The Center For Teaching (CFT) at Vanderbilt University: The Future of Teaching


University educators are reevaluating how higher education can be influential on three fronts: how can university teaching keep up with the pace of new technology, how can students maintain creativity in their pursuits under great economic pressure, and how can teachers incite a sense of social responsibility on the part of their students?

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Fiefdoms & Freakonomics

IMAGE SOURCE: Lopburi province, Thailand: The Monkey Buffet,

Hosted by Carlos Gasca Yanez on the Social Edge, this on-line discussion addresses what is the oldest, most intractable problem facing any group of people trying to do anything: fragmentation and individual control of territory.

You see it in religion, politics, families, companies, offices, on the university campus, on teams. Shakespeare's whole career was based on describing the betrayal and dysfunctional loyalties of nations and kin.

From an excerpt of The Fiefdom Syndrome: The Turf Battles That Undermine Careers and Companies - And How to Overcome Them by Robert J. Herboldat:

The problem begins when individuals, groups, or divisions--out of fear--seek to make themselves vital to their organizations and unconsciously or sometimes deliberately try to protect their turf or reshape their environment to gain as much control as possible over what goes on.

It is a natural human tendency, probably dating back to the origin of our species. But if this human tendency isn't managed properly, the damage caused by these "fiefdoms" can begin to undermine an organization. Left untouched, fiefdoms can toll the death knell of what should have been a strong and vital organization...

In in European medieval times, under the system of feudalism, a fiefdom often consisted of inheritable lands or revenue-producing property granted by a liege lord, in return for a form of allegiance. However anything of value could be held in fief, such as an office, a right of exploitation (e.g., hunting, fishing) or any other type of revenue, rather than the land it comes from. source: Wikipedia

The SocialEdge conversation gets at the importance of understanding--and working with--the realities of fiefdoms and social change, particularly in overcoming this destructive behavior for social good.

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Fiefdom & Freakonomics
Over the past twenty years, I have made an effort to learn how communities go about solving their problems and creating solutions. During that time I have volunteered for or was an employee in five community wide plans and two community coalitions. Perhaps the biggest obstacles to their success were fiefdoms. In this context fiefdoms may be of affinity (beliefs & values) or consist of social networks. Or they may be economic.

Social entrepreneurs must learn to identify fiefdoms and how to work with them, as this can be critical to their success. In his book The Fiefdom Syndrome (The Turf Battles That Undermine Careers and Companies - And How to Overcome Them), Robert J. Herbold, former Microsoft Chief of Operations, describes how self-interest undermines careers and companies. He identifies the types of fiefdoms as:
  • Individual
  • Peer or network
  • Corporate divisions
  • Top-tier
  • Group fiefdom
  • and the protected fiefdom.

What Chimpanzees Can Teach Us About Economics

(By the way, the experiment described in this article--involving struggles over fruit bars and chocolate--works on three-year-old humans and management consultants, too.)
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In a long standing enigma of economics and psychology, humans tend to immediately value an item they’ve just received more than the maximum amount they would have paid to get it to begin with. This tendency, known as the endowment effect, is something some economists consider a fluke, but new research finds that humans aren’t the only ones exhibiting an endowment effect.

A new study co-authored by Vanderbilt professor Owen Jones, who is one of the nation’s few professors of both law and biology, uncovered the first evidence that chimpanzees exhibit an endowment effect similar to people. Specifically, the study showed that chimpanzees favor items they just received more than items they normally prefer that they could get through exchange.

“Our results support the conclusion that the frequent failure to exchange a less-favored food for a more-preferred food was an active choice and is similar to the endowment effect behavior seen in humans,” said Jones.