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A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

4 Reasons Leaders Invest Too Much Time in the Wrong People

One of the recurring warnings in my writing for leaders is the very sobering encouragement to beware spending too much time with the wrong people. While the notion of giving up on someone sounds very unleader-like, this trap is one that I see well-intended professionals, from CEOs to front-line supervisors fall victim to with alarming regularity. The performance and environmental costs from this mistake are high to their teams and firms, and this message bears repeating.

We all know that getting the right people in the right seats is a prerequisite for success. The challenge comes when we find ourselves dealing with someone who isn’t quite right or isn’t quite ready and they’re occupying a critical seat.

Good leaders will do the right thing with those who aren’t quite ready. A combination of training, coaching and developmental assignments laced with ample feedback is often the right recipe to help someone gain experience and context for a bigger role. And when it works, it feels great for all parties involved.

The problem comes in assessing whether the individual is not ready or not right for the role. This happens frequently when a leader inherits a new team ...

Can Your Job Help Your Brain Age More Gracefully?

For the most part, I've never felt self-conscious about my memory skills until I heard of the world of memory championships. With intense training and special techniques, memory champions can memorize and write down hundreds of numbers or words in just 15 minutes.

For those of us who don't have the time nor will to train, it turns out our job choice might play a part in our ability to remember. A new study in Neurology looked at which professions, if any, best preserve memory and thinking abilities. The study looked at over 1,000 individuals and whether their work environments were associated with better cognitive outcomes later in life. The participants all took part in a standardized IQ test when they were 11 years old, and at age 70 they were assessed for their cognitive skills—from memory skills, to thinking speed, and general thinking abilities. The test included word analogies, arithmetic, spatial puzzles, and cypher decoding.

This test was analyzed against information collected about the participant's job. The researchers organized the jobs by the level of complexity. For example, jobs deemed "highly complex" in the study included architects, lawyers, surgeons, and musicians. Jobs that had ...

Is Chocolate a Superior Memory Food?

A contentious finding made news last week: People who eat a lot of food that contains trans fats have poorer memories than people who don't. At Scientific Sessions 2014, a meeting of the American Heart Association in sunny Chicago, doctors announced results of a study that found the link between eating foods high in these specific fats and performing poorly on word-recall tests. It's a loose association, but an important idea.

"Trans fats were most strongly linked to worse memory in young and middle-aged men during their working and career-building years," said lead researcher Beatrice Golomb, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego, in a press statement.

Trans fats exist in trace amounts in whole milk and beef, but most are the unnatural spawn of the twentieth-century processed-food movement in the form of partially hydrogenated oils. They are synthesized to turn liquid oils into solid fats with longer shelf lives. Trans fats are the least healthy fatty acid. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has estimated that replacing all the trans fat that comes in partially hydrogenated oils with other fats would save upwards of 10,000 lives a year. Last week ...

A Public-Private Innovation Classroom

On Jan. 14, 2010, President Obama welcomed 50 corporate chief executive officers, government Cabinet deputy secretaries, and labor union leaders to the White House for the Forum on Modernizing Government.  In his opening comments, the president praised the federal workforce, saying “I can say without any hesitation that our government employees are some of the hardest working, most dedicated, most competent people I know . . . They are dedicated; they put in long hours and they care deeply about what they do. And they desperately want to provide the very best service for the American people.”  The president expressed that the government workforce’s best efforts are often thwarted because “the technological revolution that has transformed our society over the past two decades has yet to reach many parts of our government,” or put more succinctly, “Washington lags a generation behind in how we do business.”

The president also praised the assembled business leaders who faced equally daunting challenges and overcame them.  He observed: “Many of you are pioneers—harnessing new technologies to build thriving businesses; some of you have revolutionized industries; you’ve changed the ways we look at the world.” Through the use of innovation and experimentation, these corporate executives ...

How to Stop Annoying Behaviors and Handle Offensive People

With Festivus coming up next month, I’m starting my list of grievances. The woman who touched my baby’s face at the grocery store. What a giver—she shared her germs without asking for anything in return. And the guy who parked in a space reserved for expecting mothers. Dude, a beer belly does not entitle you to claim that you’re pregnant.

My favorite business author, Dan Pink, is on a mission to fix these kinds of problems. He’s the host of a new show on National Geographic called Crowd Control, which uses social science to change some of the most irritating behaviors that we see in everyday life. After writing bestsellers like Drive and To Sell Is Human, giving a wildly popular TED talk, and serving as a chief speechwriter in the White House, Dan is uniquely qualified to make our days a bit less miserable.

In the first episode, he takes on speeding drivers, jaywalking pedestrians, and people who go one ugly step beyond stealing spots reserved for pregnant women: They park their cars in disabled spaces. Here’s a sneak preview of three lessons learned:

1. Fear isn’t always the best strategy. To ...