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Archive for January 9th, 2009

Alexandra Penney is featured on CNN today.

Public reaction to her reaction to having her “life savings” wiped by the Madoff situation surprised her.

This is a great example of how the rules we all play by are specific to our own contexts/situations in life.

In reading the CNN piece and Penney’s writing you might say:

  • God, she still has a lot of money
  • Why would anyone fall for Madoff
  • Madoff isn’t in jail?!
  • Why do ponzi schemes work?
  • What a whiner
  • Madoff should rot in hell

Penney seems to be really offended. The justice seems to be really light on Madoff.  Madoff seems to have really had a lot of people who trusted him.

Our perceptions of that reality are 100% dependent on our own history.  We will almost always be surprised by others reactions in such conflicting contexts.

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Though the book, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, is over a decade old it is back on the front table and topshelves again because of the movie version.

In short: this is a fantastic book. You should READ it before seeing the movie.

Writing a review of the book poses a challenge because of how the story develops and the content of the story.  To write to0 much about the story itself would destroy some of the experience of reading it.

It’s a mere 200ish pages, reads in probably a long night of reading or over a period of 3 or 4 nights before you go to sleep.

Yes, it is a love story and crime story and a slice of history piece.  It has all the trimmings of lost love, failed dreams, shame, moral dilemmas and truth seeking.  It is not remarkable in style or story arc or character development.  The Reader startles you in the conclusions it doesn’t draw.

What a sad story, I thought for so long. Not that I now think it was happy.  But I think it is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever.

– page 217, The Reader

I brought to it my world view and in that context I found a sympathetic story to my belief that we are not objective, autonomous humans capable of rising above the environments and realities of our own situations.  Truth is contingent on context.  Our justice systems, historical accounts, and romantic relationships can’t escape this fact.

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I was going to title this “Not found @ 2009 Consumer Electronics Show…” but I’d get punished.

People invest in training for their education, work, entertainment and even lifestyles. The society as a whole invests billions in training and education for all its children and encourages more of it after high school. Collectively, corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars on training of all levels; from simple tasks (MS Office) to the ultra complex (Billings fMRI certification). Training can be hands-on, case studies, role-play, webcasts, podcasts, virtual, instructor led, eLearning, Learning communities and even blog solutions groups. Then there is mentoring for individuals to complement sales training, technical training, service training, partner training and vendor training.

Professional athletic organizations spend billions of dollars globally each year to train not only the muscles of their athletes but the way they think about themselves, their competitors, and how to handle work-life balance issues that can be anything but normal. The ‘natural’ athletic ability of athletes like Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Paton Manning, Dana Torres, and Mario Williams comes at the price of eight+ hours of practice a day for years in order to be an over-night success. People watch super athletes perform a bevy of athletic feats and too frequently ascribe their behavior to a “natural ability” rather than to intense training in multiple areas that is required to do what they do. The US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, has classes for athletes on handling the media, food, injuries and anger. Organizations also spend millions more to learn new methods of training world class athletes for elite competition in every sport imaginable from both forms of football, baseball and basketball to lesser but intensely played X-games, tennis and ping pong.

All this time, all this money and all these people invest daily in what they can learn today that will take them to the next level tomorrow. They are all committed to acquiring whatever will improve performance, profit, presentation or information that will serve them in the pursuit of what each of them is organized to value.

However when any of these individuals, groups or organizations are presented with the learning and conditioning rules that apply to their training there is push back and denunciation conditioning. While even a grade school track coach knows how the Krebs cycle affects a ‘kick’ at the end of a 440, they know next to nothing of the methods of reinforcement and avoidance, chaining and fading, discrimination training or schedules effect those they train. Even the arguments against the use of conditioning and learning techniques as being relevant are learned using the very contingency management they deny is involved.

So, am I missing something? Did we all learn to read blogs by reflex? Was divination involved in finding the right partner to marry? Was it always their ‘motivation’ or was it due to a ‘calling’ he turned that MBA from University of Colorado into a creative design position for www.getgreen.com?

The value for us is that learning and conditioning is everywhere. It is harder to find a behavior that didn’t come about due to past consequences than it is to keep up with pop logic that eating chocolate is good for me or that purging is a disease. Please! The effects of learning and conditioning are everywhere; drug cartels, congressman, Joel Osteen, Rev. Wright, moms, brothers sisters and you too.

Maybe we ought to take the rules of learning seriously in order to understand the big stuff about what the heck is going on in the world. Then we can start on the tough stuff.

Find me a behavior that was acquired without conditioning and I’ll pay you money.

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