Fieldwork under threat

SECURITY ISSUES are the Cinderella of field-based research, with organizations tending to gravitate toward either severe neglect or over-the-top fanfare—with advisors, trainings, forms, processes and procedures creating the appearances of full control, when no such thing is possible. Security policies often verge on the absurd: embassies write off whole areas as “red zones” when there…

The mechanics of Arab visual identity

A WELL-ROUNDED PHOTOGRAPHER, Ammar Abd Rabbo has covered, over the past 25 years, anything from catwalks to military parades, and back, from political leaders to ordinary citizens taking them on. Throughout his career, he has opted for provocative, uncompromising views: condemning the esthetics of misery rewarded by photography prizes; embracing unapologetically the Syrian uprising, which he…

Beat the editor at his game

EDITING A TEXT proceeds in rounds, each of which takes a document up one notch, to the next level. Sometimes it may feel like playing Donkey Kong, with an angry editor throwing dynamite barrels at you to keep you down at the bottom of the ladder. In reality, the unhelpful creature tends to be the…

Professional Kung Fu

PROFESSIONAL RELATIONS are a martial art. They involve a sequence of well-rehearsed, standardized moves, in which action and reaction appear logically, predictably related. As in old-style Kung Fu movies, they follow each other in a quick but iron-clad choreography, seemingly designed to go on endlessly. Professional encounters won’t knock you out cold, but they often…

Forging consensus

LEADERSHIP is an unstable thing, constantly at risk of migrating toward the extremes; it either degenerates into highhanded decision-making or devolves into bureaucratic rule-by-committee. Whether at the apex of a state or within a small civic association, leadership poses, again and again, the same fundamental question: how to strike a balance between decisiveness and discussion?…

The hire

A GREAT PRIVILEGE of managers is to provide jobs, and there is no shortage of people looking for them. Given the abundance of available talent, it is a mystery that we struggle so much to consistently hire the right candidates. Pairing people and employment opportunities is an extraordinarily difficult equation, whose outcome remains largely random….

Why read books?

CLAIMING TO READ BOOKS is on the way to becoming an admission of idleness. Who can make time, with relentless pressure at work combined with a busy personal life? Why bother in the first place, when we can access information instantaneously, and already sift through ample written content in the form of reports, articles, posts,…

The rookie researcher’s check-list

SETTING OFF on your first research project—or, for that matter, on any new one—likely will create some sense of confusion. You face a topic that, by definition, you don’t know much about, along with inevitably high expectations regarding outcomes. At some stage, you’ll have to know the issue inside out. For now, mostly, you draw…

The research question

IT IS INTRIGUING that something as central to academic work as the “research question” would go without a clear-cut, consensual, practical definition. Some see it as a technically-worded version of the question you set out to answer when you start your research process. Others view it as a paradox—a counterintuitive formulation of deceptively familiar problems,…

Growing your network

ONE OF THE GREATEST NETWORKERS EVER, George Soros, is famously said to have declared that “networking is not working.” This possibly apocryphal quote papers over a fundamental truth regarding our professional interactions: very little comes from just meeting people and chatting with them, unless the effort is constructed as an investment. We’ve all been to…

Redefining productivity

BEING PRODUCTIVE is a key concern; we owe it to our employer, our client, our colleagues and ourselves. Most importantly, we owe it to society, especially when we work in a field defined by its ambition to generate positive social impact. In principle, the very concept of productivity, which inevitably evokes visions of greater quality,…

Life and death of the knowledge industry

WHOM TO TRUST for food for thought? In a confusing world, we are left to opt for one dominant pattern of behavior or the other: to lock ourselves into a bubble, where increasingly prolific media churn out large quantities of whatever material we want to ingest, to fit our interests or emotions; or to drift in limbo, bouncing off such comfort zones in search of bits and pieces of palatable knowledge more suited to a discerning diet. You feast on sweet corroboration, or scavenge for smidgens of reason.