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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #9--Tidy Things

We Like Things Tidy: Our mind likes to clean up things. When we retell a story, especially in a funny way, we edit the facts to fit the memory we want to have. And how often does this happen? In 61% of the time. That’s a lot of story changing. Turns out that storytelling is not really about accuracy but about “impression management.” Thus, facts end up taking second place to creating the impression we want to make.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #8--We're a Bunch of Skimmers

We Skim: We tend to skim or skip over things we think we know. Thus, as something becomes more familiar, we tend to notice fewer, not more, errors. We come to see things as we think they ought to be. Often called proofreader errors, there are mistakes we all overlook that novices often find easily. It’s like when you show a draft you’re been working on for weeks to a friend and they find an error on the first line.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #7--It's the Frame that Matters

We’re in the Wrong Frame of Mind: How we frame or look at things dictates how we respond to them. Much of the time we’re operating off of our emotions, even when they don’t always serve us well. Framing is all around us. We buy more food when we’re hungry, buy more French wine when French music is playing in stores, buy snow shovels when the weather gets cold, eat more ice cream when the weather is hot. When it comes to pricing homes, the listing price acts as an anchor—or frame—for negotiations. When it comes to selling homes, the higher the listing price, the higher the final negotiated price. Another note: Being listed first on a ballot, gives you a 3 percent bump in elections. Frame it first and find yourself at an advantage.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #6--Walking and Chewing Gum

We Can Walk and Chew Gum—but Not Much Else: Multitasking doesn’t work. Most of us talk about multitasking as if it were a badge of honor. Fact is, we don’t do it well. We get so distracted that most of us hardly spend minutes on task before getting interrupted. In effect, we’re all ADHD. According to the author: “Not even a computer multitasks; it switches back and forth between tasks several thousand times a second, thus giving the illusion that everything is happening simultaneously.” In addition, when we switch from one task to another, we forget about 40% of what we were doing. And it takes 15 minutes to get back in the groove. So when it comes to using cell phones while driving—forget about it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #5--Rose Colored Glasses

We Wear Rose Colored Glasses: When we recall our triumphs in school, we recall getting A’s accurately 89% of the time but remember D’s accurately only 26% of the time. And talk about hindsight bias. When we know how things turned out, our memory of the past is flawed. I heard a lot of this when people were certain that the FBI and other intelligence agencies should have seen 911 coming. When we “remember” things we paint them a nice color. That’s why gamblers recall their losses as “near misses” being oh, so close. Even when you show them, people don’t believe they’re biased. For example, when you show people that their financial advisor might have a conflict of interest, they often ignore it more than they should.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #4--Connect the Dots

We Connect the Dots: What do politicians, sports teams in black jerseys, and wine have in common? They cause a rush to conclusion. We judge political competence in a fraction of a second just by looking at a photo. Sports teams that wear black jerseys get penalized more frequently than other teams. For example, when the Pittsburgh Penguins switched from blue to black jerseys, their penalty minutes went up by 50% per game! And we judge wine as more drinkable and appealing depending on how expensive the bottle looks.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #3--We Search for Meaning

We Search for Meaning: We forget names all the time but are far less likely to forget people’s professions or hobbies—seems like these both give meaning to people. Look at this stream of numbers: 1, 7, 7, 6, 1, 9, 4, 5. Now look away and see if you can recall them. Now try this one: There are two sets of number 1776 and 1945—two historically meaningful dates. Are they easier to remember? Same numbers, different results. And if you want to remember someone’s face, attach some sort of emotion to it, like honesty or anger, or sadness.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #2--We Miss a Lot

We Miss a Lot: When viewing a robbery, women notice details about the victim but not about the robber. Men do just the opposite. Right handed people move to the right when going into a building. So, the shortest lines are always on the left side of any registration desk or ticket purchasing venue. Our eyes have a very narrow range of clear focus, so we skim a lot and we miss a lot. If you rarely see something, you find it difficult to find. That’s why both baggage inspectors and radiologists sometimes make mistakes. One study showed that baggage screeners missed 25% of the guns they were looking for. And, another study showed radiologists missed 30% of cancerous tumors that were visible in retrospect.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why We Make Mistakes: Post #1-Overview

Why We Make Mistakes (Broadway Books, 2009) by Joseph T. Hallinan and reviewed by Steve Gladis, Ph.D., August 2011.
I make mistakes…all the time. And, I thought it was just me! But, Joseph Hallinan has given me a lot of cover and relief in his book, Why We Make Mistakes. Truth is we ALL make mistakes—ALL the time. Some quick examples:
• We tend to miss editorial errors in something we’ve seen over and over. When we show it to a friend they seem to be able to pluck out the errors effortlessly. How could we have missed them?
• Most of us turn right when we enter a building, especially if we’re right handed. Same in traffic.
• We tend to choose “blue” as our default color.
• We rarely change our initial answer on a test, even when the research advises the opposite.
• We’re also biased. When we’re told one person is a dancer and another a truck driver, we tend to assume that the dancer will weigh less than the truck driver.
• We tend not to speak the truth about what we really think and accept authority; as a result we make huge errors.
• And when we’re tired we not only make bad decisions, we make “reckless” ones that could have a huge impact on us.
All in all, this book can both scare the pants off you and at the same time help you avoid annoying and sometimes dangerous decision making. Finally, this book has the best pull-quotes I’ve ever seen. In fact, there’s a great education to be had in just reading them if you’re short on time and if you trust the author, which I do.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Secrets of You Brain: Post #5--Healing

Healing the Brain. In “Exploring Medicine’s Frontiers,” the authors noted that even though 1% of all global output (billions of dollars) is spent on trying to stamp out Alzheimer’s and other dementias, we have very little to show for it. There’s some thought that exercise, fish oil, and social engagement may help…but there are no guarantees. On the topic of autism there’s more positive data. With early (very early, 12-18 months of age) identification, socially vacant or language delayed kids can benefit from early therapy stressing interactive play. And given the numbers (1 in 110 kids and 1 in 70 boys) affected by autism, it makes sense to give this a priority. In “Three Patients, Three Operations,” the author takes you inside the operating rooms at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center to witness three brain operations, the use of sophisticated electronic equipment, and deft surgeons (almost like elegant electricians) rewiring brains of patients with Parkinson’s and epilepsy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Secrets of You Brain: Post #4--Using it

Using Your Brainpower. In “Keeping Your Mind Sharp,” no real surprises but worth noting: exercising 3 times a week can stave off depression; sprinting followed by a reduced pace 4 times during your workout will up your spirits for the day; engaging the mind in play, music, puzzles, and work (especially in elderly) make for healthier minds; oh, yeah, and did I mention the effects of regular exercise?? “The Hyperactive Advantage” discusses how in people with ADHD (and the numbers seem to be growing from 3-5% to more like 7-9%) the center that controls the emotional and physical part of the brain is not working as well as it should be. Thus, the executive center, the prefrontal cortex (which controls planning, organizing and focusing attention), gets inhibited resulting in the typically scattered ADHD manifestations. And while the traditional classroom is the worst place for these folks, nontraditional, hands-on venues work better. The big advantage for ADHDers seems to be their capacity for creativity. In fact, researchers found that the negative descriptors for ADHD were identical to the positive descriptors for “creative” people! And don’t forget that Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart and Einstein displayed childlike qualities that could now be interpreted as ADHD.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Secrets of You Brain: Post #3--Mysteries

Mysteries of the Mind. This section probed some of the more outlying brain topics like dreams and sleep, out-of body experiences, psychopaths, and love. “What Dreams are Made Of” demonstrates that sleep clearly boosts the brain in problem solving and creativity. Studies on problem solving show that people who were taught a new task performed it better after a night in the sack. So, forget the old college all-nighters…get some sleep to improve your chances of passing a test. Maybe that’s why Einstein took naps (me too). Also, the authors note that sleep soothes angst and fosters “out of the box” creativity. I love the definition of creativity by Robert Stickgold, psychiatrist at Harvard: “…Creativity is nothing more and nothing less than putting memories together in a way they never have been before.” “The Brain Chemistry of Love” taught me that love at first sight IS real. It takes 1/5 of a second to fall in love. And it all starts with the face, which is only 5% of your body surface but 95% of your allure, according to anthropologist David Givens. After seeing someone who appeals, our brain sets off a host of chemical reactions—a love cocktail as it were—finally releasing (among other drugs) dopamine and suppressing serotonin, which regulates risk and control. So, the brain literally is “drunk” on love and lowers its resistance to good sense and caution.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Secrets of You Brain: Post #2--Understanding

Understanding Your Brain. This section covers a half dozen articles, all largely based on how the brain works and how much and how little we now know about it. In “It’s One Amazing Machine,” the brain is diagrammed with key functions explained in a sentence or two, which I found extremely effective and a great baseline for the rest of the publication (see p. 13). “Compared to other animals, humans have an extremely large cortex—thus their superior intelligence” (p. 14) puts a cap on this article after a lot of specific detail. In “Your Teen’s Amazing Brain,” we learn that the brain physiologically prunes back cells to prepare it for adulthood. But it does so from the back of the brain forward; thus the executive control center, the prefrontal cortex, is the last to get upgraded…so judgment in teenagers is their short suit. Controlled risk taking for teens might actually help them mature faster. “Rewiring Your Decision Making” discusses heuristics (short cut rules of thumb) that make life easier for us to make decisions. The problem is that shortcuts in critical situations, like skiing in threatening terrain or driving in dangerous conditions, can get us hurt or even killed. The authors talk about three common perilous heuristics: the familiarity heuristic (we take things for granted at our own peril); the default heuristic (we stick with what we know, even when it might hurt us); and, the acceptance heuristic (we make decisions based on the approval of others). “Straight-A Students, Take Note [Your Emotional Intelligence Might Mean More to Your Success in Life Than Book Smarts]” discusses the importance of emotional intelligence—self awareness, self regulation, empathy and social intelligence. The author warns us about things like e-mails that lack the benefit of non-verbal feedback, are often interpreted as negative, and can lead to risk taking that causes us to say things we might later regret.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Secrets of You Brain: Post #1--Overview

Secrets of Your Brain: New Science Reveals How It Works—and How to Heal It
(Editors Anne McGrath, et al., U.S. News, 2011). Reviewed by Steve Gladis, Ph.D., August 2011

Overview: I’ve always been fascinated by the brain. And with the tragic shooting of Representative Gabby Giffords, the world has been suddenly updated regarding the state of brain surgery and trauma recovery. This special edition of U.S. News offers all of us a class in understanding the brain and its mysteries. It is written in four segments—1) Understanding Your Brain. This section visually dissects the brain and provides a single diagram of the brain (p.13) that’s the clearest layperson’s version I’ve ever seen. This section shows the brain at work, how teens’ minds work (and don’t), and how decision making can go awry. 2) Mysteries of the Mind. This section has feature articles about dreams, psychopaths and the chemistry of love and just exactly why love IS so blind! 3) Using Your Brain Power. This section has articles to help us understand the nature of ADHD, dyslexia, pain, and memory, and how to get each to work in your favor. 4) Healing the Brain. This final section reveals the latest on Alzheimer’s, autism, concussion and depression. Packed with information for people interested in how the brain works, this issue is a winner.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wisdom of Crowds: Post #6--Final Words

Final Words: Independently aggregated data from diverse people is best for near perfect decisions. Given the number of committees in the world (boards of directors, juries, councils, etc.) and their impact on the world, it’s critical that we understand the wisdom of crowds. James Surowiecki helps us understand best thinking and best practices in this universe of small groups and teams. His words are thoughtful, well written and important. Read this book for important findings on decision making.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wisdom of Crowds: Post #5--Aggregation

Aggregation: The author discusses the NASA Mission Management Team (MMT) who decided that the foam panel couldn’t do much damage to the Challenger shuttle. He shows how the group started out with a “verdict” mentality. Listening to engineers say early on that such damage was highly unlikely, the MMT filtered out contrary information that might have taken them down a more productive path. The author also talks about studies of juries, those which are evidenced based (weigh all the evidence first) and verdict based (take an early poll and then work to convince outliers—think 12 Angry Men). And, he points out the various biases that come from verdict based juries and groups. Moreover, small groups get unduly and sometimes dangerously influenced by the effects of gender, experts, people who talk a lot, and people who talk first. He argues strongly that small groups need to fight against a verdict bias and should have a way of not only aggregating evidence independently but also making real decisions. [A sidebar here that’s not mentioned in the book: Action Learning is a method that overcomes most of the issues that confound and dull group decision making. Anyone interested in a terrific model for aggregating information should read the work of Reg Ravens and Michael Marquardt.]

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