Unknown Pleasures

The title of one of my favourite (and iconic) albums is Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. The title probably comes from Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I have (honestly) tried to read it, but it is a long novel in seven volumes known both for its length and its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the episode of the madeleine. The narrator begins by noting, For a long time, I went to bed early. He comments on the way sleep seems to alter one’s surroundings, and the way habit makes one indifferent to them. As a neuroscience trainer, I love the idea of getting less sleep.

Listen to the silence, let it ring on. Eyes, dark grey lenses frightened of the sun. We would have a fine time living in the night, Left to blind destruction, Waiting for our sight. – Transmission (Joy Division)

Pleasure is usually describes as the broad class of mental states that humans and other animals experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. It includes more specific mental states such as happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria. In psychology, the pleasure principle describes pleasure as a positive feedback mechanism, motivating the organism to recreate in the future the situation which it has just found pleasurable. According to this theory, organisms are similarly motivated to avoid situations that have caused pain in the past. And then punk came along and I was inspired to know more.

Joy Division were formed in Salford, Greater Manchester in 1976 during the first wave of punk rock. Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook had separately attended the legendary Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976, and both embraced that group’s simplicity, speed and aggression. In fact according to legend every one of the 200 people there formed a band. Ian Curtis, who Sumner and Hook already knew, applied and, without having to audition, was taken on.

In 1979 I bought this amazing album I went that year so see them play live at West Runton Pavilion (North Norfolk) and met with Ian Curtis . I loved him and what Jon Savage described their music as, a definitive Northern Gothic statement: guilt-ridden, romantic, claustrophobic. His life is brought to many people’s attention in the stunning film Control.Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy and depression, committed suicide on 18 May 1980, on the eve of Joy Division’s first North American tour, resulting in the band’s dissolution and the subsequent formation of New Order.

The cover of the Unknown Pleasures album stimulated my love of Astronomy, Pulsars and the Universe (I still have the T shirt).The cover of their 1979 debut album is probably more well known than the album or band themselves. Famed cover art designer Peter Saville is credited with designing the cover, but as the myth goes it shows a series of radio frequency periods from the first pulsar discovered.I was studying brain science at the time and using complex mathematics like Fourier analysis to decode the data of action potential in nerve transmission. I thought the image on the cover (and it is largely cited correctly) as depicting the first pulsar discovered (CP 1919). In fact it’s not the first isolated plot of that pulsar, which was made in 1967. That honour goes to Jocelyn Bell Burnell from the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge, whom I was very lucky to meet when my father introduced (as head of medical research) in Cambridge.

Radio pulsars are neutron stars, huge, spinning ‘nuclei’ that contain some 1057 protons and neutrons. The large clump of nuclear matter, which has a mass about equal to that of the sun, is compressed into a sphere with a radius on the order of 10 kilometers. Consequently, the density of the star is enormous, slightly greater than the density of ordinary nuclear matter, which is itself some 10 trillion times denser than a lead brick. Currents of protons and electrons moving within the star generate a magnetic field. As the star rotates, a radio beacon, ignited by the combined effect of the magnetic field and the rotation, emanates from it and sweeps periodically through the surrounding space, rather like a lighthouse beam. Once per revolution the beacon cuts past the earth, giving rise to the beeping detected by radio telescopes.

Peter Saville, who had previously designed posters for Manchester’s Factory club in 1978, designed the cover of the album. Saville reversed the image from black-on-white to white-on-black and printed it on textured card for the original version of the album. The image itself according to Scientific American writer Jen Christiansen was by Harold D. Craft, Jr., was a graduate student at Cornell University in the early 70s, working with cosmic data a the massive Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. You can read Christiansen’s account of her investigation, and listen to her interviews with Craft at Scientific American. He and his colleagues were experimenting with some of the first digital measurements of radio waves from pulsars (collapsed stars that flash like lighthouses), using radar equipment at the observatory. By chance, Craft ended up writing the computer program that would produce this iconic image.

Unknown Pleasures’ cover was computer generated.

Craft said he had no idea that his image was being widely used on the cover of a famous record. “I went to the record store and, son of a gun, there it was. So I bought an album, and then there was a poster that [they] had of it, so I bought one of those too, just for no particular reason, except that it’s my image, and I ought to have a copy of it.”

Unknown Pleasures was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, England between 1 and 17 April 1979, with Martin Hannett producing. Describing Hannett’s production techniques, Hook said,that Hannett was only as good as the material he had to work with, “We gave him great songs, and like a top chef, he added some salt and pepper and some herbs and served up the dish. But he needed our ingredients.”

The experience of pleasure is subjective and different individuals will experience different kinds and amounts of pleasure in the same situation. Many pleasurable experiences are associated with satisfying basic biological drives, such as eating, exercise, hygiene or sex. For real pleasure, try listening again to Unknown Pleasures again, now.

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.

Be Amazing Every Day.

78% Negative Tweets on Premises

To address this astonishing modern-day phenomena, it is worth looking at some real word examples while recalling the old fashioned power of empathy. Empathy is a term that is often misunderstood. Empathy is perhaps the most advanced of all communication skills. If you are reading this and 100% of your reviews on Trip Advisor are negative (see below), you may have to accept that hospitality is not the profession for you.

The truth is that most hotels, bar and restaurants should have a healthy mix of good, bad and indifferent reviews. It seems that the secret to a successful hospitality business is being empathic in dealing with poor feedback. Responding to your (potentially poor) reviews with humility and honesty will prove you have that this highly professional skill and may change the mindset of your customers (for the better).

One way forward in dealing with these potential problems, is by keeping on top of your social media feeds. It provides an ideal opportunity to turn potentially negative experience into a positive one. The other way of course, which I don’t recommend, is trying is to BAN NEGATIVE REVIEWS.

In December 2014, the Broadway Hotel in Blackpooltried prohibiting bad reviews which only gives further credence to the issues raised and will encourage further negativity from other visitors. They charged retired van driver Tony Jenkinson, 63, and his 64-year-old wife Jan £100 extra after they described the establishment as a ‘rotten stinking hovel’ in their damning online review. The review sparked a row between the couple and the hotel, which said it operated a ‘no bad review policy’, as stated in its terms and conditions.

TripAdvisor spokesman, James Kay said, ‘While, thankfully, such instances are very rare, it is completely against the spirit and policies of our site for any business owner to attempt to bully or intimidate reviewers who have had a negative experience. ‘Where we find evidence of a business doing so, we will take action to protect the integrity of our site.’

The hotel is still (amazingly) open for business. At reception there was a large notice stating:

We no longer take verbal abuse as tips.

Their policy was only ever likely to create enough negative press for the story to go viral and no one wants that. Far from putting off hoteliers and restaurateurs, I would actively encourage hospitality leaders to engage with their customer feedback, across all social platforms, come rain or shine.

Most modern savvy gurus in the areas of communications, management and self-development refer in one way or another to the importance of empathy. Being able to step back and achieve a detachment from our own emotions, is essential for effective, constructive relationships.

While you should always treat complaints and bad reviews with a certain amount of seriousness and professionalism, there’s no harm at having a joke at your own expense. Indeed, some cafes and restaurants reference bad reviews on their sandwich boards (see above) or digitally on their website or social feeds. Again that word, empathy, is the key. All the research shows that it’s easier to relate to companies making light of their imperfections and making sure they correct them (as well).

Empathy is the ability to see the world as another person, to share and understand another person’s feelings, needs, concerns and / or their emotional state.

Empathy is a skill that can be developed and, as with most interpersonal skills, empathising (at some level) comes naturally to most people. So try this to improve your empathetic levels: Next time you eat out or go on holiday, write about it and post to your preferred site. While writing try and recall the feeling of reading a piece about your establishment: I bet it makes you think twice about the language you use and how you expect your review to be handled. Empathy is a selfless act, it enables us to learn more about people and relationships with people – it is a desirable skill beneficial to ourselves, others and society. Phrases such as being in your shoes and soul mates imply empathy – empathy has even been likened to a spiritual or religious state of connection with another person or group of people.

Being an empathetic leader requires just three basic components:

  • effective communication 
  • a strong imagination
  • shared experiences 

Part of this empathy journey is establishing real trust and rapport. Creating trust and rapport helps us to have sensible adult discussions. Establishing trust is about listening and understanding – not necessarily agreeing (which is different) – to the other person. Listening without judging. A useful focus to aim for when listening to another person is to try to understand how the other person feels, and to discover what they want to achieve. Dr Stephen Covey (of ‘The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People’® fame) is one of many modern advocates who urge us to strive deeply to understand the other person’s point of view.

There are plenty of methods that encourage good customer reviews to put against the less pleasing ones. Leaders need to decide which strategy best suits their main customer base and implement it now. It is difficult and rarely appropriate to try to persuade another person to do what we want; instead we must understand what the other person wants, and then try help them to achieve it, which often includes helping them to see the way to do it. So start by asking:

  • Does your website have a section (or links to areas) where customers can leave comments?
  • Do you mention reviews while customers are paying the bill or (better yet) on your business card?
  • Do you incentivise customer reviews with discount offers?

If your answer was no to any (or all) of these questions, then you need to ask an expert (try me!) what you need to do now. If we learn to work with our critics collaboratively, to see what they really want and then help them to get it, we can change everything. The act of doing all this establishes trust and maybe, just maybe those 78% of on premise tweets will become positive.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Transform Your Brain

Our bodies are our gardens, to which our wills are gardeners. – Shakespeare’s Othello, I.iii.

Ninety-eight percent of everything scientists know about the brain has been discovered since 1996. So even though I have 5 degrees in neurobiology, teaching, physiology and management, I had to do some extensive research to be able to give you the latest findings that will help you reach your goals. There are so many books, blogs and so-called experts / gurus / consultants out there who think they have a quick solution to being successful in business. I am here to tell you they are short changing you.

You can Be Amazing Every Day, but it takes time, discipline, energy and lots of motivation. I love showing people how this works for them as individuals, as teams and as a business. Once you understand exactly how the brain works, you will be able to condition it to focus on reaching your dreams.

The latest findings show that by regularly writing your goals down, visualising your intended result, and passionately saying affirmations you actually physically change your brain’s neurons and hard-wire your subconscious mind to focus like a guided missile on reaching your dreams and goals.

The human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurones. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.
Michio Kaku

I love the fact that modern science has finally proven what successful athletes and entrepreneurs have known all along. That there are ways we can change ourselves to become the type of person capable of achieving our dreams, This means that no matter how bleak you past has been, you can make a choice to have an unbelievably successful future because if we can change the wiring in our brain, the past does not have to equal the future. Beliefs are developed in the subconscious mind. If you don’t believe you can succeed, you need to change those beliefs by programming your subconscious mind.

In the last 10 years, a new field of neuroscience has mapped the mental zone that can literally change the brain to quiet an overly active stress response system and simultaneously pave the way for higher brain networks to perform at optimum. The more we function from this mental zone, the less we stress, and the more our brain lights up with the mix of intelligence that predicts a successful life.The newest brain research shows that passionately repeating the same statements over and over forms new neural pathways that can eventually fire as belief, and when this belief fires, it triggers you to take the actions that will help you reach your dreams. This is why your self talk and who you associate with are so crucial to your success. What you say to yourself and who you hang around with will determine what kind of neural pathways you are developing.

At the base of the brain, where it connects with the spinal cord is a region called the Reticular Activation System (RAS). The RAS acts like a filter that decides which thoughts to focus on at any one time. We need this filter system because every second, there are about 8 million bits of information (subconsciously) flowing through our brain.The RAS decides which messages will arrive at the brain. Once a message gets past the RAS filter and enters the cerebrum, it can turn into conscious thoughts, emotions, or both. Even though the cerebrum is the centre of thought, it will not respond to a message unless the RAS allows it.

The RAS is like Google – there are millions of websites out there, but you filter out the ones you are not interested in simply by typing a keyword.You can think of the RAS as the brain’s gatekeeper to conscious thought. It’s critical to your future that you learn how to get messages past the gatekeeper. So what causes some of the messages to get through the RAS and others to get blocked out? Whatever is important to you at the time and whatever you are currently focusing on gets through.

From the growth of the Internet through to the mapping of the human genome and our understanding of the human brain, the more we understand, the more there seems to be for us to exploreMartin Rees

If your focus is on breaking a personal best, your RAS will automatically filter in thoughts that will help you get to that plsce– people who might help you, opportunities to make it happen, or resources that you might need. What that means is that the more you keep your goals top of mind, the more your subconscious mind will work to reach them. That’s why writing your goals down every day, visualising your intended outcome, and regularly saying affirmations is so important! Because doing those things help you focus your subconscious mind on what’s important to you.

When these higher networks wire and fire together, at the brain speed of a hundred million computer instructions per second, we not only succeed, we excel at every level of life: from career to family, from physical and emotional well-being to fully actualising our talent and ability. It’s a brain generating the fluid and creative intelligence to achieve goals, along with the emotional and social intelligence to instil joy in our work, peace in our life, and harmony in our relationships. It’s also a brain generating the homeostasis that promotes health and longevity. The key to all of these positive outcomes is building the mindset that transcends stress. The solution lies in the power of our mental state to rewire our brains. Change your mindset in specific ways and you can literally change brain structure to extinguish stress reactions and amplify higher brain function. The technical term for this change is neuroplasticity. Here’s a list of 10 positive changes neuroplasticity can produce:

  1. The usual networks that generate the brain’s executive functions grow larger and become more fully integrated with other neural networks.
  2. This means you increased your skillfulness at planning, decision making, error correction, and troubleshooting.
  3. You build strong cognitive abilities and can think abstractly.
  4. Gamma wave activity is far better organised and coordinated, signaling the higher mental activity and heightened awareness found in peak performers.
  5. The right brain and the prefrontal cortex work together to elevate intuition and creative insight into practical innovation.
  6. Activity in the left prefrontal cortex, the seat of positive emotion, swamps activity in the right prefrontal cortex, the seat of negative emotion.
  7. This condition enables you to achieve a high level of emotional intelligence.
  8. There is greater activity in the centre of the brain, especially the caudate and right insula, generating the social intelligence that sustains interpersonal resonance.
  9. Your physiology functions at optimum, securing a high level of health and energy.
  • Who in their right mind wouldn’t want a change like that?
  • Who in corporate leadership wouldn’t want a work force operating at that level of brain function?

The point is, if an individual or company is not actualising the mindset that transcends stress to empower higher brain function, they are not maximising their full extent of fluid, creative, emotional, and social intelligence.

The human brain had a vast memory storage. It made us curious and very creative. Those were the characteristics that gave us an advantage – curiosity, creativity and memory. And that brain did something very special. It invented an idea called ‘the future.’ David Suzuki

Achieving the shift in mindset is easier than you might imagine, adding little to your to-do list. It’s essentially about practicing a to-be list. Even better is the fact that change in brain structure happens quickly, within four to eight weeks.

More and more, CEOs and HR executives are contracting with experts on neuroplasticity to heighten the brain power in their company. Neuroplasticity will soon become the new competitive edge.

Use the genius of others to stand on the shoulders of giants. Never stop learning and be willing to teach others. Be Amazing Every Day

Failure: Don’t look back in anger

It took me 10 years to become an overnight success. Successful businesses can take years and years. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes and I have made more than most. Failure is the most important step to my reaching success, but it can still feel like it’s crushing my soul. Having talked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, I have learned something very important: failure is absolutely the norm and essential. Accepting this failure as a lesson is one of the most important things I have ever learned. Consider my new quotation poster on my wall:

My first comedy gig 10 years ago was a disaster. There were 2 people present, one went to the toilet and the other left. I kept going. Jerry Seinfeld was booed off the stage the first time he tried comedy. Soichiro Honda was rejected by an HR manager at Toyota Motor Corporation when he applied for an engineering job, leaving him jobless until he began making scooters in his garage and eventually founded Honda Motor Company.

So I start a revolution from my bed / ‘Cos you said the brains I had went to my head. -Oasis

Most of us know that failure is a reality of life, and at some level, we understand that it actually helps us grow. Intellectually, we even acknowledge that the greatest achievers (past and present) also routinely experienced colossal failures.I believe and teach that failure can be taken one of two ways

  • Either as a catalyst and stimulant for learning and doing better next time, or
  • as the ultimate defeat you never let yourself recover from. This is true in your professional and personal life

Yet still, we hate to fail. If you surveyed 100 successful entrepreneurs and asked them if they were successful on their first product I would bet you that 99 percent would say absolutely not. Noting of course that 86.3 percent of all statistics are made up. We fear failure, we dread it, and when it does happen, we hold onto it. We give it power over our emotions, and sometimes we allow it to dictate our way forward (or backward). Some of us go to great lengths to avoid failure because of all the pain and shame associated with it. To make failure your friend and not your enemy, you must overcome it. Here are my strategies for moving on after a tough break.

. Don’t look back in anger (I heard you say)

Each time you fail, your fear of failure becomes smaller, which allows you to take on even bigger challenges. Making mistakes is not a big deal as long as you learn from them and avoid repeating them. Completely ignoring what happened isn’t helpful, so set aside a specific amount of time to wallow as much as you want. Take some time to be angry, upset, and frustrated so you can get it all out. If it’s something small, all you may need is an hour to pace around or cry in a pillow. For something larger, give yourself a full 24 hours to let it all out and wake up the next day with a clean slate. If you need more than a day, that’s okay, but make sure it’s an amount of time set by you and that you stick to it. You get that time to be as mopey as you want, but when it’s over, move on.

2. Slip inside the eye of your mind: accept and process it

Failure is an integral part on the way to success and self realisation. Michael Jordan said it best, I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Maybe you think you’ve mostly gotten over a bad business experience, but you find you still obsess about how you should have acted differently. There’s a big difference between lingering on a failure and taking the time to accept it, process it and glean lessons from it. Understand right away that some things are not in your control. It is a marathon, not a sprint. The quicker you stop getting upset, the quicker you can use this as a lesson to move on.

3. Try a little tenderness and talk about it

You know she’s waiting / Just anticipating / For things that she’ll never, never, never, never possess, yeah yeah /But while she’s there waiting, without them / Try a little tenderness (that’s all you gotta do) – Otis Reading

Successful people will never laugh at you or judge you when you fail, because they have already been there and they know about the valuable lessons you can learn from failure. Talk to somebody you know about how you’re feeling. It’s well known that just talking about something can make you feel better. Take a load off and express yourself. Chances are whoever you talk to will try to make you feel better, but even if they don’t, saying how you feel out loud puts that information out somewhere besides your brain.

3. Keep on keeping on and make it happen

No matter how often you fail, you are not a failure as long as you don’t give up. Does it feel like you made such a stupid blunder that nobody else could have possibly done so before? That’s very unlikely. There’s nothing new under the sun, and that includes mistakes and perceived failures. No matter how much you believe in what you are doing, something is not working. Take a step back or go for a walk (BDNF time). Breathe (Slow rhythmic and even). Take some time off from the project. Visit your family and friends and love what is most important. You live one time, and this is just a passing phase. You will get through this, but you have to clear your head if you are going to win. Again, push forward.

4. Challenge Yourself to Do It Again – hit me baby one more time.

Whenever you step outside the comfort zone and whenever you try something new, failure becomes inevitableGet back on the horse and ride again, even if the horse threw you off the last time. Prepare for battle: This is not for the faint of heart. You have to separate your feelings from this game. It’s a business: it’s cut throat; it’s bloody; it’s a war. You must get back on the horse and do it again. You were working on the wrong project… so what? You are passionate, you are driven and applying those qualities to the right project you will be successful.

5. Focus on the Positive

Each failure makes you stronger, bigger and better. Don’t brush mistakes under the rug, but also don’t stop yourself from looking at all the positives you’ve managed to create. There’s always a balance in business. Maybe you didn’t snag that one big client, but what about all the others you’ve secured? You’ve likely already proven you can be successful on this path, so don’t let one fall determine who you are or colour your impression of an already positive overall effort.

Don’t you know you might find / A better place to play / You said that you’d never been / But all the things that you’ve seen /Will slowly fade away

6Don’t make it personal.

Failure is a great teacher and it allows you to learn some of the most valuable life lessonsSeparate the failure from your identity. Just because you haven’t found a successful way of doing something (yet) doesn’t mean you are a failure. These are completely separate thoughts, yet many of us blur the lines between them. Personalizing failure can wreak havoc on our self-esteem and confidence.

7. Try a new point of view.

Failure teaches you that a certain approach may not be ideal for a specific situation and that there are better approaches. One of the best things you can do is to shift your perspective and belief system away from the negative (“If I fail, it means I am stupid, weak, incapable, and am destined to fall short”) and embrace more positive associations (“If I fail, I am one step closer to succeeding; I am smarter and more savvy because the knowledge I’ve gained through this experience”). Every mistake is a learning opportunity, and after you’ve moved past your emotions, it’s important to revisit your mistakes with a new perspective. Look at what you did that went wrong, but also look at what you did that was right, and what you can do better next time. Failure is rarely so black and white.

Accept failure and rejoice. Failure is awesome. Failing fast gets you that much closer to success.

Don’t look back in anger, I heard Tim say.

Be Amazing Every Day.

The Ostrich Problem

Slide3

Question: Why do Ostriches stick their head in the sand? Answer: They don’t.

There will be plenty of people over the Christmas and New Year period whom will not check their online bank balance, despite wanting to be in control of their money. If your bank balance is going into the red, you wouldn’t be the first to deliberately avoid a statement and scientists now think they know why. Interestingly they call it (wrongly) the Ostrich Problem.

The much maligned common ostrich (Struthio camelus) is a species of large flightless birds native to Africa. It is distinctive in its appearance, with a long neck and legs, and can run at up to about 70 km/h (19 m/s; 43 mph), the fastest land speed of any bird. Despite holding the title of the largest living birds; they stand 7 to 9 feet tall when fully grown and their heads are relatively small. This is important because from a distance, ostriches nibbling at food on the ground may appear to have their heads in the dirt.

The expression bury your head in the sand apparently comes from the supposed habit of ostriches hiding their heads when faced with an attack by predators. The story was first recorded by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder. But the more likely root of this claim has to do with ostriches’ nests. Male ostriches dig a size able hole up to 6 to 8 feet wide and 2 to 3 feet deep, which is plenty big for their puny heads—in which to stow the eggs. During the incubation period, both parent ostrich take turns rotating the eggs with their beaks, a task that requires them to submerge their heads into the nest, thereby creating the illusion that their heads are buried in the sand.

An interesting take on this story (without much support, however) is that ostriches are not smart and believe that if they can’t see their attackers then the attackers can’t see them. Of all the many forms of protest over the years, this head-in-the-sand action is the most inspiring. In beaches and in sand piles across the world in 2014 protestors buried their heads to draw attention to the inaction of world leaders on climate change and the outright denial by many about the existence and extent of the problem.

We tend to bury our heads in the sand because we feel guilty when confronted with reality, say psychologists led by Dr Thomas Webb at the University of Sheffield. The study, published in the Social and Personality Psychology Compass journal, suggests that people are actively motivated to avoid information. Dr Webb says that promoting lasting changes in behaviour is one of the most significant challenges facing science and society. His four-year project, which ends in 2015, seeks to understand why people avoid monitoring their goal progress and, by so doing, find ways to promote monitoring and help people to achieve goals. Dr Webb also cites a 2012 survey which found that only 10 per cent of people who worry about their finances daily check their bank balance at least once a month.This active ignoring of information about one’s current standing relative to one’s goals is part of popular culture, yet current scientific perspectives assume that people will actively monitor and seek information on their progress. They call this the ‘Ostrich Problem’ ignoring the obvious biological and physiological errors.

Despite evidence that self monitoring can be good for us (classically stepping on the scales when trying to lose weight) there are times when individuals intentionally avoid such information.The researchers think people ignore what is going on around them to avoid negative feelings, often of guilt, that accompany being presented with reality. Dr Webb said: ‘The Ostrich Problem is the idea that there are times when people would rather not know how they’re doing.’ Avoiding monitoring may allow people to escape from negative feelings associated with an accurate appraisal of progress. The socalled Ostrich Problem includes situations in which people receive relevant information but intentionally fail to evaluate the implications for their goal progress – in other words, they reject the information. It concluded that the Ostrich Problem is now part of popular culture, giving rise to the terms bury your head in the sand and ignorance is bliss. Just remember the wonderful quotation from Martin Niemoeller,

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no-one left to speak for me.

The need for creative and committed leadership, sustained over the long haul, has never been greater. There is not just a need to get others to pull their heads out of the sand but for each of us to wonder about the warm dark places we burrow into.

Heads up!

Be Amazing Every Day.

Webb, T. L., Chang, B., & Benn, Y. (2013). “The ostrich problem”: Motivated avoidance or rejection of information on goal progress. Social and Personality Psychology Compass7(11), 794-807. DOI: 10.1111/spc3.12071 onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/spc3.12071/pdf

The Economic Future. Brilliant

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

The powerful opening line of William Gibson’s debut masterpiece Neuromancer definitively sets the tone for what was and perhaps remains, the single most influential science fiction novel in shaping the public consciousness.

Neuromancer was published 30 years ago this year (1984). Gibson was predicting our rather grim future and popularised the idea of cyberspace (a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions). He described a (internet) network that can be jacked into, while in the real world characters flit from Tokyo to theSprawl, an urban agglomeration running down the east coast of the USNeuromancer gave us not onlycyberspace, but also the matrix and dub music (a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of digitalised pop). The cities along the Eastern seaboard from Boston and Atlanta have yet to merge into a single megalopolitan Sprawl but it is only a matter of time. Starbucks has become Beautiful Girl, a franchised coffee shop seen on nearly every street corner. Microsoft was founded before the novel’s publication, but Gibson’s microsofts, small computer chips that insert directly into the brain, may well represent the company’s ultimate goal.

There is a character in BBC’s The Fast Show, who was an over enthusiastic Manchester teenager. He believed everything was‘Brilliant!. He marches around many diverse locations biggingthings up with boundless energy. Amongst the things Brilliant thinks are brilliant are: shelves, gravity, the Mafia, holes, yesterday, Ronnie Corbett, sequels, holidays, echoes, several different types of natural disaster, paint, kids, pavements, the sky, mothers, microwaves, old people, sex, the Romans, shepherds, Jesus and golf.

Something else that is brilliant is the power of predicting the future. One of the buzz words of the moment is Nowcasting. It has recently become popular in economics and uses standard measures to assess the state of an economy, e.g. GDP, which are only determined after a long delay and are even then subject to subsequent revisions. While weather forecasters know weather conditions today and only have to predict the weather tomorrow, economists have to forecast the present and even the recent past.

It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. – Yogi Berra

Billions of dollars are spent on experts who claim they can forecast what’s around the corner, in business, finance and economics. Most of them get it wrong. Data analysts forecast demand for new products, or the impact of a discount or special offer. Scenario planners produce broad-based narratives with the aim of provoking fresh thinking about what might happen. Nowcasters look at Twitter or Google to track epidemics like Ebola, in real time. Intelligence agencies look for clues about where the next geopolitical crisis will emerge and banks, finance ministries, consultants and international agencies release regular prophecies covering dozens, even hundreds, of macroeconomic variables.

Real breakthroughs have been achieved in certain areas, especially where rich datasets have become available e.g. weather forecasting, online retailing and supply-chain management. Yet when it comes to the headline-grabbing business of geopolitical or macroeconomic forecasting, it is not clear that we are any better at the fundamental task that the industry claims to fulfil – seeing into the future. Philip Tetlock at the University of Pennsylvania has found most forecasters do only slightly better than chance.Chimps randomly throwing darts at the possible outcomes would have done almost as well as the experts,” is how one political scientist summarised the findings to the New York Times.

Forecasting with the power of a Gibson novel may be possible when you have clarity and imagination. Some people (called by the popular press as Superforecasters ) may be able to predict geopolitical events with an accuracy far outstripping chance. The most helpful advice on how to become a Superforecaster (or a predictive science fiction writer) can be derived from using some clear rules:

  • COMPARE & CONTRAST. Comparisons are important: use relevant comparisons as a starting point. Turn up the contrast and use false colour.
  • WATCH, LOOK & LEARN. Historical trends can help (but cannot predict future trends accurately). There is a look at history unless you have a strong reason to expect change. Ethnographic understanding is needed at the highest level.
  • META DATA. Average opinions matter; experts disagree, so find out what they think and pick a midpoint. Big data and understanding of statistical analysis.
  • DO THE MATHS. If possible use the most powerful model-based predictions available. The numbers are the starting point for understanding.
  • UN-BIAS VISION. Predictable biases exist and can be allowed for. Don’t let your hopes influence your forecasts, for example; don’t stubbornly cling to old forecasts in the face of news.

Night city was like an experiment in social Darwinism designed by a bored researcher who kept his thumb permanently on the fast forward button.

Predictive capabilities frequently serve as a metric for judging the worth of near-term science fiction. In many ways, Gibson’s prognosticative capabilities continue to impress thirty years later. Certainly, he misses the mark on some counts. He amusingly chooses the megabyte to represent units of big data. His world invokes powerful computer terminal fixtures and sleek cybernetic implants, but omits the intermediary stage of handheld technology like smartphones. He has changed the world through the sheer power of his dream and vision. Even though Gibson imagines such a ferociously revolutionary world from the 1980’s, he tempers this dream that could easily be that of ecstatic revelation with the knowledge that, as with all things, there will be some winners and some losers.

Need to make a major decision about your future or predict a trend? Want to write the next Neuromancer? Embrace uncertainty and identify your biases. Of course, if you are a Superforecaster already, you probably saw that advice coming.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Design Thinking Changing Training

Slide08

Training: see what happens now and repeat.


Like a sad dinner-for-one that is sat at the back of the fridge that’s past its sell-by-date, the current prevailing concepts of training are out-dated. I has been superseded by something better and can safely be discarded. Training is a very commonly used word and perhaps it needs refreshing itself. Transformed into a new design led process, by re-imagining, re-designing and inspiring new methodologies. Learning is in many ways a better way to think of this subject, because learning belongs to the learner, whereas training traditionally belongs to the trainer or the organisation. Training (in my opinion) should be about whole person development, not just transferring skills, the traditional interpretation of training at work.

Design Thinking (crash course here) is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems. When Design Thinking is applied to the new paradigm of learning and training, it can draw upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be, and to create desired outcomes that benefit the end user (the trainee). A design mindset is not problem-centric; it’s solution focused and action oriented. It involves both analysis and imagination.
With this in mind, it is good to look for solutions across different platforms and styles of thought. My favourite scientific rapper (there can be only one) is the very wonderful Baba Brinkman. While covering the theory of evolution and the work of Charles Darwin, equates evolution with how he writes his lyrics thus: Performance, Feedback, Revision.

…..and how do human beings (learning and training organisations) ever learn to do anything? Like this:

  • Performance – Feedback – Revision

…..and how do I generally develop my lyricism (training / speaking / inspiring)? Like this:

  • Performance – Feedback – Revision

Because the performance is necessary to change the words (learning) to decide which have an impact and which to send back to the drawing board.

  • Performance (training people to be amazing, by me)
  • Feedback (from trainees and my peers)
  • Revision (the ‘bits’ that have impact are iterated)

Organisations which approach training and development from this standpoint inevitably foster people who perform well and progress. Importantly their good people stay around for long enough to become great at what they do, and to help others become so. Leaders creating future leaders. The best training methods are not necessarily just conveying information, but that can make receiving data or instructions a much more enjoyable experience, which will keep trainees involved and help them retain more information. The process of design thinking for training might look like this visually:


A modified form of this process for training might include these waypoints:

  • Define the Challenge and Agenda. The start is crucial and doesn’t have to be linear after this.Develop a set of powerful questions to surface opportunities, and frame training and learning innovation.
  • Gather Data. Learn how to gather data through qualitative research such as observation (thick data) and storytelling to augment traditional forms of data gathering. Some powerful tools include Journey Mapping, touch-point analysis and value chain analysis.
  • Reframe and Clarify the Challenge. Make sense of research by seeing patterns, themes, and larger relationships between the information. Challenge assumptions and illuminate opportunities latent in the training process.
  • Explore Play and Create Novelty. Giving a safe place to experiment and innovate. Lower the barriers to what can be done, what could be achieved and direction training might go. Technological and ideological events that allow freedom and true innovative experience.
  • Make Learning Fun. Designing from the basis of fun will make a process inspirational. Trainees will not be enthusiastic if training sessions are dry and dull. Few employees respond to or remember complicated concepts or theories; they want to learn practical information about what they can do to get better results today. If they don’t find the message entertaining, they won’t retain it. Using the design process it is possible to use multiple, diverse and different training methods to engage learning for trainees in a variety of ways.
  • Encourage Artful Reflection. Cultivate your intuition and develop aesthetic ways of knowing. The elegant training solution wins in the marketplace.
  • Powerful Visualisation. Develop visual thinking skills to de-code images, and communicate ideas visually. Visual literacy transcends the limitations of language and activates our senses. Training tools include Mind mapping, sketching and painting.
  • Time to Ideate. Learn six idea generation tools to foster shifts in perception, break out of traditional mind-sets, and generate seed ideas for innovation, including Metaphorical thinking, connecting the dots, and Edison’s invention techniques. The new paradigms for training don’t need to re-invent the wheel but under process like meta-cognition (learning to learn).
  • Evaluate and getting Feedback. Identify the criteria you need to evaluate training ideas; learn the distinction between critiquing and criticising an idea; give feedback that enhances creativity rather than crushes it.
  • Encourage Participation. Use the Design Process to understand how facilitation works. Make the session lively by engaging participants in the learning process. In fact, try to spend close to 80 percent of training time on group participation. Encourage everyone in the training session to speak freely and candidly, because learning occurs most readily when feelings are involved.
  • Fast Prototyping. Create a visual tangible representation of your idea and present it to the group for feedback. Create a feasibility and an adoption checklist to get people onboard.
  • Customer Co-creationand Empowerment. Exploring alternative futures with your internal and external training customers.
  • Interim Assessment. Gather early feedback from prototype. Assess outcomes, and refine your project. Develop a set of feedback questions to get the information you need, i.e., does this add value to the trainee or the client?
  • Use Humour and be Playful. Humour helps keep enthusiasm at peak levels. Trainers can make a point more effectively by using humour than by drowning trainees in statistics or theories. Personal, self-deprecating humor is the safest way to go.
  • Roll out and Implementation. Create an action plan and test-drive your innovation plan for training change.
  • Finally Iterate. Assess results, modify and improve, using this framework to drive the cutting edge of training change.
  • Excellence, always. Goes without saying.

From now on, in big letters across the top of your white boards should go the words:

Performance – Feedback – Revision.

Nice.

Predicting The Future and Being Wrong

Predicting The Future and Being Wrong

20:20 Vision, pah! We live in strange social and economic times, where we think we know what is going on yet actually we don’t. People often say, ‘let the facts speak for themselves’. They forget that the speech of facts is real only if it is heard and understood. It is thought to be an easy matter to distinguish between fact and theory, between perception and interpretation. Despite empirical evidence, thick data and big data it is extremely difficult to know what may be.

We know what we are, but not what we may be. – William Shakespeare

Can we trust the evidence of our own eyes? Well I went to the Optician on Friday afternoon and had a revelation. The Optician was brilliant, kind, patient, intelligent and opened my eyes (literally with some nasty yellow droplets) to some new thought processes and amazing new lens (my thanks to Archana* for the inspiration and ability to write this). Apparently now I have 20:15 vision (which is better than 20:20 vision).

Are you clear on what you see? Apart from a trip to see Archana, I suspect you believe what you see to be real. You may doubt everything else, but you have no doubts about what you see right now. Sometimes if it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck. But we’re often so eager to accept that we’re right while others must be wrong that it’s essential for anyone interested in what’s true rather than what they prefer to take the view that the more complicated the situation, the more likely we are to have missed something.

In one of Plato’s dialogues, Socrates asks Theaetetus, a budding mathematician, “What is knowledge?” That is an enormously difficult question. Following Socrates’ example, what does it mean when a child eagerly lifts his hand in the classroom and repeats persuasively to the teacher, I know? Or what is meant in the statement of a financial columnist who writes that the Dow Jones standard of the market will plunge by 100, if inflation is not controlled. In what sense does he mean, I know this will be the case?

The overarching question, how do we know what we know? is vital to being a critical thinker, citizen, and scientist. It is a particularly important ‘lens’ to use today when we are awash in information from a virtually unlimited variety of sources. Scientists rely on evidence (data from their own and others’ observations and investigations) to construct explanations and answer their questions. A good scientist respects evidence and is willing to change his or her ideas, predictions, theories, and explanations if new information is inconsistent or contradictory.

But, we are all victims of powerful cognitive biases, which prevent us from acknowledging that we might be wrong (see also the God of Gaps). Other psychological problems with what you think might be true include:

  • The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight: the belief that though our perceptions of others are accurate and insightful, their perceptions of us are shallow and illogical.
  • The Backfire Effect: the fact that when confronted with evidence contrary to our beliefs we will rationalise our mistakes even more strongly
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy: the irrational response to having wasted time effort or money: I’ve committed this much, so I must continue or it will have been a waste.
  • The Anchoring Effectthe fact that we are incredibly suggestible and base our decisions and beliefs on what we have been told, whether or not it makes sense.
  • Confirmation bias – the fact that we seek out only that which confirms what we already believe

These biases pulls into question the notion of Truth as commonly used and pursued. But there is a further problem based on our anatomy and physiology. There are things, which we, quite literally, cannot see. My Optician tested me for what seemed like ages, on a machine where I had to follow a red dot with one eye and click how many green lights I saw when it stopped. This measured my blind spot, or scotoma, is an obscuration of the visual field. It is the place in the visual field that corresponds to the lack of light-detecting photoreceptor cells on the optic disc of the retina where the optic nerve passes through the optic disc. Since there are no cells to detect light on the optic disc, a part of the field of vision is not perceived. Your clever brain interpolates the blind spot based on surrounding detail and information from the other eye, so the blind spot is not normally perceived.

I ride a motorbike and I have often wondered why drivers pull out from side roads into the path of bikers. They cannot want to cause them harm. When they look at a busy scene, whether it’s a static landscape or a hectic rush of traffic, their brain cuts details from the surrounding images and pastes in what it thinks should be there. For the most part our brains get it right, but then occasionally they paste in a bit of clear road when what’s actually there is me on a motorbike.

In 1960, George Sperling, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, did something amazing. You can try the experiment yourself online. He used an experiment to demonstrate that our brains are creating a virtual image of the world (and storing it) that indicates we see more than we remember. In the test, you see a three-by-three grid of nine letters flash up for a split second. What letters were they? You will only be able to report a few of them. Now suppose the experimenter tells you that if you hear a high-pitched noise you should focus on the first row, and if you hear a low-pitched noise you should focus on the last row. This time, not surprisingly, you will accurately report all three letters in the cued row, though you can’t report the letters in the other rows. Now you only hear the noise after the grid has disappeared. You will still be very good at remembering the letters in the cued row. But think about it: you didn’t know beforehand which row you should focus on. So you must have actually seen all the letters in all the rows, even though you could only access and report a few of them at a time. It seems as if we do see more than we can say.

Or do we? Here’s another possibility. We know that people can extract some information from images they can’t actually see—in subliminal perception, for example. Perhaps you processed the letters unconsciously, but you didn’t actually see them until you heard the cue. Or perhaps you just saw blurred fragments of the letters. According to views of modern philosophers we know things in a variety of ways. Whether they are ‘true’ or ‘accurate’ is another argument. These are the main ways of acquiring that knowledge:

  • 
Testimony or the past, transmitted culture 
authority
  • Empiricism (objects before us experienced 
through the senses)
  • 
Reason, logical truths, deductions, 
inferences
  • Phenomenology essences, general or 
universal ideas
  • 
Self-revelation human persons and god as person
  • Intuition love, friendship, hunch, feeling
  • Apprenticeship skills, music, connoisseurship

It appears that one way may have more limitations than another. The way of the senses has all kinds of uses whereas self-revelation is quite restricted. Intuition may be the most limited way. Philosophers sometimes argue that our conscious experience can’t be doubted because it feels so immediate and certain. But scientists tell us that feeling is an illusion, too. Are we good at being wrong?Katherine Schultz says that our obsession with being right is “a problem for each of us as individuals, in our personal and professional lives, and… a problem for all of us collectively as a culture.”

Go get your eyes tested*.

Be Amazing Every Day

*Vision Optique London, 142 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JPinfo@visionoptiquelondon.co.uk www.visionoptiquelondon.co.uk