December 15, 2011

The Art of Choosing

Third graders at their Ancient Egyptian Celebration this week
Sheena Iyengar is a professor at Columbia University and the author of The Art of Choosing.  Recently I heard her speak and came away highly impressed by both her delivery and her topic. She spoke at length about her research on choice and about her book in which she aims to help us become better choosers.  I listened to her fluid and eloquent presentation, given with no notes and in complete synchronicity to a slide show that played behind her.  There is nothing remarkable about that for a gifted professional speaker who clearly knows her stuff.  Except for the fact that Sheena Iyengar is blind. 


Diagnosed as a toddler with a rare form of retinal degeneration, this superbly intelligent woman was completely blind at the age of 14. I found it remarkable how she was able to regale her audience with stories, quote exact figures from her research, and show both amusing and informative examples to illustrate her point, all in perfect order with the PowerPoint she had created.

Iyengar’s talk was about the relationship between leadership and choice.  Some leaders are literally born into the role. Others are simply born with bucket loads of charisma and naturally rise to the top, while most of us in leadership positions have arrived there because we have developed the ability to choose well and to enhance the power of good choices for transformative good.

I am proud that Friends’ School teaches children how to make good choices.  This is such an important part of our educational philosophy that we have times of our week when students get to choose what activities they would like to partake in.  Teachers put out different types of materials, quite often art supplies, items to build with or glue together, thingamajigs where scientific discoveries can be made.  And if a child does not choose to spend time doing one of the choices set out by the teacher, he or she may choose to do something else. Quite often the choices presented are connected to the current area of curriculum study, but sometimes not. 

We have discovered that, at choice time, children actively engage in the process of defining themselves.  They are given the opportunity to make decisions and think for themselves, and they shine.

This is what we want from our Friends’ School and college graduates.  We seek collaborators and team players who know themselves, think for themselves, and have great ideas.
           
It is clear that effective leaders today have to be dedicated practitioners of the art of choice.  They have to understand the people they lead and work with them to give them the right amount of choice to empower them. Sheena Iyengar herself was dealt a rough hand in the game of life, a disease that robbed her of her eyesight.  She chose to rise above it, to become an expert in her chosen field, and she chose to shine.  Our Friends’ School students are on their way to doing the same.

Wherever you choose to be this holiday season, and whomever you choose to be with, I wish you a peaceful, restful, and happy winter break.

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar, published by Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, 2010

4 comments:

shelpaw said...

Yes! I think I'll choose to buy this book...looks like it will fit in nicely with the idea of growth mindsets, empowerment, and living an intentional life. Thanks for the introduction!

Kathy N. said...

Here, here!

Maria said...

Thanks, Steve. I like the concept of our children "defining" themselves as they choose - as they exert preference in the world. I see this happening at school and am so thankful for Friends - and for Jessie, Katelynn and Megan who create this opportunity for her.

Maria said...

Thanks, Steve. I like the concept of our children "defining" themselves as they choose - as they exert preference in the world. I see this happening at school and am so thankful for Friends - and for Jessie, Katelynn and Megan who create this opportunity for her.