Courage, Connection and the Flow of Ideas

“Little of consequence is ever done alone.”

– David McCullough

Last week my wife and I went to see the historian David McCullough speak about his new book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.  I’ve seen David McCullough speak twice before and always found his talks to be thoughtful and inspiring.

On this occasion, McCullough spoke on the courage of Americans who went to France between 1830 and 1900 because they were “in love with learning and advancing their abilities.” They made the difficult trip across the Atlantic that lasted anywhere from one to three months.  They remained there despite language differences and outbreaks of disease such as cholera.  Upon their return, they applied knowledge acquired in France to improve America.  Greater competence in their chosen fields was not all they gained.  Their character had changed as well.  Exposure to new people, new ideas, exquisite art and architecture, broadened their perspective, lifted their spirits and inspired them to make a difference.

The stories McCullough told were marvelous.  His enthusiasm was contagious as he recounted the tales of Harriett Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Emma Willard and others.  James Fenimore Cooper, while writing in Paris, visited the Louvre every afternoon to speak words of encouragement that would help his friend, Samuel F.B. Morse, persevere in painting the masterpiece Gallery of the Louvre.  It was in France that Morse learned something that gave him the idea for the telegraph.  Charles Sumner, while studying at the Sorbonne, came to know black students who were his equal in their aspirations and intelligence.  He returned to America to become an influential voice for abolition despite threats against his life.  The flow of ideas and knowledge, reflected in these personal accounts, is something I’ve written about in Fired Up or Burned Out and in the article “Encouraging Knowledge Flow” that appeared in Perdido.

This summer I’ll be reading The Greater Journey and another of McCullough’s books, The Great Bridge.  If you’ve not already picked up books for summer reading, I encourage you to check out these titles.  I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend Brave Companions, John Adams and Mornings on Horseback, also by David McCullough.


In early May I spoke at the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) International Conference and Exposition in Denver on the topic “Do Leaders Need to Make Employees Happy?”.   Nine thousand learning and development professionals from 70 countries attended the conference.  My talk was held in a room with about 200 seats that quickly filled to capacity before the session began and people had to be turned away.  If you were among that group, fortunately the talk was one of those recorded by ASTD and it will make the recording available to conference attendees shortly.

I also participated in a panel session on new trends in management development.  The panel included authors Kevin Eikenberry and Alfredo Castro and was moderated by my friend and fellow author, Lisa Haneberg.  Lisa is editor of the ASTD Management Development Handbook.  Ashley McDonald, Associate Editor at ASTD, worked with her on editing the book which was published this spring.  Kevin, Alfredo and I each contributed chapters as did several other leadership authors, consultants and professors including Margaret Wheatley and Jeffrey Pfeffer.

Will Rogers, a friend and E Pluribus Partners colleague, joined me for the conference and we greatly enjoyed meeting the many people who stopped by our exhibition booth.  We are presently following up with those from businesses and government organizations who expressed an interest in working us.

Of the articles and reports I’ve read recently related to connection and character in organizations and society at large, here are a few you might be interested in:

Based on an article that appeared in CFA magazine, a New York Times editorial claimed ten percent of people on Wall Street are clinical psychopaths.  An earlier article in The New York Times stated a small study of the seven top firms on Wall showed 23% of male brokers are depressed

Are millenials another great generation or are they narcissists?

George Barna on the growing addiction to media (“two decades ago, the average child under 18 spent about 15 to 20 hours per week digesting media content. Today, it has nearly tripled to almost 60 hours per week of unduplicated time. They now devote more time to media than to anything other than sleep.”)

“Making Education Brain Science” about the innovative Blue School in Manhattan

Tom Friedman’s “Come the Revolution” on innovation in online education

David Brooks on the decline of character and wisdom, and its implications for America and Europe

New research from Northwestern University’s Forum on the need for cultures to engage employees so they engage customers

More research showing connection = life/thriving and disconnection = death/dysfunction from American Journal of Epidemiology, The Gallup Management Journal and the New England Journal of Medicine.


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