Our Loss of Wisdom

“Practical wisdom is the combination of moral will and moral skill.”Aristotle

Barry Schwartz, author of Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing, on our loss of wisdom.

A wise person knows when and how to make the exception to every rule, as the janitors knew when to ignore the job duties in the service of other objectives. A wise person knows how to improvise, as Luke did when he re-washed the floor. Real-world problems are often ambiguous and ill-defined and the context is always changing. A wise person is like a jazz musician — using the notes on the page, but dancing around them, inventing combinations that are appropriate for the situation and the people at hand. A wise person knows how to use these moral skills in the service of the right aims. To serve other people, not to manipulate other people. And finally, perhaps most important, a wise person is made, not born. Wisdom depends on experience, and not just any experience. You need the time to get to know the people that you’re serving. You need permission to be allowed to improvise, try new things, occasionally to fail and to learn from your failures. And you need to be mentored by wise teachers.

(via swissmiss)

The Psychology of Persuasion

“We all fool ourselves from time to time...to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already done or decided.”

“We all fool ourselves from time to time…to keep our thoughts and beliefs consistent with what we have already done or decided.”

I get a lot of emails from people asking me how they can learn to persuade others.

Learning about the ways people (honestly and dishonestly) influence you is one of the best things to learn early in life. But it’s never too late.

The go to book on the subject is Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Cialdini has spent a lifetime researching the psychology of compliance.

The book highlights six principles of persuasion, which most commonly and effectively are used by compliance practitioners.

We all employ them and fall victim to them, to some degree, in our daily interactions with neighbors, friends, lovers, and offspring. But the compliance practitioners have much more than the vague and amateurish understanding of what works than the rest of us have. … It is odd that despite their current widespread use and looming future importance, most of us know very little about our automatic behavior patterns . Perhaps that is so precisely because of the mechanistic, unthinking manner in which they occur. Whatever the reason, it is vital that we clearly recognize one of their properties: They make us terribly vulnerable to anyone who does know how they work.

These principles work via near automatic response – a “nearly mechanical process by which the power within these weapons can be activated, and the consequent exploitability of this power by anyone who knows how to trigger them.”

Reciprocation
This principle suggests people will be nice if you are. Therefore, if you do something first, by giving them something or doing something nice for them, it is more likely to come back to you. The key is to go first. And, at least in this case, size doesn’t matter. Something as small as a pen has been shown to influence people well beyond its monetary value.

Reciprocation is the basis of cashing in points, calling in a favor, owing other people one, etc.

The reason it works so well is that you have two choices, you either act in a socially approved way by giving in to a request or decline and face (perceived or real) shame. And we want to say yes because this is a way to avoid confrontation.

Reciprocation also works on multiple levels. We are more likely to trust someone who trusts us. We share secrets with people who share secrets with us.

One way to resist this is to refuse the initial favor or gift. Once you accept, it becomes a lot harder.

Consistency

Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.

It’s easier to get people to comply with requests that they see as consistent with what they’ve already said (especially in your presence.) This is the basis for one of the best interview hacks, I’ve ever seen. If you ask people to state their priorities and goals and then align your proposals with that in mind you make it harder for people to say no.

If you start to see yourself as a devil’s advocate for example, you will reinforce that idea by acting like a devil’s advocate.

Consistency is also the basis for the Ikea Effect and why a little pain makes something more attractive.

Say less at work and you’ll be more flexible when things change. Also examine why you want to comply and if things have changed. And keep a decision journal so you can see how often you’re wrong — there is no point holding on to bad ideas.

Once you’ve got a man’s self-image where you want it, he should comply naturally with a whole range of your requests that are consistent with this new view of himself.

Social proof

we…use the actions of others to decide on proper behavior for ourselves.

Ever wonder why TV shows use laugh tracks. It’s so you know when to laugh. I’ll let you sit on that one for a minute.

People will more likely say yes when they see other people doing it too. This is amplified in situations of uncertainty, where we look to others for cues on what we should do. This can be dangerous. If you are in an emergency, you might look around you for clues on what to do and how to act. Others, of course, might do the same thing. This is why, in an emergency, you need to give explicit instructions. You should always point to someone in a crowd, and say, you call 911. Point to another person and ask them to do something.

Cialdini writes:

In the process of examining the reactions of other people to resolve our uncertainty, however, we are likely to overlook a subtle but important fact. Those people are probably examining the social evidence, too.

Consider walking into a restaurant in a foreign city. You’re starving and have no idea “what’s good” here. Luckily, there happens to be a section of the menu labelled “most popular dishes,” and that’s exactly what you’re likely to order.

Social poof is not all bad. It’s one of the main ways we learn in life. I’ve written extensively on this one before.

Liking
You prefer to comply with requests from people you like more than from people you don’t like. Go figure. One way people exploit this is to find ways to make themselves like you. Do you like golf? Me too. Do you like football? Me too. Although often these are genuine, sometimes they’re not. One way to get people to like you is to establish quick rapport.

This is the basis for tupperware parties. Who can say no to a good friend?

You also like people more if they like you. This is why Joe Girard, the world’s “greatest car salesman,” sends every customer a holiday card with the message “I like you.” And you know what, it works. People go back to him.

Oh, and by the way, I like you.

Authority
This relates to our tendency to be persuaded by authority figures, that is people who demonstrate knowledge, confidence, and credibility on the topic. Something as simple as informing your audience of your credentials before you speak, for example, increases the odds you will persuade the audience. Beware of those wearing uniforms or engineering rings as those are rather overt signs of authority.

We’re taught from a young age to listen to those in charge. And most times this works out ok but sometimes it doesn’t.

Consider this, the co-pilot is never supposed to let the plane crash no matter what, even in a simulator. The pilot, however, is the authority figure. So in simulators they’ve had the pilot do things that are so obviously wrong that an idiot would know that what he’s doing would lead to a crash. But the co-pilot just sits there because the pilot is the authority figure and a meaningful percentage of the time the plane crashes.

Scarcity

It is easy enough to feel properly warned against scarcity pressures, but it is substantially more difficult to act on that warning.

We all want something other people don’t or can’t have. If you offer people something rare or scarce, they are more likely to want it.

I just bought a book off amazon and interestingly on the page they said “Only 2 left in stock.” That’s scarcity. I better order now, or I might have to wait. And I don’t know about you but I really don’t want to miss out.

* * *

If you haven’t already I suggest you pick up a copy of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

The Art and Science of Doing Nothing

I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spent in the most profound activity. Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.

In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Idleness is a lost art. That’s the message behind Andrew Smart’s book: Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing. “Being idle,” he writes, “is one of the most important activities in life.”

But all over the world something else is happening. We’re asked to do more, work harder, and strive to make every moment efficient. The message behind this book is just the opposite. You should do less, not more.

Neuroscientific evidence argues that your brain needs to rest, right now. While our minds are exquisitely evolved for intense action, in order to function normally our brains also need to be idle— a lot of the time, it turns out.

Chronic busyness is not only bad for your brain but can have serious health consequences. “In the short term,” Smart writes, “busyness destroys creativity, self-knowledge, emotional well-being, your ability to be social— and it can damage your cardiovascular health.”

Our brain, much like an airplane, has an autopilot, which we enter when resting and “relinquishing manual control.”

The autopilot knows where you really want to go, and what you really want to do. But the only way to find out what your autopilot knows is to stop flying the plane, and let your autopilot guide you. Just as pilots become dangerously fatigued while flying airplanes manually, all of us need to take a break and let our autopilots fly our planes more of the time.

Yet we hate idleness don’t we? Isn’t that just a waste?

Our contradictory fear of being idle, together with our preference for sloth , may be a vestige from our evolutionary history. For most of our evolution, conserving energy was our number one priority because simply getting enough to eat was a monumental physical challenge. Today, survival does not require much (if any ) physical exertion, so we have invented all kinds of futile busyness. Given the slightest or even a specious reason to do something, people will become busy. People with too much time on their hands tend to become unhappy or bored.

Yet, Smart agues, boredom is the key to self-knowledge.

What comes into your consciousness when you are idle can often be reports from the depths of your unconscious self— and this information may not always be pleasant. Nonetheless, your brain is likely bringing it to your attention for a good reason . Through idleness, great ideas buried in your unconsciousness have the chance to enter your awareness.

A brief history of idleness.

At least since Homer we’ve been ambivalent on the subject. In the Odyssey, the Lotus-eaters lolled around all day “munching lotus” and were both hospitable and seemingly quite content. But they were a threat to Odysseus and his crew. When he arrived at the land of the Lotus-eaters, the workaholic captain sent a couple of his men to investigate the locals. The Lotus-eaters “did them no hurt” but instead offered Odysseus’s men some of their brew, which was so overpowering that the Greeks gave up all thought of returning home. Odysseus, the personification of the heroic CEO, forced the affected men back to the ship and then tied them to the ship’s benches. He recognized that if the rest of the crew got a taste of the drug, they would never leave the island, and ordered the ship to cast off. In Samuel Butler’s translation, “they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars.”

Despite the Western cliché of China as a country where work, productivity, and industry are enshrined as the greatest of ideals, during Confucian times idleness wasn’t a sub-culture but an integral part of the culture. A Confucian gentleman grew long fingernails to prove that he did not have to work with his hands. Confucianism actually disdained hard work and instead idealized leisure and effortlessness. According to Lawrence E. Harrison, a senior research fellow at Tufts, “for the Chinese, Sisyphus is not a tragedy but a hilarious joke.” Harrison writes that the highest philosophical principle of Taoism is wu-wei, or non-effort, which means that a truly enlightened person either spiritually or intellectually goes about life with the minimum expenditure of energy. In military matters, the ancient Chinese held that a good general forces the enemy to exhaust himself and waits for the right opportunity to attack, using the circumstances to his advantage while doing as little as possible. This is in contrast to the Western idea of trying to achieve some predefined objective with overwhelming effort and force. It is thus paradoxical that in spite of China’s long history of embracing idleness, it’s currently thought of as the world’s factory. This might be because, as a Chinese physicist told me recently, China has only “overcome” Confucianism in the last half century or so.

With the coming of the Enlightenment in the West, as work became mechanized, bureaucratized, and de-humanized, philosophers fought back. At that point, as the capitalist world system started an unprecedented period of expansion, Western culture popularized the concept of the “the noble savage,” one of whose particular attributes was lounging around and eating the fruit that supposedly fell into his lap. The incomparable Samuel Johnson published a series of essays on the benefits of being idle in the periodical The Idler from 1758 to 1760. He wrote that, “Idleness … may be enjoyed without injury to others; and is therefore not watched like Fraud, which endangers property, or like Pride, which naturally seeks its gratifications in another’s inferiority. Idleness is a silent and peaceful quality, that neither raises envy by ostentation, nor hatred by opposition; and therefore no body is busy to censure or detect it.”

But the capitalists could not be stopped. The 19th century saw the advent of the global industrial economy. As human beings came to function like cogs in the complex machine called the factory, Frederick Taylor, godfather of the efficient American work ethic, introduced “scientific management” to capitalist overseers in The Principles of Scientific Management. His goal was to integrate the life of the worker with the life of business, by the means of what was then considered scientific understanding of humans. Taylor sought to increase production efficiency by minutely measuring the time and motion of tasks. Anticipating modern productivity fads like Six Sigma, Taylor looked to replace each tradesman’s knowledge and experience with a standardized and “scientific” technique for doing work. While Taylorism was and still is hugely popular among the business class, humanists of all stripes were unenthusiastic. In 1920, perhaps in reaction to increasing Taylorization, the concept of the robot— a fully mechanized, soulless worker, physically as well as spiritually dehumanized— was introduced by Czech playwright Karel Čapek. The very word “robot” means “worker” in Czech. The same year, American humorist Christopher Morley published his now-classic essay On Laziness. “The man who is really, thoroughly, and philosophically slothful,” he wrote, “is the only thoroughly happy man. It is the happy man who benefits the world. The conclusion is inescapable.”

With the advent of the 1980s and Ronald Reagan, the mantra that productivity was essential to self-esteem took hold. It was good for America, it was good for business. Laziness, on the other hand, was anti-American …

Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing goes on to explore the benefits and history of idleness in more detail.

A Discussion on the Work of Daniel Kahneman

Edge.org asked the likes of Christopher Chabris, Nicholas Epley, Jason Zweig, William Poundstone, Cass Sunstein, Phil Rosenzweig, Richard Thaler & Sendhil Mullainathan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Steven Pinker, and Rory Sutherland among others: “How has Kahneman’s work influenced your own? What step did it make possible?”

Kahneman’s work is summarized in the international best-seller Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Here are some select excerpts that I found interesting.

Christopher Chabris (author of The Invisible Gorilla)

There’s an overarching lesson I have learned from the work of Danny Kahneman, Amos Tversky, and their colleagues who collectively pioneered the modern study of judgment and decision-making: Don’t trust your intuition.

Jennifer Jacquet

After what I see as years of hard work, experiments of admirable design, lucid writing, and quiet leadership, Kahneman, a man who spent the majority of his career in departments of psychology, earned the highest prize in economics. This was a reminder that some of the best insights into economic behavior could be (and had been) gleaned outside of the discipline

Jason Zweig (author of Your Money and Your Brain)

… nothing amazed me more about Danny than his ability to detonate what we had just done.

Anyone who has ever collaborated with him tells a version of this story: You go to sleep feeling that Danny and you had done important and incontestably good work that day. You wake up at a normal human hour, grab breakfast, and open your email. To your consternation, you see a string of emails from Danny, beginning around 2:30 a.m. The subject lines commence in worry, turn darker, and end around 5 a.m. expressing complete doubt about the previous day’s work.

You send an email asking when he can talk; you assume Danny must be asleep after staying up all night trashing the chapter. Your cellphone rings a few seconds later. “I think I figured out the problem,” says Danny, sounding remarkably chipper. “What do you think of this approach instead?”

The next thing you know, he sends a version so utterly transformed that it is unrecognizable: It begins differently, it ends differently, it incorporates anecdotes and evidence you never would have thought of, it draws on research that you’ve never heard of. If the earlier version was close to gold, this one is hewn out of something like diamond: The raw materials have all changed, but the same ideas are somehow illuminated with a sharper shift of brilliance.

The first time this happened, I was thunderstruck. How did he do that? How could anybody do that? When I asked Danny how he could start again as if we had never written an earlier draft, he said the words I’ve never forgotten: “I have no sunk costs.”

William Poundstone (author of Are Your Smart Enough To Work At Google?)

As a writer of nonfiction I’m often in the position of trying to connect the dots—to draw grand conclusions from small samples. Do three events make a trend? Do three quoted sources justify a conclusion? Both are maxims of journalism. I try to keep in mind Kahneman and Tversky’s Law of Small Numbers. It warns that small samples aren’t nearly so informative, in our uncertain world, as intuition counsels.

Cass R. Sunstein (Author, Why Nudge?)

These ideas are hardly Kahneman’s most well-known, but they are full of implications, and we have only started to understand them.

1. The outrage heuristic. People’s judgments about punishment are a product of outrage, which operates as a shorthand for more complex inquiries that judges and lawyers often think relevant. When people decide about appropriate punishment, they tend to ask a simple question: How outrageous was the underlying conduct? It follows that people are intuitive retributivists, and also that utilitarian thinking will often seem uncongenial and even outrageous.

2. Scaling without a modulus. Remarkably, it turns out that people often agree on how outrageous certain misconduct is (on a scale of 1 to 8), but also remarkably, their monetary judgments are all over the map. The reason is that people do not have a good sense of how to translate their judgments of outrage onto the monetary scale. As Kahneman shows, some work in psychophysics explains the problem: People are asked to “scale without a modulus,” and that is an exceedingly challenging task. The result is uncertainty and unpredictability. These claims have implications for numerous questions in law and policy, including the award of damages for pain and suffering, administrative penalties, and criminal sentences.

3. Rhetorical asymmetry. In our work on jury awards, we found that deliberating juries typically produce monetary awards against corporate defendants that are higher, and indeed much higher, than the median award of the individual jurors before deliberation began. Kahneman’s hypothesis is that in at least a certain category of cases, those who argue for higher awards have a rhetoric advantage over those who argue for lower awards, leading to a rhetorical asymmetry. The basic idea is that in light of social norms, one side, in certain debates, has an inherent advantage – and group judgments will shift accordingly. A similar rhetorical asymmetry can be found in groups of many kinds, in both private and public sectors, and it helps to explain why groups move.

4. Predictably incoherent judgments. We found that when people make moral or legal judgments in isolation, they produce a pattern of outcomes that they would themselves reject, if only they could see that pattern as a whole. A major reason is that human thinking is category-bound. When people see a case in isolation, they spontaneously compare it to other cases that are mainly drawn from the same category of harms. When people are required to compare cases that involve different kinds of harms, judgments that appear sensible when the problems are considered separately often appear incoherent and arbitrary in the broader context. In my view, Kahneman’s idea of predictable coherence has yet to be adequately appreciated; it bears on both fiscal policy and on regulation.

Phil Rosenzweig

For years, there were (as the old saying has it) two kinds of people: those relatively few of us who were aware of the work of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and the much more numerous who were not. Happily, the balance is now shifting, and more of the general public has been able to hear directly a voice that is in equal measures wise and modest.

Sendhil Mullainathan (Author of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much)

… Kahneman and Tversky’s early work opened this door exactly because it was not what most people think it was. Many think of this work as an attack on rationality (often defined in some narrow technical sense). That misconception still exists among many, and it misses the entire point of their exercise. Attacks on rationality had been around well before Kahneman and Tversky—many people recognized that the simplifying assumptions of economics were grossly over-simplifying. Of course humans do not have infinite cognitive abilities. We are also not as strong as gorillas, as fast as cheetahs, and cannot swim like sea lions. But we do not therefore say that there is something wrong with humans. That we have limited cognitive abilities is both true and no more helpful to doing good social science that to acknowledge our weakness as swimmers. Pointing it out did it open any new doors.

Kahneman and Tversky’s work did not just attack rationality, it offered a constructive alternative: a better description of how humans think. People, they argued, often use simple rules of thumb to make judgments, which incidentally is a pretty smart thing to do. But this is not the insight that left us one step from doing behavioral economics. The breakthrough idea was that these rules of thumb could be catalogued. And once understood they can be used to predict where people will make systematic errors. Those two words are what made behavioral economics possible.

Nassim Taleb (Author of Antifragile)

Here is an insight Danny K. triggered and changed the course of my work. I figured out a nontrivial problem in randomness and its underestimation a decade ago while reading the following sentence in a paper by Kahneman and Miller of 1986:

A spectator at a weight lifting event, for example, will find it easier to imagine the same athlete lifting a different weight than to keep the achievement constant and vary the athlete’s physique.

This idea of varying one side, not the other also applies to mental simulations of future (random) events, when people engage in projections of different counterfactuals. Authors and managers have a tendency to take one variable for fixed, sort-of a numeraire, and perturbate the other, as a default in mental simulations. One side is going to be random, not the other.

It hit me that the mathematical consequence is vastly more severe than it appears. Kahneman and colleagues focused on the bias that variable of choice is not random. But the paper set off in my mind the following realization: now what if we were to go one step beyond and perturbate both? The response would be nonlinear. I had never considered the effect of such nonlinearity earlier nor seen it explicitly made in the literature on risk and counterfactuals. And you never encounter one single random variable in real life; there are many things moving together.

Increasing the number of random variables compounds the number of counterfactuals and causes more extremes—particularly in fat-tailed environments (i.e., Extremistan): imagine perturbating by producing a lot of scenarios and, in one of the scenarios, increasing the weights of the barbell and decreasing the bodyweight of the weightlifter. This compounding would produce an extreme event of sorts. Extreme, or tail events (Black Swans) are therefore more likely to be produced when both variables are random, that is real life. Simple.

Now, in the real world we never face one variable without something else with it. In academic experiments, we do. This sets the serious difference between laboratory (or the casino’s “ludic” setup), and the difference between academia and real life. And such difference is, sort of, tractable.

… Say you are the manager of a fertilizer plant. You try to issue various projections of the sales of your product—like the weights in the weightlifter’s story. But you also need to keep in mind that there is a second variable to perturbate: what happens to the competition—you do not want them to be lucky, invent better products, or cheaper technologies. So not only you need to predict your fate (with errors) but also that of the competition (also with errors). And the variance from these errors add arithmetically when one focuses on differences.

Rory Sutherland

When I met Danny in London in 2009 he diffidently said that the only hope he had for his work was that “it might lead to a better kind of gossip”—where people discuss each other’s motivations and behaviour in slightly more intelligent terms. To someone from an industry where a new flavour-variant of toothpaste is presented as being an earth-changing event, this seemed an incredibly modest aspiration for such important work.

However, if this was his aim, he has surely succeeded. When I meet people, I now use what I call “the Kahneman heuristic”. You simply ask people “Have you read Danny Kahneman’s book?” If the answer is yes, you know (p>0.95) that the conversation will be more interesting, wide-ranging and open-minded than otherwise.

And it then occurred to me that his aim—for better conversations—was perhaps not modest at all. Multiplied a millionfold it may very important indeed. In the social sciences, I think it is fair to say, the good ideas are not always influential and the influential ideas are not always good. Kahneman’s work is now both good and influential.

Max Bazerman: Books for Leaders

Max Bazerman, the Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration  at Harvard Business School, recommends 7 reads for leaders.

Max Bazerman, the Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration
at Harvard Business School, recommends 7 reads for leaders.

Max Bazerman, the author of the best book on general decision making that I’ve ever read, Judgment in Managerial Decision Making, came out with 7 book recommendations.

I hadn’t heard of two of these, which I picked up.

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I think we’ve all heard of this one. Bazerman says:

The development of decision research is the most pronounced influence of the social sciences on professional education and societal change that we have witnessed in the last half century. Kahneman is the greatest social scientist of our time, and Thinking, Fast and Slow provides an integrated history of the fields of behavioral decision research and behavioral economics, the role of our two different systems for processing information (System 1 vs. System 2), and the wonderful story of Kahneman’s relationship with Amos Tversky (Tversky would have shared Kahneman’s Nobel Prize had he not passed away at an early age.).

2. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein

This is another one I think most of you have heard of but it’s a classic. I once used this book as the foundation to make the case to a management team for hiring a group of behavioural psychologists. Along with Thinking, Fast and Slow it is part of the ultimate behavioural economics reading list.

Nudge takes the study of how humans depart from rational decision making and turns this work into a prescriptive strategy for action. Over the last 40 years, we have learned a great deal about the systematic and predictable ways in which the human mind departs from rational action. Yet, we have observed dozens of studies that show the limits of trying to debias the human mind. Nudge highlights that we do not need to debias humans, we simply need to understand humans, and create decision architectures with a realistic understanding of the human to guide humans to wise decisions. Nudge has emerged as the bible of behavioral insight teams that are transforming the ways countries help to devise wise policies.

3. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

Lewis is an amazing writer, with the talent to capture amazing features of how humans have the capacity to overcome common limitations. Moneyball (that would have been on the list, but I imposed a one book per author limit) was a fascinating look about how overcoming common human limits allowed baseball leaders to develop unique and effective leadership strategies. In The Big Short, Lewis shows how people can notice, even when most of us are failing to do so. Lewis shows that it was possible to notice vast problems with our economy by 2007, and tells the amazing account of those who did.

4. Eyewitness To Power: The Essence of Leadership Nixon to Clinton by David Gergen

This one looks fascinating.

David Gergen is an amazingly insightful intellect about so many things, including the nature of Presidential leadership. His writing is wonderful, and his ability to pull out the nuggets of effective leadership in his closing chapter is a lasting contribution. You will learn about four Presidents that have escaped you in the past, and in the process, learn some insights about leadership in your organization.

5. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene
This book has been recommended to me by so many smart people that there must be something to it.

Joshua Greene is a wonderful mix of insightful philosopher, careful psychologist, and keen observer of human morality. If you have ever been confronted with the famous “trolley problem”, and want to learn more, Moral Tribes is the place to go. Whether you are a philosopher looking for a new path, a psychologist looking for insight from a new direction, or simply a human who wants to understand your own morality, this book is terrific.

6. Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending by Elizabeth Dunn & Michael Norton

For decades, the study of consumer behavior has been dominated by the question of how marketers can understand consumers to sell their products and services. Dunn and Norton use contemporary social science to provide insight into what consumers can do to make themselves, rather than marketers, happy.

7. The Art and Science of Negotiation by Howard Raiffa

The Art and Science of Negotiation is where it all began from an intellectual standpoint, where Raiffa provides insight into how to think systematically in a world where you cannot count on the other side to do so.

Angela Duckworth on How to Develop Grit

"Grit is passion and perseverance for extremely long intervals. "

“Grit is passion and perseverance for extremely long intervals. “

Last month I hi-lighted the research of Angela Duckworth on why grit can matter more than IQ in determining success in life. But that doesn’t help us become grittier.

There is a link between grit and expertise. To become grittier, Duckworth advises, we should look at who is gritty and ask ourselves how they approach things and what they do. In a recent interview she said:

If you want to be gritty, you can look and see what do Olympic athletes do with their time. How do they organize their lives and their days?
World class experts tend to be gritty and talented. You can model what they do. World class experts do not just practice, but deliberate practice, which has certain features. When they are working on what they do, it’s with a specific and intentional goal in mind. Not like, “I’m here to do a better job today. But I’m working on the angle of my elbow as it reaches,” really specific.

They work on weaknesses, not strengths. They’re comfortable being uncomfortable. They’re falling down a lot. They’re playing things that are too hard. They’re attempting challenges that are too high. They’re getting feedback.

Duckworth gave the example of Shaun White and this article in the New York Times magazine. She continued:

He (White) was interviewed. He was watching a videotape of himself after he’d come down from the run, which is what all experts do. Seek feedback as immediately as possible. What he said is also particular of the attitude of experts. One could role model or emulate to get a little grittier.

It was not a particularly good run. Apparently he was trying to do a kind of snowboarding or whatever that’s new for him. The interviewer said, “Why don’t you just go back and do something a little more familiar?” He said, “I don’t want to be the kind of person who doesn’t finish what they began.

The Great Philosopher Will Smith

One thing that comes up again and again when we talk about how to develop mastery is deliberate practice. You can’t just repeat the same task over and over, you need to break it down and work on the individual parts. You need to work on the hard stuff.

The other thing about reading people as they do deliberate practice, try to get better, get feedback, work on specifics, and work on their weaknesses, is that they actually conceive of themselves as the sort of person who is loyal to their interests and steadfast about their goals, a harder worker.

Have you ever listened to Will Smith? He says, “Nobody will outwork me. If you and I are getting on a treadmill together, two things, either you’re getting off first, or I’m going die.” It’s really that simple.

Keep in mind, that a relentless focus on our goals can make us blind to danger. Too much grit can be a bad thing.

Developing Grit In Organizations

I know a lot of people in audience run organization. I think there’s a really important role. You want to shape human behavior, organizations, culture, values, norms. That’s the way to do it.

There probably are companies that embody and promote grit more than others. I think there are countries. In Finland, they have this word “sisu“, which roughly translates to grit. In Finland, people talk about building their “sisu”. Young children in Finland talk about, when you do a hard thing, you need to use “sisu”. If I do a really hard thing, my “sisu” will get stronger.

There are companies who try to have this very self aware identity at the corporate level, organizational level, pursuing things with focus, not getting too hung up on any given obstacle, being flexible about this. If I can’t get that this way, I’ll try that way. The vision, the mission that organizes that company is stable and true.

On the Role of Failure

Failure is a necessary part of the process for learning. While the benefits are not so great that we should seek it out, it does bring us a huge amount of information that we can use to make ourselves better.

You embrace it in the sense that it’s just a necessary part of the process, which is why when I said that experts are working in their discomfort zone. They’re working where they’re failing more than they’re succeeding, and thereby growing in line.

The thing to embrace is probably the information that’s carried in failure. Not, I failed. I’m going to get up. I’m going to be resilient. But why did I fail? How do I adjust so that the probability of failure is lower in the next round, when in fact, I am going to get up again and do it.

… If you look at world class athletes, world class chess players, world class violinists, world class mathematicians, they’re all faced with the same difficult psychological challenge. I think it’s a universal for learning.

What about kids?

As for kids, Duckworth says to focus on Carol Dweck’s growth mindset.

So far, the best idea I’ve heard about building grit in kids is something called growth mindset. This is an idea developed at Stanford University by Carol Dweck, and it is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed. That it can change with your effort. Dr. Dweck has shown that when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re much more likely to persevere when they fail because they don’t believe that failure is a permanent condition.

* * *

Still curious? Read Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and pick up a copy of How Children Succeed.

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want

"The main problem is that we think we understand the minds of others, and even our own mind, better than we actually do."

“The main problem is that we think we understand the minds of others, and even our own mind, better than we actually do.”

Despite the fact I do it countless times a day, I’m sometimes terrible at it. Our lives are guided by our inferences about what others think, believe, feel, and want. Understanding the minds of others is one of the keys to social success. With that in mind, I read Nicholas Epley’s new book Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want.

While we can understand what others think, believe and feel, sometimes we’re wrong. The book’s goal is to bring “your brain’s greatest ability out of the shadows and into the light of scientific inspection.”

That ability is our sixth sense.

I am going to tell you about the kind of mind reading you do intuitively every day of your life, dozens of times a day, when you infer what others are thinking, feeling, wanting, or intending. The kind that enables you to build and maintain the intimate relationships that make life worth living, to maintain a desired reputation in the eyes of others, to work effectively in teams, and to outwit and outlast your competitors. The kind that forms the foundation of all social interaction, creating the web of presumptions and assumptions that enables large societies to function.

This sixth sense is always on. A great example is the feeling you get when a co-worker calls in sick and you’re confident they’re lying. In this way Epley believes we’re all mind readers.

It’s easy to understand why. You and I are members of one of the most social species on the planet. No human being succeeds in life alone. Getting along and getting ahead requires coordinating with others, either in cooperation as friends, spouses, teammates, and coworkers, or in competition as adversaries, opponents, or rivals.

We’re so good at this sixth sense that it operates at an almost unconscious level. As philosopher Jerry Fodor has written, “Commonsense psychology works so well, it disappears.” Some of us, however, are better at mind reading and social understanding than others.

That we cannot read anyone’s mind perfectly does not mean we are never accurate, of course, but our mistakes are especially interesting because they are a major source of wreckage in our relationships, careers, and lives, leading to needless conflict and misunderstanding. Our mistakes lead to ineffective solutions to some of society’s biggest problems, and they can send nations into needless wars with the worst of consequences.

Our mistakes are somewhat predictable and therefore, argues Epley, correctable. They happen in two ways:

Our mistakes come from the two most basic questions that underlie any social interaction. First, does “it” have a mind? And second, what state is that other mind in?

We can make mistakes with the first question by failing to engage our mind-reading ability when we should, thereby failing to consider the mind of another and running the risk of treating him or her like a relatively mindless animal or object. These mistakes are at the heart of dehumanization. But we can also make mistakes by engaging our ability when we shouldn’t, thereby attributing a mind to something that is actually mindless.

Once we’re trying to read the minds of others, we can make mistakes with the second question by misunderstanding others’ thoughts, beliefs , attitudes, or emotions, thereby misunderstanding what state another mind is in. Our most common mistakes come from excessive egocentrism, overreliance on stereotypes, and an all-to-easy assumption that others’ minds match their actions …

All of these mistakes have the same basic consequence of leading us to think that others’ minds are more simplistic than they actually are.

Let’s take a closer look at when we “fail to recognize the fully human mind of another person,” which is the essence of dehumanization. This can happen “any time you fail to attend to the mind of another person, because this can also lead you to believe that another person has weaker mental capacities than you do: a lesser mind.” In the book Epley describes how doctors used to believe that children could not feel pain, how employers often think of employees as mindless (which leads bosses to over-estimate the importance of money and underestimate the intrinsic incentives like autonomy, pride, and mastery), and how we generally lack consideration for other people in certain social settings.

Enemies think of each other as unfeeling savages. Consider the story of how Brut Champagne got its name.

When the French began making champagne for the British, the champagne makers quickly learned that the Brits preferred much drier champagne than the French did. In fact, the French found this version to be unpalatable. They named this inferior champagne brut sauvage, for who could have such unsophisticated preferences other than a savage brut? The joke was eventually on the French: brut is now the most popular variety of champagne in the world.

The Lens Problem
We have a lens problem. The lens shapes what we see. And we react to what we see. “I’m right, and you’re biased.”

The lens in your eye filters light onto your retina, allowing you to see the world before your eye. Likewise, our own minds serve as a lens made up of beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge through which we perceive the world. If you look at an object through two different lenses, such as a telescope versus a microscope, then the very same object will look very different.

… This is a problem because you look through a lens rather than at it directly, which can make it hard to tell that your vision is being affected by it. Similarly, research makes it very clear that people have a hard time recognizing the ways in which their own perceptions are biased by the interpretive lens of beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge that they view it through. This handicaps our ability to understand the minds of others in two ways. First, people tend to overestimate the extent to which others believe, think, and feel as they do. This kind of egocentrism is a chronic mistake. Second, when people find out that others perceive the world differently than they do, the inability to recognize one’s own bias leads people to think that others are the ones who are biased. The fingerprints of the lens problem are at the center of almost any difference of opinion.

Remember Kathryn Schultz on what happens when someone disagrees with us?

Perspective Taking
Most of us are taught that we should put ourselves in the shoes of others to better understand their thoughts and feelings but this may not be the best strategy.

Everyone from Dale Carnegie to Barack Obama has suggested that the true way to understand other people is to honestly put yourself in another person’s shoes. My research, however, suggests that this does little or nothing to increase how accurately you understand the minds of others. The main problem with this solution to social misunderstanding is that it relies completely on being able to use knowledge that a person already has in his or her head to understand another’s perspective. But if you have a mistaken understanding of another person to begin with, then no amount of perspective taking is going to make your judgment systematically more accurate. When we ask husbands and wives, for instance, to predict each others’ attitudes, those we tell to adopt the other person’s perspective as honestly as they can actually become a little less accurate than those who do not adopt the other person’s perspective. In conflict, we find in our research that opposing sides tend to misunderstand each other even more when we ask them to honestly adopt the other side’s perspective. Perspective taking can have many beneficial consequences in social life, but systematically making people understand each other better does not seem to be one of them.

Epley prefers “perspective getting” to increase understanding.

If you actually want to understand the mind of another person, you have to get that person’s perspective as directly as you possibly can. You do that in one of two ways, either by being the other person or by having the other person tell you honestly and openly what’s actually on his or her mind. Court judges understand, for instance, what waterboarding feels like when they actually experience it directly, as the journalist Christopher Hitchens did, or when they listen to another person’s honest report of the experience directly, as you can by reading Christopher Hitchens’ account of his experience in Vanity Fair.

The Mind is a Beautiful Thing

You’ve never actually seen a belief, smelled an attitude, or poked a feeling. No intention has ever walked past you on the sidewalk. You can’t weigh a want. Like atoms before electron microscopes, minds are inferred rather than observed. They exist only as a theory each of us uses to explain both our own and other people’s behaviour. … But what a marvelous theory it is. Human beings have been explaining one another for millennia without ever referencing a single neuron because the sense we’ve evolved is of such practical value. Mental concepts like attitudes, beliefs, intentions , and preferences are so highly correlated with whatever is actually going on in the brain that we can use our theory about other people’s minds to predict their behaviour.

And in part, this ability to reason about the minds of others is what makes us human. We live in groups, large or small, and key to that social relationship is to understand people’s thoughts, beliefs, emotions, etc. The bigger the group the harder this is. Not only do you have to keep track of more people but you have to keep track of more possibilities.

Mindwise is a fascinating exploration of understanding other people.

Hooked — How Companies Create Habit Forming Products

How do companies create habit forming products? It’s simple: They manufacture them.

In 2008 Nir Eyal was part of a team of Stanford MBAs starting a company backed by “some of the brightest investors in Silicon Valley.” They wanted to build a platform to place ads into online social games. Eyal wondered how mind manipulation worked — how do products change our actions, and create compulsions. How do you engineer user behaviour? Are there moral implications? Could these forces be used for good (nudging). So he looked around for a guide. He couldn’t find anything that satisfied him so he documented his experiences, reading, and observations of hundreds of companies “to uncover patterns in user experience designs and functionality.” He wanted to know what was common between the “winners” and determine what was missing from the “losers.”

The result of this effort is his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and the creation of the Hook Model: a four-phase process that companies use to form habits.

Through consecutive hook cycles, successful products reach their ultimate goal of unprompted user engagement, bringing users back repeatedly, without depending on costly advertising or aggressive messaging.

That sounds like a growth hacker’s dream.

Let’s take a look.

1. Trigger

A trigger is the actuator of behavior — the spark plug in the engine. Triggers come in two types: external and internal. Habit-forming products start by alerting users with external triggers like an email, a website link, or the app icon on a phone.

For example, suppose Barbra, a young woman in Pennsylvania, happens to see a photo in her Facebook newsfeed taken by a family member from a rural part of the state. It’s a lovely picture and since she is planning a trip there with her brother Johnny, the external trigger’s call-to-action intrigues her and she clicks. By cycling through successive hooks, users begin to form associations with internal triggers, which attach to existing behaviors and emotions.

When users start to automatically cue their next behavior, the new habit becomes part of their everyday routine. Over time, Barbra associates Facebook with her need for social connection.

2. Action

Following the trigger comes the action: the behavior done in anticipation of a reward. The simple action of clicking on the interesting picture in her newsfeed takes Barbra to a website called Pinterest, a “pinboard-style photo-sharing” site.

This phase of the hook, as described in chapter three, draws upon the art and science of usability design to reveal how products drive specific user actions. Companies leverage two basic pulleys of human behavior to increase the likelihood of an action occurring: the ease of performing an action and the psychological motivation to do it.

Once Barbra completes the simple action of clicking on the photo, she is dazzled by what she sees next.

3. Variable Reward

What distinguishes the Hook Model from a plain vanilla feedback loop is the hook’s ability to create a craving. Feedback loops are all around us, but predictable ones don’t create desire. The unsurprising response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix — say a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it — and voila, intrigue is created.

Variable rewards are one of the most powerful tools companies implement to hook users; chapter four explains them in further detail. Research shows that levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine surge when the brain is expecting a reward. Introducing variability multiplies the effect, creating a focused state, which suppresses the areas of the brain associated with judgment and reason while activating the parts associated with wanting and desire. Although classic examples include slot machines and lotteries, variable rewards are prevalent in many other habit-forming products.

When Barbra lands on Pinterest, not only does she see the image she intended to find, but she is also served a multitude of other glittering objects. The images are related to what she is generally interested in — namely things to see on her upcoming trip to rural Pennsylvania — but there are other things that catch her eye as well. The exciting juxtaposition of relevant and irrelevant, tantalizing and plain, beautiful and common, sets her brain’s dopamine system aflutter with the promise of reward. Now she’s spending more time on Pinterest, hunting for the next wonderful thing to find. Before she knows it, she’s spent 45 minutes scrolling.

4. Investment

The last phase of the Hook Model is where the user does a bit of work. The investment phase increases the odds that the user will make another pass through the hook cycle in the future. The investment occurs when the user puts something into the product or service such as time, data, effort, social capital, or money.

However, the investment phase isn’t about users opening up their wallets and moving on with their day. Rather, the investment implies an action that improves the service for the next go-around. Inviting friends, stating preferences , building virtual assets, and learning to use new features are all investments users make to improve their experience. These commitments can be leveraged to make the trigger more engaging, the action easier, and the reward more exciting with every pass through the hook cycle. …

As Barbra enjoys endlessly scrolling through the Pinterest cornucopia, she builds a desire to keep the things that delight her. By collecting items, she’ll be giving the site data about her preferences. Soon she will follow, pin, re-pin, and make other investments, which serve to increase her ties to the site and prime her for future loops through the hook.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products goes on to explore external and internal triggers, why some people eventually lose their taste for certain experiences, the impact of variability on retention, and how investments encourage users to cycle through successive hooks.