Digital Transformation: How a 162-Year Old Company Moves Like A Start-Up at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago)

Sitting through the American Express presentation, Digital Transformation: How a 162-Year Old Company Moves Like A Start-Up at Social Media Week (#SMWChicago) last week, brought home so much of what we learned in both Paul Leonardi's class and with Nosh Contractor. "As the world moved online, the needs of merchants and cardmembers changed to social, local, mobile and so, American Express evolved their marketing strategies to meet these emerging needs." Dave Wolf, Vice President, Global Business & Market Development, American Express discussed Am Ex's "recent launches with Facebook and foursquare as well as a game-changing tool they call “Go Social” which allows merchants to instantly create a social media marketing strategy." As he explained how a financial company and a really old one at that had adopted social media and created such a vibrant online presence, I couldn't help but think that this sounded too much like IDEO, Google and Pixar. There had to be cross-functional teams and a flat hierarchy where information could flow across specializations, without the challenge of silo's. I asked Dave as much and yep, that was exactly the case. Another nugget of wisdom, we'd picked up in the MSC was that if there was C-Suite support for an idea, viola!, things happened. This was just as true of Am Ex. as it was for IDEO.

If you've been reading this blog, it may seem like cross functional teams, open floor plans, flat hierarchies are pretty much all I learned at the MSC! That's really not the case, of course, but in a world so keen on innovation and the next big thing, if only we adopted these methods, bright ideas and their seamless execution may not seem so far fetched a possibility.

Next stop? Crisis Communications in the Social Age with Todd Bleacher, Communications Director Boeing @Boeing and Kathy Fieweger, Executive Vice President and Midwest General Manager, MWW Group @KatFieweger.Search for conversations about it at #smwmww
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Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work | Video on

My dream is to be a presenter at a TED Conference. Perhaps it should be the goal I set for the "Wish List" we are to create for Nosh Contractor's class. Here's an interesting talk : "Work-life balance, says Nigel Marsh, is too important to be left in the hands of your employer. At TEDxSydney, Marsh lays out an ideal day balanced between family time, personal time and productivity -- and offers some stirring encouragement to make it happen."  And while we're talking about success at work it, one of the keys to it lies in the breadth and depth of your smile. Ron Gutman talks about this simple yet powerful act. 


Organ Donations or is it Organ Trafficking – Fueling the Status Quo

In the event of my death, I’ve opted to be an organ donor. Reading “The Global Traffic In Human Organs” I’ve come to second guess my judgment. Having lived in India and the Middle East, I am no foreigner to the many reports of the trafficking of organs – both legal and illegal. It comes as no surprise that there are desperately poor people, who have little choice but to sell a kidney to pay for life’s other needs. Similarly, I’ve read chilling reports of entire villages traumatized by kidnappings, where victims were cut up and their kidneys stolen. I’ve signed petitions against the harvesting of organs, many occuring in prisons across the world. My reaction then and now has been one of disgust at this trade between the hopeful rich and hopeless poor. This article, however, gave me pause for another reason. The authors presented organ transplant as hubris, an unwillingness to accept that death happens, and a willingness to extend one’s life even if it meant shortchanging the donor of well-being and even life itself. Further, according to this report, the recipient of a heart transplant, for instance, is not exchanging death for health. Rather, he/ she is swapping imminent death for a prolonged death - “exchanging one mortal, chronic disease for another.” “That patients will have a condition similar to AIDS and that in all probability they will die of an infection from resulting from the suppression of their immune system.” Now that was something I hadn’t heard before. Nor had I heard that such is the competition between hospitals as well as transplant surgeons that perfectly good organs are disposed off “rather than allowing the competition to get at them.” That kidnapping and illegal means were really unnecessary given the vast number of poverty stricken people who’d only too willingly give up an organ if it could buy them some bread. People of every race and every nation are involved in the trafficking of organs. Child prostitution, child labor, bonded labor, selling your children to make ends meet, marriages between old men from the Middle East and girls barely at puberty, female infanticide, and now this. Straddling this list on one end is poverty and on the other is the cold-hearted willingness to use another human being's desperation to one’s advantage. It is far more gruesome but in some ways not unlike the times families in South Asia employ child labor to do the housekeeping, or babysitting, saying “such is life. At least we're giving this child food and shelter and an income, and if we don't hire this child as help, surely someone else will." Do patients waiting for a kidney transplant from a poor woman imagine, "at least it's allowing her to feed her children?" Is that how men purchasing women and little girls rationalize their choices? Yes, isn't this how we are complicit in fueling this horrific status quo?

The Fallacy of One Monolithic Culture, Tribe, Nation

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: One Monolithic Culture, Tribe, Nation: "Monolithic is defined as constituting one, undifferentiated whole; exhibiting uniformity. I wonder where we got the idea that peoples, nati..."

Jihad Vs McWorld. A Case of Intellectual Lethargy?...

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: Jihad Vs McWorld. A Case of Intellectual Lethargy?...: "Perhaps academics need a black and white viewfinder in order to fit their theories into neatly preconceived categories. Or at least ..."

Of Puppet Strings and Master Manipulators

MSC Blog of Northwestern University: Of Puppet Strings and Master Manipulators: "The Myth of Global Ethnic Conflict by John R. Bowen should become required reading for all and sundry, and especially those in foreign ..."

Halal Comes to Campus Via Food Service Express

Food Service Express (FSE), the parent company of, has been presenting webinars and speaking at Muslim Students Association (MSA) conferences on successfully approaching campus administrators to bring halal to campus dining services. This January 28-30, 2011, Food Service Express will be addressing the subject at the MSA Conference at Ohio State University. Entitled “Digging Deep: Cultivating the Seeds of Leadership”, the goal of this conference is to effect positive change by increasing awareness of civil manners, improving the spiritual self, and fostering productive activism. FSE will be presenting three different topics related to Halal and Campus Dining Services on Saturday, Jan 29th, 11:15- 12:00 & 3:15-4:00, and Sunday, Jan 30th 10:30-11:15.

FSE President, Mr. Tymchuck, will be doing workshops and speaking on "Productive Activism: Increasing the Availability of Halal Foods on Campus" at the Conference. These will cover how students can learn to sharpen their leadership skills and gain an understanding of the thought processes used by leaders to reach desired goals. Building consensus among Muslim students, assembling an enthusiastic team, gathering pertinent data to build your case for halal, approaching the campus Dining Services, fostering continuous leadership and even publicizing accomplishments in the local media will be other topics addressed by Mr. Tymchuck. A ‘Leadership’ packet with these materials, including step-by-step activities, will be distributed to all workshop attendees. On November 6, 2010, Food Service Express and presented a similar workshop at the Chicago wide MSA conference.

Debating Dry Writing.....Oops I mean Globalization

My post on Facebook last night was along these lines: “I now know where the late night study munchies come from. If your reading is dry you eat both to procrastinate and to keep from falling asleep. Further, the drier the reading, the more you tend to procrastinate and the later and later into the night it gets!”

YES, the reading this quarter has me begging to me rescued. “Planet of Slums” by Mike Davis and “The Global Traffic in Human Organs”, though backed by tomes of research, is swaths of dry writing delivered in monotones. Could someone please read to me out of a phone directory, instead?

The readings gave me pause, for a rather unlikely reason. I was once considering an MA in Public Policy. If this is the tone that Public Policy readings are made up of, and I suspect they are, what a long grind THAT would have been. And my other consideration, law school. Hmmm..ditto!

Given this scenario, you can imagine my relief when I began reading “Debating Globalization” by Micklethwait. I am referring not to its content but its conservational tone, too. Michlethwait’s writing is liberally peppered with sarcasm and hyperbole. His word choices give the impression that these are his opinions albeit backed by research. “Slap controls on, Grasping fingers, carted off to an asylum, knuckleheads in the Boardroom, illiterates in Hollywood, two-weeks worth of penny-pinching vacations.” However, since you are made so aware of his inherent bias, you can take his opinions with a dose of salt. I just think : at least the article is readable and that means there’s a chance of learning something from it. Dry academic papers sound authoritative and important but wading through them or effortlessly absorbing their wisdom is another story altogether!

“Debating Globalization” talks of failing oligopolies propped up as businesses thanks to government support. General Motors comes to mind instantly. I voted for Obama but I did not vote for the rescue of GM and poorly handled businesses like theirs. Written in favor of globalization the article, however, acknowledges that by no means is globalization all good. It simply states that the good outweighs the bad, on average. If you were an unemployed Tea-Partier right now, you wouldn’t quite agree. If you were a family member of the tens of thousands of Indian farmers who 've committed suicide thanks to the changing climate – both literal and economic, you wouldn't agree either.

But like most things, doesn’t the answer to whether globalization is good or bad, depend on whom you ask and the context ? Call centers in India: For locals there, it's good. Increasing disrespect to parents, looser morals and materialism on steroids thanks to the independence these jobs bring: Bad.

Like any condition, there are pro’s and con’s. Gobalization is no different and the benefits will come with a price tag. The question then becomes, what are we willing to do to mitigate the risks and avert the potential negatives, not just for ourselves but our friends and neighbors across the yard, the border, and those across the seas? What are the buffers we - the global community - must be willing to put in place to break a potentially catastrophic fall?”

Muslims, Jews Break Bread at "Iftaar in the Synagogue"

Ignorance is the real enemy, and in an effort to mend fences and grow relationships Muslims and Jews in Chicago have been part of the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative for several years now.

Ramadan is the holy month when Muslims fast and abstain from eating or drinking anything (and from marital relations) from pre-dawn hours to dusk. Iftar is the Arabic word for the meal Muslims have as they break their fast during Ramadan. It was the month that the Holy Quran, was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

Ramadan is an opportune time to share one's traditions, especially inter-faith efforts. On September 13, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and Anshe Shalom Bnai Israel Congregation are hosting 'Iftar in the Synagogue,' where they will play host to Chicago’s Muslims and Jews in a communal iftar for an evening of what both traditions do best: eating, praying, discussing and schmoozing in a unique interfaith setting.

Complete Story on Huffington Post.

Palestinian and Israeli Teens Talk Peace in Chicago

Although Israelis and Palestinians have been meeting and communicating at a grassroots level to better understand one another and work toward a more peaceful future, the initiatives that bring them together do not receive the recognition that they deserve. Until a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found, these grassroots initiatives remain vitally important.

One of these initiatives is Hands of Peace, which began in spring 2002 when Gretchen Grad and Deanna Jacobson, a Christian and Jew living in Northbrook, Illinois, began talking about how glad they were that their children were growing up with peers of different faiths. The two neighbors had a vision to spread intercultural understanding beyond their own neighborhood and foster it in youth from the Middle East.

With the help of Nuha Dabbouseh, a member of the local Islamic Cultural Center (ICC), Gretchen and Deanna secured sponsorship from Glenview Community Church, B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE), a Reform Jewish congregation, and the ICC, as well as the support of individual donors and local businesses.

Originally published by Common Ground News Service. Read complete Story.

Why Muslims Want The Community Center in Lower Manhattan

I've read more than my share of news reports that claim that Muslims don't denounce terrorism. We do, but those pronouncements really don't make for riveting news. After all, what bleeds leads. And why wouldn't we denounce terrorism? Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks, and they are murdered by terrorists during embassy bombings and suicide bombings. We are looked on with suspicion at every airport, and often have spent grueling hours explaining to immigration why our names are, unjustifiably, on a no-fly list.

So the next best thing, or perhaps the very best thing, is for Muslims to actually mingle with their neighbors and get people to know them on a personal level. The better people know each other, the more commonalities they discover, and the more their common humanity unites them. Wouldn't it make sense that the reverse would also be true, that those who made the effort to reach out to Muslims would be able to understand what we are really about, rather than have only stereotypes to depend on?

To foster just such opportunities is the goal of the proposed Muslim community centre in Lower Manhattan, originally called Cordoba House and now called Park51. When asked if he'd have done anything differently over the many years he'd worked on the Middle East peace process, Ambassador Dennis Ross, a veteran U.S. Department State negotiator, answered, "More person-to-person contact."

So why the hate and the vitriol against the Muslim community center? Don't people believe Muslims have a right to honor the memory of those lost to 9/11, just as any other American? Or is the very idea scary, that getting to know Muslims up close and personal will threaten closely nurtured prejudices?

Yes, even as New York City wisely allows for the Muslim community center's construction, the flood gates of hate against Muslims have been opened. I dread to think of the backlash, both verbal and physical, our community may receive in the face of this, in the coming days.

The irony of the situation doesn't escape Josh Stanton, editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue:

In spite of Park51's clear value to the city and its citizens, its location several blocks from Ground Zero has prompted protests that aim to keep some Muslim Americans from practicing their faith in freedom and peace, and from opening their doors in a truly American way to welcome guests from all faith traditions.

The terrible irony is that under the guise of fighting extremism, some critics of Park51 are unwittingly furthering the agenda of the terrorists who attacked us so viciously on 9/11. The terrorists wanted us to be afraid. They wanted us to put our rights in jeopardy. They wanted us to believe that not all religions are welcome in America. They wanted us to undo ourselves by debasing our own principles.

Although the First Amendment of the US Constitution makes clear that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", it is ultimately up to American citizens to ensure that the principles enshrined in the Constitution are applied in full. When a religious group, in writ or practice, is kept from establishing a gathering place for the community, those ideals are undermined.

The protests against Park51 are all the more severe, as they undermine the freedom of a religious community seeking not only to build a gathering place for itself, but to provide a space that is open to Americans of all faiths.
Yes, it's a space that will honor Islam and inter-faith learning. It will help us get to know each other better. Can we please give it a chance?

Chicago Muslim Photographer Guest at White House

Mrs. Sadaf Syed, a native Californian who now lives in Illinois, has photographed American Muslim women who wear the hijab, or head covering. The result is a stunning coffee table book that has caught the attention of none other than President Obama.

On August 13, 2010 Obama recognized both Mrs. Syed and iCover: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl in a White House ceremony. Both the first and second editions of the coffee table book, which were printed as limited editions, sold out within months of being published.

"To be honored by the President of United States reconfirms the value of iCOVER," said Syed. "It's uplifting and yet a humbling feeling to be invited to the White House. (The invitation) itself, is a very American thing!"

"Over the last four years, I've traveled across the country to photograph Muslim women who cover their hair. The intention was to showcase what it means to be a Muslim-American woman," Syed said. "Piecing together these photographs and quotes from the women I met, I self-published this unique coffee table book celebrating Muslim women in America."

In doing so Syed, a photojournalist and portrait photographer with a degree in communications and photojournalism from California State University at Fullerton, has been on her own journey of self-discovery -- one that has lead to the White House.

Mrs. Syed captures moments in the day-to-day lives of Muslim women, moments that the average American can relate to once they embrace the fact that these ladies cover their hair. The accompanying photo captions and personal quotes add another dimension to the women's lives. You hear the voices of a dancer, a surfer-girl, a biker, a tri-athlete and even a boxer and touch their thoughts, dreams, struggles and fears. With each page, a stereotype is shattered and the misunderstandings that surround the female followers of a faith of 1.3 billion, diminish.

iCOVER has garnered significant publicity both domestically and internationally. It has been endorsed by artists and journalists alike. The book is available at

More at:

Open Letter to Pastor Terry Jones Re: Burn Quran Day

I think Pastor Terry Jones, leader of the miniscule, 50-member, extreme right-wing Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, and brain behind "International Burn a Koran Day," was out for some cheap publicity at the cost of being totally un-American, unpatriotic and un-Christian. Just ask Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus. They've said the move places American troops abroad in harm's way and have called it "outrageous," "disgraceful," and un-American. I'd add "ignorant" to those qualifiers, considering he hasn't opened the Quran once and doesn't even know what it says.

"If there's any good to come from this, may it be a wake up call to all Americans to see the insanity and danger of prejudice and ignorance," says Jonathan D. Scott, author of The Woman in the Wilderness, a historical novel about the search for religious freedom in pre-colonial America. "American government was virtually founded on the principle of religious freedom and tolerance, and to deny that is to deny one's patriotism and birthright."

"International Burn a Koran Day" is scheduled for September 11, to "warn Americans about the dangers of Islam." A reader, Aisha Kureishy, sent me a letter that she has written to the pastor. Her words echo my sentiments, so I've reproduced it below:

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

"Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous -- [the righteous are] those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good" (Quran, 3:133-134).

Dear Dr. Terry Jones,

I write this letter as a message of peace. I am an ordinary woman, a loving mother, and most importantly, a caring American Muslim. My voice may be tiny and distant, but it is not weak or insignificant.

Dr. Jones, the world is shocked to know about your magnitude of unawareness towards Islam and its Holy Book Quran. Muslims have been deeply hurt by your ignoble and sordid plan to burn the Holy Quran on September 11, 2010, in honor and remembrance of all the people who lost their lives that day. There were also Muslims in the Twin Towers also who died that day. You will not be honoring them or any non-Muslim, for that matter, by burning a sacred text.

The Holy Quran belongs to all the Muslims of the world just like the Holy Bible belongs to all the Christians of the world and not just some of them. Such a relentless statement to punish the Muslims by burning their Holy Book indicates deliberate disrespectfulness towards a sacred text. You said in your CNN interview that you are a devout Christian and a true American, but your September 11th demonstration does not prove you to be either. Indeed your Dove institute will be reflecting its true colors to the world by rendering such heart-breaking activities. In this act you will be leading the nation towards intolerance. Instead, I hope this act raises people's curiosity about the Quran and leads them to the Truth that it is.

You claim that Quran is a book of the devil and deception. However, Quran discusses numerous Prophets of Judaism and Christianity such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Lot, Isaac, John and even Jesus to name a few. Unfortunately neither the Torah nor the Bible recognizes the Quran as the last Book of God. However, the Quran unquestionably authenticates the revelations of both predecessor books. If you still choose to burn the Holy Quran, I would kindly ask you to at least be respectful by removing all of Quran pages that also mention any Prophets of the Bible. In fact you should definitely remove the pages that mention Jesus, Mary and Angel Gabriel. The entire Chapter 19 of the Quran is titled and based on the Virgin Mary. She is our mother too. With such strong similarities in our faiths, would you consider Christianity "from the devil" as well then?

In the Quran, God declared and promised that His message will not be altered, and that it is an eternal message affirmed onto His creation. The Quran is a miraculous Book that calms the disturbed mind, mends a broken heart, purifies a corrupt body and relaxes a disturbed soul with lessons of compassion, faith, patience, hope and forgiveness and respect for all.

Islam presently is the second largest religion in the world. Despite being regularly ridiculed by false accusations and speculations heightened by the media, it continues to grow rapidly. Islam is an authentic religion that gives precise answers and states detailed facts in its Holy Book for the reader. It was revealed as the last book after the Bible from God to the last Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, through Angel Gabriel.

Dr. Jones, burning the Quran may give you and your flock temporary satisfaction, but that will deepen the wounds of all American Muslims post 9/11. Even after nine years, Muslims still face discrimination and hate crimes. For example, Mr. Ahmed Sharif in New York was recently stabbed, a Muslim woman with a headscarf from Dallas was shot in the throat and paralyzed, another Californian Muslim woman was shot while walking her toddler, and Farhan Khan from Allen, Texas, was tortured and murdered by two men in a park. These are just to name a few. The American Muslims are trying very hard to mend all broken hearts since 9/11, but your atrocious act will certainly ruin any progress that has been made thus far.

Peace is never acquired through hatred and humiliation of people's religions or their sacred texts. Someone of your stature and omnipresence must overcome all the misunderstandings towards Islam and Muslims. As a devout Christian, you can set a global example of respect, tolerance and forgiveness to be emulated by the people. Choose love over hate and forgiveness over punishment. I hope that you will find my request to be the most humble and sincere.

Aisha Kureishy
Really, Pastor Terry Jones? What would Jesus do?

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See You at the American Muslim Consumer Conference

The American Muslim Consumer Conference broke ground last year with a conference that was titled "American Muslim Consumer: Who? What? Where?" and drew a crowd of over 250 participants. This year they are back, and I hope to be one of the attendees. The conference is a platform for industry professionals to examine the American Muslim market sector and explore its rich potential. This year's conference is titled "Charting the Landscape."

According to Zogby International, there are approximately 7 million American Muslims living in the United States (or 9 Million, according to IFANCA), with an estimated buying power of $170 billion. The American Muslim Consumer Conference focuses on promoting dialog and raising awareness of this multicultural niche where many mainstream companies are now seeing a growing opportunity.

In a recent interview on CNBC's Street Signs titled "Muslims & Their Money," Mostapha Saout, CEO of Allied Media Corp., highlighted why big business should focus their attention on the American Muslim market. The Muslim demographic is relatively younger, with 89.3 percent below the age of 50, compared with 45.2 percent for the general population. They are also well educated, with 77.9 percent having a Bachelor's degree or higher as opposed to 43.7 for everyone else. This translates to a very affluent niche market, with 44 percent of American Muslims earning $75,000 or higher each year.

There are several companies globally that are starting to take notice of this untapped market with abundant opportunities across all industries, including the financial sector, food, fashion and even Hollywood. Ogilvy & Mather, a leading international advertising, marketing and public relations agency, has launched Ogilvy Noor, the world's first marketing consultancy service focused on Islamic branding practices.

John Goodman, Ogilvy & Mather's regional director for South and Southeast Asia, puts it into perspective: "It's like being in 1990 and telling people that China doesn't matter. Twenty years ago you might have said that, but now you're being foolish."

Miles Young, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, will be the keynote speaker at the second annual American Muslim Consumer Conference. He stresses the strategic value of the Muslim consumer: "A market of 1.8 billion people that has scarcely been tapped, Muslim consumers offer enormous potential to businesses around the world -- but only if their values are fully understood."

To be held at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey on Saturday, October 30th 2010, the show promises to be as important to multinational companies as it is to large- and small-scale entrepreneurs.

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Neither This Nor That By Aliya Husain

Filling a gaping void in the world of American young adult literature, Neither This Nor That explores the struggles of an American Muslim girl living in the United States. The novel, written by Chicago author, Aliya Husain offers American Muslim youth a fiction novel that they can relate to in more ways than one. Neither This Nor That enters the young adult literature market, bringing to light many difficulties that American Muslim youth and children of immigrants face while acclimating to life in the United States.

This is a novel about Fatima, a young American Muslim whose parents immigrated to the US from India in the 1970's. Although she was born in the USA, Fatima isn't quite sure if she completely belongs. Her Desi upbringing combined with her Islamic morals, seem to be at odds with everything around her. She is Neither This Nor That.

"I felt that there was a need for our youth to read a book that they could relate to and realize that they are not alone," says Lisle, IL resident and author, Aliya Husain. "It seems like almost all other youth have some literary outlet to turn to when they want to read about any subject of interest or topics that relate to their people. The American Muslim youth haven't been given that same attention even though there is a dire need in our community for it."

The story is set in the pre-9/11 era. Challenges such as those the protagonist, Fatima, faces have gotten exponentially more difficult for Muslim youth now. "Fatima faces the same struggles that almost all American Muslim youth face. In the 70's and 80's these included culture classes and ideological differences in faith. Now our youth must deal with outright slander and character assassination simply because they are Muslim," says Ms. Husain.

The book is intended to help American Muslim youth deal with just such dilemmas. It shows them a way to come to terms with all of their identities without becoming an apologetic Muslim. It helps them build confidence and pride in their Muslim identity. According to Husain, "For the average American youth, this book opens their eyes to what is going in within the head of an American Muslim teen. It lets them see what types of struggles the Muslim boy or girl down the street may face. I think they will be very surprised to find out how similar Muslims are to all other youth."

Ms. Husain identifies in more ways than one with the protagonist. "I was born and raised in Morrisville, PA so I've lived Fatima's life and know how Muslim American youth feel. My family is originally from Hyderabad, India and there was a very strong cultural influence in our home. But we knew that our faith was different than our culture and, in our home, faith superseded all. This indoctrination of faith really helped us through all of the difficulties we faced at school and with our non Muslim friends. I am blessed with a very sensible father who guided me with tremendous wisdom . And of course, the prayers of my mother are the reason we made it through adolescence in this society without losing our identity."

"Till now there were hardly any Young adult novels that reflect the American Muslim population," she elaborates. It was this void that Ms. Husain set out to fill by writing Neither This nor That. Read it to discover what will become of a feisty young girl who struggles to find who she truly is...

Neither This Nor That is now available on . For speaking engagements contact

Here at Last !

Sheer exhilaration! I couldn't summarize my feelings better as I drove home from the MSc orientation. This was the first day of the beginning of my new life and a turn in the road that I had wanted and waited for, for 14 years. Somewhere between career, finances and young children, my Masters degree, had been put aside for another day. Sept 16th, 2010 - it was finally here. One of the first things that struck me were the variety of backgrounds that students were from. I realized that I was going to learn much more than I had anticipated - from them as much as from professors. The other reason I knew I was in just the right place was because the students actually communicated with each other. As a consultant who works virtually, I don't necessarily work with people face to face or even within the communications industry. Being able to share real time, and find both common ground and divergent thinking ... in real time, is a welcome relief. So many windows to so many minds. On the first day of class, I saw more of those exchanges. Discussions and questions were encouraged. We were reminded repeatedly that we were adult learners and the onus was on us to get out of the class as much as we wanted. I was particularly surprised to find an almost "spiritual", "get into the mind and heart" approach to the Decision Making and Leadership class. Would it work in real life, I emailed Professor Arnston. On the home front, I cannot believe how organized I've become - I juggle time better. I actually like doing my assignments and want to give it my best to get to my reading and writing sooner rather than later. Yes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and I believe, God willing, that I have taken mine in the right direction.

Questioning Theories

This week's readings were on "How to Motivate Your Problem People" and "the Tools of Cooperation and Change." “Culture is a pattern of shared assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough ….to be taught … as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.” This is a quote from "The Tools of Cooperation and Change". According to the author, corporate culture is created as a result of the repeated use of successful approaches to a problem. I had instead assumed the opposite - that vision and culture molded the problem solving approaches taken. Here is the definition of the Google Culture: “.. we still maintain a small company feel. Our commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. Every employee is a hands-on contributor, and everyone wears several hats. Because we believe that each Googler is an equally important part of our success, no one hesitates to pose questions directly to Larry or Sergey in our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings.” Based on this nugget, wouldn't one think that companies first determine a vision, and a culture, and that in turn influences the problem solving approaches chosen. 2) “Behind most cynics is a frustrated idealist,” “a paradigm shift” or “walk in the other’s shoes” seems to summarize Nicholson’s approach in "How to Motivate Your Problem People". While his suggestions are theoretically good, I wonder if they can be executed with success given the human element involved? For instance, how often have members in a family been able to resolve new or existing issues with siblings or parents, if they've had a tenuous relationship to begin with? I doubt a work situation can be any easier. Nicholson even suggests that bosses ask around to get insights into any personal matters that may be affecting an employees work habits. Errr..How much trust would be left if an employee were to discover that their boss had been asking questions about their personal issues, from co-workers? I'd love to read actual case studies about situations where these author's recommended theories were used successfully. Any thoughts, folks ?

"8 Ways to Build Collaborative Teams" Inspires

The Decision Making and Leadership readings are invariably a mixed bag. They are meant to be. Last week's read "Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams" was inspiring and authentic in more ways than one. The study looked at huge companies with truly large, diverse, far flung teams to make its case. In taking seemingly ‘too big’ companies as case studies, it was able to drive home the point that if collaborative efforts and team spirit could be fostered here, it surely could be done with relatively smaller teams and relatively smaller companies. Having worked extensively in a virtual environment myself, every point made by the authors rang true. Face-to-Face interaction, even small doses of it at regular intervals, can make all the difference. Most employees can recognize at least a few of these "tips" playing out at their own companies, no matter the industry or organization’s size. From open floor plans to offices campuses that mimic a town to HR sponsored events where employees can socialize to job rotation - these concrete ideas can be emulated or inspire variations. Google, in fact, shares some of these very features. Those in upper management, including the founders, are always accessible to answer questions and have conversations, fostering a sense of “ we are all in this together”. Further, its offices are on "college like-campuses", with plenty of room for social interaction. A local family owned business, that a member of my family works for, fosters this ‘we’re all family” feeling. Come Thanksgiving, all employees receive a check for a turkey purchase, in "thanks". At its annual Holiday Party, the keynote address and annual overview of the company's doings are delivered by a sprightly old lady. She is the grand-mother of the current Company President and the grand-daughter of the original founder of the company. There certainly were benefits from HR investing in relationships, for all the reasons listed in this article. My favorite examples though were Nokia and BP’s job rotation initiative. Job Rotation at BP probably fostered collaboration because it is easier to see another’s perspective ( and empathize with their challenges) if you’ve been in their shoes at some stage. Also, imagine the dollars, time and opportunities salvaged when Nokia’s mentors not only point out whom new employees should build relationships with, but facilitate those interactions with paid time/ travel, and information as to what one can discuss with the other. Truly some very cool ideas!

It's All Coming Together

I didn't think there would be a time within the first quarter itself where I'd piece together insights from the various readings, into one big picture. With my last reading for Leadership that milestone has been reached! Surprise, Surprise! “Effectiveness can be learned and must be learned,” says Peter Drucker, as his concluding statement in What Makes an Effective Leader. That opinion is loaded with hope and his article effectively outlines ways to make that goal a reality. He breaks down the traits that he believes comprise an effective leader into their various components so that you aren’t just being told to “Take Responsibility for Communicating” or “Make Meetings Productive” but are also told what specific actions must be taken to achieve those ends. His approach seemed to take a page out of our previous reading, ….Meaningful Feedback by Sloan Weitzel, which advocated that feedback is meaningful only if behaviors and attitudes are dissected into their components and then shared. His point about effective managers focusing on opportunities rather than problems was also reminiscent of "The Art of Appreciative Inquiry" which emphasizes focusing on what’s going well and unleashing energy to achieve the various possibilities. From ‘Effective Meetings’ to ‘Taking Responsibility for Decisions’ to Knowledge Sharing, Drucker wisely chooses to address the most likely ‘bumps’ to be encountered, irrespective of the size or industry of an organization. What he leaves out, whether it’s about formal procedures for group decision making or pertaining to the psychology of people, have been covered in "Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair" and the other readings we have done so far. While Collins’ findings on Level 5 Leadership may not resonate with every reader, it does seem plausible that a leader who doesn’t seek to hog the limelight, distributes credit to his team for successes and looks to himself when there are failures, could be an effective leader. When you distribute credit to others you are, in effect, bolstering their own sense of pride in their work. The resulting impact could be similar to that experienced by staffers when appreciative inquiry is employed. When you are looking inward and holding yourself responsible for failures, it goes back to the ideas espoused by Senge, to first evaluate how our actions and choices may affect the choices and actions of others, rather than holding them responsible, by default, for things gone awry. Together, the selection of articles complement each other well. All in all, an insightful read for those beginning to look at organizations and their inner workings.

Why Your Story Matters at Work

By Naazish YarKhan, Class of 2010

What is America built on if not the Abe Lincoln “Log Cabin to White House” story about this country being the land of opportunity? The Rosa Parks story and the Emmet Till story have served as reminders of the injustices of segregation, better than statistics about hate crimes or discrimination, could ever. It was the story of the tenacity and courage of the 33 trapped Chilean miners that held the world's attention and its heart strings. Similarly, it was insufficient stories from flood hit Pakistan this June, that resulted in the tragedy falling under the radar. 1/3rd of that nation was under water and more people died in those floods than the combined lives lost during the Tsunami, the Pakistan Earthquake in 2005 and the Haiti Earthquake. How many of us know that? These facts go to prove that story has the power to influence and the strength to mobilize or water down both relationships and movements. As Cohen and Prusak assert, this is true irrespective of whether a story is rooted in fact or fiction, or presented as a fable or as a comic book. When there are working groups with members who do not know each other well, divergent opinions could end up creating walls, bad feelings or hostility even. As we get to know each other’s stories, even seemingly inconsequential ones, we discover commonalities. Bonds form. Lunch room conversations slowly become the “connective tissue” that the chapter Sharing the Journey talks of. Over time, exchanging stories has the power to create a work environment where members feel safe enough to express divergent opinions, and take risks, without fear of being misunderstood or devalued. We have the potential to graduate from being working groups to Senge's synergized 'teams'. The trust underlying the exchange of stories, gifts individuals the latitude to see fellow team members idiosyncrasies as just that, rather than as reasons to take umbrage. When interactions are only task oriented, the feeling of being connected that gives team members mutual leverage for use during negotiations or persuasion, is rarely forged. This is exacerbated when working virtually. Instead if we take a few lines in a few emails each week, to also discuss a book we’ve been reading or ask for advice on a non-work matter, we evolve from just being words on a screen. Instead we become someone the other can identify with at some level. We now become more willing to give each others perspective a platform, even if we may disagree with it. The act of simply being willing to hear the other out, conveys respect and oils the wheels of team work.

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

The quarter has ended only too quickly. I feel there is still so much more that we could learn from both the Decision Making and Leadership class and the one on Change Management. Did we learn a lot? Yes, we definitely did. Did all the writing and reading we did in Decision Making help? Absolutely. It helped internalize everything that much more. I hear my next elective has as much homework and reading and while I know it will make juggling homework, children and work deadlines all that more challenging, I also feel that maybe the only way to actually internalize the volumes we are learning. The class party at Gio was really fun. It was the same people we spend our entire day with at school, but a change in atmosphere, seems to bring out our softer sides. It was truly a pleasure to hang out and enjoy each others company. I am so going to miss the intellectual stimulation, the camaraderie come July. And to think I wouldn't have known of the program if it weren't for my colleague and MSC Alum Maria Omar. Thanks Maria! I owe you big time!

Women's Wages - A Vicious Cycle

One of my final readings reviews were "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership" and "Diversity and Community in the 21st Century". Both were surprising at many levels. Reading "Women and the Labyrinth of Leadership", I was struck by the causal relationship drawn between the use of the metaphor of the glass ceiling and its impact on solutions proposed. I would never have realized that metaphors were that loaded. The labyrinth, I agree, is a more accurate metaphor. However, it fails to reflect a vicious cycle. Women are paid less, so when choices have to be made as to who should cut hours, or drop their career, to care for an elderly parent, raise kids or move when a spouse changes jobs, women take the hit. That reinforces every assumption about women in the workforce and the cycle continues. I think one of the root causes that women are paid less has much to do with how parenting is viewed. Since women tend to be the maincaregivers, I advocate a paradigm shift when attaching a value to parenting. Women would not be paid less than men, or considered second choice for a job, if parenting were given an economic value. Rather than see it as a ‘drain’, parenthood should be acknowledged as no less than the very fuel for tomorrow’s economic engine; an ‘incubator’ for the next generation of great leaders. Absentee parenting, instead, should be deemed a drain on the promise of a bright future. Parenting requires team building, negotiation, decision-making, compromise, multi-tasking, long hours, and working under stressful conditions. The years spent as a full time parent should be given equal if not more importance, as a job in the “official” workplace, rather than a gap in one’s career.

Quick Picks and Must Reads

The holiday season in Chicago really isn't about relaxing by the fireplace and snuggling into a good book, despite visions of the same. Nonetheless, these are the books that you've got to add to your wish list, if you have a sliver of time to read. If you'd rather not read why I treasure them, perhaps it would suffice to say that all of them have received rave reviews on

I began 2010 with Charlene Baumbich's Stray Affections. I read it on a 36 hour, transatlantic journey back to Chicago after visiting with my parents in Muscat, Oman. It is always gut wrenching to leave my parents who live continents away. This trip back was particularly hard. My sister had had a fall and had broken her wrist. She had to have rods inserted into her arm to hold her bones together. Further, my parents had just completed a tiring house move. Stray Affections become my antidote to tears on the long flights back. Don't let the title fool you - this isn't a mush and gush romance. It is a warm chick flick in a book and left me with a lingering sense of well-being and hope. It also became the first 'grown up book' I shared with my tween daughter, as opposed to the many Young Adult books she reads that I find more adult than Young Adult. Both of us loved Baumbich for the same reasons and discovered a great author to bond over. We're waiting for days off from school - for both of us - to begin reading Baumbich's latest, Divine Appointments.

Switching gears from heartwarming to intellectually stimulating, I suggest Palmer's Let Your Life Speak. People either love it or hate it. I have one word for this little gem: Potent. I read it as part of my Masters in Communications at Northwestern this Fall. At 100 pages or so, give this book a chance. It may very well alter how you look at life. Also, part of my course work is Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - it too falls in that same category. I've only just begun it and every time I put it down, it seems to call my name. It's the kind of book you wish you could devote all day to.

Now what if I told you there was a book that acknowledges that our obsession for all that bling "yields environmental destruction and social inequity" but also "fuels creativity, the desire for discovery, and needed economic development. Properly channeled, the treasure impulse might actually propel us toward a fairer and better world." That is precisely the stuff of Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed, and a Sustainable Future by Essex Junction, Vermont resident and University of Vermont professor, Saleem Ali.
Saleem H. Ali is pro-consumption and pro-environment."--Forbes Magazine.

Saleem Ali thinks like an environmentalist, a diplomat, a wealthy industrialist, an impoverished villager, a government regulator, a product innovator, and a father. To him, environmental conservation can succeed only if vying factions communicate and collaborate. - National Geographic

This is the kind of book my dad would love to dissect with me, my kids and any one who'd care to listen. Infact, all these books open a window to a world that you didn't know existed. Narnia for the thinker in you. Here's my interview with Saleem for Aramco World Magazine.

Next on my reading list is Barefoot in Baghdad by Manal Omar, a Washington D.C resident. As co-founder of Refugee Assistance Programs ( RAP), here in Chicago, I'm all too familiar with the fallout of war, right here in our backyard. There are scores of Iraqi's who've been displaced since the US decided to invade Iraq. As US refugees, the Iraqi people struggle below the poverty line, determined to make it in this city we call home. Again, two thumbs up for Barefoot in Baghdad which falls into the same category as Other Side of the Sky by Farah Ahmedi.

Farah Ahmedi, a Wheaton IL resident and former Afghan refugee was mentored by my good friend and fellow do-gooder, Alyce Litz who is a Board Member of Love Christian Clearing House. Rarely do you find such a courageous read. If you're having a bad day or are living through a nightmare, read this book. Not only will it jolt you into a reality that little children in many, many nations live through, it will also give you that shot in the arm you so need. So if you think I'm attracted to just gloom and doom, it could not be further from the truth. I know there is a God, and I know He is a better friend to us than we can ever be to ourselves. That in a nutshell has always been my philosophy. If that little girl, Farah Ahmedi, could do it despite a leg lost to land mines, three years in a German hospital without any family by her side, despite all her trials.. so can you. There is a time for self-doubt and helplessness and there is a time to recognize that there usually is a light at the end of a horrific tunnel. This is a book that will help you make that leap.

As I always say, pick a book that matters. Let it challenge you, touch you, make you to grow. After all, we only have so much time.

Lessons Learned - Just Do It !

It’s Christmas Day and we’ve spent it with family and friends. It has also been a day where I am trying to get back into school mode and am actually back to reading some of the suggested readings that I could not quite get to during school. So much so that when my husband, who has the week off, suggested a road trip, I shook my head. Besides what I haven't read last term, I must also read at least some of the books assigned for the Winter quarter while I have the time. With a house move looming and full time work on the horizon, I can’t be irresponsible when blessed with time. You see, I’ve learned my lesson.

I have paid the price when I “put off for tomorrow what I could do today” and then had a totally unexpected crazy busy week, which left me careening on the edge of insanity, playing catch up. Oh how I kicked myself for not having used my down time to get reading or homework done – to get that rip taken care of before it became a tear. The scenario repeated itself once or twice before I learned my lesson. But better late than never, it eventually became a ‘learning experience’.

‘Get it done when you have a chance, even if it’s not urgent’ has become my motto. So I fill the gas tank in my car when I have a chance, without waiting for it to get really low. I no longer wait for it to run almost empty. After all, who knows when there may be an emergency and I absolutely need a full tank of gas and have no time to stop at a gas station. Similarly, I purchase stamps as soon as I run out of them without waiting to actually need them, and I’ve taken to buying milk in bulk even before the current batch in my fridge runs out. I hang the parking permit in my car days before I head off to campus and yes, I’ve even requested some of the texts we need during the quarter via interlibrary loan since my library didn’t carry them.

Forearmed has become my Northwestern-earned newest strategy. Still, I realize, there’s a ways to go before I pat myself on the shoulder. After all, I am currently down to my last parking permit when I could have replenished the lot, without leaving it to the last minute. Ah, yes. There is always room for improvement. And that is precisely what New Year’s Resolutions are for….

There are More Ways Than One To Milk a (Cash) Cow

I didn't have to take notes in my Communication in the Global Workplace class - my first for the quarter ! Having been raised on international news and as a global citizen and from India to boot, many of the Prof's references were all too familiar.

To share something from my own readings, and my industry, here are some stats/figures re: The US and Global Muslim consumer market. Valued at USD $2.1 Trillion annually, the Muslim consumer is the latest "it" market, worldwide. Companies such as Nestle, Abbott Nutritionals, Tom's of Maine, Pfizer and other big wigs are already on that bandwagon.
"While Saudi women comprise only 14.4 percent of the labor force, they have more than 40 percent of all bank accounts, she noted. In fact, Dr. AlMunajjed added, women in Saudi Arabia are financial powerhouses and control $16 billion in banks inside the Kingdom." - Washington Report on the Middle East
As Prof. would agree, having a businessperson's perspective means actively looking beyond the "if it bleeds, it leads" media race for ratings. There are definitely more ways than one to milk a cow! Just ask Nestle, my clients and
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