Embiggen!

A week ago it was announced that the new Doctor in Doctor Who would be played by a woman for the first time – Jodie Whitaker – and it felt long overdue – even to me, as a relatively recent convert to the show. (Current era mainly, though I dabbled just before it was cancelled in the eighties.)

But it met with some resistance in some quarters, including the less-than-progressive corners of the media and social media, and even one former Doctor.

I thought this was a great riposte, which I found via Stella Duffy on Twitter.

The gender-switch story, followed by a week in which the BBC was revealed to massively underpay its biggest female stars compared with the male ones, felt like a focal point for lots of things I have been thinking about and reading over the past few years about feminism, gender equality and female heroes and role models.

Lean In Together

Following her book about women at work, Lean In, and expanding on the movement it started, Sheryl Sandberg teamed up with Adam Grant for Lean In Together, looking at how both genders could work together and change their mindsets and approaches to push for gender equality. This began with a series of four articles a couple of years ago in the New York Times:

When talking about bias backfires

(Interestingly, this one starts with the old ‘riddle’ about a man and his son being in a car accident and then a surgeon refusing to operate – “I cannot operate, because this boy is my son.” – which is only a riddle if it doesn’t occur to you that the surgeon could be his mother… but then if you think ‘how could a surgeon be a woman?’ you probably think the same thing about a Doctor!)

Speaking while female

Madame CEO, get me a coffee

How men can succeed in the boardroom and the bedroom

All of which I was introduced to by a LinkedIn blog post from Adam Grant:

Why I failed to advocate for women: confessions of an ignorant man.

This struck a chord with me, as a father of daughters, as although I was a feminist before they were born I feel a new sense of urgency now that I also want the world to be as fair for them as possible too.

Role models and heroes

So here are some of the people I admire and respect, their writing and sometimes the characters they’ve created, all pushing for that fairer, equal world.

Tintin and the Digital Age

Ligne Claire, Hergé and Tintin

I’ve liked the Tintin books by Hergé (the pen name of the Belgian storyteller Georges Remi) since I was given a copy of a double edition – Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon – for Christmas when I was about 10, and read it in one sitting that new year’s eve.

As a child I used to love finding copies of other adventures in the local library and occasionally having new copies of my own. I’d always read other comic books, mostly American, but Tintin especially appealed because of the artwork, in the Ligne Claire style, as well as the longer-form content than the smaller, shorter, ad-filled American comics.

The style of the artwork still appeals but as I grew up I realised some of the shortcomings of the stories – issues of colonialism, racial stereotypes (especially in the early adventures) and lack of female characters – partly attributable to the period when they were created, spanning roughly the middle 50 years of the 20th century.

This tribute on the Comics Alliance website, marking the character’s recent birthday, perfectly sums up the mixed feelings many people have towards the character, the stories and their author.

Tintin at Somerset House

So I was interested to visit the ‘Tintin: Hergé’s Masterpiece’ exhibition at Somerset House in London and to attend a related panel discussion there on ‘Tintin and the Digital Age’:

“Despite being nearly 90 years old Hergé’s masterpiece Tintin is thriving in the digital age. A distinguished panel including eminent ‘Tintinologist’ Michael Farr, together with Yves Février, Simon Doyle and Paul Gravett debate why Tintin’s legacy has such power to endure and influence the current generation of graphic artists and is still so beloved by families who have grown up in an age where the computer is king.”

Michael Farr

I’ve read various books by and interviews with Michael Farr about Tintin so it was nice to hear from the author in person. On and off over the past few years I’ve read all the Tintin books in chronological order, the first time I’ve done so, each time first reading the chapter about each adventure in Farr’s Tintin: The Complete Companion. (I also strongly recommend Tintin: Hergé and his Creation by Harry Thompson – one of the best texts about Tintin and Herge.)

Farr had met Hergé several times and he started by saying that Hergé liked technology and would have approved of Tintin’s move into digital formats. (He recounted how Hergé proudly once showed him his new stereo system, complete with Wharfdale speakers.)

He explained that one of Hergé’s colleagues at his studio, Bob De Moor, felt that Tintin wouldn’t endure beyond five years after Hergé’s death in 1983 – because Tintin’s creator left specific instructions not to continue the stories without him (“I am Tintin”), famously leaving the final adventure Tintin and Alph-Art unfinished just at the moment the hero is covered in plastic by the art-world villain – an eternal cliffhanger. But despite that pessimistic prediction and no complete new Tintin adventures since 1976, the books have sold 200m+ copies and been translated into 90 languages – the latter, Farr said, being key to their enduring success.

New digital editions

Farr explained how the Tintin books have been made into new digital editions with new translations by him. The modern-day translations have none of the restrictions placed on the original translations into English, which included no swearing or references to religion, and the digital format with more flexible typesetting allows for more space for a more faithful, longer translation from the original more extensive French text. The frequent close-ups of newspaper reports about Tintin’s exploits also benefit from more space as well as, Farr said, his own journalist’s eye for how a news story would be written.

Farr also said that his new translations for digital are able to be fairer representations of the original text content. Farr addressed the regular criticism of Hergé’s books (especially the early stories) as racist by saying this was an unfair accusation, showing in the new translations that Hergé highlighted how badly colonialists at the time spoke to people of other races, using offensive terms that were allowed to be reinstated for these editions. Farr also noted that by Tintin’s third adventure, Tintin in America (which is often seen as the first acceptable adventure after the discredited Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo with their crude political naivety, patronising colonialism and racial stereotypes) Hergé was overcoming his earlier naivety and already bringing more social awareness and themes of social justice to his works, such as his highlighting of how Native Americans were being displaced.

Other advantages of the digital format, meanwhile, were said to include better colours, more faithfully reflecting the originals than recent reprints have, with Farr noting how exceptional Hergé was at lighting his images set at dawn or twilight; and that digital lets you zoom in to every frame and shows how much detail Hergé always put in, such as in one view of an audience where even the people sitting right at the back had clearly delineated features.

Yves Février

Yves Février is in charge of the digital output from Moulinsart, the organisation that manages the works of Herge, as well as the official Tintin website and Hergé Museum.

He spoke about how the Tintin app is being redeveloped to provide five types of interactive media:

  • digital editions of the Adventures of Tintin albums
  • audio content (including radio plays and audio description)
  • digital editions of books of theory about Hergé and his creations (including those written by Michael Farr)
  • computer games
  • TV/cinema content (including documentaries and animated adventures).

I wasn’t familiar with the Tintin app before the lecture but it appears at the moment that in the English-language edition you can access all of the albums, as well as translations into French and Dutch, but not the other four types of media content (except for that which is available via a link that pulls through the content from the Tintin.com website).

But the plans for the app are to provide a richer experience, allowing better resolution and truer colours for the albums, and the ability to zoom into panels and to toggle between languages (where previously you would only be able to access different languages separately in individual translated editions) – as well as additional audio and video content alongside theoretical and critical commentary. Where possible it seemed the audio versions of stories could be listened to in sync with reading and viewing the corresponding album.

Paul Gravett

I knew of Paul Gravett initially because of Tintin – as I had come across his excellent piece Hergé and the Clear Line on his website some time ago.

He gave an interesting perspective on how comics in general are adapting to a digital world and had some questions himself as a Tintin fan about how the stories might make use of these developments.

He spoke about how various comic-book apps such as Comixology are dealing with panels versus a whole-page view as part of a viewing experience that might happen on screens as small as a smartphone or as large as a tablet. He gave the example of how Korean comics – Manhwa – are incredibly popular and have adapted for single column vertical scrolling on digital devices, as well as including occasional gifs within the artwork along with using phone vibrations to add physical effects to enhance things such as explosions.

He hoped that the digital editions of Tintin albums might allow viewers to peel back layers of the artwork, for example to show the parts of images obscured by speech bubbles, but Michael Farr suggested that in Herge’s case at least the speech bubbles were designed and drawn as part of one panel rather than overlaid later.

Simon Doyle

Simone Doyle, the founder of the fan website Tintinologist.org, next gave a nice presentation about how the internet has been able to provide a platform to bring fans of many subjects such as Tintin together, across international borders. The Tintinologist website itself is run by three people living in three different countries/timezones, and it allowed people to talk about Tintin, Hergé and the stories, as well as asking and answering each other’s questions.

One of the questions he was sometimes asked was how stories written largely in the middle 50 years of the 20th Century could still be relevant and engaging to all ages today, especially to children. People wondered whether there was anything new to enjoy in such longstanding and well-read stories. He answered that by giving one example of a young child who had asked a question through the Tintinologist site – in one of the adventures, in a scene set in a desert, one of the characters is able to knock out another character using a tree branch. You even hear the branch being broken off from a tree through an off-panel sound effect. And yet the young boy had been the first to ask, in a desert bare of any greenery, where did he find the tree? A decades-old mystery that may never be solved!

Final discussions, video clips and audience questions

The lecture was packed with interesting insights but was keeping to a tight schedule so only allowed a brief wrap-up at the end, with Yves Février drawing parallels between the ‘7eme art’ of cinema and the ‘9eme art’ of ‘bandes dessinées’ (the European comic-book albums such as Tintin).

He explained how Hergé used cinematic viewpoints such as the high shot, for example when Tintin is seen from above scaling the exterior of a skyscraper in Tintin in America (one of my favourite panels from the stories); as well as employing panoramas, zooms, depth of field and, in one famous scene from a desert-set adventure, the illusion of movement. Here Février suggested that the five figures shown were actually intended to be one figure, whereas Farr (in his Complete Companion) says that they are five individuals but cleverly arrayed to suggest the stages of movement. I think Farr’s interpretation is subtler and seems more likely, as it wasn’t characteristic of Ligne Claire art to show the stages of motion of characters by showing multiple echoes of a single character in a single panel. But I also like the fact that the artwork is still open to these differences of interpretation.

Fevrier ended by showing some nice archive clips of different Tintin films and animations before Farr opened the discussion up to the audience for a couple of questions. These included some questions about the cost, especially of the potential 3D printing of Tintin figurines that was mentioned earlier by Février. As always the issue was about quality against affordability – but Février did also say that such digital developments made Tintin merchandise potentially more accessible in countries such as Argentina where large-scale licensing deals were not possible for economic reasons.

Something I would like to know about the Tintin app was, having read the adventures alternately with their background histories in Farr’s Companion, whether there was the potential to combine some of these commentaries within the reading experience of the albums, to create a more seamless experience of the two, in a similar way to the commentary and extras available on Blu-ray or DVD. I’ll wait with interest to see whether this will become another step for Tintin in the digital age.

 

 

Give and Take

So, it’s been a while but I wanted to get back to blogging. I became a dad for the first time not long after I started my blog and it’s been an amazing few months. My blogging might have lapsed but I have been keeping up with my reading, and my most recent read is what drew me back to writing here.

‘Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success’ is a brilliant new book by Adam Grant and was recommended by Susan Cain before it was published, in a Goodreads interview.

“I just read an amazing book that’s coming out by Adam Grant. It’s called Give and Take. It’s about the power of generosity. Adam Grant is this amazing man considered one of the best social scientists of his generation. He’s done amazing groundbreaking research about people who are naturally generous and wanting to help other people actually come out ahead, contrary to what we think.”

One thing that’s often said about me is that I’m generous, so I was fascinated to hear about a new study of generosity and what life is like for people who tend to be selfless. Especially one that was recommended so strongly by someone I admire. Also, since I work for a charity, I wondered whether the book might give new insights into why some people give money or time to support certain causes. I pre-ordered it and couldn’t wait to read it when it arrived in May.

Reciprocity styles
In the book, Adam Grant uses a lot of research from the past few decades and defines three broad groups of people, based on their reciprocity style (or the balance of how much they give and take): givers, takers and matchers.

Takers “like to get more than they give”, putting their own interests first, while givers generally do the opposite. Matchers are prepared to give but value fairness, expect equal generosity and tend to engineer their giving so that they will get something equivalent in return. Grant says that in professional life, most people tend to be matchers.

“In the workplace, givers are a relatively rare breed. They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them.”

The book also makes it clear that “these preferences aren’t about money: givers and takers aren’t distinguished by how much they donate to charity or the compensation that they command from their employers. Rather, givers and takers differ in their attitudes and actions toward other people. … If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.” This can include mentoring and sharing credit.

Interestingly, although people will tend to be givers in their personal lives and relationships, at work most people are usually matchers.

As with introversion and extroversion, it’s plain that no-one is usually 100% one type – giver, taker or matcher – but that people will tend towards one style while being able to adopt other styles in different situations or relationships.

How do givers fare at work?
I wasn’t too surprised when Grant found that, professionally, givers “are most likely to land at the bottom of the success ladder”:

“Across occupations, it appears that givers are just too caring, too trusting, and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others. There’s even evidence that compared with takers, on average, givers earn 14 percent less money, have twice the risk of becoming victims of crimes, and are judged as 22 percent less powerful and dominant.”

But surprisingly, he also found that givers also tend to be the most successful, with takers and matchers somewhere in between.

The givers who tend to have a harder time are people who are purely selfless – whereas successful givers are what Grant terms ‘otherish’ – a mixture of succeeding for yourself but “in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around [you]”.

“If takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.”

Find out your own reciprocity style
You can take a test on Adam Grant’s website to assess your giving preferences, and find out whether you are a giver, taker or matcher. I took this test just as I started to read the book and felt proud when my results told me I am 100% a giver. But I do wonder whether I am ‘otherish’ enough in my giving – I think perhaps I am, since I was actually expecting to rate as a matcher anyway, and it seems to me that being ‘otherish’ is closer to being a matcher than a purely selfless giver.

Give and take in fundraising
The book mentions a study about fundraisers, where underperforming givers were able to achieve the same success as their taker colleagues simply by reading case studies about how their job helped other people – the beneficiaries of their work. Givers need feedback about the impact their giving has, which also helps them to avoid the possible burnout their selflessness can bring.

And studies among donors were also enlightening: “As expected, higher income led to higher giving … But something much more interesting happened. For every $1 in extra charitable giving, income was $3.75 higher. Giving actually seemed to make people richer … Research shows that giving can boost happiness and meaning, motivating people to work harder and earn more money.”

Such happiness at work has also been shown to lead to better job performance and rewards. (I came across a questionnaire on happiness at work that you can take at happinessworks.com.)

When they were asked to give money to charity, psychologist Robert Cialdini found that people donate more “when the phrase ‘even a penny will help’ is added to a request. Interestingly, this phrase increases the number of people who give without necessarily decreasing the amount that they give. Legitimising small contributions draws in takers, making it difficult and embarrassing for them to say no, without dramatically reducing the amount donated by givers.”

Networks
I really recommend that you read this book if you’re interested in how networks work and how they can succeed or fail – there’s some fascinating information about ‘weak’ and (especially) ‘dormant’ ties in networks and how they can often “provide more efficient access to new information”, perspectives, ideas or opportunities (and you’ll never look at annual reports and your friends’ Facebook activity in quite the same way again!). I especially enjoyed the section about Adam Rifkin and his aim “to change our fundamental ideas about how we build our networks and who should benefit from them. He believes that we should see networks as a vehicle for creating value for everyone, not just claiming it for ourselves.” A recurring theme is giving as a way of increasing the collective pie of success so that everyone is able to have a share.

The brilliant Beth Kanter has recently blogged about ‘Give and Take’, especially in relation to networks, reciprocity circles and volunteering, and about meeting Adam Grant.

Geniuses, genius makers, and ‘Little Bets’
There’s also some interesting stuff in the book about ‘geniuses’ vs ‘genius makers’, interesting not least because it uses architects as case studies (I studied architecture and it’s still one of my big interests). In a similar way to how ‘Little Bets’ by Peter Sims (worth a blog post in its own right) gave me insight into how the architect Frank Gehry works, and made me take a fresh look at his work, ‘Give and Take’ highlights how the architect Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius but gave little or no credit to the genius makers he employed who were crucial to his success.

When addressing credit, and whether people tend to credit or blame themselves or others when things go well or go badly, the book shows that the ideal is to create a working environment of “psychological safety – the belief that you can take a risk without being penalised or punished”. This resonates with the thesis of ‘Little Bets’, as does the section on how givers (who ultimately want the best result for everyone) feel freer to “let go of their big bets” rather than investing more time, energy or money in a lost cause, where givers might keep pursuing hopeless investments because of ‘ego threat’: “if I don’t keep investing, I’ll look and feel like a fool”.

There’s a lovely quotation from a writer on ‘The Simpsons’, who says that “there’s something magical about getting the reputation as someone who cares about others more than yourself. It redounds to your benefit in countless ways”.

(Also, being a language geek, I love learning a new word such as ‘redound’!)

The perks of introversion
Lots of the book made me think of ‘Quiet’ and the benefits of introversion too, especially quotes about otherish givers, such as “[he] ‘was never in the spotlight, and never taking proper credit for the team he assembled” and “’nobody noticed him…until they really started looking hard’” and “He speaks so softly that you might find yourself leaning forward just to hear him”.

“Whereas takers often strive to be the smartest people in the room, givers are more receptive to expertise from others, even if it challenges their own beliefs.”

And there’s also a whole section on ‘The Power of Powerless Communication’, which acknowledges (among other things) the influence of ‘Quiet’ and Susan Cain’s work. It was reassuring to read that the best approach is to make yourself vulnerable, asking lots of questions and seeking advice (genuinely), with a more tentative tone, as that is my natural tendency anyway. But it’s key to remember that “there’s a twist: expressing vulnerability is only effective if the audience receives other signals establishing the speaker’s competence”. There’s also information on assertiveness and how you can better advocate for yourself if you are, or you feel you are, doing it on behalf of others; as well as how you might need to adapt your reciprocity style depending on who you are dealing with, for example becoming more of a matcher if you have to deal with a relentless taker.

Stepping outside our own frames of reference
The section on the ‘perspective gap’ covers how we need to “step outside [our] own frames of reference” when we are trying to help people, so that we are acting, as far as possible, from the perspective of the people we’re helping rather than our own, and thinking how the recipient will feel.

The book gives evidence showing that “leaders’ beliefs can catalyse self-fulfilling prophecies in many settings” – this part of the book really shocked me, although it should have been really obvious, I suppose – as it showed that right from school and through our professional lives, having teachers, mentors and managers who are genuinely kind, interested, motivating and supportive can clearly help students, peers and all the people around them to realise their potential and achieve great things, no matter where you start from – you don’t always have to already have a clear talent in order to succeed.

Fascinating footnotes
I highly recommend this book (I have already bought it as a gift for others, and will gladly lend you my copy!), there’s so much fascinating information – including a debate on whether giving is purely altruistic or motivated by some self-interest – and you should definitely read the extensive footnotes, which provide further illumination. I was less convinced by the evidence for the importance of similarity – that people tend to gravitate towards people, places or careers that resemble themselves or their names – but the idea of being attracted to (or feeling solidarity with?) someone who shares an “uncommon commonality” rings more true, as does “optimal distinctiveness” as a way of feeling distinctive but also a sense of belonging… I can see that’s how a lot of successful communities, interest groups and networks thrive.

Group giving and generosity
And there’s some fascinating research about how group generosity can positively influence even die-hard takers – the idea of an organised “Reciprocity Ring”, as well as being influenced by seeing others doing simple, attainable, replicable acts of kindness and generosity – with Freecycle as a great example: “By making giving visible, Freecycle made it easier for people to see the norm.”

Empty promises?
Another series of studies, “people who went public with their intentions to engage in an identity-relevant behaviour were significantly less likely to engage in the behaviour than people who kept their intentions private”. This is fascinating, not least because it contradicts what I assumed about, for example making your personal fitness goals public in order to get peer support (and pressure) to encourage you to achieve them. However, it turns out, in experiments such as one where Harvard students were encouraged to sign a pledge to serve society, which would be framed and hung in the public hallways, when “people made their identity plans known to others, they were able to claim the identity without actually following through on the behaviour. By signing the kindness pledge, Harvard students would be able to establish an image as givers without needing to act like givers.”

Practical actions
At the end of the book the author provides lots of next actions to take, supported by details of resources and tools.

One key takeaway for me, as a giver, was to be as generous at work as you are in your personal life:

“If we reserve giver values for our personal lives, what will be missing in our professional lives?”