Archive | February 2014

I’ll Take An “Otter Mom” Over A “Tiger Mom” – part 1

The “tiger mom” is stirring up another storm, and this time with a partner.  Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, both law professors at Yale, have a new book that just came out in February.  The title of the book is:  “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.”  The New York Times published their synopsis on the book, under the title, “What drives success?” on 1/25; the paper then offered a book review on 1/31, and finally a profile of the “tiger couple” in the Sunday magazine on 1/29.  For a starter, I’d like to know how many other authors get such red carpet treatment by the New York Times, and more importantly for what reasons?

"An adopted mom?"  Life is good.

“An adopted mom?” Life is good.

Their article, “What drives success?” certainly offers plenty for discussion, and the pre-publication publicity of the book has already stirred up quite a slough of critiques and criticism.  This is certainly going to help the sales of the book.  Marketing of a book is important.  What authors wouldn’t want to see a healthy sales record?  However, a popular book, a controversial book, or a well-liked book isn’t the same as a masterpiece of literature, a well-researched book, or a seminal work.  Like Chua’s previous book, a memoir of her parenting journey, “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother,” the current book, of more academic orientation, is also thought-provoking.  Yet, are thought-provoking arguments automatically cogent arguments based on sound studies and thorough analysis?

Before I discuss the “Triple Package,” I feel compelled to first discharge my reactions to the “Battle Hymn” memoir so that I can have some appreciation of Amy Chua’s background, philosophy, and principles.  I save “Triple Package” for after I discuss the “Battle Hymn,” in today’s and next week’s spaces.

The controversy surrounding the “Battle Hymn” is old news by now.  I didn’t wade into it when it was first published in 2011 because I considered the publicity overblown and her implicit thesis – that tiger moms are the reasons for many Asian success stories – tiresome.  However, I do have reactions to the “Triple Package,” or more precisely, the NYTimes’ article, “What Drives Success?”  So I did some digging into “Battle Hymn” for a better grasp of who Amy Chua is and perhaps some of her foundation for the “Triple Package.”

Chua now says that the “Tiger Mother” book was written in tongue-in-cheek, and her conversational writing style, which offers some humorous sketches of her strict parenting principles, may bear out her claim.  However, the scene of her younger (of two) daughter’s row with Chua in a Moscow cafe (smashed glass and public yelling) protesting her mother’s strictness might not have been amusing to all parties at the time.

Though a second-generation American of Philippine immigrant parents (of Chinese descent), Chua seems to have adopted her parents’ disciplinarian principles and then some.  She contrasts the “Chinese parenting” against the more “permissive” western style throughout the book.  Ms. Chua states in the opening that while she doesn’t want to stereotype “Chinese mothers,” or “Western mothers,” certain features do distinguish between these two generic parenting approaches.  For instance, Chinese parents are not afraid of using negative words and scolding tones on children; in comparison, Western parents coddle their children too much.  Chinese parents are strong in their beliefs of their children’s abilities while Western parents give up all too easily.  There are, of course, degrees of differences within each category and some overlapping between these two broad styles.  Nevertheless, while “Western” parents claim that they impose stricter discipline upon their children relative to their peers, they are nowhere close to the “average” Chinese parenting’s strictness.

The above disclaimers now discharged, the author portrays “Chinese parenting,” her parenting, in her book “Battle Hymn” in a manner that’s both familiar in principle, and vastly foreign in its exact execution.

By now the most cited examples include:  no playdate, no sleepover, no TV and no computer games, no participation in school plays, and no complaints about not being in school plays.  The daughters could choose only between piano and violin, and not playing music instruments was not a third option.  Getting anything less than A was not acceptable.  Not being #1 was acceptable only in sports and drama; it’s otherwise non-negotiable.

So far, these criteria are familiar to me, but not the degree to which they are applied.

It was certainly shocking to read that one daughter had to practice 2,000 math problems a night to regain her supremacy over a Korean classmate.  It was disheartening to picture a young girl’s leaving teeth marks on the piano from 3-4 hours of daily practice, including weekends.  Chua would even arrange practices during family vacations, renting a piano and lugging along the violin.  However, to send a hand-made card back to her four-year old because it was not good enough?  It should not be a surprise, then, that the very same daughter, now age 13, who screamed at Mom in the Moscow café, “I’m not what you want – I’m not Chinese! I don’t want to be Chinese. Why can’t you get that through your head? I hate the violin. I hate my life. I hate you, and I hate this family!” (emphases by the author)

Ultimately, it was this dramatic scene that made Chua stop and reflect…and write the book.  A kind of atonement?  The older daughter is now a senior at Harvard and the younger one is heading for Yale after high school.

"We didn't choose to be brought together...but we like it now."

“We didn’t choose to be brought together…but we like it now.”

Many have criticized Chua’s parenting, and yet many Asian-American offspring of Asian immigrant parents relate to Chua’s descriptions, mostly in kind if not in degree.  The positive reception has focused on her engaging writing style and her courage to poke fun at herself.  In addition, many western critics agree that western parenting can be too permissive and sugar-coated, for example, celebrating a kindergartener’s “graduation.”  On the negative side, there have been quite a few whose reactions to the content of her parenting are, “I feel sorry for her children,” or, “Her daughters must have tremendous amount of psychological problems,” or, “Serve her right if her daughters don’t want to speak to her again.”  Such reactions may be hyperbolic, not unlike some of Chua’s own passages.

Next week I will provide my reactions to the “Triple Package” book, and address why I prefer “otter mom.”  Till then,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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Status Quo & Development/Change (for the better…we hope)

The perennial question:

something dynamic...

something dynamic…

Is the glass “half empty” or “half full?”

It all depends on your perspective.

When I commented on whether one looks at the glass from a stationary perspective or dynamic perspective, I stumbled upon the well-researched topic of “mindfulness” that I hadn’t known about at the time.  Persons dominated by a “fixed mindset” (stationary) and “growth mindset” (dynamic) see the world very differently; both mindsets are powerful engines that drive human thinking and behavior.

Thanks to one of my favorite blogs, Maria Popova’s, I learned what Carol Dweck’s “Mindset:  The new psychology of success” has to offer for us to think about, how one “simple” attitude can reach deeply into our lives.

From a “fixed mindset” a person sees talents, intelligence, or creativity as given, fixed, “carved in stone.”  This same mindset also accepts the premise that there are standards against which these given assets should be measured.  It’s a deterministic view of oneself.  People with fixed mindset constantly have to prove themselves, and would regard “failure” as a shameful testament against who they are.  Such a mind is always hungry for approval.

From a “growth mindset” one assumes that there are opportunities for development, in intelligence, creativity or any talent a person happens to possess.  People of such a mindset assume a “free will” attitude and see “failure” as a turning point, a potential springboard for improvement.  “Failure” becomes synonymous with “opportunity” or “challenge.”  Such a mind is always onto stretching itself further.

A growth mindset doesn’t go Pollyanna and think all people can become a Mozart or Einstein if they just keep trying and working hard. Professor Dweck writes “…a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable)” and that we cannot foresee what we can accomplish with “passion, toil, and training.”  In the “fixed mindset,” it sees effort as driven by weakness; the smart ones don’t need to exert much to succeed.  In “fixed mindset” thinking, Beethoven sure made writing symphonies look so easy, didn’t he?  And Da Vinci was born talented; all he did was just to prove how creative he was!

What is even more fascinating is that we are ingrained in adopting either of these mindsets in our childhood.  Professor Dweck’s 20+ years of research demonstrates that children who receive praise for “how smart they are” tend to forgo more challenges in their work, and just want to move on to the next test to show off their “ability,” a given asset from birth.  The children who receive praise for their “efforts” to get good marks want to learn more different and challenging tasks.  This finding did not surprise Dweck, but the next level of development did.  Her research shows that children who deem themselves “smart” and want to keep that status tend to lie about their true scores; they feel they need to hide their “deficiencies.”  This is indeed disheartening.

Might this be the driver for some managers who would rather “lie/hide facts” than acknowledge some mistakes?

Further, Dweck’s research also shows the relationships between these mindsets and receiving feedback.  “Fixed mindset” tends to ignore feedback on their mistakes; it tends to listen to only that which confirms its talents.  For these people, failures are buried as soon as possible so that they can maintain their image.

I decided to play...

I decided to play…

Yes, the implications are clear:  “fixed mindset” limits one’s development, and “growth mindset” sees no limits.  The unfortunate nomenclature of these labels betrays the preferred mode of thinking.  Indeed, there are plenty of smart people with the “fixed mindset” but would know better to reveal it, because after all, who wouldn’t want to be associated with “growth?” The good news is that once people realize and face their orientation (and be honest about it), they can change their attitude and overcome the binds they have put on themselves.

The bad news?  I am afraid managers of “fixed mindset” are likely to lead their people to plateau at only modest levels of performance.  And teachers of this mindset may encourage more students to hide their “deficiencies.” Just a couple of examples.

The neutral news is that just because we can develop skills and even become skillful in a certain area doesn’t mean that that’s our predilection.  For instance, just because I can learn computer programming doesn’t mean I like it; in fact, I may downright hate it.  Or, just because a thoughtful and quiet person can be a good manager doesn’t mean that same quiet person feels perfectly fit in a managerial role.

The social world is always terribly complicated to a social scientist.  That’s why we keep studying it, writing about it, and talking about it.

In anticipation of snow, I plan to take full advantage of the next long weekend, skiing and more skiing.  I will return on 2/23.

Till then,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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HR, or No HR? That is the question…for some.

“Thank you” following action on a simple request, and “No problem” comes the reply.  Whenever I get such a response, my internal voice says, “I didn’t realize it was a problem.”  Yes, I can be picky about choice of words.  It’s the combination of the logic center of my mind and my heightened sensitivity resulting from “English as my second language.”  Of course, I wouldn’t really want to nitpick these taken-for-granted exchanges, which bear no consequences.  However, regarding other more common terms, we might make a case for the impact of their words on our collective psyche:  for example, “human resources,” or, HR.

In Mr. Bernard Marr’s thought-provoking article, with a provocative title, “Why we no longer need HR departments,” he proposes that the whole HR function should be eliminated.  Such an idea isn’t new, but is not expressed often, certainly not publically.  Of course, whenever we want to eliminate or dismantle a large apparatus, we need to be careful about where to lay the parts.  In the case of HR, where should we place all the people?  Setting aside the practicality, it is an interesting notion, isn’t?  When an organization grows, at what point do the owners begin to contemplate creating a whole new entity to handle HR functions?

Great resources, but a waste on beginners.

Great resources, but a waste on beginners.

I share with the author’s dismay for the misnomer, “human resources.”  I have often argued that a key aspect of “organization” is the web of relationships, between people, between functions or departments, between people and buildings, etc.  The relationships are the fundamental assets that move processes and create real products.  “Social capital,” relationships between and among people, comes close to describing what these relationships signify.  To regard human beings as just one part of the organizational resources, comparable to finance, equipment, or supplies, is denigrating at the very least.

Plenty of people, as indicated by many readers’ responses to Marr’s article, think that critiquing the words, “human resources,” is merely nitpicking.  Perhaps.

What’s more interesting about this article is the author’s analysis of general HR functions.  He outlines two major areas:  protector of corporate interests and advocacy for employees.  These two functions are different and too often diametrically opposed.  Of course, we can further divide the many roles and functions HR typically does, such as hiring (what happens to “firing?”), negotiating salaries, allocating health care costs, or other collective issues.  But the umbrella functional descriptions mentioned above still capture all the roles and functions.

Regardless of whether or not one agrees with Mr. Marr’s view to abolish HR, most of us – especially we who do not work in the HR area ourselves (more about this point below) – can appreciate that HR often seems to be schizophrenic when executing top management’s directives vs. helping with average employees’ various issues.  I am not suggesting that it’s always antagonistic between management and other employees, but they do seem to often be at crossed purposes.  Given that management is endowed with more than enough power outside of HR, I would advocate for a group (maybe “personnel department?”) dedicating itself solely to the welfare of average employees.  This isn’t about labor unions, rather about separating internal organizational functions that may be inherently conflicting.

I amused myself with reading some of the readers’ responses to Marr’s article.  The majority of the readers were downright hostile to the proposal.  Several readers commented on the author’s potential conflict of interest:  Mr. Marr is a consultant in the HR area, and often helps organizations do away with HR departments, with some successes (he wouldn’t advertise failures, would he?).  It is possible that Mr. Marr wrote this article with a self-serving purpose.  However, I can say the same thing about most readers who object to Mr. Marr’s article; they are largely associated with HR department in various organizations.

Can we ever get out of our own blinders?  What’s mine?  I welcome your feedback.

Lastly, Happy New Year (Year of the Horse)!  I am most partial to this animal among the 12-animal cycle.

Happy Year of the Horse

Happy Year of the Horse

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

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