The Universe Conspiracy – Pronoia

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. ― Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I have been developing a unifying theory about success (I know that sound a bold claim) partly influenced by Philip K.Dick’s book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? First published in 1968, the book served as the primary basis for my favourite film Blade Runner. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic near future, where Earth and its populations have been damaged greatly by nuclear war during World War Terminus. Most types of animals are endangered or extinct due to extreme radiation poisoning from the war. To own an animal is a sign of status, but what is emphasised more is the empathic emotions humans experience towards an animal. But there is a problem with my theory; it is developing too easily. Someone told me that it was ‘cool’ because the Universe was conspiring in my favour. I am suffering from pronoia apparently.

Joseph Heller’s line in Catch 22. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you” – might have to be turned on its head for Hollywood star Susan Sarandon. “Just because you’re pronoiad, doesn’t mean they aren’t for you,” the actress might say. Susan Sarandon talked about her belief in ‘pronoia’ as she was revealing what a joyous experience it had been to make Cloud Atlas, the film adapted from the award-winning novel. Some might say this is nonsense because it is a Hollywood actress telling us this ‘fact’.

Pronoia is defined as the opposite state of mind as paranoia: having the sense that there is a conspiracy that exists to help the person. It is also used to describe a philosophy that the world is set up to secretly benefit people. Almost a Zippie mantra promoted by Saradon. A Zippie is a person who does something for nothing. Any supporter of free culture, free food, free books, free software is a Zippie – and the Universe conspiring a central belief.

But does it make the proposition wrong? As students of logic should know, not every appeal to authority is a fallacious appeal to authority.  A fallacy is committed only when the purported authority appealed to either does not in fact possess expertise on the subject at hand, or can reasonably be supposed to be less than objective.

Hence if you believed that PCs are better than Macs entirely on the say-so of either your technophobic orthodontist or the local PC dealer who has some overstock to get rid of, you would be committing a fallacy of appeal to authority — in the first case because your orthodontist, smart guy though he is, presumably hasn’t much knowledge of computers, in the second case because while the salesman might have such knowledge, there is reasonable doubt about whether he is giving you an unbiased opinion.

But if you believed that PCs are better than Macs because your computer science professor told you so, there would be no fallacy, because he presumably both has expertise on the matter and lacks any special reason to push PCs on you.  That doesn’t necessarily mean he’d be correct, of course; an argument can be mistaken even if it is non-fallacious. Similarly, not every ad hominem attack — an attack against the man or women — involves a fallacious ad hominem.  Attacking the person can be entirely legitimate and sometimes even called for, even in an argumentative context, when it is precisely the man / women whom is the problem.

Attacking a person involves a fallacy when what is at issue is whether some claim the person is making is true or some argument he is giving is cogent, and where the attacker either

  • essentially ignores the question of whether the claim is true or the argument cogent, and instead just attacks the person giving it or
  •  suggests either explicitly or implicitly that the claim can be rejected false or the argument rejected as not cogent on the basis of some irrelevant purported fault of the person giving it.

So the question arises – does pronoia exist, ignoring who told us it might?. I have been exploring the idea that it if you do the right thing often enough, good things happen. The sneaking suspicion others are conspiring to help you and you them. Pronoia is also a prevalent theme in the 1988 novel The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. In it, the protagonist, a young boy is told by an older man to pursue his dreams.

He tells the boy, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” The book also deals with omens, signs that the universe wants the boy to follow a specific path, which will lead to his goal of fulfilling a dream.

The writer and Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow defined pronoia as the suspicion the Universe is a conspiracy on your behalf.The academic journal “Social Problems” published an article entitled “Pronoia” by Fred H. Goldner in 1982 (vol 30, pp.82-91). It received a good deal of publicity at the time including references to it in Psychology TodayWired Magazine published an article in issue 2.05 (May 1994) titled “Zippie!”. The cover of the magazine featured a psychedelic image of a smiling young man with wild hair, a funny hat, and crazy eyeglasses. 

The simplest definition of pronoia may be to say that it is the opposite of paranoia. A person suffering from paranoia suspects that persons or entities (e.g. governments / deities) conspire against them. A person enjoying pronoia feels that the world around them conspires to do them good.

The principal proponent of pronoia in the 21st century has been the astrologer, writer, poet, singer, and songwriter Rob Brezsny. Brezsny’s book Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings, published in 2005, explores the philosophy of pronoia.

 

Can we reject it on the basis of the non expert status of the writer? Well maybe we can relax and suspend our disbelief and imagine that if we do good things –  good things may happen to us in return. Maybe it does not matter in the long run. No act of kindness (no matter how small) is ever wasted.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Stop doing work you hate. No More Excuses.

Stop doing work you hate. No More Excuses.

So let’s talk about why you keep doing work you hate. Maybe you know the terrifying statistic that over 80% of people don’t enjoy their work and nearly 75% don’t know their passion. These two numbers kill me and maybe they are killing you. We have all had jobs we hated. It’s a rite of passage, and not just for creatives. But you have a secret weapon. Your skills can get you out of this situation. But, and here’s the bad news, it won’t just ‘happen’ – you have to make it happen. You have to take control of your situation and do something productive with it.

You see it’s both scary and crazy to think that so many people are willing continue to act in a way that doesn’t make them happy. Trust me, by now I feel like I’ve seen it all…yet I continue to be surprised.

In the past 3 years I have trained hundred of clients and business to be amazing every day. That alone leaves me in awe. It has and is been massively successful and I love doing it – I am truly passionate about changing lives. I am confident enough to have doubled my charges since January, reject clients (or put them on waiting list) and I am pretty much fully booked.

On top of that, since I started doing this amazing work, I’ve had the chance to literally hear from hundreds and hundreds of people – many of them in terrible pain due to the work they keep doing that they can’t stand. Thankfully for them and many others, who used to hate their work, but have since successfully made the transition to something better. Doing what they are passionate about, every day. T It moves mountains, smashes barriers and I apply it to myself, every day.

The odd thing is I don’t have to try to find new clients – they find me.

So why don’t more people (including you) do something about their situation? The fascinating thing is most people have the same beliefs, reasons and ‘stories’. They all seem to act and repeat the same drama. I’ve heard every reason under the sun for why their situation is different. Why they are unable to break the chains and do something that actually excites them. I have made a list and the vast majority come back to the same few reasons.

As I share these reasons, you may see how similar these things are that are holding you back. After all, the first step is identifying the problem. The next step is doing something about it. Believe me, I know making the transition can be unbelievably challenging. There are examples everywhere of people in worse situations than you, who still manage to find their way. I know because I hear about them all the time and I have collected a list. Do any of these ‘reasons’  sound familiar ? I have not edited them – indeed I use them for all my new clients as a check list:

  1. Help me Tim, I don’t really know I’m passionate about – what is my why?
  2. I don’t really know how to make money from my passion – can I make money from it?
  3. The people around me will think I’m crazy. My friends, family and colleagues tell me all the time it won’t work.
  4. I don’t have anyone to go to for advice, support or encouragement. It is impossible to do this by myself.
  5. Work is just a part of life. It’s not something meant to be enjoyed. I am doing my best.
  6. It’s not possible to do what you love and make a living from it. That is just a dream.
  7. I can’t find the courage or energy to start. It is easier to keep on keeping on.
  8. What if I fail? I don’t want to be seen as a failure.
  9. Nobody around me enjoys their job. It is a fact of life.
  10. I have a family, mortgage and obligations to be responsible for – I am responsible for others.
  11. My passion is not the kind of thing you can make money from; it’s just a hobby and that is not a job.
  12. I’m not qualified enough. There are plenty of experts in my field with more experience than me. What do I know?
  13. Between my current job, my family, trying to stay healthy and all the other things I have to do, I don’t have any time to work on my passion. It is all too much to even think about.
  14. I can’t find a job that allows me to leverage my natural strengths. Anyway what strengths do I have?
  15. It’s too risky. In this economy I need to keep any job security I can find. It is just easier not to rock the boat.
  16. I have too many passions and interests. There’s no way I could choose just one. And if I did, what if I realize it’s the wrong choice in six or 12 months?
  17. I can’t find the initiative, the energy and purpose. Please help me.
  18. I have a terrible time following through – I am so not a completer finisher.
  19. I’ve never heard of someone who’s been able to make a living off my specific passion – it cant work.
  20. There’s too much competition and I am a small fish.
  21. I’m too old and waited too long. I wish I had thought about this 10 years ago. It is too late to change.
  22. I spent years studying something in university that I can’t stand doing now. But it would be way too much of a waste to switch. I am committed to something I hate.
  23. I have to be really savvy with the Internet and I don’t know a lot of the modern tools and technology.
  24. I’m not creative enough and not sure I am any good.
  25. Finding and keeping a job is hard enough, let alone finding one I love doing – so why bother?

So I’ll ask you again – do any of these sound familiar?

Take another minute and look back through them. Mark the ones you know you’ve played in your head over and over.

The big question is why do you believe these to be true?

This is crucial: every one of the above ‘reasons’ is nothing more than an excuse.

All are these excuses are based on false assumptions. I have tested them and proven them wrong over and over again. I am proud to have done that. Who told you that you can’t? The right stories are everywhere if you want to see them. The inches you need are all round you. Start by reading my Be Amazing Every Day Card and see what jumps out for you.

I invite you to think about the following –

  1. What were the words that jumped out for you from the BAED card?
  2. What is your why? If you don’t know read The Hardest Question.
  3. Identify your real values and learn what you’re good at and don’t ever take a step back.
  4. Be prepared to get lost in your passion and work harder than you have ever done.
  5. Every day, without fail go further.
  6. Discipline wins.
  7. There are no easy ways but there are right ways.
  8. Start believing in your self – totally and utterly.
  9. Lower the hurdle – Make a list of the things that actually make you happy (and the things most people assume will) – you’ll find you probably don’t need as much money or as many things as you think.
  10. Help someone with something – and start to charge them for it – we will use this a template.
  11. Doing Work You Love Is The Right Thing. Always.
  12. If you do that, you can start to move mountains.

It was hearing these excuses (and many more), played on endless repeat from readers, friends, clients and nearly every person I seemed to meet, that finally caused me to create the life you deserve – to be amazing everyday, right now. You actually desperately need a roadmap and the tools to take you from a list of reason you shouldn’t, to every reason why you MUST (why you absolutely must) – and the step-by-step process to go with it.

That’s why I have spent hundreds of hours (a lifetime to be an overnight success – one drop of wisdom) by compiling / reading / researching and applying. I could not be happier – right here, right now. No regrets about the past, no fears of the future. Totally and utterly present. I chop wood. I fetch water. Simple. And I know I am only just getting started.

Excuses are not fact. They are not set in stone. They’re anything but. They are a figment of your imagination. Just thoughts – nothing more. But they are the most dangerous thoughts in the world. Believing them can kill a dream in a heartbeat. But disproving them is what changes the world. Living a life of purpose and passion (BAED) is just that – a way of life. Those who wake up excited aren’t just the lucky ones, they condition themselves to experience and deserve it.

So I’ll ask you one last time…which of these excuses have you been telling yourself?

Let’s see if we can do something about it. You and I both know you can do better. So would do you need to do now?

  • Read this again.
  • Make notes.
  • Ask questions.
  • Stop making excuses.

I won’t or can’t tell you the answers as it where it will end up – but I do know it all starts with a decision. I or any great coach, can only help you get the success you deserve when you decide that is what you want. No more excuses.

Be Amazing by Thin Slicing

This is truly amazing: the latest neuroscience research reveal that our decisions are made 7 seconds before we become aware of them. We already know that within 7 seconds of meeting people decide all sorts of things about them, from status to intelligence to promiscuity. But this new research questions the very notion of free will.

When you meet a new business acquaintance for the first time you do some quick brain references and heuristics (short cuts). It could be when you first meet your new boss, a recent addition to your team, or a potential client you want to sign up. There are lots non verbal clues that your brain scans for to make these decisions. In fact, studies have found that nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say. The moment that someone sees you, his or her brain is asking as a hard wired survival mechanism:

  • Are you different?
  • Are you someone to approach or to avoid?
  • Are you friend or foe?
  • Do you have status and authority?
  • Are you trustworthy, competent, likeable, confident?

Indeed people decide on your trustworthiness is judged in a tenth of a second, or less based on your facial appearance. The Princeton researchers found this out by giving one group of university students 100 milliseconds to rate the attractiveness, competence, like-ability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness of actors’ faces. Members of another group were able to take as long as they wanted. While other traits differed depending on time spent looking, trustworthiness was basically the same.

Psychologists call it thin slicing, the ability to find patterns in events based only on narrow windows, of experience.The term seems to have been coined in 1992 by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in a paper in the Psychological Bulletin. One of the most popular books on thin-slicing is Blink written by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, the author goes through and describes interesting examples and research which exploit the idea of thin-slicing. John Gottman, a well-known marital expert, describes how within an hour of observing a couple, he can gather with 95% accuracy if the couple will be together within 15 years. His accuracy goes down to 90% if he observes the couples for 15 minutes, supporting the phenomenon of thin-slicing.

Even more intriguingly, neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain found that decisions are made before you know. In the experiment participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand. Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use before they were consciously aware of the decision. By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the front polar cortex, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose 7 seconds before the participant was aware of the decision.What might this mean, then, for the nebulous concept of free will? “We think our decisions are conscious, but these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg,” says John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

What does this mean for you? Well, be aware that people pick up your attitude instantly (less than a second). Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom, or step onstage to make a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. I encourage people to use their eyes first. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. While you do this slowly raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the eyebrow flash that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.

There a universal truth about the power of the smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. Condition yourself to stand tall and move slowly. Status and power are nonverbally conveyed by height and space. Standing tall, pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head straight are all signals of confidence and competence. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.

Some people believe that thin slicing causes the phenomenon known as déjà vu as they happen within the same time frame of thin-slicing and might also have a direct correlation. So even if you think you have heard this all before, every encounter, from conferences to meetings to training sessions to business lunches, presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional contacts by making a positive first impression.

You’ve got just seven seconds, but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need. But, I do find it a bit disconcerting that decisions are made by unconscious me 7 seconds before conscious me. Better still read my card below:

Be Amazing Every Day.

Big Idea: Trivial Bikeshedding Management

Did you know that today is National Trivia Day* and 50 years ago (last Wednesday 5th February, 1965) trivia was invented? Well sort of true; a Columbia Spectatorarticle appeared on this day and used the term trivia to topics like,

  • Who played the Old Gypsy Woman in The Wolfman?
  • Answer: Maria Ouspenskaya (I did not know this either).

Columbia University students Ed Goodgold and Dan Carlinsky, who had proposed the new use of the term in their original article swiftly created the earliest inter-collegiate quiz bowls that tested culturally (and emotionally) significant yet essentially unimportant facts, which they dubbed trivia contests. The expression has also come to suggest information of the kind useful almost exclusively for answering quiz questions, hence the brand name Trivial Pursuit (1982).

The word originates from the Latin neuter noun trivium (plural trivia) is from tri- “triple” and via “way”, meaning a place where three ways meet. The word trivia was also used to describe a place where three roads met in Ancient Rome. Often misquoted with the comedic line that 2 are irrelevant (trivial) as only the one leading back to Rome is important. They did not, as some wag (Frank Skinner) suggested, pin pieces of rubbish information at these cross roads.

More accurately trivia are the three lower Artes Liberales: grammar, logic andrhetoric. These were the topics of basic education, foundational to the quadrivia of higher education, and hence the material of basic education and an important building block for all undergraduates. In management terms I came across Parkinson’s law of triviality on my MBA course years ago. It also known as ‘bikeshedding’ and was first described by C. Northcote Parkinson in 1957. His argument was that organisations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.

Parkinson observed and illustrated that a committee whose job is to approve plans for a nuclear power plant spent the majority of its time with pointless discussions on relatively trivial and unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike-shed, while neglecting the less-trivial proposed design of the nuclear power plant itself, which is far more important but also a far more difficult and complex task to criticise constructively. As he put it:

The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved.

A reactor is used because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those that work on it understand it. On the other hand, everyone can visualise a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.

Thus bike shedding involves discussions about relatively unimportant issues which result in extensive debate. Know that feeling at many a management meetings?

It may be the result of individuals who wish to contribute feeling that they do not have the knowledge or expertise to contribute on more significant issues. Bike shedding can result in discussions that, whilst on-topic, nevertheless effectively drown out other discussions on more significant issues.

My top 7 favourite pieces of trivia are currently:

  1. On Good Friday in 1930, the BBC reported, “There is no news.” Instead, they played piano music.
  2. In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel was spending $2,500 a month on rubber bands just to hold all their cash.
  3. M&M’s actually stands for “Mars & Murrie’s,” the last names of the candy’s founders.
  4. In 1907, an ad campaign for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes offered a free box of cereal to any woman who would wink at her grocer.
  5. The Arkansas School for the Deaf’s nickname is the Leopards.
  6. The Vatican Bank is the world’s only bank that allows ATM users to perform transactions in Latin.
  7. The unkempt Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame has a rather proper real name of Norville Rogers.

*There is a National Trivia Day, but it is January 4th.

Be Amazing Every Day

Your Vast Prediction Machine

Think of the brain as a vast prediction machine. I drove my car to the station this morning; what colour is it?The brain’s desire to know the answer (I don’t have a car but to help your brain, let’s call it red) and indeed what the future holds in general is a powerful motivator in everyday life. We know that massive neuronal resources are devoted to predicting what will happen each moment.

Using research by the neuroscientists at Cal Tech it is becoming clearer that the brain needs to resolve some difficult and seemingly opposing issues to thrive.

Much is known about how people make decisions under varying levels of probability (risk). Less is known about the neural basis of decision-making when probabilities are uncertain because of missing information (ambiguity). Yet we know the brain loves certainty. This is the assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure (or even comfort). Some people pursue this need by striving to control all aspects of their lives, while others obtain certainty by giving up control and adopting a philosophy, faith or belief system.

Your brain is doing something quite remarkable right now. There around 40 environmental cues you can consciously pay attention to right now. Remember we have at least 27 senses (see here). Subconsciously this number is well over two-million. That’s a huge amount of data that can be used for prediction. The brain likes to know what is going on by recognising patterns in the world. It likes to feel certain. We learn much more than we ever consciously understand. Most of the signals that are peripherally perceived enter the brain without our awareness and interact on unconscious levels. This is why we say that learners become their experience and remember what they experience, not just what they are told.

Jeff Hawkins inventor of the Palm Pilot and more recently founder of a neuroscience institute explains the brain’s predilection for prediction in his book (On Intelligence),

Your brain receives patterns from the outside world, stores them as memories, and makes predictions by combining what it has seen before and what is happening now… Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence.

Meaning is not always available on the surface. Meaning often happens intuitively in ways that we don’t understand. So that, when we learn, we use both conscious and unconscious processes. In teaching, you may not reach a student immediately, but two years later he / she may be somewhere else and suddenly join the dots and get it.

The brain requires at the same time as this certainty a measure of uncertainty, causing variety. This is to avoid the boredom reflex and requires our brain to look for distraction. The evolution of play and creation of novelty stem from this quest for uncertainty. The need for the unknown, for change and new stimuli also makes us feel alive and engaged. This is in part caused by the hunger for information, just for the sake of it. Often that information doesn’t make us more effective or adaptive, it just reduces a sense of relative uncertainty.

Your brain loves a quick burst of dopamine we get when a circuit is completed. It feels good – but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us all the time. All of this explains many otherwise strange phenomenon. Knowing that we automatically avoid uncertainty explains why any kind of change can be hard – it’s inherently uncertain. It explains why we prefer things we know over things that might be more fun, or better for us, but are new and therefore uncertain. It might also explain why we prefer the certainty of focusing on problems and finding answers in data from the past, rather than risking the uncertainty of new, creative solutions.

This means that we are naturally programmed to search for meaning. This principle is survival oriented and is the basis of why your brain wanted to know the colour of my car (which I don’t have). The brain needs and automatically registers the familiar while simultaneously searching for and responding to additional stimuli.

We want to know what things mean to us. The brain likes to think ahead and picture the future, mapping out how things will be, not just for each moment, but also for the longer term. The paradox of certainty and uncertainty combined with significance and meaning.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Wrong-Brained

Sometimes I just want to give up. I really don’t know why I bother with my epic quest for truth, science and reason.

You are such a right-brain thinker’, she yelled.

I probably should not have said she was so wrong. Maybe I should not have added that she was being a ‘meme sustaining poptart psychologist’ and ‘both neuro-scientifically and anatomically inaccurate’. Like the time she came in when I was watching the cricket and said, “It’s over” and I replied, “No, 3 balls left”.

Despite what you may have been told, you are not left-brained or right-brained. From books to television programs, you may have heard the phrase mentioned numerous times or perhaps you’ve even taken an online test to determine which type best describes you. From self-help and business success books to job applications and smartphone apps, the theory that the different halves of the human brain govern different skills and personality traits is a popular one.

According to this (wrong) theory of left-brain or right-brain dominance, each side of the brain controls different types of thinking. Additionally, people are said to prefer one type of thinking over the other. For example, a person who is labelled left-brained is often said to be more logical, analytical, and objective, while a person whom is labelled right-braine is said to be more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. So what exactly did this theory suggest?

The Right Brain Nonsense: According to the left-brain, right-brain dominance failed theory, the right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. Some of the abilities that are popularly associated with the right side of the brain include:

  • Recognising faces
  • Expressing emotions
  • Music
  • Reading emotions
  • Colour
  • Images
  • Intuition
  • Creativity

The Left Brain Nonsense: The left-side of the brain is (not) considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. The left-brain is often described as being better at:

  • Language
  • Logic
  • Critical thinking
  • Numbers
  • Reasoning

Too bad it’s not true. Short of having undergone a hemispherectomy (removal of a cerebral hemisphere), no one is a left-brain only or right-brain only person.In pop psychology, the theory is based on what is known as the lateralisation of brain function. So does one side of the brain really control specific functions? Are people either left-brained or right-brained? Like many popular psychology myths, this one grew out of observations about the human brain that were then dramatically distorted and exaggerated.

To try and put this to bed forever, a new two-year study published in the journal Plos One, University of Utah neuroscientists scanned the brains of more than 1,000 people, ages 7 to 29, while they were lying quietly or reading, measuring their functional lateralisation – the specific mental processes taking place on each side of the brain. They broke the brain into 7,000 regions, and while they did uncover patterns for why a brain connection might be strongly left or right-lateralised, they found no evidence that the study participants had a stronger left or right-sided brain network. Jeff Anderson, the study’s lead author and a professor of neuroradiology at the University of Utah says:

It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain, language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right.

But the brain isn’t as clear-cut as the myth makes it out to be. For example, the right hemisphere is involved in processing some aspects of language, such as intonation and emphasis. Where has this come form because I am pretty sure you will have heard it? Experts suggest the myth dates back to the 1800s, when scientists discovered that an injury to one side of the brain caused a loss of specific abilities. The concept gained ground in the 1960s based on Nobel-prize-winning split-brain work by neuropsychologists Robert Sperry, and Michael Gazzaniga. The researchers conducted studies with patients who had undergone surgery to cut the corpus callosum – the band of neural fibres that connect the hemispheres – as a last-resort treatment for epilepsy.

They discovered that when the two sides of the brain weren’t able to communicate with each other, they responded differently to stimuli, indicating that the hemispheres have different functions.Both of these bodies of research tout findings related to function; it was popular psychology enthusiasts who undoubtedly took this work a step further and pegged personality types to brain hemispheres.

Brain function lateralisation is evident in the phenomena of right- or left-handedness and of right or left ear preference, but a person’s preferred hand is not a clear indication of the location of brain function. Although 95% of right-handed people have left-hemisphere dominance for language, 18.8% of left-handed people have right-hemisphere dominance for language function. Additionally, 19.8% of the left-handed have bilateral language functions. Even within various language functions (e.g., semantics, syntax, prosody), degree (and even hemisphere) of dominance may differ.

Additionally, although some functions are lateralised, these are only a tendency. The trend across many individuals may also vary significantly as to how any specific function is implemented. The areas of exploration of this causal or effectual difference of a particular brain function include its gross anatomy, dendritic structure, and neurotransmitter distribution. The structural and chemical variance of a particular brain function, between the two hemispheres of one brain or between the same hemisphere of two different brains, is still being studied.

Researchers have demonstrated that right-brain/left-brain theory is a myth, yet its popularity persists. Unfortunately many people are likely unaware that the theory is outdated. Today, students might continue to learn about the theory as a point of historical interest – to understand how our ideas about how the brain works have evolved and changed over time as researchers have learned more about how the brain operates. The important thing to remember if you take one of the many left brain/right brain quizzes that you will likely encounter online is that they are entirely for fun and you shouldn’t place much stock in your results. According to Anderson:

The neuroscience community has never accepted the idea of ‘left-dominant’ or ‘right-dominant’ personality types. Lesion studies don’t support it, and the truth is that it would be highly inefficient for one half of the brain to consistently be more active than the other.

We love simple solutions (see also 21 days to break a habit) Human society is built around categories, classifications and generalizations, and there’s something seductively simple about labeling yourself and others as either a logical left-brainer or a free-spirited right brainer. The problems start, however, when the left-brained/right-brained myth becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What research has yet to refute is the fact that the brain is remarkably malleable, even into late adulthood.

It has an amazing ability to reorganise itself by forming new connections between brain cells, allowing us to continually learn new things and modify our behavior. Let’s not underestimate our potential by allowing a simplistic myth to obscure the complexity of how our brains really work.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson, M. A., Lainhart, J. E., & Anderson, J. S. (2013). An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging.

Rogers, M. (2013).Researchers debunk myth of “right brain” and “left-brain” personality traits. University of Utah, Office of Public Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0071275

Remarkable Leadership requires Coup d’oeil

Remarkable Leadership requires Coup d’oeil

 

Slide06

Remarkable leaders appear to share a rare high level skill called coup d’oeil.This strange and relatively obscure French expression, which means literally ‘stroke of the eye’, might be better translated as at-a-glance leadership. Truly exceptional leaders have the ability to take in the whole of a complicated situation, do a fast / rapid analysis and then can express it in simpler, clearer terms and develop the appropriate action to take. They seem to be able to distill complex scenarios faster and get better results and achieve long term success.

There are some fantastic examples given by Jim Collins in Great by Choice, listed as 10X companies, although the author doesn’t suggest the process I shall outline here. It is a sequel to his best-selling Good to Great (2001), which identified seven characteristics that enabled companies to become truly great over an extended period of time. Never mind that one of the 11 featured companies is now bankrupt (Circuit City) and another is in government receivership (Fannie Mae). Collins has a knack for analysis that business readers find compelling.

You would probably agree that the business environment (landscape) has changed dramatically in the last few years and is still rapidly evolving. It is more complex, more volatile, and more unpredictable than any so-called thought leaders predicted. The disruptive nature of technologies has yet to be addressed by leadership training processes.

The skills needed for good leadership have also changed. They are more complex and require adaptive, flexible and rapid thinking. Yet the methods being used to develop leaders have not changed much (if at all) over the last 20 years. My personal view of the current leadership training situation (and where it might go) is given in the table below. It is based on my personal experience over many years, lots of research and many hours of discussion and analysis. I don’t claim it is perfect (far from it) and there are of course many examples of excellence out there; we most seek to learn from their content, structure and delivery.

The best explanation I have found of the term coup d’oeil(and it is virtually overlooked in modern leadership literature) comes from an 1827 classic of military strategy, On War by Carl von Clausewitz. The word strategy in fact entered the English language in 1810, when Napoleon’s success as a battlefield general made him Emperor of Europe. His enemies started studying how he did it so they could learn it too and defeat him. Indeed Clausewitz is credited with coming up with the term fog of war (amongst other gems).Clausewitz’s account of Napoleon’s strategy matches amazingly well what modern neuroscience tells us about flashes of insight. Clausewitz cleverly used a four step process, which I have adapted slightly to reflex some cutting edge neuroscience:

  1. The process starts with the ingestion and absorption of research. Accumulating and taking examples, stories and patterns from history, throughout your life and putting them away careful (filed and labelled) in your limitless filing system of your remarkable brain. Studying memory systems and knowing about modern neuroscience can help in the process. Keep stacking and uploading these examples into your hard drive / Hippocampus. Some might call this process ‘conscious encoding’ and it is the long, tedious part of inspiration.
  2. The next stage is to develop a particular presence of mind, where you free your brain of all pre-conceptions about what problem you’re solving and what solution might work. By learning transformational breathing or other physiological breath work (the very simple discipline of 3 minutes (eyes closed) of slow, rhythmic and even breaths) certainly helps. This can create and facilitate (via the powerful hormone DHEA) a sense of being in the flow, or the zone and helps with the brain chemicals like BDNF which stimulate dendrite growth and new neural pathways. The process of going for a long walk, doing some exercise and even juggling can induce this state.
  3. The third crucial stage is developing the space and conditions for the flash of insight itself to occur. Clausewitz himself called it the coup d’oeil. In this flash and moment of extreme clarity, new combinations of the multiple superimposed examples from history, that were encoded over your life time, are recalled and your super brain re-connects them and joins up the dots. The solution is there to be accessed, innovation resolved and better strategies enabled.
  4. The remarkable leader has then to have resolution, courage and determination to make it happen. This is when the great leader says Ah, I see!, but also, I’ll do it! and Now!

I love the thought of using a 1827 book to inspire leadership training. A good example perhaps ofstanding on the shoulders of giants. Modern technology using fMRI has not given us any definitive brain scans that show differences in the way leaders’ grey matter works. Although the ‘flash of inspiration’ or Coup d’oeil is yet to be recorded by fMRI, there is some consensus that leaders have some commonalities in how they think about the world.

Let’s dissect a standard question used in interviews to ‘find’ leaders: What great leader in history do you aspire to be? This question is intended to examine the types of leaders you naturally gravitate towards and whether or not they are in alignment with your values and what you stand for? Some of the most common answers include: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Michael Jordan,Teddy Roosevelt, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Peters, Margaret Thatcher and John F. Kennedy.

Consider then the first quotation from American football coach legend Vince Lombardi,

Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.

Kari H. Keating, Ph.D., a teaching associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who studies leadership, published a study in October 2014 which supported existing research that leaders are made, not born. Expanding on work by leadership researcher Bruce J. Avolio which found that leadership ability is roughly 30% genetic and 70% learned, Keating and her colleagues found that the first step to becoming a more effective leader is to believe that you can be a leader in the first place. That is an intriguing finding as it fits with the Coup d’oeil model of rapid analysis. It also implies that the Clausewitz’ 4 step Coup d’oeil process can be taught, practiced and used. To understand whether you are going in the right direction with your own leadership, ask the following questions to be remarkable:

  • What must you keep doing to be remarkable?
  • What must you stop doing to be remarkable?
  • What must you start doing to be remarkable?
  • What must you think of doing to be remarkable?
  • Where is your unique angle on Coup d’oeil?

The majority of managers are currently developed via on-the-job experiences, training, and coaching/ mentoring; while these are all still important, leaders are no longer developing fast enough or in the right ways to match the new environment. In the emerging future views of leadership, leaders do not have influence simply because they are ‘bosses’ or ‘commanders’. Rather, leaders are people who are committed to creating a world / organisation / team to which people want to belong. It of course involves brilliant communicating, powerful interacting and managing relationships within an organisation, network or social system to move toward one’s highest aspirations.

As we try to take command of our own destiny and guide the destinies of our families, communities, organisations and our planet, the necessity of effective leadership ability has become increasingly obvious. Effective leadership might just need the 4 stage Clausewitz process for Coup d’oeil as one of the keys to our future success and future survival.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Your Brain Can’t Handle New Year’s Resolutions

Your Brain Can’t Handle New Year’s Resolutions

 

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The neuroscience is indeed interesting; the brain cells that operate willpower are located in the Pre Frontal Cortex (PFC), which is the area right behind your forehead. This area of the brain is also responsible for staying focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract tasks. When you set a New Year’s resolution, it is this PFC area that goes into overdrive, as an enormous amount of willpower is required. It is this surge in activity at that your brain simply can’t handle. Imagine your Pre Frontal Cortex as a simple muscle; it needs to be trained, developed and worked on. If you decide to train this ‘muscle’ at the start of the New Year, with a resolution to say quit smoking, add to it start going to the gym and then lose lots of weight, that’s the equivalent of doing an world record squat lift without any previous training. It’s no surprise that your brain can’t do the heavy lifting.

Look into my eyes and just do it. So you can blame your overloaded brain for it’s lack of success on seeing through you resolutions. There is a secondary problem about trying to tackle a goal because someone told you to (or because you simply think you should). It seems that taking on a goal because of outside pressure just makes people want to rebel. There’s an important distinction to be drawn between goals that we feel that we should accomplish and those we believe we truly want to accomplish. Rarely do we attain goals unless we truly embrace the goal. Make sure you’re only picking goals because you’re ready and eager to fulfill them.

So what strategies might work in helping you achieve your NYr? The latest research into the psychology and the neuroscience of goal setting and willpower offer some surprising non-cliché tips for making your resolutions work for you.

1. Pick Only One Resolution. Start with the biggest goal you have for 2015 and let’s focus on that one. Exclude all the sub goals and mini resolutions. In an experiment conducted at Stanford, one group of students was given a two digit number to memorise while the other group was given a seven digit number. Afterwards, they were asked to walk down a hallway while holding that number in memory and presented with the option to eat a slice of cake or fruit salad at the end. It turns out that the seven digit memorisers were nearly twice as likely to choose cake over the fruit salad. It was as though memorising the extra numbers took up ‘good decision making’ space in their brain. Pick one key goals to focus on and you’ll be much more likely to follow through. Then, let go of everything else, otherwise you’ll be picking the chocolate cake for every situation, instead of the choice that you set out to make.

1. Start on Monday. I know that New Year is on a Thursday this year, but think about the 5th as your key day. The turn of another year tricks us into seeing our big-picture selves, our slates wiped clean. Take advantage of it. People commit to their goals more fiercely after a major benchmark like New Year’s Day. If you are an I-don’t-believe-in-resolutions person who nonetheless wants to break a bad habit, wait for a Monday. It’s the most popular day of the week for starting diets and stopping smoking, studies show.

2. Focus on the carrot, not the stick. A new powerful study from the University of Chicago outlines how clearly positive feedback on any of your new habits will increase the likelihood of your success with your new habits and resolutions. Hand in hand with this goes the fact that rewarding yourself for advances with your habits with things that make you feel great way to increase your success rate.

3. Pick a Round Number. George Wu, Professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and his colleagues recently looked at marathon runners at the end of their races. A huge number of people finished in times that clustered around ’round’ numbers, the researchers discovered e.g. a 4-hour marathon. Marathon runners feel a lot worse just missing these really arbitrary reference points: the round numbers. So when people are really, really close to just missing their round-number goal, they’re much more likely to speed up at the painful end to beat it. People who are projected to beat it comfortably, however, actually slow down.

4. Chunk it up. My hero, the late Professor George Miller came up with a theory about short term memory ( 7 +/- 2 ) that helped people learn and recall more efficiently. Use the same ‘chunking up’process for your NYR. You know how good it feels to tick off an item from your to-do list. Put that to work by hacking a massive goal (reading 24 books a year, say) into parts (two per month).

One very comforting and important last fact is that having strong willpower is not something we’re born with, as opposed to popular opinion. So just like your muscles have to be trained in order to grow stronger, so does the Pre Frontal Cortex in your brain. The key is to make sure not to start lifting too heavy, as then we’re bound to drop everything on the floor with our New Year’s Resolutions.

One goal, 365 days, Be Amazing Every Day.

Happy New Year.

Stop Bad Customer Service Now

Stop bad customer service now. There is a way to change customer service forever. Meta cognition could lead to a paradigm shift in hospitality, service and training. When circumstances are tough (and that is true for hospitality, customer service and many other businesses at the moment) it’s important that you become more creative and find new ways to solve old problems.

Meta cognition loosely means thinking about thinking. It is often the highest goal that trainers could pursue, but rarely try. So how to solve the problem of poor service? Look at this rather brilliant study of nearly 1000 dinners by food critic Barry Verber; he found that pushy waiters deter diners from leaving tips. These over-attentive waiting staff have been named as the most irritating practice in British restaurants. Nearly half of the diners surveyed said that servers deterred them from leaving a tip because they were:

  • Topping up already full glasses of wine
  • Taking away plates while they are still chewing
  • Repeatedly interrupting to ask, if everything is okay 
  • Generally uncaring
  • Untidy appearance
  • Coughing while serving

According to the majority of the diners surveyed, a ‘good’ restaurant has staff that are:

  • Attentive
  • Professional
  • Friendly
  • Extensive product and menu knowledge.

So this old problem needs to find a new solution. Service training has traditionally been seen as an area where drills and old fashion repetitive exercise work best. Well the results are stark from this survey….they don’t work. We need to change our own thought process and start the move to developing staff who think for themselves while they serve. Meta-cognition and self-regulation approaches aim to help learners think about their own learning more explicitly. This is usually by teaching staff specific strategies to set goals, and monitor and evaluate their own development. Self-regulation means managing one’s own motivation towards learning. The intention is often to give staff a repertoire of strategies to choose from during service training activities. The research out there says it does work with a number of systematic reviews and meta-analyses have consistently found similar levels of impact.

There are many ways to improve service and move toward being excellent. You could (of course) keep pounding your head against the wall and expecting different results with old school training methodologies. The turnover rate and level of poor service (look at those numbers) indicate this doesn’t work. So why not look at the problem in a new way? Start teaching meta cognition as part of the training process. In order to be excellent at service, you need to learn to monitor and reflect upon your own learning. This is true in teaching and training for staff about service.

I have previously written about the power of smart technology and mobile learning for staff. It gives crucial feedback and rewards staff that take control of their learning process. By working on developing thinking skills for staff that will develop long-term sustainable excellence. If we begin to see the goal as developing new leaders, then teaching thinking comes pretty high on that list.

The economic crisis has been a blessing for creativity in training. This might sound strange, but a major advantage of lack of money is that it brings back creativity. New ways and technologies can be used to teach ‘how to learn’ that give sustainable and profound impacts on customer feedback. Customers don’t appear by magic and loyalty disappears in a market where there are lots of choices available. To build up a team of excellent staff, you have to be flexible, be daring and willing to make changes.

Today business and hospitality is all about relationships and the most profitable companies have the strongest relationships and the most loyal customers. Let’s think differently about learning and how we learn to learn.

Be Amazing Every Day.

2015: Why Optimism?

A motivational speaker (it wasn’t me) pours a glass of water, pauses and asks, So, is this glass half full or half empty?

  • It’s half empty, says the pessimist
  • It’s half full, says the optimist
  • It’s twice as big as it needs to be, says the database programmer.

We quite like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. If you’re within the 32 percent of the population that made a resolution for 2014, are you still going strong? Nearly a year on, you’ve been faced with the temptation, the test of willpower, and likely some teasing from loved ones. So now you’ve only got a few days left to complete your resolution…. piece of cake…

The belief that the future will be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias. It abides in every race, region and socioeconomic bracket. Our survival and wellness require a balance between optimism and pessimism. Undue pessimism makes life miserable; however, excessive optimism can lead to dangerously risky behaviours.
Both neuroscience and social science suggest that we are more optimistic than realistic. Psychologists have documented human optimism for decades. People massively underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job or being diagnosed with cancer; expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted; envision themselves achieving more than their peers and overestimate their likely life span, sometimes by 20 years or more. Economists at Duke University found that optimists even save more. And although they are not less likely to divorce, they are more likely to remarry – an act that is, as Samuel Johnson wrote, the triumph of hope over experience. Informing people about their statistical likelihood of experiencing negative events, such as divorce, is surprisingly ineffective at altering their optimistic predictions, and highlighting previously unknown risk factors for diseases fails to make more realistic perceptions of medical vulnerability.

Neuroscientists are looking deeper into our non-rational nature [see Sharot T, Riccardi AM, Raio CM, & Phelps EA (2007). Neural mechanisms mediating optimism bias. Nature, 450 (7166), 102-5 PMID: 17960136]. The typical experiment consists of having participants gamble for money on computerised versions of slot machines. At the same time, participants’ brains are monitored in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners. In one study, 18 participants were asked to recall past events as well as imagine future ones based upon on-screen cues (such as winning the jackpot). They were then asked to describe their thoughts and report how strong, emotional, and positive each thought was, and whether or not it was experienced first-hand. A standard questionnaire also evaluated how optimistic they are generally. The results clearly demonstrated a positive (optimistic) bias. The participants rated upcoming events more positively than even happy past events, things they had actually experienced.

The research also suggests that optimism and pessimism are differentially associated with the two cerebral hemispheres. High self-esteem, a cheerful attitude that tends to look at the positive aspects of a given situation, as well as an optimistic belief in a bright future are associated with physiological activity in the left-hemisphere (LH). In contrast, a gloomy viewpoint, an inclination to focus on the negative part and exaggerate its significance, low self-esteem as well as a pessimistic view on what the future holds are interlinked with neurophysiological processes in the right-hemisphere (RH).

Later in the experiment the participants were instructed to daydream. Imagine winning the lottery and spending the money. As happy future thoughts flooded their minds, two structures were identified to be more strongly activated compared to negative images: the rostral anterior cingulated cortex (RACC) and the right amygdala. Additionally, the more strongly the RACC was activated, the higher the participants’ score on the optimism questionnaire. Even more importantly, the RACC may work hand-in-hand with our emotional centre, the amygdala, to actually downplay negative emotional responses. This, in turn, may be adaptive; a glass half-full optimism may not only make us happier, but also give us a drive to achieve high-stakes goals. Though there are inherent risks in over optimism, simply accepting negative predictions will impair our lives.

The good news is that awareness rarely shatters the illusion. When your nucleus accumbens tells you how delicious that big slice of chocolate cake will be, remember how hard your RACC worked this summer to ensure that you lost some weight. It is possible to strike a balance; people believe they will stay healthy, but still get medical insurance anyway. They can be certain the sun will shine, but still grab an umbrella on our way out, just in case. So keep up with that healthy dose of optimism, as you prepare to take on the last few days of 2014 equipped with your new resolutions.

Actually, just eat the cake. Chocolate cake is delicious.

Be Amazing Every Day