The Hoggan Blog




Human Change Resistance and How to Overcome It

Posted on: July 24, 2013

Brilliant new piece by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker about human change resistance and how to overcome it. The article touches on lessons from behavioral economics to explain why we still resist change in spite of overwhelming evidence scientific evidence of a destructive warming climate and the health damage that comes from high sugar and high-fat diets. These kinds of problems worsen every day because they're invisible, tedious and involve self-sacrifice. So when problems seem distant, sacrifices high and benefits low, we tend to resist change – even when we know better.

Atul writes about the brilliant public intellectual Everett Rogers who argued that hard changes are best spread by people talking to people. While some ideas catch like wildfire, according to Rogers, slow ideas are best communicated and spread through social interaction, where we follow the lead of other people we know and trust.

Link to New Yorker Article

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New Poll Shows Enbridge Proposal Has Deficit of Trust and Legitimacy

Posted on: September 28, 2012

The inept communication from Enbridge is not surprising. The business community as a whole is naive about the rules that govern public communication when the public starts out inattentive and mistrustful. Unfortunately this is also one of those proposals with a fatal flaw. The more the public learns about the Northern Gateway proposal the more they opposed it.

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Vancouver, BC – A new poll sheds light on what motivates public opinion about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines Project. It shows that British Columbians do not trust most key influencers and decision-makers associated with the proposal, and that perceptions of its legitimacy are sharply divided.

Key results include: 81% of British Columbians believe the Northern Gateway project will benefit Alberta, 53% say it will benefit Canada, and 43% say it will benefit BC. 77% of British Columbians partially or completely distrust Enbridge when it comes to the project: 53% do not trust Enbridge at all. Only 28% of respondents say the proposal is part of a future they believe in, but 39% of British Columbians think that the project is going to happen whether or not they support it.

The research was conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion, a practice of Vision Critical, on behalf of Vancouver resident Gavin Dew, as part of his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) thesis at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Survey questions were fielded on August 22nd, 2012. Result tables are provided below.

“The prognosis for Enbridge isn’t great,” said Dew. “If they’re going to turn it around, Enbridge and its allies need to make the national economic benefit tangible and real for everyday British Columbians. They need to better explain how their proposal fits into a future that people want to believe in.” On the other hand, “Enbridge’s opponents have succeeded in painting the project as morally illegitimate; part of the past, not the future. Opponents would be wise to keep hammering their message that the benefits will accrue to Alberta and to ‘big business’ in the abstract, while everyday British Columbians take the lion’s share of the risk.”

Dew’s research focused on the meaning and measurement of ‘social license to operate’, an academic concept that covers the requirement of social approval for businesses to function effectively. ‘Trust’ and ‘legitimacy’ are key components of social license.

“Companies increasingly recognize the importance of social license to operate – but there is no real consensus on what it means, and even less on how to measure it,” said Dew. “Public opinion acts as ‘civil regulation,’ compelling companies to go beyond compliance with formal laws and regulations.”

The polling included both general and project-specific questions, using the Enbridge Northern Gateway project as a test case.

“Enbridge is a perfect, relatively unique, and contained example because it symbolizes a major debate about the future of Canada, and it also illustrates the growing importance of social license as a concern for business,” said Dew. “This research demonstrates a new way of using polling to map the pressure points that matter most for a given project.”

To test trust in general, respondents were asked ‘to what extent do you trust the following to do what is right?’ The results were converted into a “Net Trust” measure by subtracting distrust from trust – for example, 33% of British Columbians trust the media in general and 63% distrust it, yielding a Net Trust score of -30%. Other notable Net Trust scores include: business (-16%), government (-32%), regulatory agencies (-8%), and environmentalist groups (+8%). Tables are below.

“There is a major trust deficit in BC,” argues Dew, “especially when it comes to traditional authorities and sources of information.”

Respondents were also asked ‘to what extent do you trust the following to do what is right when it comes to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline?’ General versus Enbridge-specific Net Trust varies significantly in some cases. The BC government’s general Net Trust is -33%, and its Enbridge-specific Net Trust is -30%. The Canadian government scores -24% in general, and -35% regarding Enbridge. The Alberta government scores -30% generally and -47% regarding Enbridge. First Nations groups score -20% in general and -7% regarding Enbridge. Regulators score -8% in general, and the Joint Review Panel scores -12% regarding Enbridge. Tables are below.

Enbridge suffers a significant trust gap on its own proposal. For comparison, business has general Net Trust of -16%, and the energy industry scores -50%. With regard to its own project, Enbridge scores -62% Net Trust: 77% of people distrust Enbridge, and only 15% trust the company. Strong feelings are highly consolidated: 53% have no trust at all in Enbridge, and only 2% trust the company completely, yielding a Net Strong Trust of     -51%.

“Just as business needs a social license to act, the influence that government and civil society groups can exercise depends on what I call their social license to critique,” said Dew. “Clearly there are very few influencers who have sufficient public trust to move the dial on the Enbridge issue, and especially few supporters with strong public trust.”

The poll also tested the perceived legitimacy of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, measuring three different forms of legitimacy: pragmatic, moral, and cognitive. Pragmatic legitimacy is based on perceived direct, indirect, and social benefits. Moral legitimacy is based on values alignment. Cognitive legitimacy is based on comprehensibility or inevitability.

In terms of pragmatic legitimacy, 81% of British Columbians believe the project will benefit Alberta, 53% say it will benefit Canada, 43% say it will benefit BC, 32% say it will benefit them indirectly, and 13% say it will benefit them directly.

Regarding moral legitimacy, 28% of respondents say the project is part of a future they believe in, and 23% say it feels like the right thing to do.

“Enbridge has a major moral legitimacy problem,” surmises Dew.

Tests of cognitive legitimacy show that the perceived novelty of the project is a drag on public support: many British Columbians are seemingly uncomfortable or unfamiliar with energy infrastructure. Only 28% of respondents agreed with a statement testing the comprehensibility of the project: ‘even if I don’t agree with it, it seems logical based on my past experience.’ A question testing resignation to the perceived inevitability of the project received 39% agreement: ‘it is going to happen anyway, whether or not I support it.’

Further analysis helps illustrate what motivates support or opposition to the project. Among supporters, 90% agree that the project will benefit Canada, and 85% agree that it will benefit BC. 69% of supporters agree that it is ‘part of a future that I believe in,’ and 60% say that it ‘feels like the right thing to do.’ 63% of supporters say ‘even if I don’t agree with it, it seems logical based on my past experience.’

On the other hand, 93% of people who oppose the project reject the statement that ‘it feels like the right thing to do’, 89% of opponents disagree with ‘it is part of a future that I believe in,’ 88% do not believe ‘it will benefit me directly,’ 75% disagree that it will benefit BC, and 60% disagree that it will benefit Canada. 83% of opponents reject the statement ‘even if don’t agree, it seems logical.’ Notably, 80% of people who oppose the project still believe it will benefit Alberta.

“Whether you’re trying to persuade a reluctant public to accept a project or rally opposition to stop it, this kind of analysis lets you shape policies and messages that work,” said Dew. “You need to understand the lay of the land early in the process in order to gain social license. Both reality and perception matter.”

“There is no line item for social license in a company’s balance sheet, but it is a critical strategic asset,” argues Dew. “It’s about dollars and cents, not just warm and fuzzy feelings. Companies across Canada are learning from watching the Enbridge situation unfold. They’re learning just how expensive it can be to lose your social license. We’ll be studying Enbridge for decades, whatever the outcome.”
 
Survey Details:

The survey sample included 802 randomly selected people, with a margin of error of  +/- 3.5%. The results were then statistically weighted according to Census data in order to provide a representative sample of the British Columbia adult population, reflecting education, age, gender, and region.

 

For more information about this survey please contact Gavin Dew at Gavin.dew@gmail.com

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Close Federal Race Continues [Survey]

Posted on: September 24, 2012

Excerpt from the latest Nanos Poll:

"Our latest tracking survey on the federal political scene suggests that the federal Conservatives and NDP continue to be in a tight race. Of note, however, the Conservative trend line over the past year indicates a slow erosion of support in wave after wave of research while the NDP continue to remain competitive.

On the Nanos Leadership Index, Harper's gain in terms of his brand has largely corresponded to a drop in undecided and none of the above views on the leadership measures.

If you recall, when we first saw his brand drop this past spring it was when he was dealing with the cost estimates of the F35 procurement, the omnibus bill, and robocalls. When his scores dropped the level of undecided and none of the above rose. At that time this likely pointed to the case of disappointment and parking than embracing other federal leaders.

Now with greater distance from the turbulent spring, a summer without the house sitting, effectively taking away the platform for the opposition parties to attack Harper, Harper's scores have improved. That being said, with the House convening we will have to see how effective or ineffective the opposition parties are and the possible impact on the perceptions of Harper and all the leaders."

Download survey results

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Science Communication as the “New Political Science” for Democracy [Video]

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Dan M. Kahan describes the concept of "The Science of Science Communication" – the idea that there is a science environment where people form their perceptions of risk and gather facts that lead to policy consequences. Like our natural environment, which is essential to the health of individuals living inb a society, the environment for science communication is essential for "enlightened democratic self governance.

 

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The Disintegration of Our Trust in Public Speech

Posted on: September 3, 2012

In this New York Times opinion piece, Speech, Lies and Apathy, Rutgers University professor of philosophy, Jason Stanley, writes about how the evolving US presidential campaign demonstrates his belief that the public’s trust in public speech has disintegrated to such a degree that it has undermined the possibility of straightforward communication in the public sphere.

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Interview with Jim Hoggan: “Smashing Heads Doesn’t Open Minds”

Posted on: August 22, 2012

In this interview with the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers' Network, Jim Hoggan echoes communications themes brought forward in his CEGN's May conference keynote address titled "Smashing Heads Doesn't Open Minds."

Editor: One of the key goals of CEGN's new strategic plan is to "Give public voice to our shared aspirations". This has been spurred by the recent spotlight on the environmental community and environmental funders and a realization that the messages coming from the community have often been fragmented and reactive. What is your advice on how best to reframe the current conversation around the environment?

Jim: I don't like to offer specific reframing advice without taking a closer look at the details, so please take my comments as broad brush observations. My sense is that Canadians think the federal government has overstepped with its rhetoric. The public isn't buying the demonization of environmental leaders. Public opinion research confirms that Canadians feel we need a balanced conversation about economy and the environment. They believe that environmental groups and funders help provide that balance. There is broad public support for fair minded and respectful conversations about how we develop resources in a way that is good for the future and not destructive for the planet.

But people need to know what we are talking about, what the vision is. We need to communicate with Canadians in a more holistic and personal way, less intellectual policy wonk stuff. People understand things emotionally first. Canadians need to feel how environmental issues like climate change will affect our families, neighbourhoods and lives. Environment is a core value for Canadians.

Canadians see the conflict between environment and the economy and they feel we should be looking after both.

The lesson environmental leaders can take away from this attack by the Oil and Gas Industry and the Harper Government is a basic lesson of public communication: If you don't tell them someone else will and it will be bad.

So I agree with your focus. The environmental community needs to create a more compelling vision and narrative. The sustainability/environmental narrative isn't clear to people. We need to do a better job of telling our own story. We need research that looks deeply into a new more compelling environmental narrative. The public story can't be all about fights between industry and ENGOs.

Editor: In your conference keynote – "Smashing Heads Doesn't Open Minds" – you spoke eloquently to the kind of communication that works and the kind that doesn't. Can you share some of your insights here, as well as touch on your own path for arriving at these insights?

Jim: There is so much industry misinformation and spin when talking about environmental issues. And although ENGO advocacy is important there is a downside to being too combative. Advocacy may put necessary pressure on industry and government but the downside of this is polarization.

This combination of industry misinformation and over the top ENGO advocacy is very destructive – leading to the ‘polluted public square' that we have today where the public discourse is very toxic. As a result, most Canadians have turned away and disengaged from public conversations about these issues.

Polarization can make the resolution of environmental issues less likely. We need to look for alternatives. Self-righteous campaigns have limits. Moral humility and looking for ways to find common ground are needed. This advice is echoed by many of the thought leaders, I have interviewed for my upcoming book, The Polluted Public Square. For example, Thich Nhat Hanh, the renowned Buddhist monk, urges us to "speak the truth, but not to punish". Dr. Karin Armstrong, a leading spiritual and religious historian, notes St. Paul's teaching that "charity takes no delight in the wrong doing of others".

Daniel Yankelovich, a US social scientist and public opinion analyst, notes that when people are operating in different realities with different facts and are so far apart that they are just talking past each other, communication isn't really taking place. As he says, "people need to be singing off the same song sheet." Otherwise, a public paralysis can result. That's what we have today. Environmental groups have helped turn the environment into a core Canadian value, but now the levels of disinterest, mistrust and polarization are so high that we can't move forward.

Editor: What would be your advice to funders as to how best to deploy philanthropic support to strengthen communication work by the environmental community?

Jim: Start with research into a new environmental narrative perhaps using a dialogue research method. Then use the research to build a powerful narrative that includes the idea of protecting the environment for people, rather than from people, and which speaks to the deeper values of who we are as Canadians and how we live our lives. The new narrative needs to be one of interconnectedness. The environment can't be seen as being separate and our narrative can't be a story just for environmentalists and academics.
We also need to build ENGO capacity to deliver articulate and effective stories that inspire people outside of the campaign work they do. People operate with a present bias and are most concerned about things that are close to them in time and space. They also place a high value on fairness for themselves and for others that are close to them. An effective communications approach needs to meet these and others challenges. The ENGO community knows these things but doesn't apply them.

Why we have failed to take collective action on environmental crises like climate change is one of the most critical questions of our time. And understanding how we overcome this collective paralysis is the most important environmental work we can do.
Be careful with what you might call the myth of apathy – take time to understand the real obstacles standing in the way of communication and connecting. Canadians do care about the environment.

Make sure facts are a part of the package but speak to people's emotions and values. Resist the temptation to sling mud at opponents. You may end up deepening their base of support and turning off the people you are trying to reach. Remember that you could be wrong.

We need to speak with moral humility instead of self righteousness. Develop powerful narratives that are consistent with what we know about human motivation. And most importantly, be authentic. Reflect on the deep personal motivations for the work that you do and use your own story to connect with the people you are trying to inspire.

Editor: Thanks very much Jim for this interview and for your fine presentation at CEGN's conference. With communications as a major focus for the network in the coming year, your insights are timely and much appreciated. 

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Save the Troy Library “Adventures In Reverse Psychology” [Video]

Posted on: July 20, 2012

The city of Troy, Michigan was facing a budget shortfall, and was considering closing the Troy Public Library for lack of funds. Even though the necessary revenues could be raised through a miniscule tax increase, powerful anti-tax groups in the area were organized against it. A vote was scheduled amongst the city's residents, to shut the library or accept the tax increase, and Leo Burnett Detroit decided to support the library by creating a reverse psychology campaign. Yard signs began appearing that read: "Vote to Close Troy Library on August 2nd – Book Burning Party on August 5th." No one wants to be a part of a town that burns books, and the outraged citizens of Troy pushed back against the "idiotic book burners" and ultimately supported the tax increase, thus ensuring the library's survival.

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Jim Hoggan Discusses Enbridge’s Communication Strategy

Posted on: July 15, 2012

Jim Hoggan shares his thoughts on Enbridge's communication strategy, oil and gas industry public realtions, the pipeline issue and the public's perception of the energy sector with CKNW radio show host Simi Sara.

Click to listen to the interview

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Hoggan’s Bookshelf: How does change happen?

Posted on: June 26, 2012

 

This third collection in a series curated from Hoggan's bookshelf is about social change – how it happens and what stands in the way.

The question at the heart of Jim's next book is why aren't we coming together to solve big hairy problems like climate change. These books helped illuminate what it is about people that makes them so resistant to change and what inspires us to overcome these barriers and reckon with reality. 

1. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard – Chip & Dan Heath (2010)

"Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives?

The primary obstacle is a conflict that’s built into our brains, say Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the critically acclaimed bestseller Made to Stick. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.

In Switch, the Heaths show how everyday people—employees and managers, parents and nurses—have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results: 

  • The lowly medical interns who managed to defeat an entrenched, decades-old medical practice that was endangering patients.
  • The home-organizing guru who developed a simple technique for overcoming the dread of housekeeping.
  • The manager who transformed a lackadaisical customer-support team into service zealots by removing a standard tool of customer service

In a compelling, story-driven narrative, the Heaths bring together decades of counterintuitive research in psychology, sociology, and other fields to shed new light on how we can effect transformative change. Switch shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world or changing your waistline."

2. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness – Richard Thaler & Cass Sustein (2008)

"Every day, we make decisions on topics ranging from personal investments to schools for our children to the meals we eat to the causes we champion. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly. The reason, the authors explain, is that, being human, we all are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.

Thaler and Sunstein invite us to enter an alternative world, one that takes our humanness as a given. They show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. Using colorful examples from the most important aspects of life, Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how thoughtful “choice architecture” can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice. Nudge offers a unique new take—from neither the left nor the right—on many hot-button issues, for individuals and governments alike. This is one of the most engaging and provocative books to come along in many years."

3. Limits to Growth – Donella Meadows (2008)

In the years following her role as the lead author of the international bestseller, Limits to Growth–the first book to show the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet– Donella Meadows remained a pioneer of environmental and social analysis until her untimely death in 2001.Meadows' newly released manuscript, Thinking in Systems, is a concise and crucial book offering insight for problem solving on scales ranging from the personal to the global. Edited by the Sustainability Institute's Diana Wright, this essential primer brings systems thinking out of the realm of computers and equations and into the tangible world, showing readers how to develop the systems-thinking skills that thought leaders across the globe consider critical for 21st-century life.Some of the biggest problems facing the world–war, hunger, poverty, and environmental degradation–are essentially system failures. They cannot be solved by fixing one piece in isolation from the others, because even seemingly minor details have enormous power to undermine the best efforts of too-narrow thinking.While readers will learn the conceptual tools and methods of systems thinking, the heart of the book is grander than methodology. Donella Meadows was known as much for nurturing positive outcomes as she was for delving into the science behind global dilemmas. She reminds readers to pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable, to stay humble, and to stay a learner.In a world growing ever more complicated, crowded, and interdependent, Thinking in Systems helps readers avoid confusion and helplessness, the first step toward finding proactive and effective solutions.

4. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die – Chip & Dan Heath (2007)

"Mark Twain once observed, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” His observation rings true: Urban legends, conspiracy theories, and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly. Meanwhile, people with important ideas–business people, teachers, politicians, journalists, and others–struggle to make their ideas “stick.”

Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Made to Stick, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle head-on these vexing questions. Inside, the brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the “human scale principle,” using the “Velcro Theory of Memory,” and creating “curiosity gaps.”

In this indispensable guide, we discover that sticky messages of all kinds–from the infamous “kidney theft ring” hoax to a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a vision for a new product at Sony–draw their power from the same six traits.

Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of success stories (and failures)–the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of “the Mother Teresa Effect”; the elementary-school teacher whose simulation actually prevented racial prejudice. Provocative, eye-opening, and often surprisingly funny, Made to Stick shows us the vital principles of winning ideas–and tells us how we can apply these rules to making our own messages stick."

5. Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming – Paul Hawken (2007)

"Blessed Unrest tells the story of a worldwide movement that is largely unseen by politicians or the media. Hawken, an environmentalist and author, has spent more than a decade researching organizations dedicated to restoring the environment and fostering social justice. From billion-dollar nonprofits to single-person causes, these organizations collectively comprise the largest movement on earth. This is a movement that has no name, leader, or location, but is in every city, town, and culture. It is organizing from the bottom up and is emerging as an extraordinary and creative expression of people’s needs worldwide.

Blessed Unrest explores the diversity of this movement, its brilliant ideas, innovative strategies, and centuries-old history. The culmination of Hawken’s many years of leadership in these fields, it will inspire, surprise, and delight anyone who is worried about the direction the modern world is headed. Blessed Unrest is a description of humanity’s collective genius and the unstoppable movement to re-imagine our relationship to the environment and one another. Like Hawken’s previous books, Blessed Unrest will become a classic in its field— a touchstone for anyone concerned about our future."

6. The Power of Sustainable Thinking: How to Create a Positive Future for the Climate, the Planet, Your Organization & Your Life –  Bob Doppelt  (2008)

 

"The future will be powered by sustainable thinking in business, organizations, governments and everyday life. This revolutionary book tackles climate change, sustainability and life success by starting with your mind. It provides proven staged-based methods for transforming thinking and behaviour, beginning first with the reader's own cognitive patterns, then moving to how individuals can motivate other people to change, and finally to how teams and organizations can be motivated to change."

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Hoggan’s Bookshelf: Who are we and how have we evolved over time?

Posted on: June 19, 2012

 

This second post in a series of collections curated from Hoggan's bookshelf is from the fields of sociology and history.

As Jim explores in his forthcoming book, the biggest environmental and social justice problems are actually people problems. The hardest nuts to crack seem to be tragedy of the commons problems – collective challenges requiring collective solutions. Are we able to transcend our selfish selves for the greater good? These books shed light on the core of who we are as social beings, what we can learn from the history of societies and how we are evolving to live together better. 

1. The Social Conquest of Earth – E.O. Wilson (2012)

"Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? In a generational work of clarity and passion, one of our greatest living scientists directly addresses these three fundamental questions of religion, philosophy, and science while “overturning the famous theory that evolution naturally encourages creatures to put family first” (Discover magazine). Refashioning the story of human evolution in a work that is certain to generate headlines, Wilson draws on his remarkable knowledge of biology and social behavior to show that group selection, not kin selection, is the primary driving force of human evolution. He proves that history makes no sense without prehistory, and prehistory makes no sense without biology. Demonstrating that the sources of morality, religion, and the creative arts are fundamentally biological in nature, Wilson presents us with the clearest explanation ever produced as to the origin of the human condition and why it resulted in our domination of the Earth’s biosphere."

2. A Short History of Progress – Ronald Wright (2005)

"Each time history repeats itself, the cost goes up. The twentieth century—a time of unprecedented progress—has produced a tremendous strain on the very elements that comprise life itself: This raises the key question of the twenty-first century: How much longer can this go on? With wit and erudition, Ronald Wright lays out a-convincing case that history has always provided an answer, whether we care to notice or not. From Neanderthal man to the Sumerians to the Roman Empire, A Short History of Progress dissects the cyclical nature of humanity's development and demise, the 10,000-year old experiment that we've unleashed but have yet to control. It is Wright's contention that only by understanding and ultimately breaking from the patterns of progress and disaster that humanity has repeated around the world since the Stone Age can we avoid the onset of a new Dark Age. Wright illustrates how various cultures throughout history have literally manufactured their own end by producing an overabundance of innovation and stripping bare the very elements that allowed them to initially advance. Wright's book is brilliant; a fascinating rumination on the hubris at the heart of human development and the pitfalls we still may have time to avoid."

3. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – Jared Diamond (2005)

"In his million-copy bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond examined how and why Western civilizations developed the technologies and immunities that allowed them to dominate much of the world. Now in this brilliant companion volume, Diamond probes the other side of the equation: What caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin, and what can we learn from their fates?

As in Guns, Germs, and Steel, Diamond weaves an all-encompassing global thesis through a series of fascinating historical-cultural narratives. Moving from the Polynesian cultures on Easter Island to the flourishing American civilizations of the Anasazi and the Maya and finally to the doomed Viking colony on Greenland, Diamond traces the fundamental pattern of catastrophe. Environmental damage, climate change, rapid population growth, and unwise political choices were all factors in the demise of these societies, but other societies found solutions and persisted. Similar problems face us today and have already brought disaster to Rwanda and Haiti, even as China and Australia are trying to cope in innovative ways. Despite our own society’s apparently inexhaustible wealth and unrivaled political power, ominous warning signs have begun to emerge even in ecologically robust areas like Montana.

Brilliant, illuminating, and immensely absorbing, Collapse is destined to take its place as one of the essential books of our time, raising the urgent question: How can our world best avoid committing ecological suicide?"

4. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined – Steven Pinker (2011)

"Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millennia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species's existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, pogroms, gruesome punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This groundbreaking book continues Pinker's exploration of the essence of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives- the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away-and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society."

5. The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Society Stronger – Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett (2009)

"It is well established that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. Now a groundbreaking book, based on thirty years’ research, takes an important step past this idea. The Spirit Level shows that there is one common factor that links the healthiest and happiest societies: the degree of equality among their members. Not wealth; not resources; not culture, climate, diet, or system of government. Furthermore, more-unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them—the well-off as well as the poor.

The remarkable data assembled in The Spirit Level reveals striking differences, not only among the nations of the first world but even within America’s fifty states. Almost every modern social problem—ill-health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness—is more likely to occur in a less-equal society. This is why America, by most measures the richest country on earth, has per capita shorter average lifespan, more cases of mental illness, more obesity, and more of its citizens in prison than any other developed nation.

Wilkinson and Pickett lay bare the contradiction between material success and social failure in today’s world, but they do not simply provide a diagnosis of our woes. They offer readers a way toward a new political outlook, shifting from self-interested consumerism to a friendlier, more sustainable society. The Spirit Level is pioneering in its research, powerful in its revelations, and inspiring in its conclusion: Armed with this new understanding of why communities prosper, we have the tools to revitalize our politics and help all our fellow citizens, from the bottom of the ladder to the top."

6. The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement – David Brooks (2011)

"With unequaled insight and brio, David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and bestselling author of Bobos in Paradise, has long explored and explained the way we live. Now, with the intellectual curiosity and emotional wisdom that make his columns among the most read in the nation, Brooks turns to the building blocks of human flourishing in a multilayered, profoundly illuminating work grounded in everyday life.

This is the story of how success happens. It is told through the lives of one composite American couple, Harold and Erica—how they grow, push forward, are pulled back, fail, and succeed. Distilling a vast array of information into these two vividly realized characters, Brooks illustrates a fundamental new understanding of human nature. A scientific revolution has occurred—we have learned more about the human brain in the last thirty years than we had in the previous three thousand. The unconscious mind, it turns out, is most of the mind—not a dark, vestigial place but a creative and enchanted one, where most of the brain’s work gets done. This is the realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, personality traits, and social norms: the realm where character is formed and where our most important life decisions are made. The natural habitat of The Social Animal.

Drawing on a wealth of current research from numerous disciplines, Brooks takes Harold and Erica from infancy to school; from the “odyssey years” that have come to define young adulthood to the high walls of poverty; from the nature of attachment, love, and commitment, to the nature of effective leadership. He reveals the deeply social aspect of our very minds and exposes the bias in modern culture that overemphasizes rationalism, individualism, and IQ. Along the way, he demolishes conventional definitions of success while looking toward a culture based on trust and humility.

The Social Animal is a moving and nuanced intellectual adventure, a story of achievement and a defense of progress. Impossible to put down, it is an essential book for our time, one that will have broad social impact and will change the way we see ourselves and the world."

 

 

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