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The Iconic Think Different Apple Commercial Narrated by Steve Jobs

Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they're not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

— Steve Jobs, 1997

I've been thinking a lot lately about creativity and to what extent attitude plays a role.

The most creative people I know are often the ones who have a hell-raiser trait in them, regardless of whether this comes from nature or nurture.

These are people who think different, feel different, behave different. These are the people who can't easily fit into the square corporate box.

Organizations both value and despise them. They make people uncomfortable. They challenge thoughts, processes, and the status quo. They disrupt and dismiss. They push. They raise the bar for everyone else and they call people out. They're not being difficult on purpose — they're being themselves. They see things differently. And that comes with both opportunities and challenges.

Many people — especially those who are less secure about themselves — have a hard time working with people that push boundaries and challenge the way things are done. They don't want to be challenged. They don't want the bar raised. They don't want to explain why something needs to stay the same. All of this, after all, is exhausting. It's much easier to just ignore, dismiss, or add layers of management to dilute the impact these people can have.

The problem with that approach, however, is that you dilute what your organization is capable of. Embracing people who think differently is not a sign of weakness as a leader (and I'm not advocating for embracing everyone who thinks differently, there is some nuance here). Allowing yourself to hear the perspective of others who think differently is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength.

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Two related Farnam Street Posts:

Steve Jobs on Creativity. Steve Jobs had a lot to say about creativity.

Steve Jobs on The Most Important thing. Life can be so much better once you understand this one simple fact.

66 Personal Development Habits For Smart People

personal-development-for-smart-people-front-cover

Steve Pavlina's book, Personal Development for Smart People: The Conscious Pursuit of Personal Growth, offers an interesting look at self-improvement.

“Perception is the most basic aspect of truth,” Pavlina writes, “If you want to improve some part of your life, you have to look at it first.”

For example, if you want to know how your relationship is doing, you ask yourself “How do I feel about this relationship? What parts are working well? What parts need improvement?” Ask your partner the same questions and compare your answers. Figuring out where you stand will help you decide what changes you'd like to make. Perception is a key component of personal growth because we react to what we perceive to be true.

The first step “must be to recognize that your life as it stands right now isn't how you want it to be.”

It's easy to say you should face the cold, hard, truth but in practice it can be very difficult. However:

You can't get from point A to point B if you refuse to acknowledge that you're at point A!.

There are two powerful ways you can apply your mind's predictive powers to accelerate your personal growth:

First, by embracing new experiences that are unlike anything you've previously encountered, you'll literally become more intelligent.

New situations shift your mind into learning mode, which enables you to discover new patterns. The more patterns your mind learns, the better it gets at prediction, and the smarter you become.

Read a book on a topic that's completely alien to you. Talk to people you'd normally avoid. Visit an unfamiliar city. Stretch beyond the patterns your mind has already learned. In order to grow, you must repeatedly tackle fresh challenges and consider new ideas to give your mind fresh input. If you merely repeat the same experiences, you'll stagnate, and your mental capacity will atrophy.

If you want to become smarter, you must keep stirring things up.

The second way to apply your mind’s predictive powers is to make conscious, deliberate predictions and use those predictions to make better decisions. Think about where you're headed and ask yourself, “How do I honestly expect my life to turn out?”

Imagine that a very logical impartial observer examines your situation in detail, and predicts what your life will look like in 20 years, based on your current behavior. What kind of future will this person predict for you? If you’re brave enough, ask several people who know you well to give you an honest assessment of where they see you in two decades. Their answers may surprise you.

A list of habits that can boost personal effectiveness (hacked and lightly edited):

  1. Daily goals. Set targets for each day in advance. Decide what you'll do, then do it. Without a clear focus, it's too easy to succumb to distractions.
  2. Worst first. To defeat procrastination, learn to tackle your most unpleasant task first thing in the morning, instead of delaying it until later. The small victory will set the tone for a very productive day.
  3. Peak times. Identify your peak cycles of productivity, and schedule your most important tasks for those times. Work on minor tasks during your non-peak times.
  4. No-comm zones. Allocate uninterruptible blocks of time for solo work where you must concentrate. Schedule light, interruptible tasks for your open-communication periods and more challenging projects for your blackout periods.
  5. Mini-milestones. When you begin a task, identify the target you must reach before you can stop working. For example when writing a book, you could decide not to get up until you've written at least 1000 words. Hit your target no matter what.
  6. Timeboxing. Give yourself a fixed time period – 30 minutes for example – to make a dent in a task. Don't worry about how far you get. Just put in the time.
  7. Batching. Batch similar tasks such as phone calls or errands together, and knock them out in a single session.
  8. Early bird. Get up at 5am and go straight to work on your most important task. You can get more done before 8am than most people do in a full day.
  9. Pyramid. Spend 15-30 minutes doing easy tasks to warm up, then tackle your most difficult project for several hours. Finally end with another 15-30 minutes of easy tasks to transition out of work mode.
  10. Tempo. Deliberately pick up the pace, and try to move a little faster than usual. Speak faster. Walk faster. Type faster. Read faster. Go home sooner.
  11. Relaxify. Reduce stress by cultivating a relaxing, clutter-free workspace.
  12. Agendas. Provide clear written agendas to meeting participants in advance. This greatly improves meeting focus and efficiency. You can use it for phone calls too.
  13. Pareto. The Pareto principle is the 80-20 rule, which states that 80% of the value of a task comes from 20% of the effort. Focus your energy on that critical 20%, and don’t overengineer the non-critical 80%.
  14. Ready-fire-aim. Bust procrastination by taking action immediately after setting a goal, even if the action isn’t perfectly planned. You can always adjust course along the way.
  15. Minuteman. Once you have the information you need to make a decision, start a timer and give yourself just 60 seconds to make the actual decision. Take a whole minute to vacillate and second-guess yourself all you want, but come out the other end with a clear choice. Once your decision is made, take some kind of action to set it in motion.
  16. Deadline. Set a deadline for task completion, and use it as a focal point to stay on track.
  17. Promise. Tell others of your commitments, since they’ll help hold you accountable
  18. Punctuality. Whatever it takes, show up on time. Arrive early.
  19. Gap reading. Use reading to fill in those odd periods like waiting for an appointment, standing in line, or while the coffee is brewing. If you’re a male, you can even read an article while shaving (preferably with an electric razor). That’s 365 articles a year.
  20. Resonance. Visualize your goal as already accomplished. Put yourself into a state of actually being there. Make it real in your mind, and you’ll soon see it in your reality.
  21. Glittering prizes. Give yourself frequent rewards for achievement. See a movie, book a professional massage, or spend a day at an amusement park.
  22. Priority. Separate the truly important tasks from the merely urgent. Allocate blocks of time to work on the critical Quadrant 2 tasks, those which are important but rarely urgent, such as physical exercise, writing a book, and finding a relationship partner.
  23. Continuum. At the end of your workday, identify the first task you’ll work on the next day, and set out the materials in advance. The next day begin working on that task immediately.
  24. Slice and dice. Break complex projects into smaller, well-defined tasks. Focus on completing just one of those tasks.
  25. Single-handling. Once you begin a task, stick with it until it’s 100% complete. Don’t switch tasks in the middle. When distractions come up, jot them down to be dealt with later.
  26. Randomize. Pick a totally random piece of a larger project, and complete it. Pay one random bill. Make one phone call. Write page 42 of your book.
  27. Insanely bad. Defeat perfectionism by completing your task in an intentionally terrible fashion, knowing you need never share the results with anyone. Write a blog post about the taste of salt, design a hideously dysfunctional web site, or create a business plan that guarantees a first-year bankruptcy. With a truly horrendous first draft, there’s nowhere to go but up.
  28. Delegate. Convince someone else to do it for you.
  29. Cross-pollination. Sign up for martial arts, start a blog, or join an improv group. You’ll often encounter ideas in one field that can boost your performance in another.
  30. Intuition. Go with your gut instinct. It’s probably right.
  31. Optimization. Identify the processes you use most often, and write them down step-by-step. Refactor them on paper for greater efficiency. Then implement and test your improved processes. Sometimes we just can’t see what’s right in front of us until we examine it under a microscope.
  32. Super Slow. Commit yourself to working on a particularly hideous project for just one session a week, 15-30 minutes total. Declutter one small shelf. Purge 10 clothing items you don’t need. Write a few paragraphs. Then stop.
  33. Dailies. Schedule a specific time each day for working on a particular task or habit. One hour a day could leave you with a finished book, or a profitable Internet business a year later.
  34. Add-ons. Tack a task you want to habitualize onto one of your existing habits. Water the plants after you eat lunch. Send thank-you notes after you check email.
  35. Plug-ins. Inject one task into the middle of another. Read while eating lunch. Return phone calls while commuting. Listen to podcasts while grocery shopping.
  36. Gratitude. When someone does you a good turn, send a thank-you card. That’s a real card, not an e-card. This is rare and memorable, and the people you thank will be eager to bring you more opportunities.
  37. Training. Train up your skill in various productivity habits. Get your typing speed to at least 60wpm, if not 90.
  38. Denial. Just say no to non-critical requests for your time.
  39. Recapture. Reclaim other people’s poor time usage for yourself. Visualize your goals during dull speeches. Write out your grocery list during pointless meetings.
  40. Mastermind. Run your problem past someone else, preferably a group of people. Invite all the advice, feedback, and constructive criticism you can handle.
  41. Write down 20 creative ideas for improving your effectiveness.
  42. Challenger. Deliberately make the task harder. Challenging tasks are more engaging than boring ones. Compose an original poem for your next blog post. Create a Power Point presentation that doesn’t use words.
  43. Asylum. Complete an otherwise tedious task in an unusual or crazy manner to keep it fun or interesting.
  44. Music. Experiment with how music can boost your effectiveness.
  45. Scotty. Estimate how long a task will take to complete. Then start a timer, and push yourself to complete it in half that time.
  46. Pay it forward. When an undesirable task is delegated to you, re-delegate it to someone else.
  47. Bouncer. When a seemingly pointless task is delegated to you, bounce it back to the person who assigned it to you, and challenge them to justify its operational necessity.
  48. Opt-out. Quit clubs, projects, and subscriptions that consume more of your time than they’re worth.
  49. Decaffeinate. Say no to drugs, suffer through the withdrawal period, and let your natural creative self re-emerge.
  50. Conscious procrastination. Delay non-critical tasks as long as you possibly can. Many of them will die on you and won’t need to be done at all.
  51. TV-free. Turn off the TV, especially the news, and recapture many usable hours.
  52. Timer. Time all your tasks for an entire day, preferably a week. Even the act of measuring itself can boost your productivity, not to mention what you learn about your real time usage.
  53. Valor. Pick the one item on your task list that scares you the most. Muster all the courage you can, and tackle it immediately.
  54. Nonconformist. Run errands at unpopular times to avoid crowds. Shop just before stores close or shortly after they open. Take advantage of 24-hour outlets if you’re a vampire.
  55. Agoraphobia. Shop online whenever possible. Get the best selection, consult reviews, and purchase items within minutes.
  56. Reminder. Add birthday and holiday reminders to your calendar a month or two ahead of their actual dates. Buy gifts then instead of at the last minute.
  57. Do it now! Recite this phrase over and over until you’re so sick of it that you cave in and get to work.
  58. Coach. Hire a personal coach to keep yourself motivated, focused, and accountable. After several months of pep talks, you’ll be qualified to start your own coaching practice.
  59. Inspiration. Read inspiring books and articles, listen to audio programs, and attend seminars to keep absorbing inspiring new ideas (as well as to refresh yourself on the old ones).
  60. Gym rat. Exercise daily. Boost metabolism, concentration, and mental clarity in 30 minutes a day.
  61. Troll hunt. Banish the negative trolls from your life, and associate only with positive, happy, and successful people. Mindsets are contagious. Show loyalty to your potential, not to your pity posse.
  62. Anakin. Would your problems be easier to solve if you turned evil? The dark side beckons…
  63. Politician. Outsource your problems. How many can be solved more easily if you define them in financial terms? …
  64. Modeling. Find people who are already getting the results you want, interview them, and adopt their attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.
  65. Proactivity. Even if others disagree with you, take action anyway, and deal with the consequences later. It's easier to request forgiveness than permission.
  66. Real life. Give online life a rest, and reinvest that time into your real offline life, which, if you're a gamer, is probably suffocating beneath a pile of dead smelly orcas.

Merchants Of Doubt: How The Tobacco Strategy Obscures the Realities of Global Warming

There will always be those who try to challenge growing scientific consensus — indeed the challenge is fundamental to science. Motives, however, matter and not everyone has good intentions.

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Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway's masterful work Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, was recommended by Elon Musk.

The book illuminates how the tobacco industry created doubt and kept the controversy alive well past scientific consensus. They call this the Tobacco Strategy. And the same playbook is happening all over again. This time with Global Warming.

Merchants of Doubt

The goal of the Tobacco Strategy is to create doubt about the causal link to protect the interests of incumbents.

Millions of pages of documents released during tobacco litigation demonstrate these links. They show the crucial role that scientists played in sowing doubt about the links between smoking and health risks. These documents— which have scarcely been studied except by lawyers and a handful of academics— also show that the same strategy was applied not only to global warming, but to a laundry list of environmental and health concerns, including asbestos, secondhand smoke, acid rain, and the ozone hole.

Interestingly, not only are the tactics the same when it comes to Global Warming, but so are the people.

They used their scientific credentials to present themselves as authorities, and they used their authority to try to discredit any science they didn’t like.

Over the course of more than twenty years, these men did almost no original scientific research on any of the issues on which they weighed in. Once they had been prominent researchers, but by the time they turned to the topics of our story, they were mostly attacking the work and the reputations of others. In fact, on every issue, they were on the wrong side of the scientific consensus. Smoking does kill— both directly and indirectly. Pollution does cause acid rain. Volcanoes are not the cause of the ozone hole. Our seas are rising and our glaciers are melting because of the mounting effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, produced by burning fossil fuels. Yet, for years the press quoted these men as experts, and politicians listened to them, using their claims as justification for inaction.

December 15, 1953, was a fateful day. A few months earlier, researchers at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City had demonstrated that cigarette tar painted on the skin of mice caused fatal cancers. This work had attracted an enormous amount of press attention: the New York Times and Life magazine had both covered it, and Reader’s Digest— the most widely read publication in the world— ran a piece entitled “Cancer by the Carton.” Perhaps the journalists and editors were impressed by the scientific paper’s dramatic concluding sentences: “Such studies, in view of the corollary clinical data relating smoking to various types of cancer, appear urgent. They may not only result in furthering our knowledge of carcinogens, but in promoting some practical aspects of cancer prevention.”

These findings, however, shouldn't have been a surprise. We're often blinded by a ‘bad people can do no right' line of thought.

German scientists had shown in the 1930s that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer, and the Nazi government had run major antismoking campaigns; Adolf Hitler forbade smoking in his presence. However, the German scientific work was tainted by its Nazi associations, and to some extent ignored, if not actually suppressed, after the war; it had taken some time to be rediscovered and independently confirmed. Now, however, American researchers— not Nazis— were calling the matter “urgent,” and the news media were reporting it.  “Cancer by the carton” was not a slogan the tobacco industry would embrace.

 

With the mounting evidence, the tobacco industry was thrown into a panic.

 

So industry executives made a fateful decision, one that would later become the basis on which a federal judge would find the industry guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud— a massive and ongoing fraud to deceive the American public about the health effects of smoking. The decision was to hire a public relations firm to challenge the scientific evidence that smoking could kill you.

On that December morning (December 15th), the presidents of four of America’s largest tobacco companies— American Tobacco, Benson and Hedges, Philip Morris, and U.S. Tobacco— met at the venerable Plaza Hotel in New York City. The French Renaissance chateau-style building— in which unaccompanied ladies were not permitted in its famous Oak Room bar— was a fitting place for the task at hand: the protection of one of America’s oldest and most powerful industries. The man they had come to meet was equally powerful: John Hill, founder and CEO of one of America’s largest and most effective public relations firms, Hill and Knowlton.

The four company presidents— as well as the CEOs of R. J. Reynolds and Brown and Williamson— had agreed to cooperate on a public relations program to defend their product. They would work together to convince the public that there was “no sound scientific basis for the charges,” and that the recent reports were simply “sensational accusations” made by publicity-seeking scientists hoping to attract more funds for their research. They would not sit idly by while their product was vilified; instead, they would create a Tobacco Industry Committee for Public Information to supply a “positive” and “entirely ‘pro-cigarette’” message to counter the anti-cigarette scientific one. As the U.S. Department of Justice would later put it, they decided “to deceive the American public about the health effects of smoking.”

At first, the companies didn’t think they needed to fund new scientific research, thinking it would be sufficient to “disseminate information on hand.” John Hill disagreed, “emphatically warn[ing] … that they should … sponsor additional research,” and that this would be a long-term project. He also suggested including the word “research” in the title of their new committee, because a pro-cigarette message would need science to back it up. At the end of the day, Hill concluded, “scientific doubts must remain.” It would be his job to ensure it.

Over the next half century, the industry did what Hill and Knowlton advised. They created the “Tobacco Industry Research Committee” to challenge the mounting scientific evidence of the harms of tobacco. They funded alternative research to cast doubt on the tobacco-cancer link. They conducted polls to gauge public opinion and used the results to guide campaigns to sway it. They distributed pamphlets and booklets to doctors, the media, policy makers, and the general public insisting there was no cause for alarm.

The industry’s position was that there was “no proof” that tobacco was bad, and they fostered that position by manufacturing a “debate,” convincing the mass media that responsible journalists had an obligation to present “both sides” of it.

Of course there was more to it than that.

The industry did not leave it to journalists to seek out “all the facts.” They made sure they got them. The so-called balance campaign involved aggressive dissemination and promotion to editors and publishers of “information” that supported the industry’s position. But if the science was firm, how could they do that? Was the science firm?

The answer is yes, but. A scientific discovery is not an event; it’s a process, and often it takes time for the full picture to come into clear focus.  By the late 1950s, mounting experimental and epidemiological data linked tobacco with cancer— which is why the industry took action to oppose it. In private, executives acknowledged this evidence. In hindsight it is fair to say— and science historians have said— that the link was already established beyond a reasonable doubt. Certainly no one could honestly say that science showed that smoking was safe.

But science involves many details, many of which remained unclear, such as why some smokers get lung cancer and others do not (a question that remains incompletely answered today). So some scientists remained skeptical.

[…]

The industry made its case in part by cherry-picking data and focusing on unexplained or anomalous details. No one in 1954 would have claimed that everything that needed to be known about smoking and cancer was known, and the industry exploited this normal scientific honesty to spin unreasonable doubt.

[…]

The industry had realized that you could create the impression of controversy simply by asking questions, even if you actually knew the answers and they didn’t help your case. And so the industry began to transmogrify emerging scientific consensus into raging scientific “debate.”

Merchants of Doubt is a fascinating look at how the process for sowing doubt in the minds of people remains the same today as it was in the 1950s. After all, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Sensemaking as a Complement to Default Thinking

Most of the time we devise strategies in the default mode of problem-solving, prioritizing maximum growth and profit through rational and logical analysis. But we already know that rational and logical analysis doesn't always result in the best decisions.

In The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen write:

The ideal is to turn strategy work into a rigorous discipline with the use of deductive logic, a well-structured hypothesis, and a thorough collection of evidence and data. Such problem solving has dominated most research and teaching in business schools over the last decades and has formed the guiding principles of many global management consultancies. Slowly but steadily, this mind-set has gained dominance in business culture over the last thirty years. Today it is the unspoken default tool for solving all problems.

This mindset is almost scientific in the quest for precision.

… learn from past examples to create a hypothesis you can test with numbers. As it uses inductive reasoning for its foundation, it is enormously successful at analyzing information extrapolated from a known set of data from the past. Default thinking helps us create efficiencies, optimize resources, balance product portfolios, increase productivity, invest in markets with the shortest and biggest payback , cut operational complexity, and generally get more bang for the buck. In short, it works extraordinarily well when the business challenge demands an increase in the productivity of a system.

But this method often falls short. And one area where it falls short is people's behaviour. “When it comes to cultural shifts, the use of a hypothesis based on past examples will give us a false sense of confidence, sending us astray into unknown waters with the wrong map,” the authors write.

Certain problems benefit from a linear and rational approach, while other, less straightforward challenges—navigating in a fog—benefit from the problem solving utilized in the human sciences like philosophy, history, the arts, and anthropology. We call this problem-solving method sensemaking.

Sensemaking is really about finding how things are experienced through culture.

The hard sciences involving mathematics and universal laws tell us the way things are and tend to take the main spotlight when we discuss our understanding of the world. This tendency is so common, we often disregard the wide range of sciences that are used to shed light on other phenomena, or the way things are experienced in culture. If default thinking shows us what exists in the foreground (e.g., “we are losing our market share in competitive athletic apparel”), the human sciences investigate the invisible background— the layered nuance behind what we perceive (e.g., “well -being, not competition , is the main motivating factor for many people participating in sports”).

How we experience the world may be as important as, or more important than the hard, objective facts about the world. This is especially true for the specific set of problems where past data or scenarios no longer seem relevant.

Default thinking and sensemaking are complementary tools.

How default thinking and sensemaking complement one another
How default thinking and sensemaking complement one another.

But we tend to see leadership more in the default thinking way, which makes perfect sense. Who doesn't want to be hypothesis driven, quantitative, and linear in their approach to solving problems? Most of these things are visible, which has an added benefit too. But if this is the only tool in our toolbox we're going to fall short.

The difference between decision makers and sensemakers.
The difference between decision makers and sensemakers.

It was perfectly rational, yet wrong, for the steel companies in The Innovator's Dilemma to cede low-margin market share to the mini-mills. This is the decision we'd all make if we look at it through the lens of finance and default thinking. In my interview with Forbes last year, I elaborated on this concept as well with the example of a textile company. It's only when you approach problems through different lenses that you can solve them.

The Moment of Clarity: Using the Human Sciences to Solve Your Toughest Business Problems goes on to explain how humanities help solved some of our toughest business problems.

The Difference Between Persuade, Convince, and Coerce

The difference is worth understanding.

In a recent slate article, K.C. Cole writes:

Persuasion requires understanding. Coercion requires only power. We usually equate coercion with obvious force, but sometimes it’s far more subtle. If you want people to stop smoking, for example, you don’t need to make it illegal; you can simply make smoking expensive (raise taxes) or offer bribes (lower health insurance premiums). Both are still coercive in that the power to give or take away resides entirely in the hands of the “coercer.”

Persuasion is fundamentally different because it relies on understanding what smoking does to the human body. Someone who’s persuaded of its dangers has an incentive to stop that’s entirely independent of anyone else’s actions.

I agree that coercion involves the use of (or the threat of) force.

Where I disagree — and where this gets slightly murky — is that I don't think you need to fully understand something (at least at a conscious level) to be persuaded to act. That assumes persuasion is rational.

I think you are persuaded by appeals to the irrational — emotions, psychology, and imagination.

Understanding something (e.g., what smoking does to the human body) largely comes from facts or arguments that appeal to intellect. When I get you to do something based on facts and reason I'm convincing you to act, which is different from persuading you to act.

Seth Goldin devised an interesting heuristic to think about this — “Engineers convince. Marketers persuade.”

Cole continues:

It’s a distinction I think about often in teaching. If I get students to do things a certain way for fear of getting an F or hopes of getting an A, it means I’ve influenced their behavior for the duration of the class. If I’ve managed to persuade them that my method has merit, I’ve likely made converts for life.

Cole argues that you can be coerced into doing something for the duration of class, yet persuaded by merit to do it for life. That's an appealing argument but it's flawed.

If you're persuading someone to do something by merit then you're appealing to intellect and reason not emotions or imagination — that's not persuading them, it's convincing them.

While morally better than coercion, I doubt Cole's appeal to reason alone would create a lifelong change in his students. Such a successful outcome (changing behavior for life) would likely be the result of a confluence of factors, not just one.

If I'm trying to get you to do something, there are a number of possible end states (for simplicity, I'll remove coercion). You can be (1) convinced of something but don't take action (e.g., I can convince you that smoking is bad for you, yet you fail to quit); (2) convinced of something and you do take action (e.g., I convince you smoking is bad and you quit); (3) convinced and persuaded (e.g., maybe you were in the camp of #1 but now I've persuaded to act); (4) unpersuaded and unconvinced; or (5) unconvinced yet persuaded to act.

I think Cole convinced but didn't persuade his students (#2).

I looked up ‘persuade/convince' in my copy of Garner's Modern American Usage. The entry reads:

persuade; convince. In the best usage, one persuades another to do something but convinces another of something.

Of course, coming from a usage dictionary you get also get usage instructions:

Avoid convince to—the phrasing *she convinced him to resign is traditionally viewed as less good than she persuaded him to resign.

But that means that you can never be convinced to do something – only persuaded. I don't agree.

I think Seth Goldin is closer to the mark. He points out:

Persuasion appeals to the emotions and to fear and to the imagination. Convincing requires a spreadsheet or some other rational device.

You can convince someone to do something based on reason. You can coerce someone to do something under threat. The way to persuade someone, however, is to appeal to their emotions.

The hardest thing to do is convince someone they're wrong. If you find yourself in this circumstance, attempt to persuade them.

It's easier to persuade someone if you've convinced them, and it's easier to convince them if you've persuaded them.

Persuading > Convincing > Coercion

Ideally you want to convince and persuade.

Happy Holidays!

 

The Darwin Economy – Why Smith’s Invisible Hand Breaks Down

The Darwin Economy

In The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and The Common Good Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management, takes on the debate of who was a better economist—Adam Smith or Charles Darwin. Frank, surprisingly, sides with Darwin, arguing that within the next century Darwin will unseat Smith as the intellectual founder of economics.

Why does the invisible hand, “which says that competition challenges self-interest for the common good” break down?

Without question, Adam Smith's invisible hand was a genuinely ground breaking insight. Producers rush to introduce improved product designs and cost-saving innovations for the sole purpose of capturing market share and profits from their rivals. In the short run, these steps work just as the producers had hoped. But rival firms are quick to mimic the innovations, and the resulting competition quickly causes prices to fall in line with the new, lower costs. In the end, Smith argued, consumers are the ultimate beneficiaries of all this churning.

But many of Smith's modern disciples believe he made the much bolder claim that markets always harness individual self-interest to produce the greatest good for society as a whole. Smith's own account, however, was far more circumspect. He wrote, for example, that the profit-seeking business owner “intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it [emphasis added].”

Smith never believed that the invisible hand guaranteed good outcomes in all circumstances. His skepticism was on full display, for example, when he wrote, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” To him, what was remarkable was that self-interested actions often led to socially benign outcomes.

Like Smith, modern progressive critics of the market system tend to attribute its failings to conspiracies to restrain competition. But competition was much more easily restrained in Smith's day than it is now. The real challenge to the invisible hand is rooted in the very logic of the competitive process itself.

Charles Darwin was one of the first to perceive the underlying problem clearly. One of his central insights was that natural selection favors traits and behaviors primarily according to their effect on individual organisms, not larger groups. Sometimes individual and group interests coincide, he recognized, and in such cases we often get invisible hand-like results. A mutation that codes for keener eyesight in one particular hawk, for example, serves the interests of that individual, but its inevitable spread also makes hawks as a species more successful.

In other cases, however, mutations that help the individual prove quite harmful to the larger group. This is in fact the expected result for mutations that confer advantage in head-to-head competition among members of the same species. Male body mass is a case in point. Most vertebrate species are polygynous, meaning that males take more than one mate if they can. The qualifier is important, because when some take multiple mates, others get none. The latter don't pass their genes along, making them the ultimate losers in Darwinian terms. So it's no surprise that males often battle furiously for access to mates. Size matters in those battles, and hence the evolutionary arms races that produce larger males.

Elephant seals are an extreme but instructive example.10 Bulls of the species often weigh almost six thousand pounds, more than five times as much as females and almost as much as a Lincoln Navigator SUV. During the mating season, pairs of mature bulls battle one another ferociously for hours on end, until one finally trudges off in defeat, bloodied and exhausted. The victor claims near-exclusive sexual access to a harem that may number as many as a hundred cows. But while being larger than his rival makes an individual bull more likely to prevail in such battles, prodigious size is a clear handicap for bulls as a group, making them far more vulnerable to sharks and other predators.

Given an opportunity to vote on a proposal to reduce every animal's weight by half, bulls would have every reason to favor it. Since it's relative size, not absolute size, that matters in battle, the change would not affect the outcome of any given head-to-head contest, but it would reduce each animal's risk of being eaten by sharks. There's no practical way, of course, that elephant seals could implement such a proposal. Nor could any bull solve this problem unilaterally, since a bull that weighed much less than others would never win a mate.

Similar conflicts pervade human interactions when individual rewards depend on relative performance. Their essence is nicely captured in a celebrated example by the economist Thomas Schelling. Schelling noted that hockey players who are free to choose for themselves invariably skate without helmets, yet when they're permitted to vote on the matter, they support rules that require them. If helmets are so great, he wondered, why don't players just wear them? Why do they need a rule?

His answer began with the observation that skating without a helmet confers a small competitive edge—perhaps by enabling players to see or hear a little better, or perhaps by enabling them to intimidate their opponents. The immediate lure of gaining a competitive edge trumps more abstract concerns about the possibility of injury, so players eagerly embrace the additional risk. The rub, of course, is that when every player skates without a helmet, no one gains a competitive advantage—hence the attraction of the rule.

As Schelling's diagnosis makes clear, the problem confronting hockey players has nothing to do with imperfect information, lack of self-control, or poor cognitive skills—shortcomings that are often cited as grounds for government intervention. And it clearly does not stem from exploitation or any insufficiency of competition. Rather, it's a garden-variety collective action problem. Players favor helmet rules because that's the only way they're able to play under reasonably safe conditions. A simple nudge—say, a sign in the locker room reminding players that helmets reduce the risk of serious injury—just won't solve their problem. They need a mandate.

What about the libertarians' complaint that helmet rules deprive individuals of the right to choose? This objection is akin to objecting that a military arms control agreement robs the signatories of their right to choose for themselves how much to spend on bombs. Of course, but that's the whole point of such agreements! Parties who confront a collective action problem often realize that the only way to get what they want is to constrain their own ability to do as they please.

As John Stuart Mill argued in On Liberty, it's permissible to constrain an individual's freedom of action only when there's no less intrusive way to prevent undue harm to others. The hockey helmet rule appears to meet this test. By skating without a helmet, a player imposes harm on rival players by making them less likely to win the game, an outcome that really matters to them. If the helmet rule itself somehow imposed even greater harm, it wouldn't be justified. But that's a simple practical question, not a matter of deep philosophical principle.

Rewards that depend on relative performance spawn collective action problems that can cause markets to fail. For instance, the same wedge that separates individual and group interests in Darwinian arms races also helps explain why the invisible hand might not automatically lead to the best possible levels of safety in the workplace. The traditional invisible-hand account begins with the observation that, all other factors the same, riskier jobs tend to pay more, for two reasons. Because of the money employers save by not installing additional safety equipment, they can pay more; and because workers like safety, they will choose safer jobs unless riskier jobs do, in fact, pay more. According to the standard invisible-hand narrative, the fact that a worker is willing to accept lower safety for higher wages implies that the extra income was sufficient compensation for the decrement in safety. But that account rests on the assumption that extra income is valued only for the additional absolute consumption it makes possible. When a worker gets a higher wage, however, there is also a second important benefit. He is able to consume more in absolute terms, yes—but he is also able to consume more relative to others.

Most parents, for example, want to send their children to the best possible schools. Some workers might thus decide to accept a riskier job at a higher wage because that would enable them to meet the monthly payments on a house in a better school district. But other workers are in the same boat, and school quality is an inherently relative concept. So if other workers also traded safety for higher wages, the ultimate outcome would be merely to bid up the prices of houses in better school districts. Everyone would end up with less safety, yet no one would achieve the goal that made that trade seem acceptable in the first place. As in a military arms race, when all parties build more arms, none is any more secure than before.

Workers confronting these incentives might well prefer an alternative state of the world in which all enjoyed greater safety, even at the expense of all having lower wages. But workers can control only their own job choices, not the choices of others. If any individual worker accepted a safer job while others didn't, that worker would be forced to send her children to inferior schools. To get the outcome they desire, workers must act in unison. Again, a mere nudge won't do. Merely knowing that individual actions are self- canceling doesn't eliminate the incentive to take those actions.

The Darwin Economy goes on to explore the consequences and implications of Darwin’s theory being a better model for economics than Smith's invisible hand.

The Distorting Power of Incentives

“The rabbit runs faster than the fox, because the rabbit is running for his life while the fox is only running for his dinner.”
— R. Dawkins

***

Simply put, incentives matter a lot. Incentives are at the root of a lot of situations we face and yet we often fail to account for them. They carry the power to distort our behavior and blind us to reality.

Pebbles of Perception- How a Few Good Choices Make All The Difference

Even accounting for them is often not enough. As Charlie Munger cautions, “I think I've been in the top 5% of my age cohort all my life in understanding the power of incentives, and all my life I've underestimated it. Never a year passes that I don't get some surprise that pushes my limit a little farther.”

In Pebbles of Perception: How a Few Good Choices Make All The Difference, Laurence Endersen writes:

We can only see a situation with true clarity when we take the time to carefully consider the interests at hand. And we understand it even better when we consider how the situation might be different if the underlying interests were different.

But … just as we often fail to understand them, we can also overly focus on them. To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Imagine the nature of a football game where the first goal scorer took all the spoils. There would be one hell of a scramble to score the first goal and it might make compelling viewing. The carrot is effective, but it is too pointed. We suddenly focus on the incentive and forget about the second order consequences. What we see is that narrow incentives influence performance, but they may not improve it. Studies of loan officer approvals during the recent US mortgage crisis showed that the loan officers actually believed the cases with the highest commission were more creditworthy. The effect was worse than naked self-interest: the incentive actually blinded their judgement.

Understanding incentives comes through second-and-third-level thinking. Many incentive systems have backfired because people failed to consider other interests and incentives.

An example is monetary rewards offered to help exterminate unwanted animals such as rats and snakes. What authorities failed to foresee was that people would start to breed the rats and snakes. Forcing people to have overly complex passwords can be another perverse incentive. When faced with this complexity we simply write down our passwords somewhere “safe”.

As to good incentives, money is not enough.

Good incentives acknowledge recognition, public perception, and the value of pursuing work that we can be proud of. So yes, if we want to persuade, we should appeal to interests not reason. But when it comes to interests, appeal not just to net worth but also to self-worth.

There are a few things worth keeping in mind.

First, the behavior you see is usually the result of incentives you don't see. Consider the sharp elbows you see in a typical workplace. Looking at this behavior in isolation it makes little sense. However, odds are, this is rewarded in some way.

Second, we generally get the behavior we reward.

Third, creating effective incentive systems is hard work. We need to consider not only the first level of incentives but also the second and third and how they will impact the system.

Enderson concludes:

Incentives matter greatly – underestimate them at your peril. People will navigate the shortest path to the incentive. The curious among us will pay particular attention to incentives, monetary or otherwise.

Empty Suits

the simple mans burden

I attempted to describe an Empty Suit before when I explained The Fragilista.

Vergil Den, however, does a much better job. In The Simple Man's Burden he explains the concept of Empty Suits.

My boss Leonard is an Empty Suit of the highest order (herein, Empty Suit will be referred to simply as ES – pronounced “ass,” plural “ass-iz”). He is most recognizable by his case of split personality. I often do not know who I am talking to. Perhaps he has a twin. The discussions with him in the morning are forgotten by afternoon. Not so much forgotten, just the order of events has changed and some of the facts are distorted – often in his favor. When I question him on his memory of things, he is so strong in his conviction that I think perhaps I was mistaken. I usually do not take these matters lightly, but when someone projects such confidence, it is hard to believe otherwise. But also, I think intrinsically, humans have a natural apprehension towards standing firm against the sociopath. Someone who is so disconnected is something we fear. This disconnection is hard to articulate and even harder to reconcile. Leonard often believes that the information I had provided him earlier in a day – information that he confirmed at the time to be new to him – can now, later in the day, be his discovery. He asserts with such confidence and conviction that this information was in fact not new to him but rather new to me, and that he had first informed me of this information instead of my informing him! A very curious distortion indeed and perhaps another symptom of the ES.

I stand outside Leonard’s office. His door is closed, but through a pane of glass adjacent to the door, I peer in. He gestures me. I hesitate, knowing that I am about to walk into a deep place where the sun is silent (and conversely a place that is also extremely shallow and loud).

I walk into Leonard’s office. He is wearing a headset and with a wave of his hands gestures me to sit down. I spend some time just sitting and listening to him on the phone. I wonder why he immediately summoned me to his office if he was not ready to see me. Perhaps he received this call in the time it took me to walk here.

Leonard’s office and my office do not resemble one another in any way. His office has windows, for one. It also is about three hundred square feet and includes a couch. He has a whiteboard on one of the walls. It is interesting how everyone seems to have a whiteboard nowadays when in the past they were only in the domain of engineers and computer programmers. Leonard’s whiteboard is covered with chevrons – undoubtedly the most complex shape he knows of.

Leonard is a tall man who is in his mid-forties but appears much older. His cheeks are permanently red and his body has a certain softness about it that can probably be only fully appreciated with his shirt off. There is a looseness of skin under his chin somewhat resembling the jowls of the late Ted Kennedy – perhaps not as severe, but well on its way. His bookshelves are neatly ordered with business management books – the kind that lay out a number of simple steps needed to reach greatness that were derived by studying the attributes of successful managers and leaders. On his desk are a number of happy family pictures and photos with friends (most at golf outings). Perhaps this is to remind him why he works so hard. More likely, however, it is just a façade – a sort of wishful thinking strategy that is often recommended in self-help books. If he is surrounded by enough happy photos of his family and friends, it will elicit positive thoughts, then it will surely become reality.

I cannot help but notice the roast beef wrap with cheese and shards of lettuce sitting in a plastic takeout container on this desk. It oozes some cream sauce – perhaps Thousand Island or ranch. The smell is not appetizing and fills the room – a mix of raw garlic and onion. As he talks on the phone, I take the moment of respite to ponder on what sits before me – the platonic ideal form of an ES.

ESs are nothing new. They have existed all throughout history mainly in the political and religious arena. It is not until recently, however, that they invaded the corporate and science worlds. I have come across many ESs in my life. If you have ever worked for a large corporation, whether you know it or not you have come across an ES. They are ubiquitous at large corporations. They exist in smaller numbers in smaller institutions. ESs are overarchingly male but that may be a symptom of the glass ceiling rather than some esteemed quality present only in women. ESs are empty because they lack something. They may be intrinsically lacking, they may choose intentionally to lack, or they may simply be absentmindedly lacking. They are not invisible – ESs will let you know that they exist.

The rather curious thing is that, although they will let you know they exist, they will never acknowledge that they are ESs. They will always point to the other chap. I suspect that they cannot see their own situation. It is the exact opposite phenomenon of middle class unawareness where both the millionaires and the working poor believe they are part of the middle class.

So it should not come as any surprise that the ES lacks self-awareness and the awareness that he or she does not know everything that there is to know. They are a physical manifestation of illusory superiority from the Dunning Kruger effect. Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger set out to test Charles Darwin’s assertion that “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” They tested this hypothesis on human subjects consisting of Cornell undergraduates who were registered in various psychology courses. In a series of studies, they examined self-assessment of logical reasoning skills, grammatical skills, and humor. After being shown their test scores, the subjects were again asked to estimate their own rank, whereupon the competent group accurately estimated their rank, while the incompetent group still overestimated their own rank.

As Dunning and Kruger noted across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Meanwhile, people with true knowledge tended to underestimate their relative competence. Roughly, participants who found tasks to be relatively easy erroneously assumed, to some extent, that the tasks must also be easy for others. The Dunner Kruger effect demonstrated that there is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the ability to realize their mistakes.

This alone makes ESs dangerous. But even more so when coupled with power – either directly by their position or indirectly from the relationship and bond with other ESs.

Empty suits can be toxic. “Avoiding them should be a priority.” But to avoid them you must first recognize them. There are three things to know.

First, ESs are not stupid individuals (incompetent and ignorant in certain matters but not wholly stupid). They can be in fact exceedingly intelligent. This can be book smart and/or people smart. But it is this very intelligence that is the facade. The paradox is that intelligent people can be exceedingly blind to their own limits of knowledge. So in other words, we are all biased in what we think we know and what we think we do not know. ESs raise the bar – they significantly overestimate what they think they know and significantly underestimate what they think they do not know.

Second, ESs are able to verbally articulate their thoughts well. That is not to say the thoughts themselves are logical or harmonious. Rather, they have an uncanny ability to convey their thoughts verbally in a convincing manner – usually by story telling. These narrative fallacies are convincing because the true complexities are hidden, and the message is delivered in a way to connect to the individual. Some may argue that this is the sign of a skilled presenter; however, I think it is the mark of a snake oil salesman. By oversimplifying the problem and the solution, a false premise is created. This is the angst of many project teams who need to deliver on a salesman’s promise. I suspect this is the cause of many project failures.

Finally, ESs always have an answer, even when they do not know the correct one. They will never answer that they do not know and will construct elaborate responses to guise this fact. Depending on the situation and the audience, they will either overgeneralize (typically when talking with clients or bosses) or verbally attack with insults (typically when talking with peers and subordinates).

How do you spot an empty suit?

Look for the guy (again, ESs are mostly men) who does the most talking, whose ideas have lots of logical holes, and whose ideas are cloaked in a story spoken with verbosity and charm. Next, challenge him with a well reasoned argument pointing to the weaknesses in his narrative. Be level and calm in your questioning – and even self-effacing. Play devil’s advocate if you must. When he is challenged, how does he react? If he exhibits rage (or the containment of rage) he is an ES, as challenging his thoughts are an assault on him personally. But beware; take heed when exposing ESs on internal company matters. If a whistle blows in a forest and only ESs are there to hear it, does it make a sound? The silence is deafening except for the momentary sound of a boot kicking an ass and the slam of a door.

How do you become an empty suit?

It is relatively easy to become an ES. You do not need great smarts (although many ESs are very intelligent according to the common measure utilized in most schools and universities). Mostly, you just need to subscribe to a life where family, true friends, erudition, and health are not important. An ES knowingly enters and accepts that this is the path. You must also learn how to golf, but do not confuse the logic – not all golfers are ESs, but all ESs are golfers. You cannot become an ES by accident.

There are a number of notions put forth that attempt to explain how ESs actually ascend in an institution. The Peter Principle proposes that in business people will get promoted to one level higher than their competency level. If they were still competent at that level, they would get promoted up again. So they stop one level above where they naturally belong. The Dilbert Principle proposes that people get promoted because they will do less damage to the business at the new promoted level than at the current level. This would hold true less in the business realm and more in the field of engineering. God forbid an ES is charged with quality control of an airplane.

I think the Peter’s Principle and the Dilbert Principle have some efficacy. But the ES Principle that I propose is something far simpler. ESs get promoted because those in power are usually ESs as well. ESs protect their own (at least for a time). Moreover, ESs, given their illusory superiority, see no risk in promoting a subordinate ES – when in fact this is risky. The same traits that make one ES desirable for promotion make another ES equally desirable. So in a way one can choose to become an ES – in other words, just choose to exhibit the traits of an ES. Therefore, unlike with the Peter Principle and Dilbert Principle, one can choose to be promoted. This could be wrong of course, but I shudder at the thought that the ES trait is not a matter of choice, but instead, reflexive (that is to say, it unconsciously favors close genetic relatives such that those who look like me, talk like me, act like me, are naturally attracted to one another).

You can avoid becoming an empty suit. This is a choice. A realization that there are greater pursuits than the hollow life of “the educated ignorant.”

The Simple Man's Burden is a treat throughout and it comes highly recommended from this reader.

Still Curious? Check out Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up.

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.

Let Go of the Learning Baggage

We all want to learn better. That means retaining information, processing it, being able to use it when needed. More knowledge means better instincts; better insights into opportunities for both you and your organization. You will ultimately produce better work if you give yourself the space to learn. Yet often organizations get in the way of learning.

How do we learn how to learn? Usually in school, combined with instructions from our parents, we cobble together an understanding that allows us to move forward through the school years until we matriculate into a job. Then because most initial learning comes from doing, less from books, we switch to an on-the-fly approach.

Which is usually an absolute failure. Why? In part, because we layer our social values on top and end up with a hot mess of guilt and fear that stymies the learning process.

Learning is necessary for our success and personal growth. But we can’t maximize the time we spend learning because our feelings about what we ‘should’ be doing get in the way.

We are trained by our modern world to organize our day into mutually exclusive chunks called ‘work’, ‘play’, and ‘sleep’. One is done at the office, the other two are not. We are not allowed to move fluidly between these chunks, or combine them in our 24 hour day. Lyndon Johnson got to nap at the office in the afternoon, likely because he was President and didn’t have to worry about what his boss was going to think. Most of us don’t have this option. And now in the open office debacle we can’t even have a quiet 10 minutes of rest in our cubicles.

We have become trained to equate working with doing. Thus the ‘doing’ has value. We deserve to get paid for this. And, it seems, only this.

What does this have to do with learning?

It’s this same attitude that we apply to the learning process when we are older, with similarly unsatisfying results.

If we are learning for work, then in our brains learning = work. So we have to do it during the day. At the office. And if we are not learning, then we are not working. We think that walking is not learning. It’s ‘taking a break’. We instinctively believe that reading is learning. Having discussions about what you’ve read, however, is often not considered work, again it’s ‘taking a break’.

To many, working means sitting at your desk for eight hours a day. Being physically present, mental engagement is optional. It means pushing out emails and rushing to meetings and generally getting nothing done. We’ve looked at the focus aspect of this before. But what about the learning aspect?

Can we change how we approach learning, letting go of the guilt associated with not being visibly active, and embrace what seems counter-intuitive?

Thinking and talking are useful elements of learning. And what we learn in our ‘play’ time can be valuable to our ‘work’ time, and there’s nothing wrong with moving between the two (or combining them) during our day.

When mastering a subject, our brains actually use different types of processing. Barbara Oakley explains in A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (even if you flunked algebra) that our brain has two general modes of thinking – ‘focused’ and ‘diffuse’ – and both of these are valuable and required in the learning process.

The focused mode is what we traditionally associate with learning. Read, dive deep, absorb. Eliminate distractions and get into the material. Oakley says “the focused mode involves a direct approach to solving problems using rational, sequential, analytical approaches. … Turn your attention to something and bam – the focused mode is on, like the tight, penetrating beam of a flashlight.”

But the focused mode is not the only one required for learning because we need time to process what we pick up, to get this new information integrated into our existing knowledge. We need time to make new connections. This is where the diffuse mode comes in.

Diffuse-mode thinking is what happens when you relax your attention and just let your mind wander. This relaxation can allow different areas of the brain to hook up and return valuable insights. … Diffuse-mode insights often flow from preliminary thinking that’s been done in the focused mode.

Relying solely on the focused mode to learn is a path to burnout. We need the diffuse mode to cement our ideas, put knowledge into memory and free up space for the next round of focused thinking. We need the diffuse mode to build wisdom. So why does diffuse mode thinking at work generally involve feelings of guilt?

Oakley’s recommendations for ‘diffuse-mode activators’ are: go to the gym, walk, play a sport, go for a drive, draw, take a bath, listen to music (especially without words), meditate, sleep. Um, aren’t these all things to do in my ‘play’ time? And sleep? It’s a whole time chunk on its own.

Most organizations do not promote a culture that allow these activities to be integrated into the work day. Go to the gym on your lunch. Sleep at home. Meditate on a break. Essentially do these things while we are not paying you.

We ingest this way of thinking, associating the value of getting paid with the value of executing our task list. If something doesn’t directly contribute, it’s not valuable. If it’s not valuable I need to do it in my non-work time or not at all. This is learned behavior from our organizational culture, and it essentially communicates that our leaders would rather see us do less than trust in the potential payoff of pursuits that aren’t as visible or ones that don’t pay off as quickly. The ability to see something is often a large component of trust. So if we are doing any of these ‘play’ activities at work, which are invisible in terms of their contribution to the learning process, we feel guilty because we don’t believe we are doing what we get paid to do.

If you aren’t the CEO or the VP of HR, you can’t magic a policy that says ‘all employees shall do something meaningful away from their desks each day and won’t be judged for it’, so what can you do to learn better at work? Find a way to let go of the guilt baggage when you invest in proven, effective learning techniques that are out of sync with your corporate culture.

How do you let go of the guilt? How do you not feel it every time you stand up to go for a walk, close your email and put on some headphones, or have a coffee with a colleague to discuss an idea you have? Because sometimes knowing you are doing the right thing doesn’t translate into feeling it, and that’s where guilt comes in.

Guilt is insidious. Not only do we usually feel guilt, but then we feel guilty about feeling guilty. Like, I go to visit my grandmother in her old age home mostly because I feel guilty about not going, and then I feel guilty because I’m primarily motivated by guilt! Like if I were a better person I would be doing it out of love, but I’m not, so that makes me terrible.

Breaking this cycle is hard. Like anything new, it’s going to feel unnatural for a while but it can be done.

How? Be kind to yourself.

This may sound a bit touchy-feely, but it is really a just a cognitive-behavioral approach with a bit of mindfulness thrown in. Dennis Tirch has done a lot of research into the positive benefits of compassion for yourself on worry, panic and fear. And what is guilt but worry that you aren’t doing the right thing, fear that you’re not a good person, and panic about what to do about it?

In his book, The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Overcoming Anxiety, Tirch writes:

the compassion focused model is based on research showing that some of the ways in which we instinctively regulate our response to threats have evolved from the attachment system that operates between infant and mother and from other basic relationships between mutually supportive people. We have specific systems in our brains that are sensitive to the kindness of others, and the experience of this kindness has a major impact on the way we process these threats and the way we process anxiety in particular.

The Dalai Lama defines compassion as “a sensitivity to the suffering of others, with a commitment to do something about it,” and Tirch also explains that we are greatly impacted by our compassion to ourselves.

In order to manage and overcome emotions like guilt that can prevent us from learning and achieving, we need to treat ourselves the same way we would the person we love most in the world. “We can direct our attention to inner images that evoke feelings of kindness, understanding, and support,” writes Tirch.

So the next time you look up from that proposal on the new infrastructure schematics and see that the sun is shining, go for a walk, notice where you are, and give your mind a chance to go into diffuse-mode and process what you’ve been focusing on all morning. And give yourself a hug for doing it.