Morals and Measles

“It will take off like wildfire”

Within the last few weeks it has become apparent not only that a major measles outbreak is occurring in multiple locations (reports here and here), but that the cases are continuing to increase in numbers.  The outbreaks are all associated with regions of strong resistance to having children vaccinated.

The outbreak north of Portland, OR, has increased from 23 cases to over 50 with a public health emergency declared.  Other outbreaks are in Brooklyn, the lower Hudson River Valley, Atlanta, while in Europe over 41,000 cases were reported last year, resulting in 37 deaths.

In spite of attempts to correct a widely held belief that vaccinations contribute to autism, the “belief” continues to circulate especially in some enclaves.

Most attempts have proven less than effective in part because of incorrect assumptions about parent’s underlying motivations.

The current outbreaks have once again focused wide attention on “vaccination hesitancy” and “vaccination refusal” and the consequences to children and communities.

A key paper that helps to understanding parent’s motivations actually appeared in Nature in December 2017, but remains obscure not only because of its academic nature but because it seeks to identify a correlation with the little known and underappreciated Moral Foundations Theory (MFT).  Even a very recent article in Slate, People’s Fears About Vaccines Aren’t Just About Vaccines, fails to garner the attention it should in the public’s eyes.

The typical (and rational) assumption in the medical and health community (and the media, politics, and public) is that parents are primarily relying on personal values of not wanting to cause potential harm to their children.  Fears of side effects, of actually inducing the disease or causing other health consequences (autism) are assumed to be the predominant reasons.  While not widely recognized, these fears correlate strongly with the Care/Harm values foundation identified in MFT.

It is this limited assumption, while rational, that leads to the creation of “appeals to reason” using valid medical evidence that seem logical but are actually ineffective in bringing results.  Still other appeals, peppered with scolding charges of “irrationality,” “science denial,” and “madness” result in even less success and even greater frustration on behalf of both sides.

The article in Nature sheds light on understanding parents’ anti-vaccination motivations, but also surprisingly presents an opportunity to address an even greater “conundrum” in a much broader arena: economics.  I’ll return to that connection at the end of the post after a summary of the results of the study and MFT, and the enlightening conclusions.

First is a broad and important phenomenon also applicable here and that is how little we recognize that bright and well-informed people can see the same set of facts, here regarding childhood vaccination, and draw such radically different conclusions.  This should not come a surprise, as most of us experience this on a daily basis.  However, understanding why this happens just might be a surprise, because it is also consistent with what I shall paraphraseas

The Four Very Comfortable Bad Habits of Everyone:

  1. Our not recognizing and accepting that we live in Bubbles,the limited social environments in which we subconsciously operate by
  2. Unconsciously depending upon our Confirmation Bias (which emphasizes that information which adds further validity to our preexisting values, beliefs, and hypotheses), which is
  3. Reinforced by our Availability Heuristic (a mental shortcut which limits what knowledge we organize and use based on how easily an example, instance, or case comes to mind), resulting in the ongoing condition
  4. That We Don’t Know That We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

– yet we consistently ignore them.

Second, the heart of this specific issue of vaccinations involves underlying values, emotions and individual psychology, and in particular the foundations for these values and emotions.  The failure of other approaches suggests looking and seeing if the different value foundations proposed by Moral Foundations Theory can explain the behaviors that are seen.

The study in Nature looked at some of the fundamental motivations behind various parental “attitudes” towards vaccination.  Parents were grouped as being in one of three categories: as having low hesitancy (meaning they were willing to vaccinate even if they had questions), medium hesitancy (there were significant questions and discussion but eventual vaccination), or high hesitancy (refusal to vaccinate).  They then completed a standard MFT survey to identify how their personal values were distributed among the six value foundations of MFT.

MFT focuses on the basic moral codes by which we each judge right and wrong (the balance or emphasis among them is not the same for everyone).  These then provide a fundamental sense of how we should behave and how society should operate.  These are the “lenses” through which we view the world or its immediate proximity, our behavior as well as the behavior of others, and the issues of the day.  These “lenses” vary from person to person but tend to be similar for the social groups with which we associate (think Bubbles).

The MFT six foundations, as positive/negative pairs (with examples), are: Care/Harm (caring for others, or not); Fairness/Cheating (eliminating corruption); Loyalty/Betrayal (to personal, tribal or group values); Authority/Subversion (e.g., patriotism); Sanctity (or Purity)/Degradation (holiness, cleanliness vs. pollution); and Liberty/Oppression (personal freedom) (all of these are discussed more in depth here).

The reported results are extremely informative.  One study (of multiple ones in the paper, all consistent) revealed the following for 1007 subjects:

  • Low Hesitancy parents (73% of the group) provided the reference or “control” distribution over the six MFT foundations;
  • Moderate Hesitancy parents (11% of the group) were twice as concerned with Purity/Degradation values as the Low Hesitancy group (i.e., to protect the purity of their children and not degrade their bodies); and
  • High Hesitancy parents (16% of the group) were twice as concerned with both the Purity/Degradation and Liberty/Oppression values as were the Low Hesitancy group (i.e., both to protect the purity of their children and not degrade their bodies, as well as protect the parents’ liberty to make this decision and not be oppressed by governing officials to vaccinate).

Critically, as opposed to the assumptions made in formulating “arguments” to convince parents to vaccinate, neither the Moderate Hesitancy parents nor the High Hesitancy parents were motivated by Care/Harm values at all.  In other words, on this issue, vaccination hesitant parents were not motivated by any care-for-others value (i.e., the greater community). This explains why the (moral) argument used to appeal to parents’ sense of a greater civic responsibility, that their unvaccinated child might infect some other children sick, doesn’t work. It’s an appeal to a less important moral value and thus less effective.

It does explain why vaccine hesitancy tends to be found in small enclaves, the Bubbles in which people find community with others of the same primary values, even though overall childhood vaccination rates remain high both in the US as well as in most of these communities (but not high enough).

In other words, vaccine hesitant parents are not acting “irrationally.”  They are actually acting very rationally with respect to their moral value system, which happens to have different priorities for different value foundations within Moral Foundation Theory than do other larger groups.

For all of us, not just the vaccine hesitant, these priorities are heavily determined by the information we already received (via the Availability Heuristic) that is consistent with what is already comfortable (affected by the Confirmation Bias) that is typically fed by like-minded people in our individual Dunbar Bubble (our social environment).

In other words, we don’t know that we don’t know what we don’t know, and we’d prefer to keep it that way.

It is true that some resistance to vaccinations is so entrenched (see above) that only higher hurdles for opting children out of vaccinating as a requirement for public school enrollment will do any good. Economists would call this “nudging.” (As I am writing this, protests have occurred in the state of Washington over plans to change the law limiting the permissible reasons for “opting out” of vaccinations (in an article from the Huffington Post curiously titled, Parents Protest For Kids’ Right To Suffer From Preventable Illness).  This further highlights the strength of the Liberty/Oppression value foundation among this group.)

Speaking of economics and economists, I mentioned I would return to them.  As a group economists have been criticized for long assuming that what they call homo economics (we, the human species that engages in economic transactions) will make rational decisions with regard to spending, saving, and investing. Over the last century this has proven to be an assumption that does not work.  To date they have not figured out that what they call irrational economic behavior might actually be very rational economic behavior, just based on a differently prioritized set of values.  Worth coming back to in a later post.

___

1With apologies to Stephen Covey.

2I chose to call these Bubbles, but various other names have been used to describe the concept: echo chamber, fortress, stronghold, worldview, etc.  The description chosen might bear some relationship to how many people would actually fit into it…

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7 Words to Change the World

“There is always a gap between the experience and the fuller truth.  One problem is that the size of the gap (between the event and our speaking out about it) is inversely proportional to what we think we already know.”

A little over two weeks have passed since events on the Capital Mall led to a video and a torrent of comments concerning high school students from Kentucky and a Native American veteran going viral.  Fortunately, more information surfaced (longer videos) and more deliberate thought resulted in a fuller and more revealing picture of what happened.

There is much to be learned from all of this, but a walk through the main points first would be helpful.  (A fuller timeline of pertinent events can be obtained from a number of follow-up articles, including an excellent summary article by Caitlin Flanagan, Adam Serwer’s article, and Ian Bogost’s article, all from The Atlantic.  The following are points from these articles.)

  • On Friday, January 18, 2019, a group of white teenage boys wearing MAGA hats interacted with an elderly Native American man on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Social media reported the teenagers chanting “Make America Great Again,” menacing him, and taunting him in racially motivated ways.
  • There was a short video of the interaction.

The short video lit up social media, and the still-shot of the teenager smiling at the Native American propagated rapidly along with condemning comments about racism and bullying on social media.

However, slowly and too quietly, issues began to arise.

  • Was it problematic that the video offered no evidence that these things had happened?What mattered was that “it” had happened, and that there was video to prove it.  The fact of there being a video became stronger than the video itself.
  • What led to this charged moment?  From the short clip alone it is impossible to tell.
  • The point of the viral video apparently was that it was “proof” of racist bullying, yet showed no evidence of it. Regardless, the boy quickly became the subject of rage and disgust.  “I’d be ashamed and appalled if he was my son,” the actress Debra Messing tweeted.

Then a second video appeared, seemingly reinforcing the first.

  • Shot shortly after the event, this video consisted of an interview with the drummer, Nathan Phillips.
  • This was also the first in a series of interviews in which Phillips would prove himself adept at incorporating any new information about what had actually happened into his version of events. His version appears all encompassing, and he was never directly confronted about his conflicting accounts.

Only slowly, after an initial rush to find information to fill the “gap,” did a fuller picture begin to emerge.

  • (From Adam Serwer’s article) An analysis by Reason’s Robby Soave posited that “far from engaging in racially motivated harassment, the group of mostly white, MAGA-hat wearing male teenagers remained relatively calm and restrained despite being subjected to incessant racist, homophobic, and bigoted verbal abuse by members of the bizarre religious sect Black Hebrew Israelites, who were lurking nearby.”

More relevant context, but still incomplete.  This led to some media reversals, but the new information had little or no impact on the social media storm.

Then, a fuller hour and 45 minute video surfaced that provided significant context.  From Flanagan’s article,

  • The full (new) video reveals that there was indeed a Native American gathering at the Lincoln Memorial, that it took place shortly before the events of the viral video, and that during the new video the indigenous people had been the subject of a hideous tirade of racist insults and fantasies. But the white students weren’t the people hurling this garbage at them—the young “African American men preaching about the Bible and oppression” were doing it.  … they were Black Hebrew Israelites, a tiny sect of people who believe they are the direct descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, and whose beliefs on a variety of social issues make Mike Pence look like Ram Dass.

Flanagan’s article provides more disturbing details from the video about the Black Hebrew Israelites’ confrontation with the Native Americans.  The leader directs attention to the teenagers,

  • The (video) camera turns to capture five white teenage boys, one of whom is wearing a MAGA hat. They are standing at a respectful distance, with their hands in their pockets, listening to this exchange with expressions of curiosity.  They are there to meet their bus home.
  • Now we may look at the (first) “heartbreaking viral video,” as well as the many others that have since emerged, none of which has so far revealed the boys to be chanting anything about a wall or about making America great again.
  • Phillips keeps walking into the group, they make room for him, and then—the smiling boy.
  • One of the videos shows him (the boy) doing something unusual. At one point he turns away from Phillips, stops smiling, and locks eyes with another kid, shaking his head, seeming to say the word no. This is consistent with the long, harrowing statement that the smiling boy would release at the end of the weekend, in which he offered an explanation for his actions that is consistent with the video footage that has so far emerged, and revealed what happened to him in the 48 hours after Americans set to work doxing him and threatening his family with violence.
  • As of this writing, it seems that the smiling boy, Nick Sandmann, is the one person who tried to be respectful of Phillips and who encouraged the other boys to do the same. And for this, he has been by far the most harshly treated of any of the people involved in the afternoon’s mess at the Lincoln Memorial.
  • Even if new information arises, the elite media have botched the story so completely that they have lost the authority to report on it.
  • By Tuesday, The New York Times was busy absorbing the fact that Phillips was not, apparently, a Vietnam veteran, as it had originally reported, and it issued a correction saying that it had contacted the Pentagon for his military record, suggesting that it no longer trusts him as a source of reliable information.

(Interestingly, in an interview on the ‘Today’ show, Nathan Phillips claimed that Sandmann, the teenager from Kentucky, had been ‘coached’ before giving his statement, referenced above.  It would appear that the older Phillips appreciates more shooting from the hip, as contradictory as the results might be, than for a young teenager to become prepared and consistent on a national stage.)

As more information became available, the gap narrowed, but the pendulum still swung wildly thanks to the media and social media.  From Serwar’s article,

  • The incident became a national story in part because of the way the images seemed to confirm first one sweeping narrative, and then another, opposite one: the first, that the heart of Trumpism is prejudice; the second, that anti-prejudice, abetted by the liberal media, has become a malevolent force comparable to racial oppression. But only one of these bears any resemblance to empirical reality, and that would still be the case no matter what unfolded in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

Finally, it seemed, the media were coming under criticism from some of their own, however too late and too narrowly reported.  From Flanagan’s article,

  • How could the elite media—The New York Times, let’s say—have protected themselves from this event, which has served to reinforce millions of Americans’ belief that traditional journalistic outlets are purveyors of “fake news”? They might have hewed to a concept that once went by the quaint term “journalistic ethics.” Among other things, journalistic ethics held that if you didn’t have the reporting to support a story, and if that story had the potential to hurt its subjects, and if those subjects were private citizens, and if they were moreover minors, you didn’t run the story. You kept reporting it; you let yourself get scooped; and you accepted that speed is not the highest value. Otherwise, you were the trash press.

The reality is that the speed and openness of social media have put unintended but huge pressure on legitimate journalistic outlets to “up their game” to be competitive – speed over fact checking and ethics.  Pressure to close the gap.

Interestingly, I came across a social media thread that began with swift judgmentalism (“typical white teenagers,” “don’t they know there’s unintended consequences for their behaviors”), which then eventually proceeded to recognize some new and conflicting information, and which finally led to a meek and reserved posture (“I think we overreacted a bit quickly”). All this in an open thread, ironically, itself an unintended consequence.  The speed to close the gap is indeed inversely proportional to what we think we already know.

Ian Bogost’s article, Stop Trusting Viral Videos, highlights the errors that can propagate from knee-jerk responses to seemingly “concrete evidence.”  These knee-jerk behaviors Ramesh Ponnuru describes in Bloomberg as, “Instead of reacting to what other people are saying, we react to what we think people like them believe.”

Not just in this event, but it seems everyone and everything are being sucked into, intentionally or unintentionally, a vortex, a death spiral of behavior.

It’s as if social media has become the sea into which people are chumming their opinions as bait into a feeding frenzy of limitedly informed but volatile fish, in an attempt to garner attention.

What are the underlying factors, controllable factors, that contribute to this?

The Reasons

Realistically speaking, there is not one factor that’s involved, but many.  And while they are all known, they are not all known, that is, not all accepted as being related much less as needing to be taken into account.

A quick rundown,

  • Confirmation Bias. This is the mental bias where each of us preferentially selects (reads and believes) information that is consistent with what we already believe we know as true.  (Ergo, Ramesh Ponnuru’s comment above.)  Throwing the chum happens because it’s fodder for another’s confirmation bias.  This happens because
  • We live in Bubbles. Our Bubble has been formed by the environment we grew up in and is continuously reinforced and strongly influenced by the people and events around us.  It becomes our Personal Culture.  We gravitate to others who are like-minded, who have similar confirmation biases and thus would fit neatly into our world, our Dunbar Bubble.  Within this Bubble, it is impossible to know, experience, and process everything, because
  • There Will Always Be Missing Information. Information is missing because either we do not have access to it (in spite of the Internet), or, since we cannot realistically process all of it, we intentionally filter it out (with the walls of our Bubble).  As a result,
  • We Don’t Know That We Don’t Know “What” We Don’t KnowAnd we don’t even realize that this statement applies to all of us.  We’re comfortable in our Bubbles.  As long as no one disrupts it or tires to pop it.

7 Words to Change the World

There is indeed much to be learned from this situation, but only if one is willing to learn.

The solution is very simple, but because the four conditions above are so intimately connected it is very difficult to grasp and put into practice.

It involves choosing to adjust our shields (the filters that are our Bubble walls) and choosing to listen.  It means not only recognizing and accepting the fact that

I Don’t Know That I Don’t Know “What” I Don’t Know,

but becoming willing to openly add just 7 Words, confessing it freely,

I ACCEPT I Don’t Know That I Don’t Know “What” I Don’t Know, BUT I’M WILLING TO LISTEN

and then practicing it.

(P.S. For a very good article on listening, see FastCompany’s 6 reasons why you’re a bad listener (and how to change it) )

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On Developing Leadership Attributes

There are times when I come across something that neatly distills and packages a number of thoughts that concern the development of leaders.  Not just the “How do I develop leadership skills in my organization?” question, but the not-so-subtle question that should be asked by everyone stepping out into a career, ”What skills do I need to focus on to develop myself as a leader?”

What follows is a reblog (with permission) of a post by Dr. Marla Gottschalk that previously appeared on LinkedIn and again on her site, The Office Blend.  It provides pretty clear answers to the first question, but if carefully read, as if she is speaking to my development, it applies equally well to the second question.

As a bonus, it struck me as I was reading that it also is a goldmine of input for the very relevant (but often ignored) question, “What Do I Need to Focus on to Develop Myself to Become an Influencer in Life?” The “layering” approach addressed below, and as I experienced it, also pertains to the rest of life outside of work, including marriage, family, and other social situations.

Moreover, it also illuminated subtle but important distinctions. Traits are something innate, what we’re born with.  In identifying future leaders we need to see this potentialSkills are abilities and talents that can be taught and developed into what identified leaders doAttributes, mentioned in this blog title, are qualities or characteristics of the person.  If one has a trait that has been developed into effective skills, then, hopefully, these can and will eventually merge into and become a leader attribute: an inherent part of who the person is most if not all of the time.

I’ve taken the liberty, therefore, to add some thoughts, in italics, that struck me about this broader question (trusting that Dr. Gottschalk would not disapprove).

—–

Leadership Development is All About Layering
Dr. Marla Gottschalk

The challenge of developing leaders can loom as a daunting prospect.  One reason that might explain our predicament is an underlying belief that early career experiences and later leadership roles are completely distinct entities.  In reality, many of the skills required for success at various career levels overlap and remain critical over time.  If we could approach development as a “layered” phenomenon, likened to the stratum of rock formations (or perhaps like a phyllo pastry) — building core strengths over a longer period of time — we could take a fresh approach to development.

Leadership readiness doesn’t materialize as the result of completing an inflexible, structured development program.  Becoming a capable leader is an evolution — a comingling of training, coaching, and exposure to the types of challenge that offer the opportunity for both insight and growth.  (Perhaps likened to developing skills until they begin to convert to attributes)

As discussed in the research of Zenger/Folkman, we have made a habit of unwisely delaying when developing leaders.  While we often begin managing others in our 30’s — focused leadership development may not begin in earnest until much later.  This creates a precarious skill gap, which can leave an organization both underpowered and unprepared. In fact, we should begin nurturing future leaders much sooner, reinforcing key skills acquired along the way.  This would address the “layering” of skills necessary to build a strong potential leader bench.  Identifying potential leaders in this manner has a number of key strategic advantages, the first of which is improved succession planning.

Additional research discussed at HBR, illustrates this layered dynamic quite clearly. Some of the skills required to progress through levels of management may be more stable than previously considered.  While specific skill emphasis may change with level, certain skill sets remain front and center for the long haul.  Thinking strategically, for example, is a perfect case in point as it is often associated with high-level leaders.  But, as discussed by the researchers, “…there are a set of skills that are critical to you throughout your career.  And if you wait until you’re a top manager to develop strategic perspective, it will be too late.”  (Thoughts that crossed my mind here, for instance, included early strategic thinking about life after kids and retirement, and then executing consistently.)

Testing developing capabilities with techniques such as stretch assignments (aligned with organizational initiatives and coupled with their current role) should also serve as an integral part in development.  This offers opportunities to test skills on the “open road.”  However, within modern organizations, retaining talent longer-term becomes a critical obstacle. Here, transparency and a mutual exchange agreement become crucial.  We should consider making a commitment to those with considerable promise openly (such as “Tours of duty” discussed in Reid Hoffman’s, The Alliance) — offering the stability they need to hunker down and become emotionally invested. (In the broader life scenario, for instance, entering into a cross-cultural experience, one that is decidedly not short-term.  Or, self-selecting and responding to a particular challenging (stretch) opportunity, such as self-development.)

Here are few other early (self) development topics we could consider:

  • Delegating. Often a sticky subject, delegating confidently demands that we strike a delicate balance between time and control. If we don’t allow others the opportunity to handle the tasks at hand, we risk squelching motivation and our own potential to lead.  (Think family and shared responsibilities, and engagement in volunteer organizations.)
  • Persuasive Communication. Becoming an effective communicator remains a core skill set throughout our work lives.  This becomes especially critical as we move toward leadership positions.  (Also think family and daily social interaction.)
  • Conflict Management. The capability of facing difficult or uncomfortable challenges, head on — is critical.  Developing this skill often takes time and mentored practice to master.  (Really think family here, as well as many social interactions.)
  • Awareness of Functional Links. Organizations are comprised of many moving parts.  Becoming keenly aware of the interdependencies is a critical skill as we move toward a leadership role.  (Ahhh, did I mention family?)
  • Alliance Building. Leading is essentially knowing how to collaborate and build positive, lasting bonds with those that around you.  If you cannot inspire energy toward a meaningful goal, your leadership “quotient” is limited, at best.  (For instance, engaging in volunteer organizations. A most challenging one is thinking ‘lasting positive bonds’ within the family while still ‘leading’ (i.e., parenting).)
  • Global Awareness. In this day and age, leaders need to consider global reach.  Developing a honed industry-wide perspective is vital to move forward.  (Becoming and remaining open to culturally different points of view, whether local or global, and not considering them initially threatening.)
  • Idea Management and Intrapreneurship. Team contributors desire opportunities to explore their ideas and spread their wings.  Having the ability to identify, evaluate, champion and execute the ideas of the team is critical.  (Recognizing and accepting that creative ideas and solutions can pop up from anyone, both at work and in the family. Looking more for opportunity “in” failure rather than only punishment.)

What are the challenges your organization faces with leader development?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist.  She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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I can honestly say there was a lot of cross-fertilization throughout my career, family, and organizations that, I think, helped move my recognition and development of skills more into an arena of possessed and practiced attributes.  I was slower than some, I think, because I had to discover this process myself through trial and error.  Fortunately, now that need no longer be the case.

Posted in 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 09: Doing, 11: Growth, 12: Character, 14: Behavior, Career | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thought Provoking Articles from 2018

This post is a bit later this year due to travel.  But on second thought, perhaps a retrospective for a year should certainly include the last days of the year, the ones everyone else skips.

Here, in no particular order, are the pieces that helped make my year’s reading most enjoyable, informative, and often challenging.  I trust you will find these also worthwhile.

Bad News

How to stop your brain’s addiction to bad news

Besides Fake News (bad) there’s also other Bad News that’s not fake (remember, “Stuff Happens”).  Any help offered to avoid or minimize this is welcome.  Since the psychologists tell us that our brains are hard wired to pay attention to bad news (that which threatens survival, apparently), this article from FastCompany gives me hope that somewhere out there are other people who can recognize and manage to steer clear of the stuff that can ruin your day, or your life.  The key points: don’t read the news in the morning, and watch what you read (for me this means carefully picking the curators (sources) of the news I read). If you think that paying more attention to news will help you be better informed, realize that heavy news consumers end up miscalibrated and irrational due to a cognitive bias called the Availability Heuristic: This is the mental shortcut we all use that relies on the most immediate examples that come to our mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision.  In other words, our most recent exposures predominate and bias our views on a given topic.

Then There’s Confirmation Bias

“There are facts, and there are beliefs, and there are things you want so badly to believe that they become as facts to you.”

Such is the key point in this article from The Atlantic, This Article Won’t Change Your Mind and an enlightening discussion of our prevalent “motivated reasoning,”

“Motivated reasoning is how people convince themselves or remain convinced of what they want to believe—they seek out agreeable information and learn it more easily; and they avoid, ignore, devalue, forget, or argue against information that contradicts their beliefs.”

I might rather characterize this as Active Confirmation Bias, where one actively seeks out confirming information (or avoids disconfirming information), akin to “what one allows to breach their bubbles.”  (If you recall, I think the unrecognized Bubbles we live in are very important and something we pay too little attention to.)

As a result, for desired (confirming) conclusions we tend to ask ourselves ‘Can I believe this?’ but for unpalatable (disconfirming) conclusions we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’  If survival is more important than truth, then this thought process becomes even easier.  If beliefs are tethered to a group, then the danger is that the information becomes tribal. You can be caught in a silo: you don’t get critical feedback, you just get applause.

This is a notable article and well worth the read; my notes were extensive and may lead to a separate post.

Why Millions of Kids Can’t Read

I can attest to the fact that kids coming out of school and entering college are, with few exceptions, less prepared than in the past.  Colleges now are forced to provide remedial classes, especially in reading.  This article from NPR looks at the breadth of the issue, the underlying factors affecting reading, and what can be done about it.

One significant fact, probably not commonly acknowledged, is the big takeaway from all the education research that reading is not natural; we are not wired to read from birth.  This is a potential that we all have, but it is a skill that must be developed.

People become skilled readers by learning that written text is a code for speech sounds.  The primary task for a beginning reader is to crack the code, and realize that even skilled readers rely on decoding.  (Given that English grammar and pronunciation only follow the “rules” about 60% of the time, you can appreciate the effort that must be expended by everyone to develop this skill).

Ten mistakes smart people never make twice

“Everybody makes mistakes—that’s a given—but we don’t always learn from them.  Sometimes we make the same mistakes over and over again, fail to make any real progress, and can’t figure out why.” *

Part of the reason is that, as a culture, we tend to reward success and punish failure.  These are the external forces acting on an individual in a situation.  But a significant internal force also acting is whether the individual has a fixed mind-set (“Forget this; I’ll never be good at it”) or a growth mind-set (“What a wake-up call!  Let’s see what I did wrong so I won’t do it again”). These two responses bear a remarkable resemblance to The Two Questions we have in response to a crisis such as failure: Either, “Who did This To Me?” or “What Can I Make of This Situation?”

(*Note: of course, there is always the chance that these people are prime examples of Fundamental Principle 7c: some people don’t “get” that they don’t “get” certain things, but think that they do.)

Read the complete article from Quartz for details, but here is a summary of the 10 mistakes (and my reflections):

  1. Believing in someone or something that’s too good to be true
    (Note the role that Confirmation Bias plays in this thinking)
  2. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result
    (Einstein is credited as saying this is the definition of idiocy)
  3. Failing to delay gratification
    (This is a very good definition of not yet reaching emotional maturity)
  4. Operating without a budget
    (Failing to realize that money, like physical objects, cannot be in two places at once)
  5. Losing sight of the big picture
    (An ice hockey player who only watches his feet and the puck invariably ends up under the Zamboni)
  6. Not doing your homework
    (What I’d tell my neurosurgeon before going under: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!)
  7. Trying to be someone or something you’re not
    (This never ends well. Many people never seem to realize that others can see right through their act)
  8. Trying to please everyone
    (Trying to please everyone simply pleases no one)
  9. Playing the victim
    (Also pretty transparent, besides, to do it well you have to give up your power. Smart people don’t do this)
  10. Trying to change someone
    (They only way you can really influence someone to change is to begin by changing yourself)

The life-changing art of asking instead of telling

This fresh view of Edward Schein’s book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking and Not Telling appeared in Quartz at Work, and reflects on its impact on life in general and not just organizational management.  An early observation cemented my interest, as you will be able to tell,

“Whether at work, or at dinner parties, or home with our families, how do we behave around other people?  And how are we complicit in what’s not working?”

You can see jewels from my previous posts right there: what is our Practiced Behavior, and do we dare ever ask the Repugnant Question?

A few other observations from the article reinforce Schein’s other important ideas,

“That you may not have heard of it (the book) may have something to do with one of Schein’s central observations: We’re inconsistent in what we say we value versus what the “artifacts” (observations of our lives) tell us.  In this case, our culture says it values humble attitudes, but our artifacts—our most popular instagrams, our celebrated CEOs, best-selling business book titles and subjects—undermine that ideal.”  (In other words, the differences between our professed and practiced behaviors)

“Relatedly, Schein writes that we’ve also been trained in a sense to cheer for the team (i.e., clan or tribe), but we praise and literally enrich the individual for accomplishments.  We put tasks and achievements before relationships (in other words, we apply Either/Or thinking, Fundamental Principle 4c) without recognizing the damage it does to our colleagues or families.  In company culture, therefore, we may vocally praise the humble leader, without actually allowing him or her to behave humbly.”

Two things Schein believes are missing from most conversations: “Curiosity, and a willingness to ask questions to which we don’t already know the answer.”  Both recognize the need to confront missing or Incomplete Information, our Fundamental Principle 6.

As we takes steps to improve our lives as well as those of others, he warns us,  “As you make changes expect friends and colleagues to be a bit bewildered by your new behavior” (remember Fundamental Principe 7c).  But that’s okay.  To really influence others and change them, you have to begin with changing yourself. That’s one of the perplexities of life.

Read the article.  Perhaps it will induce you to read the book.

Four Days Trapped at Sea With Crypto’s Nouveau Riche

This was too intriguing to leave out.  A free-lance journalist’s editor “suggested” she join a cruise for people involved with cryptocurrency and write about what she learned.  The article, her observations and bon mots for Breaker Magazine confirm my worst (or best) suspicions about the crypto-crowd.  To whit,

“On most ideological bandwagons, there is usually a distinction between grifters and true believers.  The grifters are in it for the fame and the money and will say any old bollocks to get either.  The true believers accept the money and fame as an inevitable proof of their genius.  And then there is a rare subset of incredibly dangerous sociopaths soaked in Dark Enlightenment nightmare libertarianism for whom grifting is true belief.  For many of them, including not a few on this boat, screwing over other people for your own gain is not just a side effect of economic philosophy, or proof of concept.  It is a sacred calling.  To them, the presence of thieves and Ponzi scheme dealers means the new free market is thriving.”

And,

“I found life in crypto-hippie ew-topia exhausting and mesmerizing and terribly, terribly sad.  Flying home, what I most missed was the tiny rocking cabin, where everything was small and neat and storm-safe, with the hum of the ship all around you, as if you’d been sealed in a single-use packet and slipped into the pocket of God.  And I remember something Roger Ver told me, right around when he was explaining why he trusted markets more than democracies.  “No amount of coercion,” he said, “can solve a math problem.”  That’s true.  But it’s also the case that no amount of mathematics can delete human prejudice, and no ledger can logic away human cruelty.  If the crypto community hasn’t realized that yet, it soon will.”

Further support for Fundamental Principle 7c and the subset that manifests themselves as Takers.

The top 10 foreign words that are now in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Language, if you’ve ever noticed, is a constantly evolving entity.  I first became aware of this growing up as a teenager.  It seemed that my friends and I couldn’t keep up with the constantly developing vocabulary that the in-crowd kept creating to make sure their numbers stayed small.  The greatest proof that you weren’t in the in-crowd was when you realized terms in their vocabulary had leaked into the mainstream to be used by Others, the media, and, heaven forbid, adults.

Not only is spoken language a dynamic, changing entity, but it also often comes with multiple word meanings, especially in English. Look up the verb move on Visuwords; you’ll find it has at least 18 different context related meanings.  (Mathematics is also a language but it is designed to be fixed, to always communicate one meaning or understanding.  This is probably why 80% of us dislike it: we’re not prone to reveal that we’re not ‘exact’ enough (i.e., we’re living in Bubbles) ).

This article from early in 2018 by the very prolific and excellent Quartz contributor Ephrat Livni, introduces ten new words that eased their way into the English language and which were subsequently included in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Read, enjoy, and find a way to incorporate them into your daily life.  Remember, Sriracha is for Closers.

We Asked 105 Experts What Scares and Inspires Them Most About the Future

Fears and Hopes from 105 people who have spent their lives and are recognized as being at the top of their respective fields (in a sense, at the top of their larger than life Bubbles).  The article bluntly leads with Fears from each expert, but satisfyingly concludes with their, and our, Hopes.  From Motherboard at Vice.

“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”: A problematic holiday classic is redeemed

One of the reasons for waiting until year’s end is to pick up impactful pieces such as this article from Quartz Obsession.  The introduction lays it out fairly clearly,

US radio stations are banning the 73-year-old holiday standard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” for suggestive banter that once seemed charming, but now feels pretty rapey.

The duet features a man who goes to increasingly desperate lengths to keep his date from going home, plying her with drinks and warning of wintry weather as he pleads: “Baby, don’t hold out” and “What’s the sense in hurting my pride?”

A groundswell against the song, which won an Oscar for the 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter, has been growing for awhile, but it seems to have reached a tipping point in the #MeToo era.  Cleveland’s WDOK and San Francisco’s KOIT have pulled the song from their holiday playlists, and the singer Melinda DeRocker refused to record it on her recent holiday album.

So is “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” nothing more than a date-rape anthem that simply must go? The answer is no—and a nuanced reading shows a song that was well ahead of its time when it comes to sex positivity and female empowerment.

There’s bound to be talk tomorrow: So let’s discuss the BICO freeze-out, and see if it really can’t stay as part of America’s holiday playlist.

One of my Fears is that the gap in Gap Theory will continue to get larger, while my Hope is that enough smart people will recognize this and do all they can to reduce the gap.

Why Tips Won

While we might concede that Regression to the Cultural Mean sounds like an interesting concept for everybody else!, it is a bit of a shock to realize it’s alive and well in our own front yard.

This article from Grubstreet concerns attempts to eliminate tipping in American restaurants and the insurmountable hurdles that surfaced culturally.  Not all of these were unanticipated, just the depth of entrenchment that was experienced.  Just to review what you probably already knew, here is what the ‘cutting edge’ restaurateurs experienced,

  1. Staff turnover became too difficult to manage;
  2. Without tips, prices looked higher, and customers balked;
  3. For better or worse, tips make customers feel empowered.

What is odd is that while tipping overcomes the above and provides more or less obvious benefits, everyone agrees that a major detriment to tipping still remains embedded within the Cultural Mean,

By and large, hospitality industry workers agree that the practice of tipping allows racism, sexism, and classism to flourish in restaurants.

Clearly, work to do.

How Servant Leaders Deliver Remarkable Results

One of the most anticipated items in my daily curated feeds is Dan Rockwell’s Leadership Freak.  Food for thought in life as well as organizational culture. This short post highlights a truth that most of us rarely consider,

“Pressure produces compliance, not commitment”

This has overwhelming impact, once one realizes that not only for individuals but also for people groups and nations,

Externally imposed behaviors will rarely last;
Internally chosen behaviors will.

Getting people to “buy in” to a new way of thinking or doing takes trust and credibility.

Finally

There are a few other items, but these are much more suitable for a cup of coffee and a sit by a fire.  They are also compilations but notable for the quality of content and the integrity of the curator.

The first is a short 10 Best list compiled by Dr. Marla Gottshalk, Fuel for Your Work Life: The Top Ten of 2018.  She is an Industrial Psychologist and a LinkedIn Influencer whose blog I subscribe to in my curated reading.

The second is a list of the best articles on Investigative Reporting, compiled by writers and editors for the blog site Longreads.

The last is Bloomberg Businessweek’s Jealousy List for 2018, also appearing near the end of the year. Always a treat scanning the prized picks excellent journalists wished they themselves had written.

Read, it’s good for you.  It’ll stretch your Bubble and make it, and you, more valuable.

Posted in 00: Bubbles, 02: Value Added, A Definition, 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture, Gap Theory | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Christmas, It’s In The Aire

It’s that time of year.  Time to haul out the Christmas decorations, the ornaments, the tree.  A time to create the atmosphere through active decorating, followed by passive, relaxed atmosphere enjoyment.

Except for this year.

We are in our new townhouse, which, by the numbers, has more square footage than our previous one.  However, by a quirk of not-well-thought-out architectural design, actually lives smaller than the old one.

No obviously convenient place for a tree.

Not near the entry next to a front window, a normal place to have a tree, as this would entail relocating the dining room furniture (notice two “quirks” here).  Not in the back in the “living space,” as that would entail shrinking the living space until any guests would be sitting knee-to-knee and become almost pinned between the television and the fireplace (another “quirk”).  The additional square footage is actually located upstairs in the master bedroom, where we once had the dining room table situated with room to spare.

So, while we eventually decided on how to create a spot for next year’s tree, we reluctantly decided not to do one this year, not only for the logistical reasons above but also for the reason that we will be away longer over the holidays.  Not that we will be relaxing at a lodge for three days hoping for a white Christmas. No, this year we will be traveling to Southeast Asia for three weeks, celebrating Christmas at 85 degrees and 85% humidity.  Ornaments on a mango tree.

(We reached the stage of life where we would be up-and-traveling in any case as our sons and their families have relocated to the west coast.  Last year we were all together over Christmas so this is the year where they gather with their wives’ families.  This makes this year our “away-game.”  But it, too, is for family: the family of our “spiritual daughter,” the single mother who came to live with us years ago.)

This left the issue as how to create a short term Christmassy atmosphere with little to work with.

Out came the boxes and with a little time and effort the complete collection was culled down to small favorites sprinkled around the townhouse.  One still has to look closely to see them, but at least they’re there.

The sole remaining element to our traditional Christmas atmosphere is the music.  Set at low volume, of course, but there.

I retrieved the little steel box that housed our collection of Christmas and holiday CDs and pulled out the 3CDs that have become known as The Collection.  I looked at one of the labels and noticed the date: Christmas 1998.

Twenty years ago they were a Christmas present for each of us, parents and three brothers, carefully and secretly created and burned on his computer by our youngest son.  A task of love to continue a tradition and to make it available to all of us.

You see, he didn’t curate a number of current holiday CDs, he went to a reel-to-reel tape that I had created years before when all the boys were very young.  In about 1975 to be exact.  I had then been finally able to assemble a home stereo system, complete with a Pioneer RT-707 tape deck.  This let me create listening tapes that would last up to 3 hours (the deck would reverse, playing in both directions).  This was a huge benefit, as it eliminated the mandatory flipping over of vinyls on the turntable.

I created The Collection from current Christmas albums we all had come to enjoy: Jose Feliciano, The Kingston Trio, Nat King Cole, and The Philadelphia Orchestra.  It became the go-to tape once Thanksgiving had passed, and survived uncounted plays every year.

I popped the first CD into our current “device” (a home theater system), and it all began to come back.  Memories of all the years past, that Christmas in 1998 and talking about the effort to transfer from tape to CDs via a PC, and even memories of carefully creating the tape in the first place.

And the Christmas atmosphere was finally In The Aire. All around.

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Let’s Eat Out Tonight

“Good food, good company, great listening music and a wonderful atmosphere.  You can’t ask for anything better.” ― Anthony T. Hincks

My thoughts exactly.  Although I have found that it’s getting more difficult, primarily because of an increasingly common phenomenon: a very intentional and overly aggressive acoustic environment.

In other words, too loud to enjoy anything, even the food.

I decided long ago, probably before your time and before I began to experience a tinge of hearing loss, that the experience of enjoying a quiet, romantic meal out with my wife or a comfortable gathering with friends was gradually slipping away. And I had a theory as to why.

When I mentioned the loudness to others, most had to think for a while before concluding, “Yes, restaurants are getting more noisy.”

I concluded that I was going to have to continue to suffer in silence.  Just not at a restaurant.

But, no longer. It appears someone else noticed the same trend.  The result is this recent article by Kate Wagner in The Atlantic, How Restaurants Got So Loud.

I had a bottom line to my earlier theory, and it was so satisfying to see someone else work their way to a similar conclusion while bolstering it with added detail.

First of all there has been a slow drift from plush opulence into modern and fashionable minimalism.  Sort of like a postmodern abandonment of stuff that had substance, in this case, furniture, wall and ceiling conditions.

As a consequence, restaurants designed for fashionable minimalism were not designed to be quiet but convenient: inexpensive to furnish; easy to clean; while still conveying the appearance of luxury.

“… sparse, modern decor; high, exposed ceilings; and almost no soft goods, such as curtains, upholstery, or carpets. These design features are a feast for the eyes, but a nightmare for the ears.“

The author reports measuring sound levels of 85 dB and above in various establishments, levels that are generally not harmful for less than 2-hour exposures but certainly uncomfortable for the duration.

Another consequence of this shift to “luxurious minimalism” and the resulting atmosphere is the loss of something important,

“… it also degrades the thing that eating out is meant to culture: a shared social experience that rejuvenates, rather than harms, its participants.

Newer construction materials, furniture, and designs indeed look fashionable, modern, and very often, luxurious.  The unintended consequence that can’t be seen is what they do.

Older, plusher materials tended to absorb sound, and indeed certain materials were designed to absorb sound—soaking up sonic energy rather than reflecting it.  The result was often an environment that enhanced the dining experience (what Anthony T. Hincks was referring to).

Besides materials, another impact was moving the kitchen and food preparation out into the open where they became a visual part of the dining experience.  Nice, but at the same time adding additional sounds from the clanging and banging of pots and pans and the yelled orders among the cook staff (which they needed to overcome the kitchen noise).

All this contributed to an unintended consequence: restaurants became overly loud.

What to do? It would take more hard capital to overcome everything that the invested hard capital had already created.  A soft solution was needed.

Marketing!

It’s not a bug; it’s a feature!

This was my theory some years ago.  It basically boils down to human nature.  What do we think when we walk into a noisy party with lots of people?  They’re having fun.  We can have fun too.  And people having fun eat and drink more.

Referenced in the article is a book by the design historian Alison Pearlman, Smart Casual: The Transformation of Gourmet Restaurant Style in America, in which she concludes,

… the haute-casual dining trend also helps restaurateurs run bigger and more successful businesses.  Constructing interiors out of hard surfaces makes them easier (and thus cheaper) to clean.  Eschewing ornate decor, linens, table settings, and dishware makes for fewer items to wash or replace.  Reducing table service means fewer employees and thus lower overhead.  And as many writers have noted, loud restaurants also encourage profitable dining behavior.  Noise encourages increased alcohol consumption and produces faster diner turnover.  More people drinking more booze produce more revenue.  Knowing this, some restaurateurs even make their establishments louder than necessary in an attempt to maximize profits.

It’s a business plan!

Loud restaurants are more profitable.

(But, of course, most restaurants don’t last long; they come and go quickly because it is so difficult to make a profit.  So a winning business plan makes perfect sense.  Just not so much for that romantic date).

Posted in 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 16: Culture | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Tourist’s Dilemma

“A good seaman weathers the storm he cannot avoid, and avoids the storm he cannot weather” – Unknown

There was a town, of no small size, that was located by the sea. There were merchants, craftsmen, tradesmen, and, as you can imagine, a number of townsfolk who made their living by fishing, as had their ancestors.

(You will remember this town as it was the focal point of a previous post, The Fisherman’s Dilemma, here.  Let us return, sometime later, as it becomes the focal point for yet another dilemma).

The economy had begun to recover and many traditional jobs returned.  The town had also taken on a quaint aurora and begun to attract tourists and vacationers, drawn by the sea.  This spawned new opportunities to cater to their interests.

Dropping by the Visitor’s Center, a tourist inquired, “We’d like to spend a day on the sea.  Can you recommend any options?”

The host replied, “There are a number of places in town that provide sailing adventures, and they’re all good.  But if you want an experience for your life, try Crusty Jim’s.”

“Great!  Thanks!”

The following day, by chance they crossed paths again.

“Did you take an excursion?  Who with?”

“Yes,” came the reply, “with Crusty Jim’s.”

“And how was it?”

“Hard to say.  We’re still not quite sure.  There was so much information.  He kept up a constant chatter, pointing out this, that, and the other.  It was almost overwhelming.  Almost no chance to take pictures, or really relax.  He did have a smile and a twinkle in his eye, though. Today we just need a break.”

“Yep, that sounds like him.  Any particular memories?”

“Well, before we even left the harbor, he says, ‘A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.  Let’s go experience the sea!’  Then he put us to work.  Untie this, coil up that, loosen this, tighten up that!”

“Uh, huh.  I am suspecting there’s more.”

“Indeed.  Told us more than I thought we’d signed up for.  First, there’s the tide.  ‘It rolls in, and rolls out, and even if we know it’s coming we can’t control it, but we do have to sail through it.’ “

“If there’s a first, there must be a second…”

“Oh yes.  ‘There are rocks and shoals, hidden in a rising tide but revealed when the tide is ebbing.  You always need to know where they are.  Tide’s ebbing.  Keep a sharp eye.’ “

“And … ?”

“And on it went.  ‘Tides and shoals cause currents.  These might be predictable, but can’t be known exactly.  They are only seen by their effects.  Watch how the surface of the waters move, and tell me which way you think the current’s moving.’ “

“My, he’s got you nearly sailing by yourself.”

“Oh, he suggested that later, but not before he had us also reading the wind.  ‘You can’t see it, but you can sense its effects in your face, in your flags, and on the water. “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” Tighten the outhaul and watch the telltales!’ “

“Wow, you’ve picked up a lot.”

“No, I just followed orders.  The kids picked it up, though.  He told them, ‘Life’s just like sailing.  You always have to be aware of conditions.  You also have to know yourself, just as you have to know your boat.  You have to recognize conditions, your boat’s characteristics and capabilities, and adjust course appropriately.  Takes time, practice, effort.’ “

“Would you go out again?”

“The kids would, but I don’t think so.  I think I’m one who would like to sail only when the wind is calm, the sun is shining, the tide is in and the water’s smooth.”

“Yeah, we’d all like vacations like that.  It’s always nice in life to take a vacation, but a vacation isn’t always Life.”

Consider …

Somehow there’s another point, probably this one: it’s rare that we like to ‘sail’ alone, so there are no doubt others along for the ‘outing.’  They’re either crewmates and helping, or they’re along for the fun, not knowledgeable. In either case, we’re ultimately responsible for them, too, as well as for ourselves.

Life: Finding Purpose (your why); developing Process (your how); and then Passing it on.

 

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