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.
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):
- Believing in someone or something that’s too good to be true
(Note the role that Confirmation Bias plays in this thinking)
- Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result
(Einstein is credited as saying this is the definition of idiocy)
- Failing to delay gratification
(This is a very good definition of not yet reaching emotional maturity)
- Operating without a budget
(Failing to realize that money, like physical objects, cannot be in two places at once)
- Losing sight of the big picture
(An ice hockey player who only watches his feet and the puck invariably ends up under the Zamboni)
- Not doing your homework
(What I’d tell my neurosurgeon before going under: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!)
- 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)
- Trying to please everyone
(Trying to please everyone simply pleases no one)
- Playing the victim
(Also pretty transparent, besides, to do it well you have to give up your power. Smart people don’t do this)
- 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?”
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.”
“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,
- Staff turnover became too difficult to manage;
- Without tips, prices looked higher, and customers balked;
- 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.
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.