Skin in the Game

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Some time ago, Valeria Maltoni posted “Skin in the Game” on her blog, Conversation Agent. She quoted Black Swan expert Nicholas Taleb about anti-fragile systems.

Taleb believes that we can simplify the relationships between fragility, errors, and anti-fragility as follows:

Fragile systems depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible—for deviations are more harmful than helpful. Legal systems, government rules and regulations are fragile systems. In fact most large institutions operate as fragile systems and, conversely, predictive systems cause fragility.

When you want deviations and don’t care about the possible dispersion of future outcomes since most will be helpful, then you are anti-fragile. Further, the random element in trial and error is not quite random, if it is carried out rationally, using error as a source of information.

If every trial provides information about what does not work,  every attempt becomes more valuable, more like an asset than an error as discoveries are made along the way.

It works in science, in love, in engineering, construction, racing, the works. Those who understand it, have a much fuller and happier life. It’s essential to listen to the wisdom of the Wizard who says that small things done by ordinary people keeps evil at bay.

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Networks

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What Really Matters

Valeria Maltoni recently posted two articles on her blog, Conversation Agent, that are worth reading and repeating.

Dan Pink on the Value of High-Concept and High-Touch

A Whole New Mind mindmap

When Dan Pink wrote A Whole New Mind, he presented six aptitudes that are highly subjective, socially- and culturally-dependent. In his view these fundamental human abilities are absolute essentials for professional success and personal fulfillment. In his view:

  • Design is an asset above function
  • Story is an asset above argument
  • Symphony is an asset above focus
  • Empathy is an asset above logic
  • Play is an asset above seriousness, and
  • Meaning is an asset above accumulation

In the book, Dan uses neuroscience to create a metaphor to articulate the value of what he calls high-concept, high-touch work. He says R-directed is about big picture, contextual, expressive synthesis and L-directed represents logic, sequential, literal, and analytical thinking.

The premise of the book is that we live in the age of Abundance, Asia, and Automation and need R-directed thinking to navigate these forces successfully.

“Design — that is utility enhanced by significance — has become an essential aptitude for personal fulfillment and professional success for at least three reasons. First, thanks to rising prosperity and advancing technology, good design is now more accessible than ever, which allows more people to partake in its pleasures and become connoisseurs of what was once specialized knowledge.

Second, in an age of material abundance, design has become crucial for most modern businesses — as a means of differentiation and as a way to create new markets. Third, as more people develop design sensibility, we’ll increasingly be able to deploy design for its ultimate purpose: changing the world.”

In business design is taking a whole new meaning. Once the province of geeks and designers, the argument that creating better experiences is a competitive advantage has gone mainstream thanks also to Apple’s market success.

“Think about cell phones,” says Pink. “In less than a decade, they’ve gone from being a luxury for some to being a necessity for most to becoming an accessorized expression of individuality for many. They’ve morphed from ‘logical devices’ (which emphasized speed and specialized function) to ’emotional devices’ (which are ‘expressive, customizable, and fanciful’), as Japanese personal electronics executive Toshiro Iizuka puts it. Consumers now spend nearly as much on decorative (and nonfunctional) faceplates for their cell phones as they do on the phones themselves.”

Steve Jobs understood, and made sure that his team aligned behind this understanding upon his return to Apple, that the only way to survive is by constantly developing new innovations, inventing new categories, and giving the world something it didn’t know it was missing.

As we increasingly admire companies like Apple and its digital hub system execution and Amazon and its collection of businesses sharing resources, we come to appreciate the value of symphony, or the ability to see and harness the power of relationships between things. Says Pink:

“Most inventions and breakthroughs come from reassembling existing ideas in new ways.

[…] What conductors and composers desire — what separates the long remembered from the quickly forgotten — is the ability to marshal these relationships into a whole whose magnificence exceeds the sum of its parts.

[…] The boundary crosser, the inventors, and the metaphor maker all understand the importance of relationships. But the Conceptual Age also demands the ability to grasp the relationship between relationships. This meta-ability goes by many names — systems thinking, gestalt thinking, holistic thinking. I prefer to think of it simply as seeing the big picture.”

We call the businesspeople who see the big picture visionaries who can integrate and imagine how the pieces go together. All great entrepreneurs, according to Michael Gerber, are Systems Thinkers.

And talking about systems. Daniel Kahneman labeled the fast, instinctive and emotional “System 1” and the slower, more deliberative, and more logical “System 2.” For a deeper dive on our two modes of thought, read Thinking Fast and Slow where Kahneman provided research and information on the cognitive biases associated with each.

[mind map courtesy of Steve Richards]

http://www.conversationagent.com/2015/05/value-of-high-concept-and-high-touch.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ConversationAgent+%28Conversation+Agent%29

Valeria followed up this post with another gold nugget:

The Importance of Learning to Make Trade-offs for Performance

Sustained High Performance_LGE
In economic terms we call them opportunity cost. They involve sacrificing something to do something else. Every day, we trade our time, attention, and resources as we go through our day. As individuals and organizations, we are reservoirs of potential energy that can be recruited to do things. How we spend our days does end up creating our lives.

As Jim Loher and Tony Schwartz say in The Power of Full Engagement, a book I read a dozen years ago, managing energy, not time, is the key to high performance and personal renewal. The book’s central thesis is that to be fully engaged, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and spiritually aligned.

To make smart trade-offs we should start by defining our purpose, then distilling our truth, so we can identify the gap between the two. For example:

Purpose — “How should I spend my energy in a way that is consistent with my deepest values?”

Truth — How am I spending my energy now?

Action — bridge the gap between the two

Loher and Schwartz explain how to increase your energy levels by tapping four primary sources:

1.physical — including strategies for balancing stress and recovery, fueling the fire with nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise

As a long time, long distance runner, many of the suggestions on building strength, endurance, flexibility, resilience, and recovery helped me improve my form, speed, and enjoyment. I also learned to work in 90-minute bursts and have been experimenting with naps for the last dozen years.

2. emotionaltransforming threat into challenge and developing depth and resilience through active engagement with others and with our own feelings; habits and skills are patience, openness, trust, and enjoyment

3. mental — as in learning visualization and mental preparation with appropriate focus and realistic optimism, learning to manage time and harnessing creativity

4. spiritualhaving a ‘why’ to live with honesty, integrity, courage, and persistence, developing capacity through passion, commitment, and service to others

Developing supportive habits and skills is a good first step toward building capacity for stronger and more established competencies in all four areas [see image above.] Relationships play a role in building capacity and activating potential:

A relationship in which you do most of the giving and receive very little in return ultimately prompts a sense of deficit and emptiness.”

We may or not may not be aware of the trade-offs we make between immediate benefit, cost, and long-term consequences, including unintended consequences. A few examples in the book (adapted):

A pessimistic attitude creates less disappointment, is less risky, and involves less vulnerability now, yet it carries reduced positive energy, undermines interpersonal effectiveness, and thus happiness and reduces performance, health and happiness over the long haul.

Poor work/life balance characterized as long hours away from family and limited time with friends means accomplishing more at work, having less emotional risk, avoiding responsibilities outside work and comes with a cost to intimate connection, which leads to resentment of family and friends. Over the long run unfulfilled relationships affect a tendency to impatience, anger, and escalate into burnout, regret, guilt, and loss of passion.

Multitasking like answering emails while talking on the phone may give the temporary illusion of accomplishing more in short term, with a feeling that you are being productive, however it leads to divided attention, likely lower comprehension, and thus lower quality of work. Being less fully engaged with people creates shallow connections with others.

Poor diet like high fat and sugar, for example, creates immediate gratification, and is often the product of convenience. However, it may result in high cholesterol, increased weight, and less sustained positive energy. Long term, this may lead to an increase in risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and early death.

Some of the trade-offs above may seem obvious, yet bad habits are hard to break because they are automatic. Self-control and self-regulation, before we create better habits, require we make conscious choices. Change, like choices requires a higher investment of energy, and commitment.

We can experience pleasure without any investment in psychic energy, whereas enjoyment happens only as a result of unusual investment of attention, said Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

In his work, Csikszentmihalyi contrasts pleasure with enjoyment. He says pleasure feels good, but it’s conservative, and leads to status quo. While enjoyment is like happiness in action, leading to greater skills. Enjoyment leads to a “triumph over the forces of entropy” and is like building psychological capital.

Learning to make smart trade-offs is important for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health and it comes with a long-er term benefit of improving our performance.

http://www.conversationagent.com/2015/05/trade-offs-for-performance.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ConversationAgent+%28Conversation+Agent%29

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Learning from Experience

Kudos to Valeria Maltoni for posting this.

Learning Through Experience

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve been working on a series of labs for different groups spread across a few cities. I am designing them as interactive experiences because we learn the most when we participate. Thinking back to the most creative times in my life, I can draw a few dotted lines to moments when I’ve been fully immersed in an experience.

I still chuckle when I visualize the look on the face on my mom at discovering that I had taken apart the few toys received as gifts to make something else out of the parts. The plain boxes they came in were the best — they became rooms for my sisters’ dolls. Building gave me tremendous satisfaction, the plainer the parts, the more immersive the experience.

Today I see my niece with all kinds of dolls, bricks, and kits and I cannot help by wonder if getting them used to having the dots and instructions so young for what we have already figured out somehow diminishes her confidence in her ability to invent something of her own.

We were so happy, coming in dirty and exhausted from days spent figuring out how to be with each other with little in the way of prepackaged stuff.”

Valeria followed up her Learning post with a Challenge.

Challenging Limiting Frames

Fear of failure often keeps us from experimenting with ideas and expanding options.

In Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull describes many fight-or-flight situations at Pixar, and then at Disney — circumstances when trading imagination for a safe bet were tempting:

Originality is fragile. And in its first moments, it’s often far from pretty. This is why I call early mock ups of our films “ugly babies.” They are not beautiful miniature versions of the adults they will grow up to be.

In other words, our ideas rarely come out in perfect form. It takes persistence and work to make them that way. And we need to protect those seedlings to help them take form. Further down, he says (emphasis his):

[…] I want to say something about the word protection. I worry that because it has such positive connotation, by implication anything being protected seems, ispo facto, worth protecting. But that’s not always the case.

Sometimes within Pixar, for example, production tries to protect processes that are comfortable and familiar but that don’t make sense; legal departments are famous for being overly cautious in the name of protecting their companies from possible external threats; people in bureaucracies often seek to protect the status quo. Protection is used, in these contexts, to further a (small-c) conservative agenda: Don’t disrupt what already is.

As a business becomes successful, meanwhile, that conservatism gains strength, and inordinate energy is directed toward protecting what has worked so far.

Protecting a new idea, especially during the gestation process when it is kind of ugly, has the opposite function, says Catmull. An original idea is worth protecting because of its newness:

[…] and that is precisely what is most exciting about it.

The solution to helping bring new ideas to life was broadening their view, and by doing so, creating new lenses through which to look at their work. And that is why I like so much the cheeky quote above attributed to Disney. Because it reminds us that we should work on expanding our options, including that we do not have to accept the constraints we are given.”

Which is to say, in cybernetic terms, experience may be our worst teacher…

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Hope

hope

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” – Albert Einstein –

http://www.dailygood.org/story/1002/some-thoughts-on-hope-cynicism-and-the-stories-we-tell-ourselves-maria-popova/

“Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”

“What storytellers do — and this includes journalists and TED and everyone in between who has a point of view and an audience, whatever its size — is help shape our stories of how the world works; at their very best, they can empower our moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, they help us mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope. Truth and falsehood belong to this mediation, but it is guided primarily by what we are made to believe is real.”

“What we need, then, are writers like William Faulkner, who came of age in a brothel, saw humanity at its most depraved, and yet managed to maintain his faith in the human spirit. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he asserted that the writer’s duty is “to help man endure by lifting his heart.” In contemporary commercial media, driven by private interest, this responsibility to work in the public interest and for the public good recedes into the background. And yet I continue to stand with E.B. White, who so memorably asserted that “writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life”; that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.”’

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The Need for Speed

http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/1/8320189/zombie-222-electric-car-1968-mustang-texas-mile

http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/1/8320189/zombie-222-electric-car-1968-mustang-texas-mile#ooid=J3OG9hdDqZpkOtbissNDc6ANgX-GjwNL

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The Grand Illusion

The truth is that the risk of an American being killed by terrorism is close to zero, having been calculated at 1:20,000,000

By John Chuckman http://chuckman.blog.ca/

February 25, 2015 “ICH” – In the years since 9/11, American police alone have killed at least twice as many Americans as died in that single large event, the annual toll of police killings being somewhere between 500 and 1,000, the variation owing to many such events going inaccurately reported by police.

Each year, somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand Americans are killed in automobiles, the level having declined in recent years. Each year about 15,000 Americans are murdered, down from about 25,000 not too many years ago. Each year about 100,000 Americans are killed by medical malpractice. About 40,000 Americans commit suicide annually. These are just a few causes of death in America, not the largest ones but some of the more interesting.

Let’s get a rough total estimate of what has happened to Americans from these causes in the time since 9/11. Just using the low number in each case for fourteen years, 7,000 Americans were killed by their own police, 420,000 were killed by something parked in their garage, 210,000 were murdered by fellow citizens, 1,400,000 were killed by friendly family doctors, and there were 560,000 who just decided to pack it in for one reason or another. The total of these various causes of death rounds to 2, 600,000 deaths, nearly 867 times the number of Americans killed in 9/11, 867 collapsed sets of twin towers, nearly 62 collapsed sets of towers per year.

So why are we spending countless billions of dollars fighting terror, an almost insignificant threat to our well-being? We spend a total by various estimates of between 1 and 5 trillion dollars (yes, that’s trillion with a “t”), although such totals can never accurately be given owing to secrecy, false accounting, and the immense waste that is an inherent part of all military and intelligence operations. Even in the crudest military terms of “bang for the buck,” ignoring all the death and destruction and ethical issues, just as the military routinely does in its grim work, the War on Terror has to be the greatest misdirection of resources in all of human history.

Or is it? Perhaps there are other reasons for the War on Terror, reasons never discussed in newspapers or on news broadcasts, reasons which make the expenditure of such colossal amounts against such an insignificant risk acceptable to those doing the spending? Unless American leaders are all lunatics, I think there must be.

Most people are aware that the War on Drugs has been a stupendous flop, with a great deal of resources having bought nothing except a general diminishment of personal freedoms, construction of new prisons, and make-work employment for many unnecessary police and prison guards. But each year the War on Terror spends many, many times the amount spent on the War on Drugs, and what has it bought us? A far greater debasement of freedoms, almost wiping clean parts of the Bill of Rights, raising to a high status in our society such dark and anti-democratic forces as security agents of every kind and the military, increasing exponentially the secrecy of government and thus giving voters no hope for an informed ballot, making countless future enemies in the world, and causing Americans willy-nilly to support filthy acts identical to the hateful work of military juntas who made tens of thousands of civilians disappear.

I think there are only a couple of explanations for this waste of resources which otherwise employed could have made the world an immeasurably better place. They are assisted greatly by what I’ll call the “crime in the news” effect, although I might just as well call it the “advertising effect,” because advertising works on people’s minds through its seeming omnipresence and repetition planting suggestions, suggestions not entirely different to those planted by the stage-performer hypnotist in the minds of his volunteers from the audience.

It has been demonstrated many times that daily reports of violent crime, even when the crimes occur outside a listening community, cause people to become apprehensive about many ordinary activities such as letting kids walk to school or go to the park to play. And no advertising campaign in history could begin to compare to the complete audience saturation of “terror this or that” in our newspapers, magazines, and on-air. Surely, no totalitarian government ever more completely blanketed its people with fearful suggestions than does America’s “free press” today. You literally cannot hear a news broadcast or read a newspaper with the word terror missing, a fact which keeps most people in an unquestioning frame of mind about what properly should be regarded as sinfully immense expenditures to no useful purpose, at the same time conditioning them to surrender precious freedoms. For most people, the fact is that fear overcomes both logic and courage.

Americans, along with people in other lands heavily under American influence, have voluntarily given up claims to what we believed were well-established rights. Yes, there is some controversy over the high-tech equivalent of Big Brother’s telescreens, over the construction of immense new or expanded agencies such as the TSA and NSA, and even some over a seemingly-endless set or wars, but much less than you might have expected. There has been relatively little controversy over America’s smashing its adherence to everything from the Geneva Conventions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the complete disregard for established basic principles of common law in America’s international behavior goes largely unremarked, at least in America.

In a very real sense, America’s establishment, its government within the government consisting of leaders in security and the military and of its great corporations, has been given licence to create a kind of Frankenstein monster which now stands ready with terrible powers to do its bidding. It certainly isn’t just terrorists who need fear, it is every person with the impulse in his or her breast for justice, fairness, and human decency, and it is every country which has an impulse for independence from America’s imperious declarations of how they should carry on their affairs. I don’t like the expression New World Order, but it does in fact communicate something of what has been pursued relentlessly by America’s establishment since 9/11 with an unbounded sense of its entitlement and privilege. The awesome creature it has brought to life – which already runs secret prisons, tortures, conducts non-judicial killings, and supports horrible governments in many places – is no respecter of principles or human rights or even basic decency. We all know from history and common experience that over time any well-funded, established, and privileged institution grows, altering the terms of its charter and spreading its influence always farther, just as today American intelligence, bound by charter not to spy on Americans, spies on them all the time through various technical arrangements effectively going around its charter.

This monster serves ambitions abroad – crush democracy anywhere it proves inconvenient or a barrier to the interests of America’s establishment, as in Ukraine and in Egypt and as attempted in Venezuela, but also crush old arrangements which have produced advancing societies in other lands, even though they are not yet democratic, as in Syria, Iraq, or Libya.

In a relatively short time the monster has made a chaotic wasteland of such previously prosperous lands as Iraq and Libya, and it is now hard at work doing the same to the lovely, ancient land of Syria where it is allied in its efforts with some of the ugliest violent fanatics you could hope to find anywhere. Its acts have resulted in many hundreds of thousands of deaths in these places, countless refugees and injuries, the destruction of much precious infrastructure, and left people to wallow in chaos for years to come.

It created a coup, and thereby a civil war, in Ukraine, reducing that impoverished land still further, and it allied itself for the effort with the kind of stormfront militia trash that even the pathetic FBI surely would infiltrate and investigate were they active in the United States. It did all this just to gain temporary psychological advantages over Russia, a country whose leadership today far better represents principles of international peace and good order – not without some distant echo of irony for those of us raised on a steady diet of Cold War propaganda – than those in Washington who never stop mouthing slogans about rights and democracy which they routinely ignore. We all have an immense investment in America’s reckless game of “playing chicken” with Russia, the only country on the planet capable of obliterating most of Western civilization. I’ve never liked frat-boy pranks and humor, but in this case the overgrown frat-boys at the CIA are guffawing over stupidities which risk most of what we hold precious.

But the monster serves also to intimidate America’s own population. Don’t hold big or noisy demonstrations against injustice, don’t complain too much about authorities and truly abusive police, don’t communicate with others who may be viewed as undesirables for whatever reasons by the government, and don’t describe any group which has been arbitrarily-declared terrorist as being merely freedom fighters – any of these acts or many others risks arbitrary powers that never formally existed before.

Homeland Security has stocked huge amounts of crowd-control equipment and weapons, and it was a military general who quietly announced a few years back that the Pentagon was prepared should martial law became necessary in America. America’s local police forces, long ago having earned an international reputation for violent, militaristic behavior, have been given surplus military-grade crowd-control equipment. The FBI seeks new authorities and capabilities regularly, the same FBI with such a sorry record, going back to its origins, of abusing authority.

In my mind, and I think in the minds of many, America’s posture towards the world resembles a pug-ugly bully confronting you on the street, someone who just will not let you pass until you give him what he demands. The bully is the country’s immensely wealthy and influential privileged establishment, having the country’s general population now completely in tow, fearful and intimidated, quite apart from being in large part underemployed or unemployed. The bully naturally pays no attention to international organizations and agreements, believing himself above the rules and constraints to which others hold. The organizations are either simply ignored or, as in the case of the UN, coerced into behaving along acceptable lines, America having spent some years recently refusing to pay its legally-required dues just to prove a point as well as having been involved in more than one cabal to unseat a disliked Secretary General.

And I fear this gives us just a hint of what is likely to come because, as we should never stop reminding ourselves, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The world’s hope for relief from a form of international tyranny comes from the growth of countries like Russia, China, India, and Brazil. I wish I could add the EU to the list, but it seems almost as supine and voiceless as America’s own general population or Canada’s present government. Only forces capable of saying “no” to America’s establishment and building interest blocs to oppose its excesses offer redress and relief in future, and it is only through political contention that new international organizations are likely to emerge, ones with some power and effect. Americans all give lip service to competition in economics, but the concept applies no less to the spheres of politics and world affairs. And Americans all give lip service to democracy, not realizing that its governing elites represent the tiniest fraction of the world’s population and resemble in their acts abroad about as aristocratic a government as ever existed.

 

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