Friday, October 21, 2011

Fostering Insights by Engaging the Whole Brain

Here’s a fresh look at efforts to bring data to life using sound, motion and graphics. I’ve posted before on the largely untapped potential to communicate information and ideas in new ways. The images above of brain activity related to processing or speaking words (from the National Institutes of Health) convey how multimedia communication might more fully engage the brain.
Advertisers have known this for ages, of course, surrounding engaging images of powerful pickup trucks or polished luxury cars with familiar rock anthems and soaring classical themes.
But I’m not talking about salesmanship here. I’m talking about the potential to have an idea or observation built around empirical data become more engaging and inspiring. As I’ve noted, Adam Nieman’s depiction of the volume of the world’s liquid water as a sphere set against the planet is one such effort.
At a session on building healthy communities at the recent South by Southwest Eco conference, I talked with Howard K. Koh, the assistant secretary of health, and Bob Perciasepe, the deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, about the challenge of conveying the enormous costs — in shortened and impaired lives — of air pollution when that toll is only measurable through statistical analysis. The demand from skeptical politicians, Perciasepe said, is, “Show me the bodies.”
I put out the challenge there (and now repeat it here) to young data-visualization wizards to find ways to envision, literally, that vague but vital concept called public health.
There are signs of progress in this area.
When the New England Journal of Medicine uses an animated data set to convey shifting patterns of obesity in a community, you know something’s afoot. Now there’s a peer-reviewed publication, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, devoted to conveying findings and methods using video.
To learn more about the state of this art, visit, follow David McCandless on Twitter, watch his TED talk, read his Information Is Beautiful blog and check out the contestants in that blog’s current contest, including this effort to convey the world’s finite stocks of important minerals using both music and graphics:

Who You Are

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Daniel Kahneman spent part of his childhood in Nazi-occupied Paris. Like the other Jews, he had to wear a Star of David on the outside of his clothing. One evening, when he was about 7 years old, he stayed late at a friend’s house, past the 6 p.m. curfew.
Josh Haner/The New York Times
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He turned his sweater inside out to hide the star and tried to sneak home. A German SS trooper approached him on the street, picked him up and gave him a long, emotional hug. The soldier displayed a photo of his own son, spoke passionately about how much he missed him and gave Kahneman some money as a sentimental present. The whole time Kahneman was terrified that the SS trooper might notice the yellow star peeking out from inside his sweater.
Kahneman finally made it home, convinced that people are complicated and bizarre. He went on to become one of the world’s most influential psychologists and to win the Nobel in economic science.
Kahneman doesn’t actually tell that childhood story in his forthcoming book. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is an intellectual memoir, not a personal one. The book is, nonetheless, sure to be a major intellectual event (look for an excerpt in The Times Magazine this Sunday) because it superbly encapsulates Kahneman’s research, and the vast tide of work that has been sparked by it.
I’d like to use this column not to summarize the book but to describe why I think Kahneman and his research partner, the late Amos Tversky, will be remembered hundreds of years from now, and how their work helped instigate a cultural shift that is already producing astounding results.
Before Kahneman and Tversky, people who thought about social problems and human behavior tended to assume that we are mostly rational agents. They assumed that people have control over the most important parts of their own thinking. They assumed that people are basically sensible utility-maximizers and that when they depart from reason it’s because some passion like fear or love has distorted their judgment.
Kahneman and Tversky conducted experiments. They proved that actual human behavior often deviates from the old models and that the flaws are not just in the passions but in the machinery of cognition. They demonstrated that people rely on unconscious biases and rules of thumb to navigate the world, for good and ill. Many of these biases have become famous: priming, framing, loss-aversion.
Kahneman reports on some delightful recent illustrations from other researchers. Pro golfers putt more accurately from all distances when putting for par than when putting for birdie because they fear the bogie more than they desire the birdie. Israeli parole boards grant parole to about 35 percent of the prisoners they see, except when they hear a case in the hour just after mealtime. In those cases, they grant parole 65 percent of the time. Shoppers will buy many more cans of soup if you put a sign atop the display that reads “Limit 12 per customer.”
Kahneman and Tversky were not given to broad claims. But the work they and others did led to the reappreciation of several old big ideas:
We are dual process thinkers. We have two interrelated systems running in our heads. One is slow, deliberate and arduous (our conscious reasoning). The other is fast, associative, automatic and supple (our unconscious pattern recognition). There is now a complex debate over the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two systems. In popular terms, think of it as the debate between “Moneyball” (look at the data) and “Blink” (go with your intuition).
We are not blank slates. All humans seem to share similar sets of biases. There is such a thing as universal human nature. The trick is to understand the universals and how tightly or loosely they tie us down.
We are players in a game we don’t understand. Most of our own thinking is below awareness. Fifty years ago, people may have assumed we are captains of our own ships, but, in fact, our behavior is often aroused by context in ways we can’t see. Our biases frequently cause us to want the wrong things. Our perceptions and memories are slippery, especially about our own mental states. Our free will is bounded. We have much less control over ourselves than we thought.
This research yielded a different vision of human nature and a different set of debates. The work of Kahneman and Tversky was a crucial pivot point in the way we see ourselves.
They also figured out ways to navigate around our shortcomings. Kahneman champions the idea of “adversarial collaboration” — when studying something, work with people you disagree with. Tversky had a wise maxim: “Let us take what the terrain gives.” Don’t overreach. Understand what your circumstances are offering.
Many people are exploring the inner wilderness. Kahneman and Tversky are like the Lewis and Clark of the mind.

October 20, 2011, 9:20 pm

The Power of Positive Coaching

Fixes looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.
Imagine you’re coaching a big soccer game, against an undefeated team that has beaten your team in all your previous matches. Your 11-year-olds are playing well and are ahead. Then, in the closing minutes, the official makes a bad call that goes against you and, because of it, you lose. After the game, the parents of your players scream at the official. The kids are disappointed, looking up at you. What do you do?
Or you’re coaching tee-ball and one of your 5-year-old players has failed to get a hit so far. Now, he’s up again in a crucial situation and is nervous. All eyes are on him. His first swing misses high. The second misses low and knocks the ball off the tee. You call him over to offer some help. What do you say?
The meaning that coaches or parents help young people derive from sports can shape their lives.
Or you’re a parent and your 14-year-old daughter has just come off the basketball court. In the final seconds of the game, with her team behind by a point, she was fouled and awarded two free throws. What do you say if she missed both of them and her team lost? What if she triumphed? (Tune in on Wednesday for the answers!)
Coaches can be enormously influential in the lives of children. If you ask a random group of adults to recall something of significance that happened in their fourth or fifth grade classroom, many will draw a blank. But ask about a sports memory from childhood and you’re likely to hear about a game winning hit, or a dropped pass, that, decades later, can still elicit emotion. The meaning that coaches or parents help young people derive from such moments can shape their lives.

But today’s youth coaches often struggle to provide sound, evidence-based, and age-appropriate guidance to players. Part of the problem is that of the 2.5 million American adults who serve as volunteer coaches for youth sports less than 10 percent receive any formal training. Most become coaches because their kid is on the team ― and they basically improvise. I did this in soccer and, through my over-eagerness, almost destroyed my then-6-year-old son’s delight for the game.
But a bigger problem is that youth sports has come to emulate the win-at-all-costs ethos of professional sports. While youth and professional sports look alike, adults often forget that they are fundamentally different enterprises. Professional sports is an entertainment business. Youth sports is supposed to be about education and human development.
That’s why it is so disturbing that, over the past two decades, researchers have found that poor sportsmanship and acts of aggression have become common in youth sports settings. Cheating has also become more accepted. Coaches give their stars the most play. Parents and fans boo opponents or harangue officials (mimicking professional events). They put pressure on children to perform well, with hopes for scholarships or fulfilling their own childhood dreams. Probably the most serious indictment of the system is that the vast majority of youths ― some 70 to 80 percent ― drop out of sports shortly after middle school. For many, sports become too competitive and selective. In short, they stop being fun.
Ed Buller, an athletic director and football coach at Oak Grove High School in San Jose, Calif., has helped pilot the Positive Coach Alliance's “Talking Points” program, wherein high school coaches address with their athletes some aspect of character-education as applied to sports.PostiveCoach.orgEd Buller, an athletic director and football coach at Oak Grove High School in San Jose, Calif., has helped pilot a Positive Coach Alliance program.
What’s needed is a culture change. That’s the goal of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a modest-size organization that punches well above its weight. P.C.A. has trained 450,000 adults, mostly coaches and youth sports leaders, who reach about 4 million children and youths. The organization is working to spread the message that youth sports is about giving young athletes a positive, character-building experience ― not to become major league athletes, but to become “major league people.”
P.C.A. has conducted in-person and on-line trainings with coaches from 1,700 youth sports organizations including Little League Baseball, the American Youth Soccer Association, U.S. Lacrosse, and the Amateur Athletic Union, which has committed to put all of its 50,000 coaches through P.C.A.’s online trainings. The Dallas Independent School District, which oversees 800 youth sports coaches, has enlisted P.C.A. for trainings. “There’s been such a push from parents about winning at all costs,” explained Jeff Johnson, the district’s athletic director. “Sportsmanship sometimes goes out the window. The positive coaching has helped my coaches think about more than just winning.”
Many advocates dream of reforming youth sports, but P.C.A. is distinctive for its approach. Through its messaging, it reassures coaches that it’s O.K. to win ― that, in fact, a “relentlessly positive” coach will usually be more successful on the scoreboard. As such, P.C.A. has been able to penetrate the hard-nosed culture of competitive sports. The organization is supported by top professional coaches like Phil Jackson who led the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls to 11 National Basketball League titles, and Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics. This gives the organization credibility. Finally, P.C.A. has artfully packaged complex psychological research into simple tools that any coach or parent can put into practice. As a father of an 8-year-old who has happily regained his love of soccer thanks to a very positive coach, I can attest to the value of its teachings. Research has found that youth attrition rates are 80 percent lower for children whose coaches practice positive coaching (pdf, p.11).
P.C.A. was founded by Jim Thompson, a teacher who previously directed the Public Management Program at Stanford Business School. Years before, Thompson had taught in a classroom with severely emotionally-disturbed students, where he became skilled at managing and motivating children. When his son turned 6 and started getting into sports, Thompson discovered parents and coaches violating all the rules he’d learned: putting pressure on children to perform, trying to give kids technical advice while they were anxious or frustrated, rewarding misbehavior by giving it extra attention, making children worry about making mistakes. He started coaching, discovered he loved it, and collected his ideas in a book: “Positive Coaching, Building Character and Self Esteem Through Sports.” (He has since authored seven others.) With the support of Stanford’s Athletic Department, he launched P.C.A. in 1998.
The core of P.C.A.’s approach is to train “double goal” coaches: coaches who balance the goal of winning, with the second, and more important, goal of teaching life lessons. Coaches are taught to help children focus on improving their own game, helping their teammates improve their game, and improving the game as a whole. (In life, this translates to improving yourself, being a leader who helps others flourish, and working to make society better.) P.C.A. encourages parents to let go of winning and concentrate on life lessons. “There are only two groups of people whose job is to win games,” says Thompson. “Coaches and players. Parents have a much more important job: to guide their child’s character development.”
Because there are so many opportunities to fail in sports, it is a gold mine of teachable moments.
To deliver these concepts, Thompson built up a network of 100 expert trainers and developed catchy acronyms and simplified conceptual tools. For example, sports psychologists know that athletes who focus on things they can control, as opposed to external factors, are less anxious, more confident, and consequentially, happier and better performers. Thompson wondered how to translate the ideas so they could be picked up by any coach.
He came up with the “ELM Tree of Mastery” to help coaches remember that the feedback that most helps young athletes develop their potential is not praise for good performance or criticism for bad performance. What works best is helping children understand that they control three key variables: their level of Effort, whether they Learn from experiences, and how they respond to Mistakes.
Because there are so many opportunities to fail in sports, it is a gold mine of teachable moments. “If a child misses a big play, it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about resiliency,” explains Thompson. “‘I know you’re disappointed and I feel bad for you, but the question is what are you going to do now? Are you going to hang your head? Or are you going to bounce back with renewed determination?’”
“The single most important thing we do is help coaches teach kids not to be afraid to make mistakes,” he adds.
In a fast-moving game, things happen in seconds. When a 12–year-old kid makes a mistake on an athletic field, he will immediately look over to his coach or parent. “If the coach is saying, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ it’s actually not very helpful,” notes Thompson. The key is to get rid of the mistake quickly and decisively. So P.C.A. encourages coaches to establish a “mistake ritual.” One technique, adopted by many, is teaching players to “flush” their mistakes. Using a hand gesture that mimics flushing a toilet, a coach can signal from the sideline and players can signal to each other. “So the kid looks at the coach and the coach goes: ‘Flush it.’ The teammates are saying: ‘Hey, Flush it, we’ll get it back.’ And the kid plays better. Because if you’re not beating yourself up, you can focus on the next play.” After the game, the coach can talk to the player about what happened and why.
P.C.A.’s techniques are grounded in the idea that every child has a kind of “emotional tank.” When it gets drained, it’s difficult to take on challenges or perform well. Coaches need to learn to recognize this and adjust accordingly. P.C.A. even has a “magic ratio” ― the ideal ratio of positive (i.e., tank filling) statements to criticism ― should be 5 to 1.
Focusing on filling the emotional tank is not wimpy or soft. Professional coaches, like Phil Jackson, have used it to great success. It takes effort to do well. Coaches need to observe players closely so they can offer specific and honest feedback. (Kids know false praise when they hear it.)
Nor does it mean a coach can’t have hard conversations with players. The key is not to withhold criticism, but to deliver it in a way that is helpful. If the child is angry or sulking or defensive, she’s not going to be listening very well anyway. “When you ask people to focus on mastery, it’s not soft,” notes Thompson. “And screaming at a kid is not tough. That’s just a lack of impulse control.”
Ken Eriksen, head coach for the U.S.A. Softball Women’s National Team, has incorporated another technique from P.C.A. called the “criticism sandwich.” “I love the philosophy of praise-critique-praise,” he told me, speaking by phone from the Pan American Games in Mexico. “Instead of getting into a kid: ‘Hey, What’s the matter with you? Didn’t we just go over this?’ I like to take the approach: ‘Hey, young lady, you’re doing a great job. You know on that approach to a ground ball, maybe I would use a different footwork. Other than that I cannot commend you enough on your hard work.’ It works so much better.”
More From Fixes
Read previous contributions to this series.
“People often think that youth sports is simple, but it’s actually very complex,” observes Thompson. “The symbolism of sports is so powerful. You’ve got coaches whose identity is tied to whether their team wins or not. You’ve got parents who have all this anxiety about their kids being successful and happy, living in a culture that put so much emphasis on winning or getting into the best schools. And you’ve got the kids who are nervous, worried about establishing their own identity, who want to please their parents, and are afraid about looking bad in public.
“But because sports is so valued, we have the opportunity to change the way people relate to their kids through it. Most research indicates that people coach the way they were coached. So you now have kids who are growing up coached with this model and soon they’ll become coaches themselves, so I think the general impact on our society could be huge.”
Have you had a memorable experience with a coach that stuck with you (good or bad)? On Wednesday, I’ll respond to comments, provide some more details about P.C.A.’s techniques, and reveal how Thompson told me he would handle each of the scenarios above.
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David Bornstein
David Bornstein is the author of “How to Change the World,” which has been published in 20 languages, and “The Price of a Dream: The Story of the Grameen Bank,” and is co-author of “Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know.” He is the founder of, a media site that reports on social innovation.
Corner Office: David Sacks

Fostering a Culture of Dissent

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This interview with David Sacks, founder, chairman and C.E.O. of Yammer, which offers workplace communication tools, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
David Sacks is founder, chairman and C.E.O. of Yammer, which offers workplace communication tools. “We let employees voice their opinions about everything,” he says. “There's no sense that, O.K., I am an engineer, therefore I can't voice my opinion about what's happening in customer service or sales.”

Corner Office

Every Sunday, Adam Bryant talks with top executives about the challenges of leading and managing. In his new book, "The Corner Office" (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. Excerpt »

Q. What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
A. I’d say probably the most formative experiences came when I was at PayPal because it was this three-year experience going from zero to a $1.5 billion company. At the time we sold the company we had about at least 700 employees. I think about 500 were reporting to me.
One of the things that Peter Thiel, our C.E.O. at PayPal, did extremely well was just to focus on the few things that were the most important issues at that time, and make sure we got those right. And he was a very good delegator. So that was a great lesson. But at the same time, I saw that some very small product decisions had a disproportionate impact on the business. And you just can’t always delegate those things. You have to be willing to get involved and make sure that the work gets done properly.
And so I say that my own style would be like some sort of balance or synthesis of that, where I try to focus on the biggest-picture issues, but at the same time some aspects are so important that I have to get involved at a pretty detailed level.
Q. What else in terms of leadership?
A. I have an open door policy. Anyone can walk into my office and start talking to me. I also walk around the office and just start talking to people about what they’re working on. I’m not trying to micromanage what they’re doing, but I am trying to find out what they’re working on and talk to them about it.
Anybody can ask me questions and debate me. You could be a new employee and you can start getting into a debate with me about something. The start-up culture is very democratic in general. I think you need that in order to attract good people. You’ve really got to create a company culture that people want to work at. And so you try to give them a voice, give them a sense that they influence the direction of the company, and try to avoid unnecessary process and hierarchy — things that might frustrate employees.
Q. A lot of people say they have an open-door policy, but they don’t really mean it.
A. I think you’ve got to create a culture in which dissent is valued. And there’s probably a lot of ways to set that tone. Certainly you can tell if you’ve got a culture of dissent when you walk into a company. People can figure out very quickly whether dissent is encouraged or whether it’s actually something that’s not welcome.
Q. How?
A. It’s a red flag to me if there’s just too much consensus and not enough dissent. I feel like in any human community there’s always dissent because people just disagree. Anytime there doesn’t appear to be dissent, it means that the corporate culture has just shifted way too much toward consensus. That means the leadership just doesn’t welcome dissent enough.
Q. So how do you create a culture of dissent?
A. You’ve got to constantly ask your reports whether they think we’re on the right track, whether the strategy you’ve laid out is right, what they think about the strategy, where things aren’t going well. You’ve really got to dig into that.
We let employees voice their opinions about everything. There’s no sense that, O.K., I am an engineer, therefore I can’t voice my opinion about what’s happening in customer service or sales or vice versa. We try to create clear ownership so everyone owns an area. But that doesn’t mean that people from other parts of the company can’t voice their opinion about something that’s happening there. And it may not just be about a dissenting opinion. It may just be to provide more information. It doesn’t have to be, “I don’t like what you’re doing.” It’s more like, “Here’s a bunch of things I’m learning over here — are you guys taking this into account?”
Q. It’s very easy, though, for people to get their back up and say, in so many words, get out of my sandbox.
A. And that’s why you have to have clear ownership. One of the ways political cultures develop is when it’s not clear enough who owns which areas, and so you need to get lots of people on board to do something. That’s not true at our company. One reason people can feel comfortable about dissent here is because their own responsibilities are clear.

Our enduring well-being is found in LIFE.

Colossians 3:1, Contemporary English Version (CEV)

1You have been raised to life with Christ. Now set your heart on what is in heaven, where Christ rules at God's right side.

Eddy: “Life is divine Mind.  Life is not limited.  Death and finiteness are unknown to Life.” And, “Truth and Love reign in the real man, showing that man is God’s image is unfallen and eternal.”

Spiritual ken raises us out of the graveyard of materialized consciousness, where finiteness, hindrances, fragility, suffering and mortality are considered normal.  Our Christly manhood/womanhood is rich with SOUL’s substance, full of immortality, health, love, energy, abilities and success. 

Romans 8:6, Darby Translation (DARBY)

6For the mind of the flesh [is] death; but the mind of the Spirit life and peace.

Eddy: “Progress is born of experience.  It is the ripening of mortal man, through which the mortal is dropped for the immortal.”  And, “Perfection is gained only by perfection.”

Excellence and immortality defines SOUL and its expression, man.   Although the flesh-dream argues incessantly for illness, sin, failure and death, it cannot disrupt man’s incorporeal, unending life.  As human consciousness is educated out of corporeality it discovers the liberty, endurance and fulfillment of spiritual living.

Deuteronomy 34:7, Darby Translation (DARBY)

7And Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.

Eddy: “Mortals waken from the dream of death with bodies unseen by those who think they bury the body.”  And, “This body is put off only as the mortal, erring mind yields to God, immortal Mind, and man is found in His image.”

Spiritual cognition makes it possible to resurrect daily from corporeal mortality and into perennial and exuberant Life.  Material decay and hindrances are replaced by SPIRIT-derived vigor, health, intelligence, and love. 

Below are a few quotes from Dale Carnegie that you might find useful.  You can find them on the Web i.e.

The ideas I stand for are not mine. I borrowed them from Socrates. I swiped them from Chesterfield. I stole them from Jesus. And I put them in a book. If you don't like their rules, whose would you use?

If you are not in the process of becoming the person you want to be, you are automatically engaged in becoming the person you don't want to be.

"Act enthusiastic and you'll be enthusiastic"

People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity.”

When we hate our enemies, we are giving them power over us: power over our sleep, our appetites, our blood pressure, our health, and our happiness.”

You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn't exist anywhere except in the mind.”

You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than in two years of trying to get people interested in you.

It isn't what you have, or who you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.

Another concept he published and it used in Sales organizations, to win people to your way of thinking is to "Get the other person saying 'yes, yes,' immediately."