Bridging Hollywood and Harvard

Recently, I had a Facebook thread exchange with Maree Conway and Stephen McGrail on the future of universities. The default, neoliberal future seems to be a small professoriate and senior management with defined benefit superannuation plans, and a large contract-based pool of academic and administrative contingent labour. It’s less an Ivory Tower and more like the ‘labour hire’ model of private equity firms.


My preferred future is one based in part on knowledge and skills-based talent. There’s still room in this vision for teaching excellence and for intangible asset-based revenue streams from intellectual property rights. The model is Hollywood: Entourage and Michael Clayton perhaps with a dose of Better Call Saul. I explored this world for about 8 years whilst at Australia’s Victoria University working first on academic research program development and then on managing research contracts.


Violaine Roussel’s new study Representing Talent: Hollywood Agents and the Making of Movies (Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017) offers a detailed model of how talent management functions. Her book includes a study of the initiatory pathway that new agents undergo in Hollywood and when they join a creative agency. It also discusses skills cultivation and negotiation strategies. As a situated ethnography it will be helpful for research managers who want to bridge Hollywood and Harvard, and who desire to make some good deals.

A New Paper on Effective Terrorist Propaganda

Shannon C. Houck, Meredith A. Repke, and Lucian Gideon Conway III have a new paper in the Journal of Policing, Intelligence, and Counter Terrorism about effective terrorist propaganda. Here’s the abstract:


The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) became an increasingly powerful terrorist organisation in a relatively short period of time, drawing more recruits than its former affiliate, Al Qaeda. Many have attributed ISIL’s successful expansion in part to its extensive propaganda platform. But what causes terrorist groups to be effective in their communication to the public? To investigate, we examined one aspect of terrorists’ rhetoric: Integrative complexity. In particular, this historical examination provides a broad integrative complexity analysis of public statements released by key members of ISIL and Al Qaeda over a 10-year period when ISIL was rapidly growing as a terrorist entity (2004–2014). Findings revealed that (a) ISIL demonstrated less complexity overall than Al Qaeda (p < .001) and (b) ISIL became increasingly less complex over this focal time period (p < .001), while Al Qaeda’s complexity remained comparatively stable (p = .69). Taken together, these data suggest that as ISIL grew in size and strength between 2004 and 2014 – surpassing Al Qaeda on multiple domains such as recruitment, monetary resources, territorial control, and arms power – it simultaneously became less complex in its communication to the public.

Metis: Microfoundations



The Evolving Self: A Psychology for the Third Millennium by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994. (TS-3). Recommended to me in 1997 by Spiral Dynamics creators Don Edward Beck and Chris Cowan. Csikzentmihalyi’s sequel to his earlier book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (#17J) makes the case for mindful, directed, psychecentric  evolution. A bridge between Anton LaVey’s Indulgence, Michael A. Aquino’s Xeper, and the self-transformative orientation of Martin Seligman’s positive psychology.


Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman. New York: Basic Books, 2013. (TS-3). Kaufman is director of the Imagination Institute and a positive psychology researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. In this book he argues for the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory of ‘fluid’ intelligence and for the benefits of holistic education. Kaufman explores and evaluates cognitive theories of creativity, learning, skills-building, and talent development. A useful primer on how current debates about human intelligence are redefining education. For some initial considerations of these implications see my Fluid Intelligences Working (30th June and 1st July 2012).


Genius 101 by Dean Keith Simonton. New York: Springer, 2009. (TS-3). Dean Keith Simonton is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Davis. This book provides an overview of Simonton’s influential research program on genius, how it is measured, and under what conditions it can be cultivated and flourish. Builds on Simonton’s earlier book Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) (TS-3) and is a summary of genius research profiled in Simonton’s edited collection The Wiley Handbook of Genius (Chichester, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014) (TS-4).


The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind by John Coates. London: Penguin Books, 2017. (TS-3). Metis involves calculated risk-taking in ambiguous or uncertain conditions. Coates is a neuroscientist formerly affiliated with the University of Cambridge, and as a former risk manager with Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and Deutsche Bank. His study of the neurobiology of financial risk-taking in booms and busts also has implications for competitive sports and military war-fighting. An introduction to the physiology and the neuroscience of risk-taking.


Understanding Beliefs by Nils J. Nilsson. Boston, MA: The MIT Press, 2014. (TS-3) Nilsson is Kumagai Professor of Engineering (Emeritus) in the Department of Computer Science at Stanford University. Nilsson’s artificial intelligence research informs this short introduction into how humans acquire, form, and communicate their beliefs — leading to social, cultural, political, and religious change. Argues for Bayesian probabilistic revision and updates to personal beliefs.


Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. (TS-1). Anders Ericsson is the Conradi Eminent Scholar and a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University. Ericsson’s research on deliberate practice—how individuals use deliberate and mindful effort to cultivate expertise—has changed how learning is conducted in domains such as the arts, sport, and medicine. Provides a methodology to fulfil the mindful evolution vision of Csikzentmihalyi, Kaufman, and Simonton noted above. Malcolm Gladwell popularised Ericsson’s research as the 10,000 Hour Rule in his book Outliers: The Story of Success (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011) (TS-3) which has led to a media debate about Ericsson’s research and its conclusions.


Mastery by Robert Greene. New York: Viking, 2013. (TS-3). An exploration using historical and contemporary figures of the pursuit and conditions of mastery: the visible outcome of Anders Ericsson’s deliberate practice noted above. Can be read in conjunction with George Leonard’s Mastery (#17M) and Greene’s other popular books on themes like war, power, and seduction. Greene’s companion book Interviews With The Masters (Seattle, WA: Amazon Digital Services, 2013) (TS-3) interviews nine contemporary masters in-depth.


Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. (TS-3). Roy F. Baumeister is Professor of Social Psychology at The University of Queensland, Australia. In this book he collaborates with New York Times science journalist John Tierney to communicate Baumeister’s influential laboratory research on human will as responsible agency, and how self-control is a necessary foundation for self-agency.