Science Says: Read More Books

I hated reading when I was small. I even distinctly remember the reading contest we had at school and my plan was to game the system by reading very short books that were, on second thought, probably board books from my babyhood.

Yeah … I didn’t get away with that. My parents forced me to start reading actual books and while I grumbled at the time, I grew to love reading very quickly. I would read all day long if I could. Summer afternoon on the beach? I’m going to have at least one book with me. (My e-book reader has made my packing much lighter over the years.)

If you’re a reader, you probably share the sentiment. Be warned – you might want to sit down for this part: More than a quarter of American adults freely admit to not having read even part of a book within the past year, according to stats from the Pew Research Center.

I don’t understand how there are that many adults who don’t read or enjoy reading, but I get that every person is different and has various interests and there are plenty of things these days to keep us occupied (thanks, internet streaming and social media).

However, science bears out that reading is good for your creativity, lifespan, career and more. Inc. has more:

Reading fiction can help you be more open-minded and creative

According to research conducted at the University of Toronto, study participants who read short-story fiction experienced far less need for “cognitive closure” compared with counterparts who read nonfiction essays. Essentially, they tested as more open-minded, compared with the readers of essays. “Although nonfiction reading allows students to learn the subject matter, it may not always help them in thinking about it,” the authors write. “A physician may have an encyclopedic knowledge of his or her subject, but this may not prevent the physician from seizing and freezing on a diagnosis, when additional symptoms point to a different malady.”

People who read books live longer

That’s according to Yale researchers who studied 3,635 people older than 50 and found that those who read books for 30 minutes daily lived an average of 23 months longer than nonreaders or magazine readers. Apparently, the practice of reading books creates cognitive engagement that improves lots of things, including vocabulary, thinking skills, and concentration. It also can affect empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, the sum of which helps people stay on the planet longer.

Reading 50 books a year is something you can actually accomplish

While about a book a week might sound daunting, it’s probably doable by even the busiest of people. Writer Stephanie Huston says her thinking that she didn’t have enough time turned out to be a lame excuse. Now that she has made a goal to read 50 books in a year, she says that she has traded wasted time on her phone for flipping pages in bed, on trains, during meal breaks, and while waiting in line. Two months into her challenge, she reports having more peace and satisfaction and improved sleep, while learning more than she thought possible.

Successful people are readers

It’s because high achievers are keen on self-improvement. Hundreds of successful executives have shared with me the books that have helped them get where they are today. Need ideas on where to start? Titles that have repeatedly made their lists include: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz; Shoe Dog by Phil Knight; Good to Great by Jim Collins; and Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson.

So, what are you reading right now?

BizVoiceExtra: Small Indiana Town Helps Villagers Thousands of Miles Away

Toward the end of my telephone interview with Bob Gabrielse for an article in the July-August issue of BizVoice magazine, he politely asked if he could quickly take another call, apologizing for the interruption.

A trucking company was on the other end of the line, hoping to deliver 200 parts about an hour later. The vehicle wasn’t heading to Gabrielse’s law office in DeMotte, but to a production shop where he devotes several hours each week overseeing the work and building hand-pedaled mobility carts through Mobility Ministries (https://mobilityworldwide.org/affiliates/indiana-demotte/our-shop/).

The sturdy three-wheeled carts travel from Indiana to rural areas in Africa where adults and children who can’t walk gain the freedom that comes with independent mobility – the ability to leave a hut or village without relying on another person to carry them. Unlike canes or walkers, these units also have an area for goods or packages.

Since opening the first facility in 2011, DeMotte Mobility Ministries has become a bit of a leader among the affiliate Mobility Worldwide locations, says Gabrielse, who is currently working to develop a prototype that’s lighter than the current model, making it easier to pedal. He and Arla, his wife of 45 years, manage the shop.

Both have played a major role in the DeMotte facility from the start after Bob read about this type of work in a magazine from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, where his kids had gone to school.

He tells me how he got involved, which also reveals a connection to previous overseas charity work.

“I saw an article in there from somebody I had met in Central America who was now retired and living in Florida near Jacksonville, and they had a shop that was building these mobility carts. They had a picture of him in there with one of them, and I thought, ‘You know, this town is small here. We’re not very big in DeMotte, but they (residents) have a good heart. They’re generous people with a good work ethic. We can do that here.’ ”

And they do.

With a schedule of seven or eight units a week, volunteers at the Indiana location now produce 350 to 400 a year in the current 7,200-square-foot production space.

“We have 55 to 60 retirees that volunteer at the shop. They work about four hours a week, and these are people from all over here, not just DeMotte,” he stresses. “They come from 20, 30 miles away to work, and they are very devoted to this. They love the camaraderie that the shop gives to a retiree.”

He adds that the working conditions are nice – cool in the summer and warm in the winter. In addition, “They just really enjoy the ministry.”

It is a ministry, especially for Gabrielse.

“As a Christian, I feel it’s very important that we serve others,” he shares. “We shouldn’t be taking. We should be giving.”

The Indianapolis-based Malawi Project (http://malawiproject.org) is currently the distribution partner for Mobility Worldwide, of which the Indiana Mobility Ministries is one production location. (The nonprofit also worked with the Luke Commission for distribution.)

Reading about and listening to Gabrielse talk about this project spotlighted two points for me:

  1. The latest and greatest technology is not only sometimes unnecessary, it may even be unhelpful.

Not only does it take better infrastructure to support technological solutions, but simpler, cheaper options may be more practical. For example, these basic carts may be more rugged and easier to repair than a motorized chair would be, even if it could withstand the roots and uneven surfaces. It’s a good reminder that when looking for a solution or result, be sure it’s sustainable and suitable.

  1. Don’t underestimate what you – with the support of your community – can do.

In this case, one person read one magazine article that offered a solution to a problem. Through hard work and commitment, that led to a team of retirees joining together to improve the lives of hundreds of others 8,000 miles away. That’s pretty amazing.

For Gabrielse, helping others is a calling, and he also brings that dedication to his legal practice in a small town of 4,000.

He isn’t alone.

The other attorneys I talked to about practicing law in small communities also stressed the ability to help others – especially where they lived – as a gratifying part of their work.

Find out what it’s like to practice law in a small community in the July-August BizVoice article, “Doing What It Takes: Attorneys Serve Community Needs.”

Tech Talk: Downtown is the Place to Be

Summarizing some recent tech/innovation stories:

Boston Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  • According to Brookings Institution research, downtown universities (compared to their peers) produce 80% more licensing deals, disclose 123% more inventions, receive 222% more income from licensing agreements and create 71% more start-ups.

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Oversized Impact of Downtown Universities identifies the following as the top 10 downtown research universities: Rochester University, MIT, Columbia, Penn, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Temple, Vanderbilt, Rice and the University of Washington.

“While research universities are of economic importance anywhere, they are particularly relevant to the economic vitality of cities because their geographic proximity to firms increases the interplay between companies and schools,” authors state.

  • Kiplinger reports on what it sees as the expansion of cellular service within the next year:

“Cellular service is headed to a slew of devices, via low-power chips that are cheap to make and easy to incorporate into larger products. Verizon and AT&T want to see them in security alarms, first aid kits, medical alert bracelets, collar tags for dogs, fitness trackers and more, adding new tracking and monitoring capabilities.

“The stand-alone cellular connections will help expand the Internet of Things. The LTE radio waves they use can travel long distances and reach deep into buildings so devices don’t have to rely on Wi-Fi or other networks.”

  • A complex formula involving 35 measures, developed by researchers at Xavier University’s Williams College of Business, comprises the American Dream Composite Index. The goal is identifying the extent to which people living in the United States achieve the American Dream.

With 100 being the national average, the following states and metro areas are reported in 2017 as achieving the American Dream to a greater degree than the rest of the nation:

States: Louisiana and Idaho (104 index score compared to 100 average); Washington and Colorado (102); and Ohio, Florida and New York (101).

Metros: Salt Lake City, Utah and Baton Rouge, Louisiana (107); York-Hanover, Pennsylvania and Toledo, Ohio (106); and Syracuse, New York, Boise City-Nampa, Idaho and Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, Florida (105).

BizVoiceExtra: All Sides of the Law

Bill Barrett heads the litigation group at the Williams Barrett & Wilkowski law firm in Greenwood. He says his background after graduating from Indiana University Law School (Bloomington) is invaluable in his current role.

Barrett was a clerk for both the Indiana Court of Appeals and the Indiana Tax Court. He followed that by becoming a prosecutor in Johnson County and then serving as magistrate for the Johnson circuit and superior courts.

“I’ve worn so many hats over the years that the system of advocacy that our legal system is based on is almost second nature to me,” he says. “I’m able to see things from another perspective, which is always handy. Young lawyers tend to be too committed to their positions. … When somebody says there are two sides toe very story, I say there are at least two sides.”

Barrett does appellate, campaign and election work, among other areas of focus. He also represents a variety of law enforcement agencies.

“I find that those (past) experiences have given me a breadth of perspective that have let me work in different areas, which is part of what makes us nimble and able to get along at a level of 10 lawyers – and not down to two or three, or have to jump up to 40 or 50.”

Barrett was joined by Chuck Baldwin of Ogletree Deakins and Heather Wilson of Frost Brown Todd for a roundtable discussion on the legal profession in our current BizVoice® magazine. You can read the full story at www.bizvoicemagazine.com.

Cost of Living – RPP Style

It’s no secret: It costs more to live in the big cities on both U.S. coasts. But it’s good to take a look at the numbers that actually back that up. In this case, that’s RPP – or regional price parity.

The index sets the national average cost of goods and services at 100. An RPP of 122 in the New York metro area, for example, means the city and its suburbs are about 22% more expensive than the national average. On the other end of the scale, the RPP of 80 in Danville, Illinois places it among the least expensive metro areas.

Based on 2016 personal income and cost of living data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, here are the respective top 10 lists:

Most Expensive Metro Areas

  1. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California: 127.1
  2. Santa Cruz-Watsonville, California: 124.8
  3. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: 124.7
  4. Honolulu, Hawaii: 124.4
  5. New York-Newark-Jersey City: 122.0
  6. Napa, California: 121.9
  7. Santa Rosa, California: 121.0
  8. Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut: 120.1
  9. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria: 119.1
  10. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, California: 117.7

Least Expensive Metro Areas

  1. Beckley, West Virginia: 78.8
  2. Morristown, Tennessee: 79.5
  3. Danville, Illinois: 80.4
  4. Valdosta, Georgia: 80.9
  5. Rome, Georgia: 81.1
  6. Jonesboro, Arkansas: 81.8
  7. Hattiesburg, Mississippi: 82.1
  8. Jackson, Tennessee: 82.1
  9. Jefferson City, Missouri: 82.2
  10. Sebring, Florida: 82.6

Where the Students Are Studying

Europe was the leading destination for U.S. students studying aboard in 2017. Oxford and Cambridge helped propel the United Kingdom to the top of the list, with a favorable climate and rich culture lifting Italy to second place.

The top 10, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2017 Open Doors report:

  1. United Kingdom: 39,140 students
  2. Italy: 34,894
  3. Spain: 29,975
  4. France: 17,214
  5. Germany: 11,900
  6. China: 11,688
  7. Ireland: 11,070
  8. Australia: 9,536
  9. Costa Rica: 9,233
  10. Japan: 7,145

Research: Debriefing Pays Off for Teams

Teams take many forms in today’s workplace. No matter the size or location of work groups, however, those that debrief have significantly higher performance levels, according to researchers at Rice University.

“Team Development: The Power of Debriefing,” which appeared in the spring edition of the journal People and Strategy, focuses on how debriefing can impact teamwork activities.

The study found that teams that debrief — i.e., meet to discuss what went well and what did not during a particular activity — outperform teams that do not by about 20 percent. Performance was measured according to objectively quantifiable output from personnel records, self-ratings and performance appraisal ratings.

The debriefings do not necessarily have to be long, according to Eduardo Salas, one of the authors. Most in the analyzed research samples were fairly efficient and lasted 15 to 60 minutes.

Salas and his fellow authors created a list of best practices for successful debriefing sessions based on the existing research.

Before a debriefing:

  • Allocate time to debrief following team activities
  • Educate team leaders on how and why to lead team debriefings
  • Teach leaders and team members about what really influences team effectiveness – the “science” of teamwork
  • Ensure that all team members feel comfortable actively participating in a debriefing

During a debriefing:

  • Avoid the following: too much focus on task work; telling, not discussing; improper or inadequate focus; taking a good look back, but no definitive look forward and being too evaluative or threatening
  • Try to conduct the debriefing close in time to the “action,” if possible
  • Record conclusions and agreements reached to be able to “close the loop” after the debriefing. Make sure everyone has an understanding of next steps, and follow up with team members when appropriate  
  • Consider trying technology to assist with debriefings (if appropriate)

Following a debriefing:

  • Boost accountability and willingness to participate in future debriefings by following up on agreements and communicating progress. For instance, provide examples of what resulted from debriefing sessions, and follow up on progress
  • Conduct periodic debriefings that are “fit for purpose.” For example, ask if a particular issue needs to be discussed and be mindful of how this discussion can benefit the current work environment

Salas said while there is no magical, perfect frequency with which to conduct debriefings, a good rule of thumb is to increase frequency as teamwork becomes more complex and dynamic. He also said that senior leadership should consider “decision debriefs,” where they take a recent decision and discuss what the decision was, how the decision was made (e.g., who was involved, decision governance, information considered, speed of decision making and the way things were communicated), what was done well and what could have been done differently and what this means for future decisions.

Going for the Balanced Approach

Work-life balance is realized by some after years of effort, while the concept remains elusive to others. But what about recent college graduates?

Here is some guidance from Purdue University’s Ellen Ernst Kossek, the Basil S. Turner Professor of Management in the Krannert School of Management and research director at the Butler Center of Leadership Excellence.

Schedule fun (and healthy) ways to unwind: “Take time to reflect on ways you can unwind and identify your passions to continue as you enter the world of full-time work. Is it tennis, a book club, running, Comic-Con, gaming, lunch with friends, working out at the gym, walking in nature with a pet? Whatever makes you feel good and your heart sing, try to organize your calendar to block out time daily or weekly as you plan your work week. It is easy for work to creep in and take over your leisure time.”

Avoid long commutes: “Assess your commuting time as you search for apartments and pick one with a commute of 30 minutes or less that is close to safe public transportation. Living in the hot spot of night life may be fun, but if the commutes are long, you should consider living closer to work. You can always take a Lyft on the weekends and make your weekdays less hectic.”

Get plenty of sleep: “Regular sleep is very important to plan in your daily routine, and most of us need seven to eight hours at a minimum. During the work week, you should go to bed at a decent hour on a regular schedule. Being a night-owl and writing term papers may work in college, but it’s not a good idea for your health or well-being at work.”

Abstain from social media at work: “Learn your boundary management style and avoid checking personal communication at work. This helps you focus and get done early. I have found that many young people integrate their work and personal lives. While it’s fun to check Instagram during the day, you can lose concentration and mental flow. This can result in your having to stay later at work due to increased process losses from increased switching costs and greater transitions between your job and your personal life.”

Unplug at home: “Manage your smartphone wisely to unplug from work at night and on the weekends. It is easy to become addicted to work and engage in overwork as you are trying to build your career. Don’t get in the habit of checking work emails or texts on the weekends unless something is critically important. Let your boss and colleagues know how to reach you for important matters, but also let them know when you are offline, too, so you don’t become burnt out.” 

Adding Up the 401(k) Savings

Much of the discussion around retirements is rightfully focused on the large numbers of people who are not saving enough. But The Washington Post recently shared some positive information:

The number of workers with $1 million or more in their 401(k) increased to 157,000 at the end of the first quarter this year, an increase of 45 percent compared with the same time a year earlier, according to Fidelity Investments, one of the country’s largest administrators of workplace retirement accounts.

“There’s no doubt that many of Fidelity’s 401(k) millionaires have benefited from the market’s positive performance, but they also exhibit many of the behaviors we recommend to make the most of your savings,” said Jeanne Thompson, senior vice president for Fidelity. “They contribute enough to get their full company match, they’re less likely to take 401(k) loans, they don’t cash out when changing jobs and they invest for growth — on average, 401(k) millionaires hold 76 percent of their savings in equity mutual funds.”

Workers can now contribute up to $18,500 each year to a workplace plan such as a 401(k) or the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). If you’re over 50, there’s a catch-up provision that allows you to contribute up to $24,000 to an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Fidelity’s analysis of first quarter data also found the following.

  • Workers who have saved in their company’s 401(k) for 10 years had a record high average account balance of $290,100, compared with $250,500 a year ago.
  • Those employees who have saved for 15 years had an average balance of $379,600, up from $330,200 a year ago.

“Although found at many grade levels and in nearly every agency throughout the country, all of the people in the million-plus column have the same things in common: they have invested for the long haul, and invested heavily or exclusively in the stock-indexed C and S funds,” Mike Causey of Federal News Radio wrote. “When markets drop dramatically — as they did in 1997 and during the Great Recession — they continue to purchase stocks getting more shares each pay period because they are investing the same amount of money, which purchases a larger share of the C and S funds. Also, all of those eligible for it have taken advantage of the total 5 percent match available from their agency.”

Apprenticeships Taking Center Stage

In 2017, there were more than 533,000 apprentices participating in nearly 22,500 apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeships and Community Colleges: Do They Have a Future Together is a recent report from the American Enterprise Institute. Below is a summary:

Most of today’s college students view having suc­cess in the workplace, earning a decent salary, and having a fulfilling career as key reasons for pursu­ing higher education. This sentiment is echoed by gov­ernors, state legislators, and higher education leaders who are looking at the labor market success of gradu­ates to evaluate how well postsecondary institutions are preparing students to join the workforce and contrib­ute to the economy.

However, there is a growing belief that colleges are not adequately preparing students for the jobs and careers needed in the 21st century and that a substantial gap exists between the training and education America’s college graduates receive and the skills today’s labor market demands.

Of the many options being actively discussed to bridge the divide, apprenticeship programs are attract­ing widespread bipartisan support. Apprenticeships are often considered the “gold standard” of workforce edu­cation. They are formal training programs during which successful applicants are paid while being trained on the job by experienced workers or mentors.

Acquiring new skills in the workplace is accompanied by related train­ing, typically provided by an educational institution such as a community college or a trade organization such as a union. In the past two years of his adminis­tration, President Barack Obama made apprenticeships a priority, directing well over $250 million to support apprenticeship programs. In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order to increase federal funding from $90 million per year to $200 million.

Public two-year community colleges are already central to the nation’s career and technical education system, granting hundreds of thousands of occupa­tionally oriented certificates and technically focused associate degrees. Many community college leaders have welcomed the administration’s call for appren­ticeship programs, and some have already shown themselves adept at working with the Department of Labor’s registered apprenticeship programs. But the overwhelming majority of community colleges have a ways to go before they can meaningfully contribute to the number of apprenticeships that so many poli­ticians and analysts argue the nation needs.

In this report we explore how community col­leges could play a more active role in growing the number of apprenticeships nationwide, a role that would contribute to resolving the current mismatch between what postsecondary institutions produce and what employers need.