Marie Kondo is so well known in Japan that she no longer rides the Tokyo metro. Soft-spoken and petite, Marie is a professional organiser who helps people declutter their homes. As a child after returning from school, Marie could barely wait to put her bag down before she began to find things to throw away. Her parents tolerated this for a while, eventually forbidding Marie from tidying up their home.
Marie celebrated her 18th birthday with a visit to Japan’s National Library. One of the largest in the world, it only permits adults to enter. Marie spent her birthday browsing through books on tidying, decluttering, and organising. In Japan, the zeal for being organised has cultural roots.
Living spaces are small, and with rising consumerism, keeping homes uncluttered can be a challenge. In Shintoism, tidying and cleaning are considered forms of mental cultivation and spiritual training. While tidying up the homes of her friends, Marie realized this could become her profession. Over the years, she has written several books on it and has a Netflix show that helps people clear junk from their homes.
The “KonMarie Method” of decluttering has spawned an industry in the US, where even people with large suburban homes reach out for help. Marie’s first book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold over eight million copies and has been translated into many languages.
It did not begin that way.
In 2010, Marie submitted a book proposal to a training programme called “How to write bestsellers that will be loved for ten years.” She won the first prize. One judge, who was the editor and publisher of self-help books, felt the proposal had promise. Over a period of eight months, he mentored Marie and helped her write the book. After it was published, he made Marie tidy the house of a well-known comedian. Stories of that experience were then uploaded on the Internet. Gradually, book sales began to pick up.
Later that year, the Tohuku earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Nearly 20,000 people lost their lives and many more their possessions. This made people introspect and question what was important to them. Many Japanese went back to their roots and began to adopt a simpler lifestyle.
Marie’s Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, has been renewed for a second season. Like Google and Uber, Marie’s name has become a verb. Don’t be surprised to hear, “I am Kondoing my closet” or even “She finally Kondo’d the guy she was dating.”
While decluttering your home or workplace, you tend to select items you don’t need and throw them away. It’s intuitive to discard non-essential things.
Marie soon learnt otherwise: I realised my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying.
Imagine being in a job interview. You had prepared well and were confident, yet it didn’t work out as you expected. Could your body posture have influenced how you thought and performed?
Non-verbal displays, such as your posture, can give you a sense of power. At least that’s what Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy, and Andy Yap found in a study on power posing. They took their cue from the animal kingdom where expansive postures are a sign of dominance.
Dana, a psychologist and professor at UC Berkeley, noticed that though her women students were academically at par with the men, they didn’t do as well during class discussions. Many women would sit in low-power poses, wrapping their ankles around each other or supporting their elbows in their palms.
In a study, Dana and her co-authors divided participants into two groups. One group was assigned high-power poses and the other low-power ones. Participants held two poses for a minute each and reported how powerful they felt. Their testosterone and cortisol levels were taken, and their risk-taking ability was measured with a gambling game. The authors concluded that power posing boosts self-confidence and performance. Simply put, body language has a physiological and psychological influence on behaviour.
This research was published and quickly became popular. Amy featured on talk shows and travelled the world on speaking engagements. Playing on the adage “Fake it till you make it,” Amy told her followers, “Fake it till you become it.” With 20 million views, her TED Talk is among the most popular in the channel’s history. Power posing became a rage.
So, the next time you are about to ask for a raise, should you spend a few minutes in front of the mirror holding a “Wonder Woman” pose?
Wait, there is more to the story.
Subsequent research has not validated these results. Many social scientists have even discredited power posing as a pseudoscience. As the controversy snowballed, Dana, the first author in the study, changed her stance:
As evidence has come in over these past two plus years, my views have updated to reflect the evidence. As such, I do not believe that “power pose” effects are real.
Would you publicly retract your professional work after it has been widely recognised?
Dana’s act of accepting errors and limitations required intellectual humility. Since then, she has worked on studies that have examined similar phenomena and reached different conclusions. In contrast, Amy, who was the second author of the paper, continues to propagate power posing and has even written a book on it. Lack of scientific support for power posing has made Amy the target of widespread criticism on social media. This has hurt her reputation and even affected her health.
The New York Times described her condition as the controversy unfolded:
She stopped taking calls and went almost completely offline. She found she couldn’t eat: at 5-foot-5 in, Amy went down to 100 pounds (45 kgs).
In 2017, Amy left her tenure-track position at Harvard Business School.
Dana is not alone in updating her position when presented with new or contrary evidence. The editors of Nature and Science, both well respected journals in their fields, decided to review articles they had previously published. They found that 33 per cent of the studies could not be replicated. This upheaval led to a “Loss of Confidence Project,” which encourages scholars to question the theory and methodology underlying their research and accept responsibility for conclusions that cannot be supported using newer methods.
Like scholars and scientists, we must be willing to acknowledge that we can be wrong. For Laszlo, the head of Google’s People Operations, this is an important part of being intellectually humble:
Successful people will] be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact’ and they go ‘oh well, that changes things; you are right’. You need a big ego and a small ego in the same person at the same time.
Excerpted with permission from Leapfrog: Six Practices To Thrive At Work, Mukesh Sud and Priyank Narayan, Penguin India.