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Thermometer or Thermostat? MLK Jr’s Letter from Birmingham Jail


 “…when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people;

…when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”

This month marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Martin Luther King Jr was a civil rights leader who transformed the conversation on race in the United States. He wrote this letter after being arrested while leading marches and sit-ins to protest racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Eight fellow clergymen of Alabama wrote an open letter asking him to cease his leadership of the demonstrations and to pursue justice through the courts. I was drawn to re-read the full text of the letter after reading Dr. Eric L. Motley’s essay, “On the 50th Anniversary, the Living Legacy of “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Motley writes:

its ideas transcend the turbulent times in which it was written. Civil rights historian Diane McWhorter notes that the original conflict “was between not good and evil, but good and normal.” The brute racism that strikes us today as mass social insanity Read More »

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Getting Away from Group Think

When was the last time you had a team meeting with someone outside your usual circle of colleagues?

This is a question – and a challenge – laid down by Peter McDonald, a collaboration expert that I met with last week.

Peter works for a consultancy that focuses on helping people collaborate. And they go about it in a pretty radical manner.

One of the things they do is run workshops with people with different profiles, roles and jobs  (and often diametrically opposed perspectives). Many of their workshops involve going into charities and finding solutions to their most challenging business problems.

The results are fascinating. Given often really difficult and complex challenges to resolve, often the more diverse and potentially conflictive the group is, the more disruptive the thinking. And the more creative and interesting the ideas, suggestions and solutions are.

Read More »

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Until Justice Rolls Down…On Martin Luther King Jr.


Maya Lin, creator of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was commissioned to design the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lin found her inspiration in the words “until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream,” a paraphrase from the Book of Amos that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used in his “I Have a Dream” speech and at the start of the Montgomery bus boycott. Photo used with permission from this source.

It was a printer jam that made me realize the full power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream Speech.”  Growing up in the United States, I had studied Martin Luther King Jr’s  outsize impact on civil rights and American history.  That said, I had never heard the entire speech he gave in 1963  to 200,000 people from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Then, a few years ago, the printer at work jammed.  I pulled out the crumpled paper and power cycled it.  While I was waiting, I started reading the poster hanging in the hallway.  It was the full text of the “I Have A Dream” speech.  I was truly moved by the strength of the writing and the ideas it put forth.  I couldn’t believe that I had missed out on this powerful work for so long.  Kudos to people that put up guerilla art in offices!

Nancy Duarte does a great analysis of why the speech is so powerful.  I love her line about the speech “traversing back and forth between what is and what could be, and ending by describing what the new bliss of equality looks like.”

One of my favorite quotes from the speech is this: Read More »

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Redefining Disability

This week the world celebrated the United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities.

So let me ask you a question. What does disabled mean to you?

If you say the word aloud, what comes to your mind? Wheelchairs, white sticks and hearing aids, maybe. Go a little deeper and you might think of less visible disabilities – autism, learning difficulties. I’ve heard disability described as a “long-term impairment that makes it hard to accomplish daily tasks.” If you think about it this way, then conditions as varied as depression, asthma or eating disorders might be described as disabilities.

How many people do you know that might be considered disabled in this sense? My guess is that that number is much greater than you might initially have thought.

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To Bias or Not to Bias…

” We do not see things as they are, we see things as WE are” – Anais Nin

A bias is a simplification that our brain goes through when we are in front of a situation we’ve been before. In that instance we rush decision and even behave inappropriately based on different elements like sex, age, abilities, workplace environment and so on.

Biasing people and situations is HUMAN, it’s a part of your brain that activates and respond to danger.

We just need to be aware of it so we can adjust our behavior accordingly: it’s very easy to fall into “fortune telling”  – e.g. I know what’s going to happen- and “mind reading” behavior , e.g I know he doesn’t like me .

How many times we’ve been introduced to new people and instantly categorized people in pre-built boxes.

What’s the impact in a working environment?

Well funny enough the first impression is the wrong one, most of the time.

It might have happened to you too, you might have underestimated somebody that later on revealed himself like a bless for the team, the ideal candidate for a job or somebody who became your best friend.


Today I want to tell you 2 stories. These are stories of people that have been impacted by the bias more than anybody else and have been shining for what they’ve done and the persons they are.

The first one is about a young lady, who achieved a senior marketing position very early in her career, got 3 degrees in business and suffers from cerebral palsy, a diseases that cause physical disability in human development. I’ll call her A.

A. has got a well structured career now at Cisco, but it has not always been like that.

She got several awards for her outstanding performance, but back in time she hardly imagined it could be so, as some individuals would have misjudged her capabilities on the workplace due to her physical condition.

Sometimes, movements for her are difficult and even a simple one like walking to the restroom from her desk, could be a challenge.

Flexibility to work from home and technology like video, did the trick. And the beauty of it is that she didn’t receive even a special treatment: she has exactly the same possibility as just everybody else.

Cisco employees are empowered to work from anywhere and from any device, while home or travelling on the train as if they were at their desk.

A. allowed Cisco Marketing to shine and Cisco trusted her and allowed her to make this possible.

The second story is about an engineer, his name is Sean.

He’s another successful Cisco employee working everyday on troubleshooting and configuring Cisco equipment. Sean is blind.

He has done several different jobs from developing camera films, to being a manager in a satellite networking company and now he is a multi-recognized engineer in cisco TAC.

Sean delivered a presentation to his team about what would have worked for him and what wouldn’t have worked and in short time he’s been able to successfully build strong relationship with them.

Of course technology plays an important role in Sean’s everyday job, but seen the result, does it matter?

Getting around the bias is about establishing a human contact, finding commonalities, reframing the situation, it’s all about people trying to understand other people.

At the moment, 1 out of 5 people is visually impaired and 70% of them are unemployed and among them only few have professional careers, like Sean.

Did you know that Louis Braille, Galileo Galilei, Claude Monet and even St Paul were all visually impaired?

Lesson learned is that when you are in front of a bias, you just need to be aware of it.

Sean and A. have had the guts to push themselves to their limits, working harder than anybody else and achieved success, nevertheless their physical condition.

They have taken the risk and have proven many people wrong, the very same people that didn’t trust them.

Meeting Sean and A. has been an enriching experience, they are special people with different perspective on the world, they certainly deserve all the success they are having and to shine as the brightest starts in the sky.

Hopefully their story is a confirmation for many and a discovery for few others.

My question to you is: how do you get yourself more aware of your bias behavior? And if you haven’t before, how are you going to control it?

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