Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Barry Schwartz

Thinking of workers as cogs. Or the process is designed as such?

 Human nature is much more created than it is discovered.

Beware of false theories on human nature.

What makes work satisfying? Apart from a paycheck, there are intangible values that, Barry Schwartz suggests, our current way of thinking about work simply ignores. It’s time to stop thinking of workers as cogs on a wheel.

Barry Schwartz. Psychologist. He studies the link between economics and psychology, offering insights into modern life. Lately, working with Ken Sharpe, he’s studying wisdom. Full bio

Today I’m going to talk about work. And the question I want to ask and answer is this: “Why do we work?” Why do we drag ourselves out of bed every morning instead of living our lives just filled with bouncing from one TED-like adventure to another?

0:33 You may be asking yourselves that very question. we have to make a living, but nobody in this room thinks that that’s the answer to the question, “Why do we work?”

For folks in this room, the work we do is challenging, it’s engaging, it’s stimulating, it’s meaningful. And if we’re lucky, it might even be important.

we wouldn’t work if we didn’t get paid, but that’s not why we do what we do.

And in general, I think we think that material rewards are a pretty bad reason for doing the work that we do. When we say of somebody that he’s “in it for the money,” we are not just being descriptive.

I think this is totally obvious, but the very obviousness of it raises what is for me an incredibly profound question. Why, if this is so obvious, why is it that for the overwhelming majority of people on the planet, the work they do has none of the characteristics that get us up and out of bed and off to the office every morning?

How is it that we allow the majority of people on the planet to do work that is monotonous, meaningless and soul-deadening?

Why is it that as capitalism developed, it created a mode of production, of goods and services, in which all the nonmaterial satisfactions that might come from work were eliminated?

Workers who do this kind of work, whether they do it in factories, in call centers, or in fulfillment warehouses, do it for pay. There is certainly no other earthly reason to do what they do except for pay.

ted.com|By Barry Schwartz

the question is, “Why?” And here’s the answer: the answer is technology.

technology, automation screws people, blah blah — that’s not what I mean. I’m not talking about the kind of technology that has enveloped our lives, and that people come to TED to hear about. I’m not talking about the technology of things, profound though that is. I’m talking about another technology. I’m talking about the technology of ideas. I call it, “idea technology” — how clever of me.

In addition to creating things, science creates ideas. Science creates ways of understanding. And in the social sciences, the ways of understanding that get created are ways of understanding ourselves. And they have an enormous influence on how we think, what we aspire to, and how we act.

If you think your poverty is God’s will, you pray. If you think your poverty is the result of your own inadequacy, you shrink into despair. And if you think your poverty is the result of oppression and domination, then you rise up in revolt.

Whether your response to poverty is resignation or revolution, depends on how you understand the sources of your poverty. This is the role that ideas play in shaping us as human beings, and this is why idea technology may be the most profoundly important technology that science gives us.

there’s something special about idea technology, that makes it different from the technology of things. With things, if the technology sucks, it just vanishes, right? Bad technology disappears. With ideas — false ideas about human beings will not go away if people believe that they’re true. Because if people believe that they’re true, they create ways of living and institutions that are consistent with these very false ideas.

 that’s how the industrial revolution created a factory system in which there was really nothing you could possibly get out of your day’s work, except for the pay at the end of the day.

Because the father — one of the fathers of the Industrial Revolution, Adam Smith — was convinced that human beings were by their very natures lazy, and wouldn’t do anything unless you made it worth their while, and the way you made it worth their while was by incentivizing, by giving them rewards.

That was the only reason anyone ever did anything. So we created a factory system consistent with that false view of human nature. But once that system of production was in place, there was really no other way for people to operate, except in a way that was consistent with Adam Smith’s vision.

So the work example is merely an example of how false ideas can create a circumstance that ends up making them true.

It is not true that you “just can’t get good help anymore.”

It is true that you “can’t get good help anymore” when you give people work to do that is demeaning and soulless. And interestingly enough, Adam Smith — the same guy who gave us this incredible invention of mass production, and division of labor — understood this.

Adam Smith also said, of people who worked in assembly lines, of men who worked in assembly lines, he says: He generally becomes as stupid as it is possible for a human being to become.”

notice the word here is “become.” “He generally becomes as stupid as it is possible for a human being to become.” Whether he intended it or not, what Adam Smith was telling us there, is that the very shape of the institution within which people work creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and deprives people of the opportunity to derive the kinds of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted.

The thing about science — natural science — is that we can spin fantastic theories about the cosmos, and have complete confidence that the cosmos is completely indifferent to our theories. It’s going to work the same damn way no matter what theories we have about the cosmos.

But we do have to worry about the theories we have of human nature, because human nature will be changed by the theories we have that are designed to explain and help us understand human beings.

The distinguished anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, said, years ago, that human beings are the “unfinished animals.” And what he meant by that was that it is only human nature to have a human nature that is very much the product of the society in which people live.

That human nature is much more created than it is discovered. We design human nature by designing the institutions within which people live and work.

7:36 And so you people — pretty much the closest I ever get to being with masters of the universe — you people should be asking yourself a question, as you go back home to run your organizations.

Just what kind of human nature do you want to help design?

Adam Grant and Malcolm Gladwell on

What It Means to Be Original

Conformity is a dangerous thing. Conformity is about saying, ‘I don’t agree with your ideas or your values, but I’m going to follow you anyway…’”

 A book in which the word Intelligence barely appears

Malcolm Gladwell, known for his deep inquiries into how the social sciences impact our day-to-day lives, recently sat down with Adam Grant, a Wharton psychology professor whose latest book, Originals, deals with the character traits that foster creative success.

In this conversation, at 92nd Street Y, Gladwell and Grant delve into entrepreneurship, college admissions, and what makes a good president.  (This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)

Malcolm Gladwell: Originals is essentially an argument about character. There is an ideal temperament for dealing productively with the world of ideas. It’s a book in which the word intelligence barely appears. (I like it when Intelligence does Not show up)

You’re in this very interesting tradition of trying to reorient our thinking away from the IQ fundamentalists.

If you’re right — what truly distinguishes people in complex environments is our matters of temperament — what does that mean for the various institutions that we have created in our world?

Talking politics, education, and innovation with two bestselling authors
heleo.com|By Heleo

For example, you teach at Penn, an Ivy League school, which selects people largely on the basis of their SAT score. Is there any correlation between your SAT score and the kinds of questions of temperament and character you’re talking about in this book?

Adam Grant: No.

Malcolm: Does that suggest that your own school goes about choosing students all wrong?

Adam: Yes. Don’t lead the witness or anything.

Malcolm: If I made you Admissions Director at Penn tomorrow, what happens?

Adam: The school would implode, first of all. After that, I would go back to the drawing board and say, “What are we even trying to select on?”

I’m a big fan of Barry Schwartz‘s view that the college admissions process is largely a smokescreen, and that there are at least 5 times as many students academically similar to each other who could get in and don’t.

We might as well just say, “Here’s our bar and let’s either do a lottery or let’s treat it like the medical residency matching program, where students have to rank and prioritize and then you can only get into one place that also chooses you.”

That would make students spend their time probably in more valuable ways in high school.

I’d put a lot more emphasis on originality.

I really like the George Lucas proposal for this. He wants every child to go through school thinking about a creative portfolio and at the end of high school, submit that with a college application.

Malcolm: What do you mean by a creative portfolio?

Adam: You submit something that’s your own original work. It could be a film that you made, a story that you wrote, a song that you created, something original that’s an act of creative self expression. I would love to see that added to the admissions process along with the standard SAT, essays, grades.

Malcolm: That’s about selection. It strikes me that your ideas have perhaps even more implications for what happens at the school.

Adam: You only put me in charge of Admissions. You want me to do the rest too?

Malcolm: Now I’d like you to be dean. If you are Dean of Adam Grant U, do we care more about looking for these kinds of kids at the point of admissions, or creating these kinds of kids over the course of the four years?

Adam: That seems like a false dichotomy, doesn’t it? We want both. It’s easier to influence the selection process than to know how to socialize students in college.

Malcolm: Social psychologists are telling me that they don’t know how to socialize students in college?

Adam: Yes. I don’t know that we have as much influence on the socialization process as peers do. We can control the selection process completely.

Malcolm: Wait, hold on. A teacher at a college is saying that the best way to socialize a student is at the point of admission and not what actually goes on? For your 65 grand, you’re not actually getting any experience that could be controlled by the faculty? Is that what you’re saying?

Adam: Maybe 63 grand of that is uncontrolled by the faculty.

Malcolm: Are you suggesting you’ve become highly disillusioned with the efficacy of higher education?

Adam: That assumes I was illusioned to begin with. I’m actually serious.

By the time people come to college, they make a lot of their own choices. It’s a little bit like the Judith Rich Harris arguments about parents not mattering, how pre-schoolers supposedly pay more attention to what their peers do, than what their parents do.

When you get to college, there are very few people who say, “I’m going to find out what professors think is important, and then I’m going to go follow that.” Peers have a much bigger influence.

Malcolm: Does your creative portfolio run the risk of simply creating a new kind of admissions tyranny that favors the arty kid? One reaction I had to your book was that you’re describing a kind of person, but we can’t all be originals. Or can we?

“There are lots of ways that people could think for themselves and be original, that still involves saying, ‘I believe this person’s leadership is compelling and I want to follow.’”

Adam: We can. We can do it in our own domains. I do worry about this. I wrote this op-ed about raising a creative child. I was quite taken aback to discover that every single reader of the New York Times has a gifted child.

You start to see the comments and the emails come in and you realize that the question is, how can I create a formula for not only raising a super smart, overly gritty child but now my kid has to be an original too and I want to program that as much as I can from fetus stage?

Conformity is a dangerous thing. Conformity is about saying, “I don’t agree with your ideas or your values, but I’m going to follow you anyway because something bad is going to happen to me if I stand out instead of fitting in.”

There are lots of ways that people could think for themselves and be original, that still involves saying, “I believe this person’s leadership is compelling and I want to follow.” We should see people being original in different domains of their lives.

Malcolm: This last year has been marked by an extraordinary amount of unrest on college campuses, particularly elite college campuses. Through the prism of this book, how you would like to see students think and act? Are you cheered or dismayed by what’s been going on?

Adam: It’s a little bit of both. I want to see students standing up for their beliefs and challenging systems and rules that don’t make sense to them, biases and sources of prejudice that they see.

On the other hand, some of the expressions of that have been less than constructive. I had a colleague once who used to say, “If you’re going to point out that the emperor has no clothes, you’d better be a good tailor.” There’s variance in how much preparation for tailoring was done in these situations.

Malcolm: You’re raising the bar awfully high for 19 year olds. If you’re saying that you like nonconformity, but only nonconformity that conforms to a rational constructive set of principles, then you’re not really interested in nonconformity, are you? You’ve got to take the bad part with the good part.

Adam: This is one of the problems with encouraging nonconformity: you don’t get to decide where it goes. It can be very easily taken in all sorts of directions that we might not agree with.

“One of my favorite scholars always talks about this idea that you should argue like you’re right, and listen like you’re wrong.”

That is a fantastic model for nonconformity. What we see in a lot of these college campuses is people are only arguing as if they’re right, and not being willing to change their minds or admit that they’re wrong.

Malcolm: That’s precisely what dismayed me about the reaction, now that you say it that way. That was a failure on the part of the adults in the room, not the students. At Yale it struck me, for example, as opposed to using this as an opportunity to say exactly that — “Now, let’s listen to the other side,” they just rolled over and said, “The paying customer gets what the paying customer wants,” which struck me as being a bit of a sham.

Along these same lines, when you were talking about nonconformity as being messy, you have a really fascinating chapter about Bridgewater Associates, the hedge fund run by Ray Dalio. Since your book has come out, Ray Dalio has been in the news for precisely the thing that you were talking about in your book.

Adam: It’s a culture unlike any I’ve ever seen before. They have a lot of very clear, strong principles that Ray has articulated, my favorite of which is that no one has the right to hold a critical opinion without speaking up about it. (Must learn to be a teacher first before daring to have a critical opinion?)

That means that if you see something that you disagree with, you are expected to share it.

In fact, you could be fired for not doing that. Even though they have a strong culture around these values and their socialization process, one of the things you’re asked about every single principle is, “Do you agree? If not, why not?”

You can go into an interview and you might be taken aback by how strong this culture is. You might make an offhand comment to your interviewer, “Gosh, that was intense.” You will get dragged right back into the people you were just speaking with to share it with them directly because they don’t believe in backstabbing there. They want you to frontstep. It’s an actual term they use there.

They’re like, “Look, this political behavior is essentially gossiping and being a slimy weasel. You might as well say it to people’s faces so they can learn from it.”

As a result, they videotape or audiotape every meeting and they want to make sure that people are radically transparent so that they can build, instead of a democracy, an idea meritocracy where the best information, as opposed to the most popular perspective, wins.

Malcolm: I know you have some qualms about that, but in the main, do you think that that culture is part of what contributes to making a successful firm?

“The only way that you beat the market is you think differently from everyone else.”

Adam: I do. They’ve done a phenomenal job avoiding group-think. They’ve been arguably the most successful hedge fund ever, in the last 40 years. They were one of the few to anticipate the financial crisis and start warning clients about it in 2007.

The only way that you beat the market is you think differently from everyone else. They’ve really created a culture where people are expected to dissent. (Though having a thought out alternative?) I would love to see more organizations operate that way.

Malcolm: There’s a big Wall Street Journal article about them. One video shows Mr. Dalio standing at a dry erase board and demonstrating how the marker ink won’t fully rub out with an eraser, according to people familiar with the video.

Mr. Dalio prods Bridgewater employees at length about why they bought the dry erase board, why it doesn’t work and how the bad decision could have been avoided.

This is the side effect of radical openness. You end up with the founder and CEO of a multibillion dollar operation talking at length, castigating his employees about their choice of dry erase boards.

Adam: No, it’s not a side effect. It’s an active ingredient.

Malcolm: This is in a quote that I wanted to read on the same matter. “One former Bridgewater employee recalls debating with other employees for as long as an hour, whether a misused apostrophe in one of Mr. Dalio’s research reports was intentional or not.” The first and perhaps not terribly productive response I have to that is that they have a lot of time on their hands.

These cultures saying, “We are willing to devote a good deal more of our energy to the social management of dissent and honesty” are only possible under certain kinds of idealized circumstances. A firm that has algorithms doing its trading in 40% margins is a place where you can do that. Can you do this if you are making cars in Detroit?

Adam: You have to do this, at least a version of it. You look at a situation like this on its face and you’re like, “Wow, these people are wasting a lot of time.”

When you see a problem happen, most of life in organizations and life in general is just situations repeating themselves over and over again. (Like that observation)

There are only so many different kinds of situations you can run into. The question is, if we ended up with a marker that doesn’t work, is that revealing of something fundamentally problematic about our decision-making process?

Could we use this as an instance to learn from a minor mistake, so that then we can avoid the major one? Bridgewater is looking for those needles in haystacks that suggest, “We have a deeper problem and we need to understand it.”

Malcolm: It’s very generous reading that.

Adam: I don’t actually think so. They hire a lot of very bright people who spend a lot of time thinking about how to navigate their culture. If this was just complete time wasted, they would have had a debate about that, and resolved it in favor of, “Let’s not talk about whiteboards and markers anymore.”

The fact that it continues to happen leads me to think that people see value in it, and at minimum that they’re learning to dissent in areas that probably aren’t ego-threatening, so that then you have the patterns built up for the time when you really need to challenge them.

Malcolm: You’re saying that those kinds of esoteric debates on relatively trivial matters are almost a rehearsal for more serious debates on questions of substance.

Most of us don’t ever practice. We’re always playing the game.”

Adam: They’re like practice before the game. Most of us don’t ever practice. We’re always playing the game.

Malcolm: Here’s my question. Are they practicing before the game or do they so exhaust us that we have no energy left for the game?

Adam: They have a very high turnover rate in the first 18 months. (And those who remains become the conformists?)

It’s not a place for everyone. After that, turnover is pretty rare. What I heard from a lot of people is, “Look, I can make lots of money anywhere. What’s unique about this place is people tell me the truth and they give me critical feedback and I get better. After living in this environment, I can’t imagine going back somewhere where people are constantly saying nice things to my face and then stabbing me in the back. I just don’t want to live that way.”

Malcolm: Do you try and live your own life that way?

Adam: I do as much as I can. When I taught my first class ever, I collected feedback forms about a month in to find out how it was going. Then I decided I wanted to have a discussion with the class about how to improve it. I had a bunch of colleagues who said, “Don’t do this because if every one individually finds out that their complaints are shared, then there’s going to be a mutiny.”

I said, “Yeah, that’s possible, but I want to learn and I want to engage the class in helping me become a better teacher.” I typed up all the comments verbatim. I emailed them to the whole class. It was especially fun to send out a comment that said, “You remind us of a Muppet.” I was like, “Why didn’t you tell me which one? I still want to know to this day.”

Malcolm: That’s radical openness.

Adam: When I then had a class session devoted to discussing the feedback, I said, “Like any good organizational psychologist, I did a content analysis of all of the critical comments. Here are the 5 major categories of concerns. Here are some idea for how to address them. What do you think?” Then we discussed it. I learned a huge amount from it.

Criticism in public was actually helpful. I thought it would be more vulnerable and more embarrassing. But being on stage, I wasn’t just getting evaluated on the quality of my class. I was also getting evaluated on how well I took the feedback. Being there in public forced me to be receptive and listen, as opposed to defensive.

I’ve done that every year since and I feel like I learned something valuable and new every year.

Malcolm: I have to go back 10 minutes, to when we started talking about how this way of looking at the world ought to change the job of letting people into college. Let’s move on to another institution. How should this change the way we pick presidents? (college presidents?)

First of all, it’s unbelievable that we have an election process that’s basically a popularity contest, instead of a competence contest.

Adam: Wow. We are not supposed to talk about any Wharton alums in public. I’m going to speak in generalities here. [Ed. Note: Donald Trump is a Wharton alum.] First of all, it’s unbelievable that we have an election process that’s basically a popularity contest, instead of a competence contest. I would be willing to vote for anyone who demonstrates effective leadership skills, decision making, forecasting, visioning, conflict resolution, various points on the ideology spectrum.

If they show me they can lead effectively, I want that person in charge of the country.

If you look at research on American presidents, the most effective ones consistently were the ones who were willing to challenge the status quo.

Look at Lincoln, for example. Lincoln was widely unpopular in his time for making some decisions that a lot of people disagreed with and yet, probably the most important thing that’s happened in this country to date. (Not before he was elected though?)

I would love to see a process where we could figure out, “Who’s able to take an original, nonconforming vision and get other people behind it?” I would also explode the two-party system. It’s a disaster.

Malcolm: One of the great curiosities about the American electoral process, and I say this as a Canadian, is that it’s essentially structured around a series of debates. You’re selected on your debating skills. Then the minute you get into the office, you stop debating. It’s very odd. We might as well see if they are good at playing golf.

Adam: We actually do a fair amount of that too.

Malcolm: Then as I thought about it, when you give your character template that you think is so useful for original thinking, which has to do with self-reflection, humility, willingness to accept criticism, thoughtfulness, et cetera, all of those things are on display in a debate.

Maybe the problem isn’t the debate. Maybe the problem is the way in which we’re interpreting behavior in a debate.

“Debates end up largely rewarding the person who is most successfully aggressive, as opposed to the person who is able to bring a new perspective to the table, or make us think differently.”

Adam: Debates end up largely rewarding the person who is most successfully aggressive, as opposed to the person who is able to bring a new perspective to the table, or make us think differently. Philip Tetlock‘s work on foxes and hedgehogs is so relevant here.

Hedgehogs know one thing well. They see the world black and white. Foxes know many things and are constantly looking at shades of gray. What Philip is always pointing out is that the candidates who are getting elected are the ones who speak like a hedgehog and who use very simple language, and are very clear about their one or two or three policies.

That’s exactly the opposite of the people who are good at predicting the future and making decisions.

The candidate I want to vote for is the one who flip-flops all the time, the one who has sentences that don’t end necessarily in any clear direction, who’s grappling through complex ideas, but we don’t really want to vote for those people because we don’t trust them to steer the country.

Malcolm: You have a chapter that deals in part with Segway and Dean Kamen. You’re really quite hard on him. You talk about the reasons why so many smart people were wrong about the Segway. Lots of brilliant people in Silicon Valley said, “This is a game-changing, extraordinary piece of technology.” It did not live up to expectations in the marketplace. Why are you holding it against Dean Kamen?

Adam: I didn’t mean to be hard on Dean. I mean to be hard, actually, on the investors who bet on the Segway. That chapter was about false positives and false negatives, and how we have lots of original ideas in the world. The problem isn’t getting more of them, but rather betting on the right ones. We need to stop rejecting Harry Potter and stop saying that Segway is going to change the world.

Malcolm: Don’t you like the spirit in which people thought? I object to calling the Segway a false positive.

The spirit in which the kind of thinking that leads you to believe in the Segway, leads you to believe in lots of other things that maybe do turn out well. In other words, you can’t turn off enthusiasm for the Segway without turning off enthusiasm for lots of other really fascinating longshots.

Adam: You can still have the enthusiasm. You can still fund the technology. You don’t have to go and say, “This is going to change the world of transportation.” You can bet on the invention without betting on the company. (How so?)

Malcolm: Elsewhere you point out the incredibly insightful observation from Dean Simonton, that what distinguishes the genius from the rest of us is not that they have a higher hit rate, but that they have more ideas than we do.

a genius by definition has more misses than we do. We have three ideas, and they have 100. They’re going to get 25 right and we’re going to get one right.

Why isn’t the Segway just an example of geniuses missing?

Adam: It is if you look at Dean Kamen’s career. He basically stopped everything else he was working on and spent several years on the Segway. I would have much rather had his brilliant brain turn toward multiple innovations. That’s where it’s a failure, because we lose his time.

“It’s like if Shakespeare said, ‘Instead of also working on this thing called Macbeth and Hamlet, I’m just going to put everything in The Merry Wives of Windsor.’ That would be such a travesty.”

Once he’s perfected the technology, he shouldn’t be spending years trying to figure out how to commercialize it.

That’s not his strength. There are lots of other people who can do that. Let him do what he does best, which is inventing. It halted his idea-generation process.

Nobody thinks it’s a great masterpiece. It’s like if Shakespeare said, “Instead of also working on this thing called Macbeth and Hamlet, I’m just going to put everything in The Merry Wives of Windsor.” That would be such a travesty.

I want to ask you a question though, because this whole idea of generating lots of ideas, you’ve been at this now for two decades plus. Talk about being an original.

You created this whole original genre where you took social science and made it interesting and accessible to people. You used it to help them turn their own beliefs upside down, and also explain the world that they live in.

Can you talk about your idea-generation process and how you know when you’re onto something good, versus bad?

Malcolm: There’s no system. Someone reminds you of something you said a few years ago. I think, “Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t have an answer to that question.” It’s not that hard.

Adam: How do you know when something is worth writing about, versus this is a fun conversation to have at a dinner party?

Malcolm: You don’t. That’s why you write bad articles, the ones that don’t work, which is fine. The hostility people have to the things that don’t work is out-of-place for this precise reason.

To go back to that Dean Simonton insight, which is so brilliant, I need to expand it properly.

Simonton says, “Suppose you and I look at all our ideas and we realize that 25% of the ideas that I have are good, and 75% are terrible. Then we compare me to Einstein. The difference between me and Einstein is not that Einstein has a 50% good idea, 50% bad idea. Einstein might have 10% good ideas and 90% bad ideas, but I have five ideas in the year and Einstein has 500.”

That’s what makes him Einstein. Well, that’s not all that makes him Einstein. Einstein both has really amazing ideas, but also a huge number of terrible ones.

When you run into something bad from someone who you thought was good, as opposed to using that as evidence that denies their greatness, genius, talent, you ought to at least entertain the possibility that the miss is proof of big talent. That is such a fantastically interesting idea to me.

It’s why when you critique someone’s work, you have to critique it with a certain amount of gentleness and consideration because you don’t know which category it’s in. Either they’ve gone crazy, and they’re not any good anymore, or this is terrible precisely because they’re geniuses and they’re turning out lots of bad stuff in addition to the great stuff.

You make this point in your book that we spend precious little time dwelling on all the bad plays Shakespeare wrote, or the terrible forgettable melodies that Mozart composed. Why don’t we dwell on their bad stuff?

If they were ordinary, if they were more mere mortals, what’s my excuse (for Not trying harder)?”

Adam: Because it destroys this myth that we carry about what a genius is. Their talent is so much greater than the rest of us, that they’re able to do near-perfect work every single time. When we start to see them churn out bad ideas, we start to wonder were we wrong about them. Were they really any good?

We look at these people and we expect them to be great. What that forces us to do is say, “Look, I can never be one of them,” and that gives us an out. We don’t have to try because they were so much better than the rest of us. If they were ordinary, if they were more mere mortals, what’s my excuse?

Malcolm: Is there some other element of geniuses that they manage to artfully conceal? Do they consciously market their achievements, such that they recognize when something’s a stinker and make sure no one sees it?

Adam: I don’t think that’s true for most of them. There’s this great study of Beethoven. Beethoven was known as a pretty perceptive self-critic. For 70 of his compositions, he wrote letters evaluating them to his friends and saying, “This one’s a dud. This one I’m really proud of.” He wrote a lot of them after he had audience feedback.

His error rate was 33%. He committed 15 false positives, thinking that pieces were going to be extraordinary, when they were pretty ordinary relative to his peers. He had eight that he thought were bad, that turned out to be great. He didn’t even know which ones to hide. A lot of us don’t.

Malcolm: Doesn’t that just mean that his criteria for evaluating what he found meaningful in his own work was different than ours?

Adam: Maybe. Certainly as centuries pass, you can’t fault him for not knowing what we appreciate about his music today. He was even off in his own time. You could say he was looking for a certain musical achievement that was independent of taste.

Let’s take someone like Thomas Edison. He was trying to commercialize innovation after innovation.

Of his 1,093 patents, six or seven turned out to have a real impact. That was not his goal. If he could have concealed it, he probably would have, if only he’d known.

Malcolm: I was interviewing some music producer. Guy was a big music producer in the ’80s of all the New Wave bands. I asked him of his whole career what accomplishment he was proudest of. He named the sixth Madness album, which is an album that no one either bought or listened to.

I realized that his definition of accomplishment was just different. It wasn’t the album that people loved or the album that people bought, or the album that showed Madness at their best.

It was the album that showed him at his best. Where he did the most creative work in making something acceptable out of something that was unacceptable. He traveled the greatest distance with the material.

I’ve often thought that when it comes to critical evaluation of work of all kinds, degree of difficulty is the one that particularly non-insiders don’t appreciate.

Sometimes I’ll read something, and because I was a reporter for so many years, I understand that what that writer did was insanely hard. Maybe the outcome reads as mediocre or not that interesting, but because you know how insanely difficult the task was, you’re in awe of the accomplishment.

You have a chapter on Edwin Land.

Edwin Land is founder of Polaroid, legendary figure in the history of photography. Polaroid was an extraordinarily influential, profitable, successful company for many years, but it didn’t last forever. Is it fair to fault companies because they don’t last forever?

Adam: No, we shouldn’t fault a company for not lasting forever. We should fault a company for being in a position to continue bringing original ideas and products into the world and failing.

Polaroid had very early access to digital technology. They could have pioneered the digital camera.

Instead of saying, “Look, we want to enrich what Polaroid stands for,” they said, “We’re all about cultural fit. We’re going to hire people who think the same way as us, which means they know silver highlight and chemicals, as opposed to zeros and ones in the digital world. We’re going to ignore this innovation, because why would anyone ever want to take a picture without printing it? It’s the print that you value, which is why we sell the film and basically give away the camera.”

“I’m not faulting the company for not surviving forever. I’m saying they had a chance to continue the greatness that they had and they blew it.”

If they had let go of that earlier, it’s possible they could have done a lot of continued great things. It’s a really unfortunate outcome for the world, because Polaroid was an innovation factory. We lost a lot of originality when they went bankrupt. I’m not faulting the company for not surviving forever. I’m saying they had a chance to continue the greatness that they had and they blew it.

Malcolm: You’re using as your unit of measurement the company. Why wouldn’t you use as your unit of measurement the economy and say, “The fact that Polaroid persists in its dogged pursuit of physical film opened the door for upstarts to come along and do digital.”

In other words, why can’t we just accept the fact that innovation occurs when people have a fantastic commitment to a set of ideas and pursue them until they’re no longer useful and someone else takes their place?

That strikes me as being a much more realistic depiction of the way human beings operate, as opposed to saying, “The leopard has to change its spots at the age of …”

Adam: If you take that life cycle perspective, that’s exactly what happens.

It falls short of what Edwin Land was creating with Polaroid. This was not an ordinary original guy. He was literally Steve Jobs’s role model. If you look at the number of patents, the diversity of innovation — he solved many problems that were thought to be impossible. He also created an organization that was able to do that at scale, which very few are.

We should aspire to create more of those because when you do it well, it’s a fragile thing.

If that goes away, maybe a lot of these startups are not going to be as great and originality is going to falter. That’s what I worry about.

This conversation was originally recorded at 92nd Street Y — the New York cultural center that convenes influencers and innovators who inspire a world of ideas.

From the arts to business to politics to science, it’s where tomorrow’s most important issues are revealed, and today’s most intriguing conversations begin.

How cultures around the world make decisions?

The many different approaches to decision-making around the world, in very general description of the very “normal people”

Is the American obsession with individual freedom really such a great idea? (Freedom of suffering and Not asking for relief from the community?). Individual choice is a powerful received idea, but frankly, it’s a bit of a white lie that our culture tells itself

What other cultures know about how to make good choices.

Oct 21, 2014 /

Sit down at a restaurant in France, and there’s a menu. Salmon with rice. French beans. Wine.

If you ask for potatoes instead of rice, the restaurant will say no. Because it is their menu. Not yours.

To an American, this is nearly unfathomable. (They don’t have menu: burger, steak, French fries and simple salad…)

One American model: Give me personal autonomy or give me death.

“In terms of fetishizing the idea of choice, the U.S. is the absolute pinnacle,” says Barry Schwartz, professor of social theory and social change at Swarthmore College and author of The Paradox of Choice. “We want to be able to choose everything that matters, as well as the things that don’t.”

We want to be able to choose everything that matters, as well as the things that don’t.

Rice and potatoes aside, the American desire for choice has manifested in numerous ways:

politically, in a demand for a voice in governance; commercially, in the demand for a variety of consumer goods and services; and spiritually, in the demand to choose and create exactly the kind of individual life, and self, you believe in.  (Stretching this manifestation too thin)

In the U.S., the overriding perception is that anything you do out of allegiance to tradition and social expectation is inauthentic and Not you. Because the real you is the choices you make.

TED

After Protestant colonists brought the concept of personal autonomy to the U.S., the idea was further cemented into the national psychology with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.

Personal and religious freedom became irrevocably tied to economic freedom from the monarchy and early capitalism. “Americans were truly the only people that brought those ideas together,” says Sheena Iyengar, professor at Columbia Business School and author of The Art of Choosing (TED Talk: The art of choosing.)

“It made the idea of personal autonomy such a dogma that it almost became a religion itself.”

The American cultural responsibility to revere choice has been Present since before America was America. In other words, IT WAS NEVER A choice.

My fellow Americans and I believe that choice allows us to individuate ourselves, to prove that we are free. Our preferences, therefore, become who we are. We feel acutely the need to construct a personal narrative out of our choices and, thus, construct our own identity.

There’s a certain degree to which this is sheer lunacy, and also fallacy.

Because our cultural responsibility to revere choice has been instilled in us since before America was America. In other words, we never chose choice.

The Amish model: Belonging, not choice, is crucial.

Even within the U.S., not all cultures regard the idea of personal autonomy as sacrosanct.

In the Anabaptist religious tradition, for example, there is one major choice to be made: whether or not to be baptized into the church.

The Amish are baptized between the ages of 18 and 24 years old, after a “rumspringa,” or period in their teenage years in which they experience modern life, including dating, driving and using technology.

The Amish wonder why we’re so anxious about our work that we’ll tear apart our families and move across the country for a job, to end up living among strangers.

Once they’ve made the choice to be part of the church — which the majority of young adults do — and are baptized, all other choices are made within the Amish canopy, says Donald Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist & Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, and author of numerous books on the Amish.

For example, because formal education terminates at the end of eighth grade, there are limits to the choice of profession. You can’t be a lawyer or surgeon.

But within limits, you have every freedom to choose whether to become a small business owner, or carpenter, or baker, or horse trainer, or any number of other occupations. The Amish sense of identity isn’t shaped by choices they make but is conferred to them by the community. Instead of choice, they have belonging.

“I have a very intelligent Amish friend who thinks the rest of us are crazy in how we view the professional choices we make,” says Kraybill. “We’re so anxious about our occupations that we’ll tear apart our families and move across the country for a job and end up living among strangers with no family or social support if we get ill or have an emergency. And put that way – how insane does that sound?”

Why should it be any less authentic to be a product of the family that raised you and the culture you grew up in and the religious institutions you participate in?

Rather than knowing who you are by knowing your preferences, you know who you are by knowing what you belong to.

One Asian model: Focus on interdependence and harmony, not independence and self-expression.

In some Asian cultures, to fulfill your independent self is not the primary goal of an individual: The goal is to be interdependent and maintain relationships and make them harmonious.

In Japan, for example, being a “going your own way” person is to be immature and not culturally sophisticated.

Though people obviously have preferences, they often don’t choose what they like, because that’s not the ideal manner. “Your cultural task is harmony, not self-expression,” says Hazel Markus, social psychologist and professor of behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

The idea is that the person is not a whole, but a part, and only becomes whole in connection with others.

Why? Partly because being part of the social organization is a core tenet of traditional Eastern religions. “All of them foster an idea that a person is not a whole, but a part, and only becomes whole in connection with others,” says Markus. “The fundamental, ontological understanding of what a person is, is as a node in a network.”

In Confucianism, especially, the belief is that without knowing your place in the hierarchy, and behaving accordingly, chaos will ensue.

Certainly, you can choose not to adhere to the norm; Confucius says not to do certain acts if you don’t believe them, says Peter Carroll, associate professor of Chinese history at Northwestern University and author of Between Heaven and Modernity: Reconstructing Suzhou.

You have the choice to opt in or opt out; the difference is that there’s a clear expectation of what the correct choice is. By not doing the correct thing, you are demonstrating that you are less than a full person.

Meanwhile, in America, a similar rhetoric rules.

By not exercising your full range of choices, you are demonstrating yourself to be less than a full person — even though most people don’t exercise the choices they believe so strongly in, such as the right to vote.

This is the fiction of choice in the West, says Carroll. “Individual choice is a powerful received idea, but frankly, it’s a bit of a white lie that our culture tells itself,” he says.

According to the United States Census Bureau, only 57.1 percent of Americans over the age of 18 voted in the 2008 presidential election. Chart courtesy of Jmj713/Wikimedia.

“We’re not the most non-conformist, and we’re not the most individualized,” says Iyengar.

“But what Americans do have is a very strong dogma. We believe ourselves to be the most autonomous; we value autonomy more than any other culture; we value the concept of non-conformity more than any other culture; and we value the concept of individual freedom and individual choice more than any other culture, at least rhetorically.

But we’re certainly not the most radical in offering freedoms, such as with gay rights or getting women the right to vote. We are not the first ones to actually empower people with autonomy.”

As Western consumer culture proliferates around the world, will cultural views on choice change?

Our fixation on individual choice is actually dangerous to our society, because it pacifies our activism, argues Renata Salecl, philosopher and sociologist (TED Talk: Our unhealthy obsession with choice).

Making choices based on social and political good actually engineers the most change.

In the Scandinavian countries, she notes, it was a political choice to open government to women and make rules regarding energy use and environmental sustainability. If left to the individual, that likely wouldn’t have happened.

In India, studies found that even while young college students become megaconsumers, that picking clothes or music without consideration for what their parents might think is not considered particularly moral, says Markus.

In Japan, advertisements explicitly encourage individuals to “follow the trend” and “fit in.”

Similarly, in Korea, ads for food products advertise that “You might be able to make a dish almost as good as your mother-in-law’s” — because the ability to uphold tradition is most valued in driving personal choices, not innovation or individuality.

Still, as countries become more urban, more people will be exposed to diversity and, generally, open themselves up to reflection. Likewise, as more people around the world are educated — and educated in a Western style — the more they will come into contact with different ways of living and the more they will see and deliberate on choices in their own life. The digital revolution vastly accelerates the process.

You have a lot of people around the world consuming an American-style education, and what that does is teach a common language regarding how you discuss and frame your ideas,” says Iyengar.

“A result of that is that the intellectual class around the world is starting to debate more. That’s leading to more conflict for sure, but they are also using this way of arguing when it comes to choices they need to make, even when it comes to defending an absence of choice, like in a political system.”

The American obsession with choice insists that choice be installed globally, whether through geopolitics or consumer goods. It’s anathema to let people limit their own choices.

“It’s tied to being free,” says Markus. “And how do you know you’re free? Because you get to freely choose and do what you want to do and follow your heart and your dream. The way things are now are not the way they have to be tomorrow. It’s bedrock for us, for our American selves. Freedom equals choice, and in every human heart is the desire to be free, so that must mean choice for all.”

Yet complete radical freedom and individualism creates a life that can’t be lived. Tyranny is unacceptable too, of course. But somewhere between tyranny and radical freedom resides a mixture of constraints, social norms, legal constraints and individual freedom of choice that enables people to lead satisfying, meaningful and authentic lives.

Featured image by Lyza/Flickr

A neuroscience researcher reveals 4 rituals that will make you happier

You get all kinds of happiness advice on the internet from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Don’t trust them.

Actually, don’t trust me either. Trust neuroscientists. They study that grey blob in your head all day and have learned a lot about what truly will make you happy. And here are the rituals:

  • Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching will do the job.
  • Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.
  • Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of ‘best decision ever made on Earth.”
  • Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch.

 

Eric Barker, Barking Up The Wrong Tree. Sep. 26, 2015

UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb has some insights that can create an upward spiral of happiness in your life.

Here’s what you and I can learn from the people who really have answers:

1. The most important question to ask when you feel down

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like your brain wants you to be happy. You may feel guilty or shameful. Why?

Believe it or not, guilt and shame activate the brain’s reward center.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens.

Interestingly, pride is the most powerful of these emotions at triggering activity in these regions — except in the nucleus accumbens, where guilt and shame win out. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves — they’re activating the brain’s reward center.

And you worry a lot, too. Why? In the short term, worrying makes your brain feel a little better — at least you’re doing something about your problems.

In fact, worrying can help calm the limbic system by increasing activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and decreasing activity in the amygdala.

That might seem counterintuitive, but it just goes to show that if you’re feeling anxiety, doing something about it — even worrying — is better than doing nothing.

But guilt, shame, and worry are horrible, long-term solutions.

So what do neuroscientists say you should do? Ask yourself this question:

What am I grateful for?

Yeah, gratitude is awesome … but does it really affect your brain at the biological level? Yup.

You know what the antidepressant Wellbutrin does? Boosts the neurotransmitter. So does gratitude.

The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine. Additionally, gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable …

Know what Prozac does? Boosts the neurotransmitter serotonin. So does gratitude.

One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin.

Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.

I know, sometimes life lands a really mean punch in the gut and it feels like there’s nothing to be grateful for. Guess what?

Doesn’t matter. You don’t have to find anything. It’s the searching that counts.

It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place.

Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence.

One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.

And gratitude doesn’t just make your brain happy — it can also create a positive feedback loop in your relationships. So express that gratitude to the people you care about.

For more on how gratitude can make you happier and more successful, click here.

But what happens when bad feelings completely overtake you? When you’re really in the dumps and don’t even know how to deal with it? There’s an easy answer …

2. Label negative feelings

You feel awful. OK, give that awfulness a name. Sad? Anxious? Angry?

Boom. It’s that simple. Sound stupid? Your noggin disagrees.

In one fMRI study, appropriately titled “Putting Feelings into Words” participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture.

But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.

Suppressing emotions doesn’t work and can backfire on you.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Gross found that people who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so.

While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused.

Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn’t work, and in some cases even backfires.

But labeling, on the other hand, makes a big difference.

To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.

Ancient methods were way ahead of us on this one. Meditation has employed this for centuries. Labeling is a fundamental tool of mindfulness.

In fact, labeling affects the brain so powerfully it works with other people, too. Labeling emotions is one of the primary tools used by FBI hostage negotiators.

To learn more of the secrets of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.

Okay, hopefully you’re not reading this and labeling your current emotional state as bored. Maybe you’re not feeling awful but you probably have things going on in your life that are causing you some stress. Here’s a simple way to beat them.

3. Make that decision

Ever make a decision and then your brain finally feels at rest? That’s no random occurrence.

Brain science shows that making decisions reduces worry and anxiety — as well as helping you solve problems.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals — all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety.

Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines.

Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world — finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.

But deciding can be hard. I agree. So what kind of decisions should you make?

Neuroscience has an answer.

Make a “good enough” decision. Don’t sweat making the absolute 100% best decision. We all know being a perfectionist can be stressful. And brain studies back this up.

Trying to be perfect overwhelms your brain with emotions and makes you feel out of control.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Trying for the best, instead of good enough, brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity into the decision-making process. In contrast, recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control …

As Swarthmore professor Barry Schwartz said in my interview with him: “Good enough is almost always good enough.”

So when you make a decision, your brain feels you have control. And, as I’ve talked about before, a feeling of control reduces stress. But here’s what’s really fascinating: Deciding also boosts pleasure.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity.

Want proof? No problem. Let’s talk about cocaine.

You give two rats injections of cocaine. Rat A had to pull a lever first. Rat B didn’t have to do anything. Any difference? Yup: Rat A gets a bigger boost of dopamine.

Via The Upward Spiral:

So they both got the same injections of cocaine at the same time, but rat A had to actively press the lever, and rat B didn’t have to do anything. And you guessed it — rat A released more dopamine in its nucleus accumbens.

So what’s the lesson here? Next time you buy cocaine … whoops, wrong lesson. Point is, when you make a decision on a goal and then achieve it, you feel better than when good stuff just happens by chance.

And this answers the eternal mystery of why dragging your butt to the gym can be so hard.

If you go because you feel you have to or you should, well, it’s not really a voluntary decision. Your brain doesn’t get the pleasure boost. It just feels stress. And that’s no way to build a good exercise habit.

Via The Upward Spiral:

Interestingly, if they are forced to exercise, they don’t get the same benefits, because without choice, the exercise itself is a source of stress.

So make more decisions. Neuroscience researcher Alex Korb sums it up nicely:

We don’t just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.

To learn what neuroscientists say is the best way to use caffeine, click here.

OK, you’re being grateful, labeling negative emotions and making more decisions. Great, but this is feeling kinda lonely for a happiness prescription. Let’s get some other people in here.

What’s something you can do with others that neuroscience says is a path to mucho happiness? And something that’s stupidly simple so you don’t get lazy and skip it? Brain docs have an answer for you.

4. Touch people

No, not indiscriminately; that can get you in a lot of trouble.

But we need to feel love and acceptance from others. When we don’t it’s painful. And I don’t mean “awkward” or “disappointing.” I mean actually painful.

Neuroscientists did a study where people played a ball-tossing video game. The other players tossed the ball to you and you tossed it back to them. Actually, there were no other players; that was all done by the computer program.

But the subjects were told the characters were controlled by real people. So what happened when the “other players” stopped playing nice and didn’t share the ball?

Subjects’ brains responded the same way as if they experienced physical pain. Rejection doesn’t just hurt like a broken heart; your brain feels it like a broken leg.

Via The Upward Spiral:

In fact, as demonstrated in an fMRI experiment, social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain … at one point they stopped sharing, only throwing back and forth to each other, ignoring the participant. This small change was enough to elicit feelings of social exclusion, and it activated the anterior cingulate and insula, just like physical pain would.

Relationships are important to your brain’s feeling of happiness. Want to take that to the next level? Touch people.

Via The Upward Spiral:

One of the primary ways to release oxytocin is through touching.

Obviously, it’s not always appropriate to touch most people, but small touches like handshakes and pats on the back are usually okay. For people you’re close with, make more of an effort to touch more often.

Touching is incredibly powerful. We just don’t give it enough credit. It makes you more persuasive, increases team performance, improves your flirting … heck, it even boosts math skills.

Touching someone you love actually reduces pain. In fact, when studies were done on married couples, the stronger the marriage, the more powerful the effect.

Via The Upward Spiral:

In addition, holding hands with someone can help comfort you and your brain through painful situations. One fMRI study scanned married women as they were warned that they were about to get a small electric shock.

While anticipating the painful shocks, the brain showed a predictable pattern of response in pain and worrying circuits, with activation in the insula, anterior cingulate, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

During a separate scan, the women either held their husbands’ hands or the hand of the experimenter. When a subject held her husband’s hand, the threat of shock had a smaller effect.

The brain showed reduced activation in both the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — that is, less activity in the pain and worrying circuits. In addition, the stronger the marriage, the lower the discomfort-related insula activity.

So hug someone today. And do not accept little, quick hugs. No, no, no. Tell them your neuroscientist recommended long hugs.

Via The Upward Spiral:

A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.

Research shows getting five hugs a day for four weeks increases happiness big time.

Don’t have anyone to hug right now? No? (I’m sorry to hear that. I would give you a hug right now if I could.) But there’s an answer: Neuroscience says you should go get a massage.

Via The Upward Spiral:

The results are fairly clear that massage boosts your serotonin by as much as 30% . Massage also decreases stress hormones and raises dopamine levels, which helps you create new good habits.

Massage reduces pain because the oxytocin system activates painkilling endorphins. Massage also improves sleep and reduces fatigue by increasing serotonin and dopamine and decreasing the stress hormone cortisol.

So spend time with other people and give some hugs. Sorry, texting is not enough.

When you put people in a stressful situation and then let them visit loved ones or talk to them on the phone, they felt better. What about when they just texted? Their bodies responded the same as if they had no support at all.

Via The Upward Spiral:

[T]he text-message group had cortisol and oxytocin levels similar to the no-contact group.

Author’s note: I totally approve of texting if you make a hug appointment.

To learn what neuroscience says is the best way to get smarter and happier, click here.

OK, I don’t want to strain your brain with too much info. Let’s round it up and learn the quickest and easiest way to start that upward spiral of neuroscience-inspired happiness.

Sum up

Here’s what brain research says will make you happy:

  • Ask “What am I grateful for?” No answers? Doesn’t matter. Just searching helps.
  • Label those negative emotions. Give it a name and your brain isn’t so bothered by it.
  • Decide. Go for “good enough” instead of ‘best decision ever made on Earth.”
  • Hugs, hugs, hugs. Don’t text — touch.

So what’s the simple way to start that upward spiral of happiness?

Just send someone a thank-you email. If you feel awkward about it, you can send them this post to tell them why.

This really can start an upward spiral of happiness in your life. UCLA neuroscience researcher Alex Korb explains:

Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning.

Focus and planning help with decision making. Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment.

Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going. Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.

Is it Broken? The way we think about work?

Today I’m going to talk about work. And the question I want to ask and answer is this: “Why do we work?”

Why do we drag ourselves out of bed every morning instead of living our lives just filled with bouncing from one TED-like adventure to another?

0:33 You may be asking yourselves that very question.  We have to make a living, but nobody in this room thinks that that’s the answer to the question, “Why do we work?”

For folks in this room, the work we do is challenging, it’s engaging, it’s stimulating, it’s meaningful. And if we’re lucky, it might even be important.

We wouldn’t work if we didn’t get paid, but that’s not why we do what we do.

And in general, I think we think that material rewards are a pretty bad reason for doing the work that we do.

When we say of somebody that he’s “in it for the money,” we are not just being descriptive.

I think this is totally obvious, but the very obviousness of it raises what is for me an incredibly profound question.

Why, if this is so obvious, why is it that for the overwhelming majority of people on the planet, the work they do has none of the characteristics that get us up and out of bed and off to the office every morning?

How is it that we allow the majority of people on the planet to do work that is monotonous, meaningless and soul-deadening?

Why is it that as capitalism developed, it created a mode of production, of goods and services, in which all the nonmaterial satisfactions that might come from work were eliminated?

Workers who do this kind of work, whether they do it in factories, in call centers, or in fulfillment warehouses, do it for pay. There is certainly no other earthly reason to do what they do except for pay.

So the question is, “Why?” And here’s the answer: the answer is technology.

Now, I know, yeah, technology, automation screws people, blah blah — that’s not what I mean.

I’m not talking about the kind of technology that has enveloped our lives, and that people come to TED to hear about. I’m not talking about the technology of things, profound though that is.

I’m talking about another technology. I’m talking about the technology of ideas. I call it, “idea technology” — how clever of me.

2:51 In addition to creating things, science creates ideas.

Science creates ways of understanding. And in the social sciences, the ways of understanding that get created are ways of understanding ourselves. And they have an enormous influence on how we think, what we aspire to, and how we act.

If you think your poverty is God’s will, you pray.

If you think your poverty is the result of your own inadequacy, you shrink into despair.

And if you think your poverty is the result of oppression and domination, then you rise up in revolt.

Whether your response to poverty is resignation or revolution, depends on how you understand the sources of your poverty.

This is the role that ideas play in shaping us as human beings, and this is why idea technology may be the most profoundly important technology that science gives us.

And there’s something special about idea technology, that makes it different from the technology of things.

With things, if the technology sucks, it just vanishes, right? Bad technology disappears.

With ideas — false ideas about human beings will not go away if people believe that they’re true.

Because if people believe that they’re true, they create ways of living and institutions that are consistent with these very false ideas.

And that’s how the industrial revolution created a factory system in which there was really nothing you could possibly get out of your day’s work, except for the pay at the end of the day.

Because the father — one of the fathers of the Industrial Revolution, Adam Smith — was convinced that human beings were by their very natures lazy, and wouldn’t do anything unless you made it worth their while, and the way you made it worth their while was by incentivizing, by giving them rewards. (Exactly like animals in experiments)

That was the only reason anyone ever did anything. So we created a factory system consistent with that false view of human nature.

But once that system of production was in place, there was really no other way for people to operate, except in a way that was consistent with Adam Smith’s vision. So the work example is merely an example of how false ideas can create a circumstance that ends up making them true.

It is not true that you “just can’t get good help anymore.”

It is true that you “can’t get good help anymore” when you give people work to do that is demeaning and soulless.

And interestingly enough, Adam Smith — the same guy who gave us this incredible invention of mass production, and division of labor — understood this. He said, of people who worked in assembly lines, of men who worked in assembly lines, he says: He generally becomes as stupid as it is possible for a human being to become.”

Now, notice the word here is “become.” “He generally becomes as stupid as it is possible for a human being to become.” Whether he intended it or not, what Adam Smith was telling us there, is that the very shape of the institution within which people work creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and deprives people of the opportunity to derive the kinds of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted.

The thing about science — natural science — is that we can spin fantastic theories about the cosmos, and have complete confidence that the cosmos is completely indifferent to our theories.

It’s going to work the same damn way no matter what theories we have about the cosmos. But we do have to worry about the theories we have of human nature, because human nature will be changed by the theories we have that are designed to explain and help us understand human beings.

7:02 The distinguished anthropologist, Clifford Geertz, said, years ago, that human beings are the “unfinished animals.” And what he meant by that was that it is only human nature to have a human nature that is very much the product of the society in which people live. That human nature, that is to say our human nature, is much more created than it is discovered.

We design human nature by designing the institutions within which people live and work.

And so you people — pretty much the closest I ever get to being with masters of the universe — you people should be asking yourself a question, as you go back home to run your organizations.

Just what kind of human nature do you want to help design?

Patsy Z shared this link

What makes work satisfying?
Apart from a paycheck, there are intangible values that, Barry Schwartz suggests, our current way of thinking about work simply ignores.
It’s time to stop thinking of workers as cogs on a wheel.
ted.com|By Barry Schwartz

 

Almost no one

There’s a huge difference between “no one” and “almost no one”.

Almost no one is going to hire you.

Almost no one is going to become a true fan.

Almost no one is going to tell someone else about your work.

Almost no one is going to push you to make your work ever better.

If only 1% of the US population steps up, that’s 3,000,000 people in the category of “almost no one.”

If only one out of 10,000 internet users engages with you, that’s still hundreds of thousands of people.

The chances that everyone is going to applaud you, never mind even become aware you exist, are virtually nil. Most brands and organizations and individuals that fail fall into the chasm of trying to be all things in order to please everyone, and end up reaching no one.

That’s the wrong thing to focus on. Better to focus on and delight almost no one.

A bird in search of a cage

So much freedom, so much choice, so many opportunities to matter.

And yet, our cultural instinct is to find a place to hold us, a spot where we are safe from the responsibility/obligation/opportunity to choose. Because if we choose, then we are responsible, aren’t we?

HT Kafka

Psychologist Barry Schwartz takes aim at a central tenet of western societies: freedom of choice. In Schwartz’s estimation, choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied

“You may know how to use fancy design tools, but if there isn’t that leap that leads to connection, it doesn’t matter….you’re not making art,” says Godin. “We didn’t build stuff because we need more beautifully laid out menus. We did it because people want to be touched, noticed, and connected.”

 


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

June 2020
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