Skating Legend Katarina Witt on Feminism, Competition, and French Actors

katerinaI remember when Katarina Witt won her two gold medals, but just barely. I didn’t really appreciate what was different about her skating, aside from the jumps. I could certainly see why men liked to watch her, but that wasn’t what the Olympics were supposed to be about. Was it?

So I was a bit skeptical upon learning that I would get to hear Witt speak at the We Own It Summit in Philadelphia in May, and then would have the opportunity to sit with her for a private interview later. I shouldn’t have been. It soon became clear that no matter what Witt chose to do, she would have been successful –- but it happened to be skating, and it landed her on a international stage and granted her worldwide celebrity.

It was great fun to speak with her and hear her talk about her competitive nature and her perspective on feminism: “I always grew up thinking women, we make more money; men, they do the cooking. So it’s equal.”

Here are some highlights from both conversations.

On how she became a skater:

At the arena, at the kindergarten, I somehow fell in love with skating. I was begging my parents that they would bring me there and introduce me to the coach. My very first coach went to my mom, and he says, “Just bring her. I cannot promise you a world champion, but just bring her back.”

Luckily I had the best coach in the world working there. She started to work with me when I was nine. I realized she was the best coach in the world and I was ready to take that challenge.

Read more: Skating Legend Katarina Witt on Feminism, Competition, and French Actors

Be the Sugar Cookie

It’s the time of year when notables share their wisdom with college graduates, in the form of commencement addresses. Unfortunately, most of these speeches are sort of boring and trite: Do what you love. Dream big. Work hard. Never give up.

Every once in a while, though, a speech stands out. We called out some of the notable ones in "Wit, Wisdom, Wisecracks and Sunscreen." Among them: the pitch Apple CEO Steve Jobs made in 2005 to Stanford University students on living every day as though it was their last; J.K. Rowling’s 2008 address at Harvard University on facing your fears to survive and thrive; and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s 1941 call to arms before World War II, which gave life to the famous line, “Never give in.” 

Thanks to Admiral William H. McRaven, we’ve now got another one to add to the list.

McRaven, who has been a Navy SEAL for 36 years, addressed graduates at the University of Texas at Austin last week. In a little less than 20 minutes, he offered up some of the pithiest advice graduates -- or the rest of us -- are likely to get any time soon. As of this writing, the YouTube video of his address has been viewed nearly a million times.

His big theme was that it’s easier than you think to change the lives of people around you. Even small decisions can have big consequences. Noting that a soldier’s decision to take a left instead of a right down a Baghdad road saved the lives of a 10-person squad, McRaven talked about how that decision spared the families of those soliders from great pain – and also affected future generations. 

Read more: Be the Sugar Cookie

In Praise of Pi(e)

pi dayHow I need a drink, alcoholic in nature, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics.

If you’ve read that sentence before, you’re a better geek than I.

So-called Pi Day, celebrated on March 14, is almost upon us. That sentence is the best-known example of a form of writing called, appropriately, Pi-lish, which is designed to help you remember the digits of the number pi. If you count the letters of each word in that sentence, you’ll have recited pi out to 12 decimal places.

Pi, of course, is the so-called circle constant, represented by the Greek letter of the same name. It’s defined as the circumference of any circle divided by its diameter, or roughly 3.14159.

Pi appears repeatedly throughout geometry, but also, says Ron Hipschman, a scientist at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, “anytime you have cycles, frequencies, or anything that’s rotating. It’s in tons of different places.”

Pi has been calculated to 10 trillion digits, and counting.

In 1988, the Exploratorium’s Larry Shaw, a physicist, thought pi deserved a holiday of its own. So on March 14  (3/14) he put out some pie for the staff. The next year, some museum visitors noticed the pie and asked what was going on. And that’s how Pi Day was born.

Read more: In Praise of Pi(e)

7 Smart Ways to (Literally) Play Dumb

no-talksignCommunications consultant Geoffrey Tumlin said he was motivated to write Stop Talking, Start Communicating: Counterintuitive Secrets to Success in Business and in Life after coming to a simple and sobering realization: In the last 15 years, as technology has changed how we talk to each other and made it easier than ever to communicate, people’s communication skills have actually deterioriated.

“We’re getting better and better at easy communication — at communications checkers — but we’re increasingly getting worse at communications chess, the more sophisticated or harder communication skills, like bargaining, offering emotional support, and delivering bad news,” Tumlin says. “The more we type, text and talk to each other, the more people are realizing that we’re understanding each other less.”

Being able to communicate more easily and frequently -- thanks to email, texting and social media -- also increases the chances that we’ll make mistakes that could jeopardize our personal and business relationships. That may explain why it’s not unusual anymore for a politician, a celebrity, a business leader or some other public figure to make headlines for saying something stupid.

“I can’t build a relationship in a sentence. It can take days, months and years. But I can destroy it in a sentence,” Tumlin cautions.

So what to do?

We can all start by talking a little less, he says. The key to being a successful communicator has to do with verbal restraint, which will help keep you out of trouble. If something does go wrong, the next tack is conversational containment -- thinking about what you want say carefully and limiting the back-and-forth dialogue to stop trouble from escalating. “If you want to know the hallmark between a decent communicator and a great communicator -- it’s the ability to not say what’s on your mind,” Tumlin says.  “What we’re trying to do in any interaction that goes wrong is prevent fatal damage to the relationship."

Read more: 7 Smart Ways to (Literally) Play Dumb

Monday Morning Cheat Sheet: We are Humbled

Last respects About 80,000 people are expected to converge on a soccer stadium in Johannesburg to pay their last respects to one of history's great leaders: Nelson Mandela, the political prisoner, South African president, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient who died last week at the age of 95. Mandela's body will then lie in state for three days while official services are held in all nine of the country’s provinces and around the world. Thandika Mkandawire, a former political prisoner who is now the Chair of the African Development program at the London School of Economics, wrote that “Mandela was the one individual of and to whom it can be said the African continent was unanimously proud and infinitely grateful.” A selection of some of Mandela’s own inspiring words, here.
Your tax dollars at work House and Senate negotiators are on track to achieving something they haven’t managed since 2011: a budget deal. It’s far from the “grand compromise” some have hoped for: it won’t significantly reduce the debt, close corporate tax loopholes, reform expensive entitlement programs, of even fully end the sequester. The deal should prevent more last-minute sky-is-falling budget theatrics, which would be a relief.
Time runs out for unemployment benefits Unemployment benefits for about 1.3 million jobless people are due to expire on Dec. 28. In his weekly Saturday address, President Obama argued that the benefits should be extended. “The holiday season is a time for remembering the bonds we share, and our obligations to one another as human beings,” the President said. “But right now, more than 1 million of our fellow Americans are poised to lose a vital economic lifeline just a few days after Christmas if Congress doesn’t do something about it.” Senator Rand Paul, on the other hand, said last week that extending benefits beyond 28 weeks “does a disservice to the people you're trying to help... You're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy." 
Men, women, and brain research A recently released study on neurological connections from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows up an interesting difference between the brains of men and women. "[R]esearchers found that in men, fiber pathways run back and forth within each hemisphere, while in women they tend to zig-zag between the left, or 'logical,' and right, or 'creative,' sides of the brain," reports The Atlantic Magazine. Although the jury is still out on the impact of these findings, one possibility is that this interconnectivity makes women better at multitasking  an idea supported by a recent study from the University of Glasgow. More important, however, is the medical impact. One neuroscientist from the University of California at Irvine points out, for example, that "pain medications don’t take male and female pain perception differences into account."
Susan Boyle and Asperger’s syndrome. Scottish singer Susan Boyle, who made a lot of people cry when she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009, was told when she was a child that she had brain damage. Bullies at school called her “Susie Simple.” But Boyle, 52, announced that she has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism-spectrum disorder that affects social and communication skills. Boyle, now one of the best-selling British musicians, says she was “relieved” by the diagnosis. Being told that she was brain damaged “was an unfair label. Now I have a clearer understanding of what's wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself."
Quotas in Montana? John Marshall, a libertarian writer, has submitted a Montana constitutional amendment that would require both houses of the state legislature to have equal numbers of men and women. The proposal has quite a few obstacles to overcome: the language has to be reviewed by the Attorney General and the Montana Legislative Services Division, and then needs the endorsement of 48,000 Montana voters before it qualifies for the 2014 ballot. “Women are better at sitting down and negotiating and compromising and coming up with legislation than men,” Marshall says, according to Salon, which points out the evidence to support his claim: “The women of the Senate are largely credited with putting aside partisanship and helping to deliver a deal to end the recent government shutdown, and they also have regular bipartisan dinners together, a small sign of civility in the midst of ever-increasing partisan hostility.”
Bitcoin bus. Bitcoin, the virtual currency that had been on the rise since the beginning of the year, crashed last week after the Chinese government said that while its citizens could trade in bitcoins, they’re not legal tender. “The price of the attention-grabbing crypto-currency got crushed, falling from a quoted $1,200 per "coin" to less than $600. At this writing, it's quoted on the Mt. Gox exchange at about $830,” the Los Angeles Times wrote on Dec. 7. For the rest of us, a bitcoin FAQ.
Reading is physical A study released by U.K research firm Voxburner says that "teenagers and young adults aged 16 to 24-years-old prefer physical books over e-books." Apparently, they liked the feel of the book, a notion supported by some scientific research. A Scientific American article about similar studies says that "modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension." 
We thought fruitcake was the ideal building material... It took almost a ton of butter and 7,200 eggs, but a team in Texas has broken the Guinness World Record for the largest gingerbread house ever built. It was built by a group of volunteers to raise money for a local hospital. In its first week, about 600 people visited the edible house, raising $150,000. The 22-foot-high house can accommodate a family of five -- at least until it rains.
Have a great week!

Missed last week's issue? Here you go:

Is Multi-Tasking Frying Your Brain?

If you liked this story, you might also like:
Multi-Tasking Mania and the Art of Telecommuting
The Email Management Tactic That Will Save Your Summer  
Quitting Time

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