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Are You a Visionary – or a Follower? Here's How to Step Up

Visionaries know why they get out of bed each day. Do you? Ethnographer and leadership expert Simon Sinek explains how to find direction and fulfillment in your personal and professional life.

Simon Sinek:  I don’t know when it happened in the history but we’ve become obsessed with the concept of having a vision, right. And there’s this overwhelming pressure on entrepreneurs or any of us for that matter that we all have to have a vision. People even ask us so what’s your vision? You know what’s your vision in your job? What kind of vision do you want to build or follow? And at the end of the day we’re not all visionaries. We don’t all have big change the world kind of visions. And even if we have some sense of it very few of us are really capable or able of articulating that vision in words so clearly than others could imagine that same world that we imagine.

Sometimes it’s just a feeling. And so I think it puts an unfair stress and an unfair burden on all of us that we have to have a vision. I don’t know. I just want to go to work and be happy and feel like my life and my work is valuable. Do I need more than that? But I do believe we have to find a vision. We have to have direction. We have to have a north star. We have to know where we’re going. It doesn’t have to be the direction we set. It can be the direction that somebody else sets. So it’s very important for us to find a leader or find a company or find a vision in whom we believe so that our work is contributing to building that. So in the civil rights era some may not have been able to clearly articular the vision that they imagined.

But Martin Luther King did. And so for the rest of us we said I’m following him. I’m following that vision. That’s the vision I believe in. And that’s the point. We should all find a vision that we believe in. We should find common direction and then that vision can become ours. But we don’t have to invent it and we don’t have to originate it. But we absolutely have the responsibility to find a person, company or other entity out there, another person or organization that puts in towards a vision that we absolutely believe in and would commit our blood and sweat and tears to help build.

If we do not have that fire in our belly the way we go about igniting it is not actually to set out on a journey of self-discovery and do everything by ourselves but rather to ask for help. The whole point is that we are better together. I sort of joke about the fact that there’s an entire section in the bookshop called self-help but there’s no section in the bookshop called help others. At the end of the day it’s not about how I can find the job of my dreams. The question is is how can I help my friends find a career of endless fulfillment. It’s not about how I can lose ten pounds. It’s how can I help my friend that’s somebody I love live a healthy lifestyle. And the amazing thing is is that when we’re willing to ask for help or when we’re willing to set ourselves out there to help others that in itself helps us solve our own problems. So the irony is is the way to ignite the fire in our bellies is to help others ignite the fire in theirs. And in so doing we will find the thing that excites us.

People often ask me for good examples of vision, you know. And I don’t believe vision should be something that is ethereal. It should be something that lives in our imaginations. I believe visions and positionings or whatever you want to call them – I like to call it the why. It’s why we get out of bed every morning. It’s why our organization exists. And one of my favorite expressions of the why is the Declaration of Independence. You know why does America exist? Well we actually declared it. We actually declared why we needed our own country. Why we needed to separate from Great Britain. And we said because we had a simple belief. We believed that all men were created equal. That every single one of us was entitled, endowed with these unalienable rights amongst which include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, a north star was set for this country. And when we are at our natural best we are working hard to provide equality for all. Women’s suffrage. Civil rights. Gay rights. The ability for everybody to go to school.

The ability for every child to have a doctor. This is what when we are at our natural best and we’re trying to figure it out. None of the systems are perfect. But my goodness, when we try hard, when we’re trying to advance the equality of all that is when America is actually America. And we know that to be the case because it’s not up for debate. It’s because it was written down for us. And so great organizations they should also declare why we need them to exist. Because it certainly ain’t their product because none of them have a product that’s that special that we have to have it and we can’t get it from someone else. And even if they did it’s temporary. And that’s the point. The product ain’t it. It’s the declaration. It’s the reason why we need you to exist. It’s your idealism and your ambition for the world in which you operate that you hope to advance. Thomas Jefferson said himself the Declaration of Independence, the statement that he had was for the whole world but America would take it upon themselves to lead, to try to be the experiment. So too should be the visions of companies. The visions that we have should be for every company, for everyone.

But we will take it upon ourselves to make our organization the example of what great looks like. I love the Declaration of Independence and it is written in such a perfect form too. It doesn’t start by complaining. It starts by idealizing. And then it gets into all of the things that are in the way of this ideal and that’s what we set out to overcome.

Do you know why you get out of bed in the morning? According Simon Sinek (ethnographer, leadership expert, and the official mascot for optimism), answering "because I have to" isn’t quite cutting the mustard.

Finding your purpose in life is an insurmountable task – worse than that, it’s a motivational poster catchphrase that’s difficult to find any authenticity in. Which is why Sinek doesn’t recommend you jump from zero to visionary in one leap. He’s the first to admit it’s daunting, and in this video he calls us out for being obsessed with visionaries. From Steve Jobs and Elon Musk to Ariana Huffington and Bill Gates, we have to crane our necks to look up at these cultural gods of innovation who have changed and are changing our world. How do you even step one foot up a mountain that big?

What if, at the outset, purpose wasn’t about finding yourvision, but finding a vision? In Sinek’s view, we are under no obligation to be great thinkers and leaders, but we are almost bound by a contract of respect for one another to find a person, a company or a cause that we believe in and can help build, to improve the lives of all society. Is it amoral to aimlessly live out our life expectancies when we could be contributing?

Sinek is passionate about something usually only patriots, politicians and historians get hyped over: the Declaration of Independence. He adores this document because it doesn’t just announce the fact that America exists, but it declares exactly why America exists, something Sinek says most companies overlook. There are likely to be at least a thousand other companies doing what you do, making the same product that you make, but one company’s reason *why* can be the thing that sets it apart.

Perhaps we’d benefit from drafting a personal declaration for the ‘why’ of our own existence – or more realistically, at least, for this coming year. Find a vision that makes you get out of bed every morning with a fire in your belly. Follow someone else's great lead, do what excites you, and an original vision may come from there.

Simon Sinek's most recent book is Start with Why How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.