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Archive for May, 2010

Any man who afflicts the human race with ideas must be prepared to see them misunderstood.”

—H.L. Mencken: attacker of ignorance, intolerance, frauds, fundamentalist Christianity, osteopathy, myths and writers that mocked him for sport…

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To start, the goal is not to be an ‘elite’ athlete…

Fourth in a 5-Part Series for http://www.SocialMode.com

(1)   Sports, like businesses or social movements have goals and costs.

(2)   The best way to advance is through the “Do”.

(3)    Focus on long-term benefits as well as short-term gains

(4)   It is not ‘automaticity’ per se that leads to high proficiency.

“Automaticity” is the perception that someone is in the ‘flow”; they make what they are involved in look automatic.

Competitors train to do stuff right; winners train so they can’t do it wrong.

In business and in sport the level of skill at which automaticity is attained is constantly changing.  When the rate of that change slows too much, in sport and in business, things start to get dicey.

Most people never develop beyond their hobby levels of expertise because that is the level at which they are able to do things ‘automatically’. We’ve all seen those people in business.  We’ve also seen them in different sports. Their comfort level is large and ever present.

For club golfers, swimmers or competitive tennis players, their levels of expertise for ‘doing stuff right’ in their sport are sub-par, as it were.  To truly excel, there is always some part [life, sport, relationships] that is not automatic yet that needs attention.

When you raise the bar in each component area, you’ll move from an automatic state (large comfort zone) to a non-automatic state (‘zero’ comfort zone).  Some can’t hack the loss of comfort.  Others find it’s OK to have small comfort zones because you are betting they are only temporary.

It becomes a balancing act between  that automaticity important in the “now” is the elite level to be reached you were working toward.   One elite athlete I know said to me,

“The day I take the elevator rather than walk up ten floors is the day I’ll have decided to give up being World Champion.”

So most of us settle short of an elite status (business /sport); for club performance, for less, for sub-par.   Thus, we rationalize not reaching our highest potentials in one area when we come to value our current level, or “other” events or circumstances. That too is OK because you know what you are doing. That is life.

When we settle in business, others may identify it as ‘lost opportunity costs” and that may not be OK.  But know that the number of mountains to climb – literally and figuratively – are enormous and, clearly, some are more fun to climb than others.

You get to decide.

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Historically, the search for a way to describe the mechanics of what is going on out there in the world and how it impacts what is going on with organisms [sometimes referenced as “the mind”, personality, cognition, consciousness, intuition, etc.] is that the fields of psychology have always used metaphors, similes, and analogies, in part, because most of the areas morphed out of philosophy, religion and literature.

Clearly for Descartes, mechanisms [particularly clocks and hydraulics] were big at the time and from there it wasn’t a stretch to embrace the naturalistic model, then the disease model, then the computer analogies, all the while not letting go of the metaphors, analogies, and similes that preceded it.

Yes, don’t forget the impact of the 70’s drug culture on 40+ years of speculation on consciousness, the inner self, higher self, etc.

The outcome of much of the theory and speculation was increased awareness at the cost of precision.  All three influences are with us today as embedded vernacular, imagery, and rationales’ applied to the understanding of organisms.  We still embrace the vernacular and the idioms of Freud as if they were true, valid or valuable.  At another level, these approaches are embraced and morph as needed because there is little to replace them that the populace could cling to considering Western Judo-Christian history, laws, and sometimes even a bully Western philosophical interpretation of all matters. The terms, concepts, etc., work because they explain behavior to many that are clueless and communication-less without such pop-snarkness, having otherwise to depend on greater superstition, folklore and ‘commonsense’ explanations than they currently do.  Said more succinctly, while the theory of mind may keep us from looking at the causes of behavior, it has some value, more than other Freudian alternatives or those endless literature dumps proposed by philosophy, theology and sociology.

As metaphors are wont to do, they work to make intangibly complex relationships more tangible, understandable, usable and communicable.  Science has not had a history of doing that well either so the result is there is little pragmatic value change in understanding what the heck is going on out there and ‘in’ there if science doesn’t make cases well enough.

The lay vocabulary we end up using is residue that provides consistent, sometimes vivid equivalents for concepts until the understanding of relationships and patterns can get sorted out.   A MAJOR problem comes from the reification of those terms like mind, need, motivation, personality, evil, addiction, intuition, etc., such that they are never scientifically challenged or shown to be what they are; a trail of metaphysical left-overs from philosophy, theoretical speculations and dependence on analogies, similes, and metaphors.

Unfortunately, the metaphor has become reified to the extreme by the world’s citizens and, through the conditioning we all used to get an education, became the reality of what it was a ‘place holder’ for. We’ve all seen it over and over: what had been an incomplete story-like example became the “thing” studied, described, interacted with before suddenly becoming raison d’être.

There is no bridge between pragmatism and articulated science.  If one can’t use what science provides people – even academia – will embellish what they have and use it it as they have for centuries.   Traditions allow us to avoid the constant assessment tasks that are needed.You know the old saw,

insanity is doing the same things over and over and expected the results to be different’ (-Einstein or W. Deming; take your pick) 

By embracing those states that come to keep us comfortable and un-questioning, only those events we subjectively or theatrically sense as catastrophic will generate uncomfortable questions that when answered will make a difference.

Thus, for you to entertain changing your sense of how anything works, business, families, social networks, corporations, football teams, etc. (you get the idea) you’ll need to get fired, get shunned, get de-friended, get passed over, lose the Super Bowl, and many other things equivalent to a kick in the ass.  When that happens, most of us change our perspective a wee bit after we get up… others just continue to blame or claim the world is evil, unkind, gone mad, filled with greed before setting out to get restitution, get even or get a lawyer.

How’s that last option working?

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Oh how I miss the day of drawn out conversation in life and business!

Instead of two hour chats by forced physical constraints modern technology has ushered in the stunted conversation. Dropped cell connections, Twitter, instant messaging, emoticons, email clients, reduced lunch hours….. All of these cut the conversation up. There’s no flow anymore. Just chunks.

Flow is so essential to forming complex thought and behavior.

I’m certain stunted conversations are not optimal for human thought. Overtime I worry if we over come this. Then again maybe the complete thoughts and conversations we think we have aren’t all that important…..

What say you?

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Pressler in his NYT article of May 18th 2010, takes a stab at explaining why Connecticut’s attorney general, Richard Blumenthal and other unnamed people in the lime-light say and perform in corrupt or dishonest ways to get ahead can be accounted for as “rooted in the dishonesty that surrounded the Vietnam-era draft.”

If only life was so simple and had a list of absolute causes and values as he posits.  His argument is flawed; No, not in the straw-man ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ sense.

Just because he lived in the midst of the Vietnam War changes doesn’t give him or his generation any special knowledge [as implied] of that period he calls the “The Technicality Generation”.

“… many in my generation knew they were using a broken (but legal) system to shirk their duty. They cloaked themselves in idealism but deep down had to know they were engaging in a charade. (I, too, was against the Vietnam war and felt that people should protest, but not dodge their draft responsibility.)

The above quote shows that what Pressler valued, others didn’t, be it the system, the War, the ‘duty’ to serve, and so on.  It also points out a more insidious case that (1) fear of consequences is a pervasive driver of behavior and (2) we [Homo sapiens] don’t have the slightest understanding of why we do what we do and don’t do what we don’t do.

The latter point (2) is the point of this response to his article.

Pressler has confused the causes with some effects — in his castigation of others in his article. It is not BECAUSE of the Vietnam War, but having an understanding of what you value was up for assessment in the 60’s.  Rules of life were changing.  More and more people were seeing patterns that didn’t make sense.  More and more people were questioning the basis of past rules in the context of their 28,500 days on earth.  They were questioning the basis of past antecedents linked to how they were supposed to behave as well as the expected consequences for that behavior.

The fact that “someone poorer or less educated, and usually African-American, had to serve” when others didn’t, is one of those consequences in life, not just for Vietnam, but for life in general.  As a Rhodes Scholar Pressler might want to review history, contingencies  management, and factors modulating individual behavior.

Besides finances and education, many of those who served were also culturally separate, had different histories, had different contexts and had different prospects for the immediate futures than those who didn’t.  Yes, there were a large number of African-Americans.  There was also an abundance of other minorities as well, just as it is today in a volunteer armed services world.  This ‘abundance’ has an abundance of causes.  None of those minorities had exactly the same set of values [learned rules in cultural – community] for enlisting, serving or NOT serving and avoiding Vietnam.

This Pressler logic implies that everyone who used the law, their circumstances, etc., and didn’t go to Vietnam had similar values and everyone that did go to Vietnam had a different set of values – like those aligned with Pressler himself which he contends were the correct values.  As if Pressler himself or his generation invented functional dualism, Pressler then castigates others for not doing what he did concerning his definition of “basic responsibilities.”

“Once my generation got in the habit of saying one thing and believing another, it couldn’t stop.”

Please!

If all that happened in the 60’s hadn’t happened as it did, things would be different today than they are.

His contention is that things would be better.  I maintain that he has a long way to go to show any such reason for that conclusion. If anything he has shown that ‘the system’ that he and others fought for, works…  including catching up to Mr. Blumenthal’s and having the consequences of his betrayal of constituents, state, friends and family come into play.  Maybe due to the thorough level of vetting of individuals Pressler’s article should more poignantly have been titled:  “FROM THE VETTING GENERATION: WELCOME!”

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To start, the goal is not to be an ‘elite’ athlete…

Third in a 5 Part Series on http://www.SocialMode.com

(1)   Sports, like businesses or social movements have goals and costs.

(2)   The best way to advance is through the “Do”.

(3)   Focus on long-term benefits as well as short-term gains

Elite athletes must practice a lot. There are no short-cuts.  In the practice process they get to make a lot of errors requiring a lot of adjustments needed for success down the road. If they focused only on success in the short term, they would not push themselves into zones beyond their immediate potential.  And yes, we’ve seen what happens to those potentially elite athletes that focused on the short-cuts… Of course, business people are no different.

So, as a business person, you need to discern whether or not you value becoming an expert at something, or navigating your company to be essential and separated from those just ‘good enough’.  If you want to excel, it will require that you push yourself out of your own comfort zones almost daily.

Like the elite athlete, you have to start somewhere.  Start with a mentor or committee and never stop practicing balancing great risk with great consequences. The bigger the risks, the larger the consequences impact more than your behavior.  If you can, get someone, or many with the skills you want, to coach, mentor and support you.

Coaching can be very helpful to guide your initial moves outside of your comfort zones. Yes, that makes you vulnerable. You may not be comfortable with that tactic but your objective requires you to change.  Learning to focus on stretching your skills to attain short-term gains AND long term benefits will mean learning to live with vulnerability, levels of discomfort and minimal comfort zones.  Why do you think so few people rise to elite levels?

NEXT: It is not ‘automaticity’ per se that leads to high proficiency

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The case for behavioral strategy

Left unchecked, subconscious biases will undermine strategic decision making. Here’s how to counter them and improve corporate performance.

MARCH 2010 • Dan Lovallo and Olivier Sibony

Once heretical, behavioral economics is now mainstream. Money managers employ its insights about the limits of rationality in understanding investor behavior and exploiting stock-pricing anomalies. Policy makers use behavioral principles to boost participation in retirement-savings plans. Marketers now understand why some promotions entice consumers and others don’t.

Yet very few corporate strategists making important decisions consciously take into account the cognitive biases—systematic tendencies to deviate from rational calculations—revealed by behavioral economics. It’s easy to see why: unlike in fields such as finance and marketing, where executives can use psychology to make the most of the biases residing in others, in strategic decision making leaders need to recognize their own biases. So despite growing awareness of behavioral economics and numerous efforts by management writers, including ourselves, to make the case for its application, most executives have a justifiably difficult time knowing how to harness its power…

~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is the thing…

The subject of the article is the categorization of ‘biases’.

Like the other media forms, if you run out of new terms to use in business, your presentations die an agonizing death of disuse.  This paper provides a fine example of what lack of clarity and  misapplication of  the vernacular does: http://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Strategy/Strategic_Thinking/The_case_for_behavioral_strategy_2551?gp=1

Put ‘Behavioral’ or ‘Neuro-‘in front of almost any expression, term or concept and it would appear that it is born anew.  Throw in a set of myths, superstitions or “common knowledge” as those found in the metaphysics of the ‘subconscious,’ and cognitive biases, then make up some new words, like “debias” and you have the makings of another mechanism that supports ignorance of behavior [corporate or personal] from slippery sound bites.   Lovallo and Sibony have done a story for the acclaimed McKinsey Group and packed it with metaphors, similes and analogies but missed the behavioral part of their article, that is:

  1. EMPIRICISM –
  2. OPERATIONAL DEFINITIONS  –
  3. SHUNNING OF MONOCAUSALITY –
  4. MEASUREMENT OF BEHAVIOR OF INDIVIDUALS, COMMITTEES, OR COMPANIES SUBSEQUENT TO ANTECEDENTS OR AS CONSEQUENCES

Biases are not new, empirical, behavioral or operationally defined and therefore constitute a rehash of psycho-babble that

  1. Doesn’t address how biases come to exist OR influence behavior like selection of options or decisions
  2. Doesn’t address how biases are maintained OR why they are negative, irrelevant or harmful
  3. Doesn’t address what to do to reduce their effects in business for some company benefit

McKinsey Group should move on and get some behavioral assessment partners to mull business approaches with these gentlemen.  With stuff like this being offered to the management of companies that can afford help, is it any wonder that businesses sometimes seem to be clueless on what is going on with customers, vendors, or partners?

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