read the transcript of his TEDx talk, however, I found I had a few questions about some of his leaps in logic, so I finally read his book last night for clarity. I found to my surprise and disappointment that the book did not deliver as I expected, and I was left exasperated and angry.

I had hoped for a compelling narrative of how Sinek came to his pithy thesis, replete with clear examples that could be translated into a road map for my own journey. Instead, I found the text to be muddled and meandering, which frustrated me all the more because I was so on board with Sinek’s position. As I read, I found myself coming to certain conclusions about operating with your why as your beacon. Sinek addressed some of these, but they were often buried under a mass of anecdotes. For my own peace of mind, I’ve written a two-part critique here. This first piece discusses what I found unclear and frustrating about the book. The second post outlines how I think a book on finding your why should have been written, calling attention to the almost throwaway comments and observations that I think Sinek should have made central to his book. Below, I’ve outlined my frustrations with the book as is (while trying to be civil and not turning this into a personal attack on Sinek!). Continue reading

Interview with SBS Sydney (Sinhala)

Last week I had a chat about Building Bridges with Charitha Adikari, a journalist for the SBS Sinhala service in Sydney. It occurred to me rather belatedly that I’ve never actually spoken formally about my work in Sinhala, and I found myself tripped up by a lot of words and phrases, like social entrepreneur, that aren’t used in everyday speech. This is my first interview in Sinhala, so I can find plenty about my presentation to be critical about (as is typical), but I’m really glad I had the opportunity to do it so that I can get better at talking about my work comfortably in multiple languages. Many thanks also to Charitha, was patiently accommodated my requests regarding scheduling and re-scheduling, and was a very generous interviewer. You can listen to the interview here.

M1W2A1: Pen Portraits

Prompt: Identify key figures in your community and create “pen portraits” of them. This is different from interviews because it is telling their story in your words, rather than theirs.

Response: The people who stand out for me have always been great teachers: they have generously shared their expertise, patiently helped me work through my fears,  challenged me to revisit my assumptions, and never told me what to think. Learning was an adventure, a journey of self-discovery. I aspire to embody these characteristics in my own work. Here are some of the stand-outs, in no particular order. Continue reading

Why pick me?

Asha made an incredibly astute observation on Friday. When I told her about how I felt I didn’t deserve certain recent accolades, she pointed out that many award and grant schemes are a recognition of a trajectory rather than a destination. She pointed out how much more value there is for them to say they were a formative part of the journey, and that they helped set the wheels in motion. I felt she was absolutely right, but I had expended so much energy deconstructing myself that I failed to think about the question of what benefit these schemes are to them.

At the same time, this observation leads me to a place of, if not quite anxiety, at least concern. Continue reading

Life as a Maven

“To be a Maven is to be a teacher. But it is also, even more emphatically, to be a student.”
Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point, 69

If I’m to be honest, I walk a fine line between helpful maven and irritating purveyor of factoids that only I could love. Since reading The Tipping Point, I’ve tried to ask myself the question, “Is what I’m about to share relevant/timely/helpful?” If I think yes, I make it available to people directly. If not, I’ve started sticking things in semi-public nooks of my blog as a way to remember what resonates most for me (like the time I found out that the word ‘lucifer’ meant match, so that the song “Pack Up Your Troubles” suddenly made a whole lot more sense).

I’ve realised that it’s probably fair to generalise nearly everyone in a PhD programme as a maven. We have a far higher tolerance for receiving, analysing, and digesting arcane information than other people — in fact, I think it’s what draws us to 5+ years of specialised study (not superior intelligence, but that’s another post). Continue reading

M1W1A1: Why I do what I do

Prompt: Create a Draft Mission Statement. Take some time to consider the following questions. Write your answers in your learning space. Explain your idea in terms of “why”. Why is it important? Write it down and spend some time trying to simplify the message as much as possible. Then add the how, and the what.

Response: It’s always a challenge to put the why before the what! I think it still needs some work, and feedback would be much appreciated.

Update 25 March 2016: I’m leaving my long ramble in, because it was crucial to getting me to my shorter mission statement, which you can find right at the end of the post. Writing my ‘About’ page was also really clarifying for getting to the shorter statement.

Continue reading

Forbes, social media, and the amplification of good

I didn’t really follow the annual Forbes 30 Under 30 so much as accept that my Facebook feed would blow up each January with the news that someone I went to undergrad with had just made the list. I noticed a pattern: they were all hard workers who had also mastered the art of working smartly and in alignment with the right people.

When I started college, I thought Princeton was simply a good way to get a degree sans debt (it was one of the few schools offering need-blind financial aid to international students). It was only once I left that I began to value the connections I’d made entirely by accident, who served as mentors, supporters, and harbingers of further opportunities. Meanwhile, I admired the people on the Forbes list, while regretfully admitting that I would probably never know how to make my work visible in a way that felt right. Continue reading

M0A4: Reflections on the Commonwealth

1. What does the Commonwealth mean to you?
2. Do you think being part of the Commonwealth is a good thing for your country – have you experienced the benefits of being on #teamcommonwealth?
3. How does the history of your country’s connection to the Commonwealth affect your feelings towards The Commonwealth now?
4. Make a list of positive and negative things you feel about the Commonwealth and make suggestions for how those that are negative could be improved.
5. The Commonwealth Charter includes 16 core values and principles of the Commonwealth. Which of the Commonwealth values and principles do you hold as most important to you as a leader and why?
6. Is there anything you would add to the Commonwealth Charter?

Continue reading

M0A3: A headline from the future

Prompt: Imagine a newspaper or website from the future – five or ten years from now. They are writing a story about you. What does the headline say? What is the story about? Add it to your future timeline.

Response: I absolutely hate assignments like this, because they require you to be fairly transparent about the extent of your ambitions. I’m an extremely private person, and I also hate being wrong. What if my super ambitious dream never comes to pass? How utterly embarrassing. Ugh. So this assignment is a bit of a challenge, and I’m cringing inside as I write this. FYI, I used NewsJack to create my remixed newspaper headline. H/T MIT Codesign Studio, 2014.

The headline discusses teaching arts-based strategies I use in Building Bridges, and announces that these will be used in general teaching practice for secondary school education, to replace current methods that depend heavily on outdated textbooks and rote learning. Wouldn’t that be fun?