๐Ÿ’Ž The paradox of progress (and the paradox of choice)

The Paradox of progress, and the paradox of choice: There is a familiar story of a New York banker vacationing in Greece, who, from talking to a fisherman and scrutinizing the fisherman’s business, comes up with a scheme to help the fisherman make it a big business. The fisherman asked him what the benefits were; the banker answered that he could make a pile of money in New York and come back to vacation in Greece; something that seemed ludicrous to the fisherman, who was already there doing the kind of things bankers do when they go on vacation in Greece.

The story was well known in antiquity, under a more elegant form, as retold by Montaigne (my translation): When King Pyrrhus tried to cross into Italy, Cynรฉas, his wise adviser, tried to make him feel the vanity of such action. “To what end are you going into such enterprise?โ€ he asked. And Pyrrhus answered, “To make myself the master of Italy.” Cynรฉas: “Then ?” Pyrrhus: To conquer Africa, then … come rest at ease.” Cynรฉas: But you are already there; why take more risks?”

Excerpt from: Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

๐Ÿ’Ž The premortem vs. postmortem (prevention vs. cure)

The premortem – when an organisation has almost come to an important decision but hasn’t formally committed itself, the decision makers gather for a brief session.

They are asked to imagine that it is one year later and that the idea has been a complete disaster.

They then have to write a short history of what happened.

The premortem can prevent many a disaster.

By contrast, a postmortem is always too late.

It’s all about timing.

Excerpt from: The Excellence Book: 50 Ways to be Your Best (Concise Advice) by Kevin Duncan

๐Ÿ’Ž The Myers-Briggs test (a marriage test used by Fortune 500 companies)

Initially, Briggs had designed her questionnaire to identify solid marriage partners, but after the Second World War, her daughter repositioned it to place people in the right jobs. The MBTI does what all profiling systems do: asks batteries of questions and organises the answers into types which are supposed to define your personality. And yet the test has no basis in clinical psychology, though it is deployed by most Fortune 500 companies, many universities, schools, churches, consulting companies, the CIA, the army and the navy.

The MBTI test-retest validity lies below statistical significance, meaning that if you test someone more than once, you are likely to get different results. More worrying is that the questionnaire poses binary questions, asking, for example, whether you value sentiment more than logic or vice versa. The question assumes that there is a simple answer to this question, absent of context. Yet in real life, preference is highly contextual: I value logic when purchasing car insurance; I may value sentiment more when choosing to play with my son. Binaries always simplify, often to the point of absurdity, and they polarise what are often complements.

Excerpt from: Uncharted: How to Map the Future by Margaret Heffernan

๐Ÿ’Ž The more we think about an event, the more we think itโ€™s likely to happen (often wrongly)

One of the earliest experiments examining the power of imagination to sway intuition was conducted during the U.S. presidential election campaign of 1976. One group was asked to imagine Gerald Ford winning the election and taking the oath of office, and then they were asked how likely it was that Ford would win the election. Another group was asked to do the same for Jimmy Carter. So who was more likely to win? Most people in the group that imagined Ford winning said Ford. Those who saw Jimmy Carter taking the oath said Carter. Later experiments have obtained similar results. What are your odds of being arrested? How likely is it you’ll win the lottery? People who imagine the event consistently feel the odds or the event actually happening are higher than those who donโ€™t.

Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

๐Ÿ’Ž The labour illusion (or why incompetence sometimes pays)

But would he have preferred that the locksmith bumble around, take a long time and fake effort? Well, maybe. A locksmith once told Dan that when he started his career, he took forever to open a lock, and in the process, he often broke it, taking even more time and money to get one properly installed and finish the job. He charged for the parts to replace the broken lock as well as his standard fee for opening a locked door. People were happy to pay all this, and they tipped him well. He noticed, however, that as he became proficient and opened a lock quickly, without breaking the old lock (and without the consequent need to replace it and charge his clients for the extra parts), customers not only didn’t tip, but they also argued about his fee.

Wait, what? How much is it worth to have our door open? That should be the question. But because it’s difficult to put a price on this, we look at how much effort it takes to have that door unlocked. When there’s a great deal of effort, we feel much better about paying more. But all that should matter is the value of that open door.

Excerpt from: Small Change: Money Mishaps and How to Avoid Them by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler

๐Ÿ’Ž On the puzzling fact that only so few ad agency staff are over 50 (unlike other creative industries)

We’ll start with the Nobel Prize. There is only one Nobel Prize in a creative field. It is the prize for Literature. It went to Kazuo Ishiguro who is 64.

The Pulitzer Prize is awarded in several creative fields. The Pulitzer for Drama went to Lynn Nottage who is 54. The Pulitzer for History went to Heather Ann Thompson, age 55. The Pulitzer for Poetry went to Tyehimba Jess, age 53.

Next we move to television. The Emmy for Best Drama Series went to The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel was written by Margaret Atwood who was 79 and was creative consultant on the show. The Best Comedy Series went to Veep, executive produced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 57. She also won for Best Actress. Best Limited Series went to Big Little Lies created by David E Kelley, 62. The Best Supporting Actress was Ann Dowd, 62. Best Supporting Actor was John Lithgow, 73. Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series went to Alec Baldwin, 60.

So, let’s recap. People over 50 are creative enough to dominate in Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars, and Emmys but are not creative enough to write a fucking banner ad. I guarantee you, not one of these brilliantly talented people could get a job in an ad agency today. Not one.

Excerpt from: Advertising for Skeptics by Bob Hoffman

๐Ÿ’Ž On the need for businesses to be resilient (so they’re not blown away)

“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind”

Nassim Taleb

Excerpt from: The Science of Organizational Change: How Leaders Set Strategy, Change Behavior, and Create an Agile Culture (Leading Change in the Digital Age) by Paul Gibbons

๐Ÿ’Ž Why it becomes harder to predict technological change (as technology develops)

Perhaps we should have seen this acceleration coming. In the 1930s an American aeronautical engineer named T. P Wright carefully observed aeroplane factories at work. He published research demonstrating that the more often a particular type of aeroplane was assembled, the quicker and cheaper the next unit became. Workers would gain experience, specialised tools would be developed, and ways to save time and material would be discovered. Wright reckoned that every time accumulated production doubled, unit costs would fall by 15 per cent. He called this phenomenon ‘the learning curve’.

Three decades later, management consultants at Boston Consulting Group, or BCG, rediscovered Wright’s rule of thumb in the case of semiconductors, and then other products too. Recently, a group of economists and mathematicians at Oxford University found convincing evidence of learning curve effects across more than 50 different products from transistors to beer – including photovoltaic cells. Sometimes the learning curve is shallow and sometimes steep, but it always seems to be there.

The learning curve may be a dependable fact about technology, but paradoxically, it creates a feedback loop that makes it harder to predict technological change. Popular products become cheap; cheaper products become popular.

Excerpt from: The Next Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy by Tim Harford

๐Ÿ’Ž 9 suggested research techniques for planners

Start Doing Research Differently

1. Don’t only talk to the consumer. Talk to someone who spends their life understanding the target. Wife, kids, boss, subordinate, neighbor, garbage man, probation officer
2. Send them a disposable camera and a one time brief
3. Get them to write something and word cloud it
4. Set up a video confessional booth
5. People love playing marketer. Give them your job
6. Think of the rote thing to do. Do the opposite
7. Get 10 smart people to write 10 Onion headlines for your brand or category
8. Go to their house as a forensic criminologist
9. Pitch ideas like this at your account people until you give them one that makes them think you’re insane. Then do that one

Excerpt from: Strategy Scrapbook by Alex Morris

๐Ÿ’Ž One problem with the client-agency model is that it encourages complex clever answers (rather than simple, effective ones)

As we saw, a bureaucratized system will increase in complication from the interventionism of people who sell complicated solutions because that’s what their position and training invite them to do.

Things designed by people without skin in the game tend to grow in complication (before their final collapse).

There is absolutely no benefit for someone in such a position to propose something simple: when you are rewarded for perception, not results, you need to show sophistication. Anyone who has submitted a Scholarly paper to a journal knows that you usually raise the odds of acceptance by making it more complicated than necessary.

Excerpt from: Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

๐Ÿ’Ž How reform of organisations often requires an outside perspective (unfamiliarity with the department)

โ€˜It should be remembered, that in few departments have important reforms been effected by those trained up in practical familiarity with their details. The men to detect blemishes and defects are among those who have not, by long familiarity, been made insensible to them.’

Excerpt from: The Next Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy by Tim Harford

๐Ÿ’Ž With uncertainty we prefer conformity (group think)

Crutchfield’s experiment involved slightly more ambiguous questions, including one in which people were asked if they agreed with the statement ‘I believe we are made better by the trials and hardships of life.’ Among subjects in a control group that was not exposed to the answers of others, everyone agreed. But among those in the experiment who thought that everyone else disagreed with the statement, 31 per cent said they did not agree. Asked whether they agreed with the statement ‘I doubt whether I would make a good leader,’ every person in the control group rejected it. But when the group was seen to agree with the statement, 37 per cent of people went along with the consensus and agreed that they doubted themselves.

Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

๐Ÿ’Ž How our perception of risk is skewed by โ€œwhat makes a good story or hypothesisโ€(rather than a cold calculation of the odds)

Many other studies produced similar results. Kahneman and Tversky divided 245 undergrads at the University of British Columbia in half and asked one group to estimate the probability of a massive flood somewhere in North America in 1983, in which more than 1,000 people drown.’ The second group was asked about an earthquake in California sometime in 1983, causing a flood in which more than 1,000 people drown.’ Once again, the second scenario logically has to be less likely than the first but people rated it one-third more likely than the first. Nothing says ‘California’ quite like โ€˜earthquakeโ€™.

Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

๐Ÿ’Ž Origin of Lacoste (le crocodile)

Renรฉ Lacoste, French tennis star, earned the nickname ‘le crocodile’ for winning a crocodile-skin suitcase in a bet. ‘A friend drew a crocodile’, he said, ‘and / had it embroidered on the blazer / wore on the courts!’ His polo shirts were launched in 1933 and are probably the first example of sportswear as fashion.

Excerpt from: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

๐Ÿ’Ž The worrying amount of effort spent discussing how people should be (rather than dealing with how they are)

One of the greatest reasons why so few people understand themselves is that most writers are always teaching men what they should be, and hardly ever trouble their heads with telling them what they really are.

-BERNARD MANDEVILLE, Fable of the Bees!

Excerpt from: Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future by Mervyn King and John Kay

๐Ÿ’Ž We start guessing the end of sentence before finishing it (the order in which writers place their words matters)

According to Bergen, we start modelling words as we start reading them. We don’t wait until we get to the end of the sentence. This means the order in which writers place their words matters. This is perhaps why transitive construction – Jane gave a Kitten to her Dad – is more effective than the ditransitive – Jane gave her Dad a kitten. Picturing Jane, then the Kitten, then her Dad mimics the real-world action that we, as readers, should be modelling. It means we’re mentally experiencing the scene in the correct sequence. Because writers are, in effect, generating neural movies in the minds of their readers, they should privilege word order that’s filmic, imagining how their reader’s neural camera will alight upon each component of a sentence.

For the same reason, active sentence construction – Jane kissed her Dad – is more effective than passive – Dad was kissed by Jane. Witnessing this in real life, Jane’s initial movement would draw our attention and then we’d watch the kiss play out. We wouldn’t be dumbly staring at Dad, waiting for something to happen.

Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

๐Ÿ’Ž If/then tactics as a way to achieve goals (the bigger the goal, the better the results)

In hundreds of studies spanning all kinds of contexts from eating better to completing homework assignments to saving money to avoiding the impulse to react to people on the basis of their skin color-Gollwitzer and his colleagues have demonstrated the power of people taking the time to anticipate in advance the obstacles they might face when meeting future aspirations. For example, people who want to eat healthier might jot down all of the possible temptations they’ll face in a week to eat junk food, and then set up a plan to respond to each of those urges.

What’s surprising about Gollwitzer’s research on if/then techniques is that it reveals that the more difficult the long-term goal, the greater the power of the tactic. It works better, in other words, for the challenges that elude people’s sheer willpower.

Excerpt from: The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman

๐Ÿ’Ž How workplace competition can backfire (dangers of โ€œstack rankingโ€ systems)

One well-known example of a dysfunctional workplace competition was GEโ€™s โ€œRank-and-Yankโ€ system, where the bottom 10% of the organization’s employees were fired on a regular basis. Another was Microsoft’s โ€œStack Racking” system, where an employee’s expectations for promotion were based on how they were ranked among their peers. A personal friend of mine who worked at GE many years ago stated, โ€œThe Rank-and-Yank system there made sure that everyone hired people weaker than themselves so they were never in danger of being yanked. When we interviewed a brilliant candidate, we made sure they never got the job because it would put ourselves in jeopardy or potentially result in a smaller bonus.”

A Vanity Fair article by Kurt Eichenwald cites that โ€œEvery current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed โ€“ everyone – cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft. Peter Cohan from Forbes stated that, โ€œ[Stack Ranking) directed [Microsoft employees] to prevent their peers from getting outstanding performance reviews and brag about their accomplishments to each member of the management committee that determined their relative ranking.”

As you can see, workplace competition can be extremely destructive to company morale, especially during weak and uncertain economic conditions where people are preoccupied with getting laid off.

Excerpt from: Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges and Leaderboards by Yu-kai Chou

๐Ÿ’Ž Group polarisation and the danger of surrounding yourself with people who share similar opinions (How correct am I?)

But they wonโ€™t. Decades of research has proved that groups usually come to conclusions that are more extreme than the average view of the individuals who make up the group. When opponents of a hazardous waste site gather to talk about it, they will become convinced the site is more dangerous than they originally believed. When a woman who believes breast implants are a threat gets together with women who feel the same way, she and all the women in the meeting are likely to leave believing they had previously underestimated the danger. The dynamic is always the same. It doesn’t matter what the subject under discussion is. It doesn’t matter what the particular views are. When like-minded people get together and talk, their existing views tend to become more extreme.

In part, this strange human foible stems from our tendency to judge ourselves by comparison with others. When we get together in a group of like-minded people, what we share is an opinion that we all believe to be correct and so we compare ourselves with others in the group by asking โ€˜How correct am I?’ Inevitably, most people in the group will discover that they do not hold the most extreme opinion, which suggests they are less correct, less virtuous, than others. And so they become more extreme. Psychologists confirmed this theory when they put people in groups and had them state their views without providing reasons why – and polarization still followed.

Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

๐Ÿ’Ž Inhibiting desire can backfire (why breaking habits is hard)

Psychologist Daniel Wegner and his colleagues devised an experiment to demonstrate the ironic effect of inhibiting our desires. Participants were instructed in a simple task-not thinking of a white bear. Who spends much time thinking of white bears, anyway? Participants sat alone in a lab room for five minutes and rang a bell every time they failed to suppress this thought. On average, they rang the bell about five times, almost once per minute. No surprise that our thoughts wander, even to forbidden topics, when we are alone and bored. What is interesting is what happened when the same participants later sat for five minutes trying to think of a white bear. After the suppression task, they rang the bell almost eight times. In contrast, participants instructed to try to think of a white bear for five minutes, but without the initial task of not doing so, rang the bell fewer than five times. It was as if the act of trying to suppress a thought gave it a special energy to emerge later. After the participants tried not to think about white bears, thoughts of them returned again and again. When rating their experience, participants who had initially suppressed thoughts of white bears reported feeling preoccupied with them.

Excerpt from: Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood

๐Ÿ’Ž Why people often think they’re the hero (moral superiority)

Everyone who’s psychologically normal thinks they’re the hero. Moral superiority is thought to be a สปuniquely strong and prevalent form of positive illusion’. Maintaining a positive moral self-image’ doesn’t only offer psychological and social benefits, it’s actually been found to improve our physical health. Even murderers and domestic abusers tend to consider themselves morally justified, often the victims of intolerable provocation. When researchers tested prisoners on their hero-maker biases, they found them to be largely intact. The inmates considered themselves above average on a range of pro-social characteristics, including kindness and morality. The exception was law-abidingness. There, sitting in prison, serving sentences precisely because they’d made serious contraventions of the law, they were only willing to concede that, on law-abidingness, they scored about average.

Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

๐Ÿ’Ž Approaches for coming up with a big ideas (David Ogilvy)

“Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.’

David Ogilvy, adman

Excerpt from How to Have Great Ideas: A Guide to Creative Thinking and Problem Solving by John Ingledew

๐Ÿ’Ž Why psychologists believe that focus groups are far less insightful than some marketers think (Head cannot look into Gut)

‘The heart has its reasons,’ Blaise Pascal wrote more than three centuries ago, โ€˜which reason knows nothing ofโ€™. Sot with the conscious and unconscious minds. Head cannot look into Gut and so it has no idea how Gut assembles its judgments, which is why psychologists believe that focus groups are far less insightful than some marketers think. If you put people together in a room, show them a car commercial, and ask them how they feel about the car, you will get clear answers. ‘I don’t care for it,’ a man may say. Fine. Why not? He frowns. ‘Um, the styling on the front is ugly. And I want a more powerful engine.’ That looks like good insight, just the sort of thing a company can use to design and market its products. But it’s not. This man’s snap judgment – ‘I don’t like that car’ – came from Gut. But the interviewer is talking to Head. And Head doesn’t have a clue why Gut doesn’t like the car. So Head rationalizes. It looks at the conclusion and cobbles together an explanation that is both plausible and quite possibly, wrong.

Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

๐Ÿ’Ž We often selectively interpret evidence to fit with our prior beliefs (and is used to further cement beliefs)

In 1979 – when capital punishment was a top issue in the United States – American researchers brought together equal numbers of supporters and opponents of the death penalty. The strength of their views was tested. Then they were asked to read a carefully balanced essay that presented evidence that capital punishment deters crime and evidence that it does not. The researchers then retested people’s opinions and discovered that they had only gotten stronger. They had absorbed the evidence that confirmed their views, ignored the rest, and left the experiment even more convinced that they were right and those who disagreed were wrong.

Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

๐Ÿ’Ž The need for writers to show, not tell (C.S. Lewis)

The findings Bergen describes also suggest the reason writers are continually encouraged to ‘show not tell’. As C.S. Lewis implored a young writer in 1956, โ€˜instead of telling us a thing was โ€œterribleโ€, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was โ€œdelightfulโ€; make us say “delightfulโ€ when we’ve read the description. The abstract information contained in adjectives such as ‘terrible’ and ‘delightful is thin gruel for the model-building brain. In order to experience a character’s terror or delight or rage or panic or sorrow, it has to make a model of it. By building its model of the scene, in all its vivid and specific detail, it experiences what’s happening on the page almost as if it’s actually happening. Only that way will the scene truly rouse our emotions.

Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr