Jordan Peterson’s guide to leadership

Here's what it means to be a good leader—no buzzwords, no bullsh*t.

JORDAN PETERSON: I suppose this touches on the psychology of leadership too—which is a mess, by the way.

Well, what's the fundamental characteristic of a leader? Here's one: A leader is someone who knows where he or she is going. Well that would be the first thing, is like, how are you going to lead unless you have a destination?

Okay. Well a destination implies an ethic. And then you need to be able to communicate that. And you communicate your destination with a story. Now if I want to motivate people—and that's not the right way to think about it, because you shouldn't want to motivate people. That's management idiot speak, that is—what you should so is figure out something that's worth doing, that you really think is worth doing. Something that you would actually commit a substantial proportion of your life to. And you should have deep reasons for pursuing it. And then if you're a leader, well first of all you have that established, but the second is that you can communicate that, okay, and you communicate that in a manner that also appeals to other people's sense of purpose. And so you'd say to someone, like if I wanted to move forward with you on an enterprise, I would have to say, "Well here's the purpose of the enterprise and here's the reasons that it's not only eminently justifiable but more justifiable than anything else we could be doing at the same time." And then I'd have to say, "Well here's what's in it for me, and here's what's in it for you. And here's why the two of us together can further the enterprise and further what's in it for you and further what's in it for me."

And then you have a situation there that Piaget, Jean Piaget, the developmental psychologist, called an equilibrated state. So an equilibrated state is a situation that's set up by two or more people where everyone is participating in the state voluntarily. So when he got that — he derived that notion in part by looking at how children set up games. So if children are going to set up a pretend game, what they do is they negotiate a little narrative, to begin with. It's almost like they generate a little play and they assign everyone their parts, and then they manifest the play, and that's how they think. But everyone has to accept their part voluntarily, right, or the game won't continue. Now Piaget's ethical claim, ethical analytic claim, was that a game everyone plays voluntarily is more sustainable and productive than one the people have to be forced to play. And that was his fundamental distinction between the utility of freedom versus the utility of tyranny. Because you could say, well the authoritarians win: "Do this or else." That's a way of organizing a society. But Piaget's claim was the enforcement costs are so high that the free society will outcompete the authoritarian society across time.

Now if you're going to set up an organization, you can set it up on authoritarian lines. But then you're basically compelling people to perform with punishment and fear. It's better to motivate them positively, and the way you do that is say, "Look, here's the goal, here's your role. Here's what this will add to your life, practically and in terms of, say, significant engagement and involvement." And then if you can do that, the people will, you know, with certain other preconditions in place – competence, for example, and a certain amount of conscientiousness – then people will participate in the game voluntarily. You don't have to overlord them. And so that's – well, if you have any experience in the world at all in complex processes you know that that's the optimal circumstances under which to engage with other people. It's like, "Hey, we're all in the same boat. We're going somewhere interesting. Everyone's got a role to play. We're all in this together and it's working out for each of us as well."

Now, there's a corollary to that, which is an interesting one. So imagine this. So let's say you have your organization and you have your goals and you're out to do something worthwhile. And you can tell a good story about that. So you've got people on board. Now you really want to get people on board and so now you've got two choices. You could tell people, "Go home and spend four or five hours and formulate a career plan about how you're going to contribute to this organization." Or you could say, "No, no, you go home and you formulate a plan for your life that includes your job at this organization as a subset." And then imagine you do that with 100 people in each group. Then you run those people in a head-to-head competition for a year to see who's most productive.

The answer? The people who formulate the plan for their life. They're ten percent more productive. So you can gain a ten percent increment in corporate-level productivity by having your people write out a plan for their life. We have a program like that online, called Future Authoring, that thousands of people have done now that increased the probability that university students would stay in university by 30 percent. And that's part of the narrative issue. It's like what you want from your employees is, well, you want them to be doing something useful with their life that they're engaged in, because like if they can't do that for their life what the hell makes you think they're going to do that for your organization?! And then you want them to see how working for you serves their higher order purpose.

And if it doesn't, because maybe they can't formulate that integrated hierarchical relationship, well then they should find another job, because that isn't the job for them. If your job is running at cross purposes with your life, how the hell are you going to be motivated? You're not. At least you're going to be stymied constantly by the internal contradiction. So imagine what you're trying to do is you're trying to get everyone pointing in the same direction. But I don't mean by eliminating all diversity of opinion or anything like that. It's like the overall organization has a point, and then everyone within that organization has their point but they're integrated within that overarching coherent narrative. That's the purpose of leadership. And to make that work at every level of the organization. That's what you want to do. It's very difficult, but you build a stellar organization if you do that.

  • The psychology of leadership is a mess, says Jordan Peterson, because it's clouded by "management idiot speak." One example? A leader's job isn't to motivate people; it's to tap into people's sense of purpose. Motivation is the byproduct.
  • Lead your team like a free society, not a dictatorship. Based on developmental psychologist Jean Piaget's observations, Peterson emphasizes the importance of an equilibrated state, which is "a situation that's set up by two or more people where everyone is participating in the state voluntarily."
  • Authoritarian-style leadership ("Do this or else") is a terrible way to run a team. Good leadership means finding people who want to contribute. Otherwise, says Peterson, "the enforcement costs are so high that the free society will outcompete the authoritarian society across time."


Outer space capitalism: The legal and technical challenges facing the private space industry

The private sector may need the Outer Space Treaty to be updated before it can make any claims to celestial bodies or their resources.

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  • The Outer Space Treaty, which was signed in 1967, is the basis of international space law. Its regulations set out what nations can and cannot do, in terms of colonization and enterprise in space.
  • One major stipulation of the treaty is that no nation can individually claim or colonize any part of the universe—when the US planted a flag on the Moon in 1969, it took great pains to ensure the world it was symbolic, not an act of claiming territory.
  • Essentially to do anything in space, as a private enterprise, you have to be able to make money. When it comes to asteroid mining, for instance, it would be "astronomically" expensive to set up such an industry. The only way to get around this would be if the resources being extracted were so rare you could sell them for a fortune on Earth.
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Is NASA ignoring proof of Martian life from the 1970s?

One of the scientists with the Viking missions says yes.

Image source: David Williams/NASA
Surprising Science
  • A former NASA consultant believe his experiments on the Viking 1 and 2 landers proved the existence of living microorganisms on Mars
  • Because of other conflicting data, his experiments' results have been largely discarded.
  • Though other subsequent evidence supports their findings, he says NASA has been frustratingly disinterested in following up.

Gilbert V. Levin is clearly aggravated with NASA, frustrated by the agency's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge what he considers a fact: That NASA has had dispositive proof of living microorganisms on Mars since 1976, and a great deal of additional evidence since then. Levin is no conspiracy theorist, either. He's an engineer, a respected inventor, founder of scientific-research company Spherix, and a participant in that 1976 NASA mission. He's written an opinion piece in Scientific American that asks why NASA won't follow up on what he believes they should already know.

In 1976

Image source: NASA/JPL

Sunset at the Viking 1 site

As the developer of methods for rapidly detecting and identifying microorganisms, Levin took part in the Labeled Release (LR) experiment landed on Mars by NASA's Viking 1 and 2.

At both landing sites, the Vikings picked up samples of Mars soil, treating each with a drop of a dilute nutrient solution. This solution was tagged with radioactive carbon-14, and so if there were any microorganisms in the samples, they would metabolize it. This would lead to the production of radioactive carbon or radioactive methane. Sensors were positioned above the soil samples to detect the presence of either as signifiers of life.

At both landing sites, four positive indications of life were recorded, backed up by five controls. As a guarantee, the samples were then heated to 160°, hot enough to kill any living organisms in the soil, and then tested again. No further indicators of life were detected.

According to many, including Levin, had this test been performed on Earth, there would have been no doubt that life had been found. In fact, parallel control tests were performed on Earth on two samples known to be lifeless, one from the Moon and one from Iceland's volcanic Surtsey island, and no life was indicated.

However, on Mars, another experiment, a search for organic molecules, had been performed prior to the LR test and found nothing, leaving NASA in doubt regarding the results of the LR experiment, and concluding, according to Levin, that they'd found something imitating life, but not life itself. From there, notes Levin, "Inexplicably, over the 43 years since Viking, none of NASA's subsequent Mars landers has carried a life detection instrument to follow up on these exciting results."

Subsequent evidence

Image source: NASA

A thin coating of water ice on the rocks and soil photographed by Viking 2

Levin presents in his opinion piece 17 discoveries by subsequent Mars landers that support the results of the LR experiment. Among these:

  • Surface water sufficient to sustain microorganisms has been found on the red planet by Viking, Pathfinder, Phoenix and Curiosity.
  • The excess of carbon-13 over carbon-12 in the Martian atmosphere indicates biological activity since organisms prefer ingesting carbon-12.
  • Mars' CO2should long ago have been converted to CO by the sun's UV light, but CO2 is being regenerated, possibly by microorganisms as happens on Earth.
  • Ghost-like moving lights, resembling Earth's will-O'-the-wisps produced by spontaneous ignition of methane, have been seen and recorded on the Martian surface.
  • "No factor inimical to life has been found on Mars." This is a direct rebuttal of NASA's claim cited above.

Frustration

Image source: NASA

A technician checks the soil sampler of a Viking lander.

By 1997, Levin was convinced that NASA was wrong and set out to publish followup research supporting his conclusion. It took nearly 20 years to find a venue, he believes due to his controversial certainty that the LR experiment did indeed find life on Mars.

Levin tells phys.org, "Since I first concluded that the LR had detected life (in 1997), major juried journals had refused our publications. I and my co-Experimenter, Dr. Patricia Ann Straat, then published mainly in the astrobiology section of the SPIE Proceedings, after presenting the papers at the annual SPIE conventions. Though these were invited papers, they were largely ignored by the bulk of astrobiologists in their publications." (Staat is the author of To Mars with Love, about her experience as co-experimenter with Levin for the LR experiments.)

Finally, he and Straat decided to craft a paper that answers every objection anyone ever had to their earlier versions, finally publishing it in Astrobiology's October 2016 issue. "You may not agree with the conclusion," he says, "but you cannot disparage the steps leading there. You can say only that the steps are insufficient. But, to us, that seems a tenuous defense, since no one would refute these results had they been obtained on Earth."

Nonetheless, NASA's seeming reluctance to address the LR experiment's finding remains an issue for Levin. He and Straat have petitioned NASA to send a new LR test to the red planets, but, alas, Levin reports that "NASA has already announced that its 2020 Mars lander will not contain a life-detection test."

Breast cancer vaccine could be available in 8 years, says Mayo Clinic

A new immunotherapy treatment is showing positive signs in early-stage clinical trials.

BSIP / Getty
Surprising Science
  • Clinical trials of an immunotherapy treatment for breast cancer showed positive signs, and the researchers hope to move to larger trials in coming years.
  • Immunotherapies train the body's immune system to find and kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
  • Recent trials of immunotherapies for other cancers have also showed positive signs.
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