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3 Ways to Make Your Message Hit the Right Notes

When my daughter started ukulele lessons, her instructor explained that music is composed of three things: melody, which is made up of notes along the scale; harmony, which is the chords; and rhythm, the beat of the music. In listening to this explanation, it was easy to draw parallels to how leaders communicate messages to their teams.

Think about the next important message you must communicate. As a leader, are you making full use of all three musical elements? Here’s how to ensure your communication hits the right notes.

  1. Make it memorable. The melodies to our favorite songs are easy to remember and something that we enjoy hearing repeatedly. A catchy tune on a TV or radio commercial lingers long after we first hear it. In much the same way, your message’s main point must be memorable and easy to repeat. A vice president of claims for an insurance company, for example, implemented a “one-and-done” customer service philosophy to emphasize the need for claims representatives to close claims after the first customer contact.
  2. Add the supporting elements. Musical harmony refers to the supportive aspect of the notes, defined by Merriam-Webster as the “pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts ...

Where the Five-Day Workweek Came From

“Seven days,” wrote Witold Rybczynski in the August 1991 issue of The Atlantic, “is not natural because no natural phenomenon occurs every seven days.” The year marks one revolution of the Earth around the sun.  Months, supposedly, mark the time between full moons.  The seven-day week, however, is completely man-made.

If it’s man-made, can’t man unmake it? For all the talk of how freeing it’d be to shave a day or two off the five-day workweek, little attention has been paid to where the weekly calendar came from. Understanding the sometimes arbitrary origins of the modern workweek might inform the movement to shorten it. 

The roots of the seven-day week can be traced back about 4,000 years, to Babylon. The Babylonians believed there were seven planets in the solar system, and the number seven held such power to them that they planned their days around it. Their seven-day, planetary week spread to Egypt, Greece, and eventually to Rome, where it turns out the Jewish people had their own version of a seven-day week.  (The reason for this is unclear, but some have speculated that the Jews adopted this after their exile in Babylon in the sixth ...

There's More to Life Than Facial Symmetry

Beauty trends come and go, but one iron law of psychology remains: People with symmetrical faces are considered, by study subjects, to be more attractive. For years, the prevailing theory has been that this is because we use symmetry as a proxy for health, and thus, good genes.

Whether or not you spent every January of your childhood wheezing under the covers likely reflects on your countenance in subtle ways. Supposedly, these minuscule changes later warn potential suitors—likely subconsciously—to stay away.

Much to the delight of ashthmatics everywhere, a new study pokes holes in the idea that facial symmetry and good health are synonymous. Using health data from 4,732 teenagers, psychologist Nicholas Pound at Brunel University London correlated each participant's history of rashes, aches, and infections with their facial symmetry, as determined by a 3-D scan.

The result? The more symmetrical teens weren't necessarily the healthiest ones. "This study does not support the idea that facial symmetry acts as a reliable cue to physiological health," the authors wrote.

Take that, Gisele Bundchen! Or should I say, Typhoid Mary. The wildly askew schnoz of Adrien Brody might be a better picture of well-being.

Schadenfreude aside, we ...

It’s Time to Focus on Empowerment and Recognition

Jay Williams, the new assistant secretary at the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, wants to improve the poor morale of the agency’s workforce. In last year's “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” rankings the agency was all but dead last among 300 agency subcomponents. Of the 14 job issues assessed in the Best Places analyses, EDA ranked either 298th or 299th in 13 of the categories.

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Williams said he plans “to create a situation where people feel empowered and appreciated.” The agency’s employees want “better communication, an engaged leadership, and they want to feel their work is appreciated and connected to the larger mission,” he said.

It sounds like Williams is committed to building a solidly engaged workforce. Unfortunately there is no proven strategy for doing that because “engagement” is a human resources construct that does not have a clear definition. Plus, this is an always-difficult organizational change.

A working group of the federal Chief Human Capital Officers Council defines “engagement” as “an employee’s passion and commitment to their work and organization.” Engaged workers stand out. They care about their work and the success of ...

Which Mode of Travel Provides the Happiest Commute?

For most people, a satisfying commute is not necessarily a happy one—a not-so-unhappy one will do. Yes, it's true that the ideal commute not absolutely zero commute; many of us can use the time to decompress or get some thinking done. But it's also true that beyond a certain point—roughly 15 minutes one-way, on average—we just want our lives and sanity back.

Even within that general framework of unpleasantness, some commutes are more enjoyable than others. A group of researchers at McGill University in Montreal recently tried to establish a clear hierarchy among the main six work-trip modes: driving, riding (bus and metro and commuter rail), walking, and cycling. They asked nearly 3,400 people who commuted to campus on a single mode to describe their typical trip in both winter and summer, and to rate their satisfaction with various aspects of that trip. The researchers then converted the ratings into a single satisfaction score for each of six commute modes.

We've charted the results below, but in case you can't wait that long, here are the raw (rounded) percentages: pedestrians (85 percent), train commuters (84 percent), cyclists (82 percent), drivers (77 percent ...