David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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What makes a good leader: strength or smarts?

When it comes to leadership, we're quite picky on who we let govern us.

NICHOLAS CHRISTAKIS: So I looked at a number of cases of groups being in very demanding circumstances. I looked at a sample of shipwrecks, for example 20 cases of groups of 19 or more people stranded for two or more months on isolated shores. I looked at the Shackleton expedition. I looked at the Mutiny on the Bounty and the Pitcairn Islanders. I've looked at groups of scientists that were self-isolated in Antarctica for nine months on their own. I've looked at all of these and more types of groups of people and the role that leadership might play in them, and how natural selection may have shaped our desire for leadership and our capacity for leadership. I've also looked at evidence done by other scientists on primate groups and the role of leadership in primate groups, including experiments in which the leading primates were experimentally removed from the group to see how the group functioned after removal of the leader.

And all of this evidence tends towards a set of conclusions, one of which is that human beings are equipped for and prefer a kind of mild hierarchy. We don't want leaders that are too powerful or too autocratic or are too able to impose punishment on ourselves, and there's a lot of evidence that in ancient times what human beings did in those types of circumstances is that the lower guys on the totem pole kind of bonded together to kill a person who was too violent or too aggressive or exercising too much control over the group. So this is known as the self-domestication hypothesis, the idea that we humans made ourselves more peaceful in part by weeding out those among us that were too autocratic or too capable of inflicting harm on those below us. Furthermore, however, we are not too egalitarian. We don't want groups in which everyone is equal in status or equally capable. And this evidence comes from a number of sources.

One piece of evidence, for instance, looks at the role of inequality even in forager groups. So there's something known as the Gini coefficient, which varies from 0 to 1. It's a measure of economic inequality, but you can also look at other kinds of inequality. 0 is perfect equality everyone, for instance, has the same amount of money. And 1 is perfect inequality one person has all the money, everyone else has nothing. And in the United States the inequality the Gini right now is about 0.4. In Scandinavian countries, it's about 0.2. Among forager populations, it's about 0.12 approximately. It's not zero. So even in forager populations, there is some natural inequality that's present. And furthermore, when you look at forager populations, forger populations have other ways of communicating hierarchy and status. So what human beings care about is not just status, but we also care about prestige. So we don't just care about individuals who are powerful. We care about individuals who have prestige because they are knowledgeable.

So the argument goes that evolution has shaped us for two conflicting ways of achieving some kind of hierarchy. One has to do with how strong you are in essence, and one has to do with how much you know. So we value people who know stuff. We're interested in leaders who manifest a kind of mild hierarchy, who know more than we know, who maintain our ability to work together by a kind of tamping down on violence and conflict, but who are not themselves autocratic. And if you look at well-functioning teams in the examples that I mentioned earlier, often you find exactly that kind of leadership. For example, Shackleton in the Shackleton expedition and this was about 30 guys that were stranded for a couple of years during a failed exploration of Antarctica Shackleton famously imposed strong leadership. Like, there was someone who challenged his leadership, and he tamped down on that. But he was a kind of benevolent dictator. He said that all food rations should be shared equally. In fact, he surrendered his rations to other people.

But in one of the shipwrecks that I studied, the Grafton wreck, which took place on the South Auckland Islands in 1846, north of Antarctica, south of New Zealand in the Grafton, five men were stranded for about two years. They had extremely capable leadership. But one of the things that they did is they agreed to democratically elect their leader, they agreed to be able to replace their leader whenever they wanted, and they started a school in which they affirmatively made efforts to teach each other things, in which case they took turns on who was on top. So one day you're teaching me Norwegian, the next day I'm teaching you Portuguese. One day you're teaching me algebra, the next day I'm teaching you how to make shoes. And so they had a kind of school in which they took turns teaching and learning. And they were explicitly aware of the fact how these reversals tended to build solidarity in the group, even though they also had an acknowledged leader.

So I guess I would sum up by saying that some of the lessons from all of this evolutionary and historical material that are relevant to leadership is that you want some but not too much hierarchy complete egalitarianism is not good for groups, nor is too much hierarchy you want leaders who are able to foster connections, friendships, and cooperation among their subordinates, and you want leaders who know things that their subordinates don't know And you want leaders who can acquire status not because of the costs that they can impose on their subordinates but rather because of the benefits they can confer to their subordinates.

  • Research suggests that human beings are equipped for, and even prefer, a kind of mild hierarchy.
  • However, there is a certain alchemy behind successful leaders. For instance, we don't want leaders that are too powerful or too autocratic or are too able to impose punishment on ourselves.
  • The best leaders foster connections, friendships, and cooperation among their subordinates.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).