Peering into the Future

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What will the future hold? We all want to know. But as the late Yogi Berra famously said, “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

What about the future? On the subject of looking at the future, I suspect you all know there is a cottage industry of people who call themselves “futurists” and we all likely have our own favorite people we follow – either in fact or in fiction – who seem to have a knack of being right about at least some of their predictions. As to the ones who aren’t right very often, they tend to drop off our lists. And speaking of “futurists,” I think that term is going a bit out of vogue as some of the conferences and media I follow now feature “thought leaders” as a primary draw.

In the event Yogi isn’t the person you turn to for philosophical insights, here is what Walter Frick had to say in this month’s Harvard Business Review about the art and science of looking at the future. He talked about the new book by Phillip Tetlock and Dan Gardner, Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Prediction.

Forecasting is difficult. Still, accurate predictions are essential to good decision making in every realm of life. We are all forecasters. When we think about changing jobs, getting married, buying a home, making an investment, launching a product, or retiring, we decide based on how we expect the future to unfold.

And not to put too fine a point on it (and I hasten to add I’m not Tetlock and Gardner’s literary agent) in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review, Leonard Mlodinow reviewed both Richard Nisbett’s Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking and Superforcasting: The Art and Science of Prediction and found the arguments made by Nisbett (who Malcom Gladwell called “the most influential thinker in my life) lacking, while those made by Tetlock and Gardner compelling.

Stay tuned to this website as we’ll look to the future downstream.

Empathy?

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Few would argue that empathy is a good thing. After all, we want people to be empathetic toward us, and in the main, we want to be empathetic toward other people. But are we all empathetic, or is it an innate quality that some of us have and others don’t?

You’ve probably heard the saying, “One death is a tragedy. One million is a statistic,” before. It is thought to capture an unfortunate truth about empathy: While a single crying child or injured puppy tugs at our heartstrings, large numbers of suffering people, as in epidemics, earthquakes and genocides, do not inspire a comparable reaction.

Perhaps for all of us empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be. See how this might apply to your journey. More here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/12/opinion/sunday/empathy-is-actually-a-choice.html

Teamwork!

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We all belong to teams of some kind – at home, at work, at play. Sometimes teams we are on accomplish great things – but sometimes they fall short, often far short. Ever wonder why? I have.

That’s why a short piece under “Gray Matter” caught my eye. It made me think and in many ways cleared up some perceptions – and especially some misperceptions – I had in the past. Here are some nuggets:

  • Nowadays, though we may still idolize the charismatic leader or creative genius, almost every decision of consequence is made by a group.
  • Groups of smart people can make horrible decisions — or great ones. In other words, some teams were simply smarter than others.
  • The smartest teams were distinguished by three characteristics.
    • First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.
    • Second, their members scored higher on a test called Reading the Mind in the Eyes, which measures how well people can read complex emotional states from images of faces with only the eyes visible.
    • Finally, teams with more women outperformed teams with more men. Indeed, it appeared that it was not “diversity” (having equal numbers of men and women) that mattered for a team’s intelligence, but simply having more women. This last effect, however, was partly explained by the fact that women, on average, were better at “mindreading” than men.

Intrigued? Read more here.

 

Playing Nicely

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What is your work persona? Do your co-workers enjoy you showing up – or do they dread hearing the sound of your voice.  If it’s the latter could it be because you feel you don’t have time to be nice? Really? Rudeness and bad behavior have all grown over the last decades, particularly at work. Are you part of the problem – or the solution?

In a survey of hundreds of people across organizations spanning more than 17 industries, people were asked why they behaved uncivilly. Over half of them claim it is because they are overloaded, and more than 40 percent say they have no time to be nice. But respect doesn’t necessarily require extra time. It’s about how something is conveyed; tone and nonverbal manner are crucial.

 Incivility shuts people down. Employees contribute less and lose their conviction, whether because of a boss saying, “If I wanted to know what you thought, I’d ask you,” or screaming at an employee who overlooks a typo in an internal memo.

Incivility often grows out of ignorance, not malice. A surgeon told me that until he received some harsh feedback, he was clueless that so many people thought he was a jerk. He was simply treating residents the way he had been trained.

Technology distracts us. We’re wired to our smartphones. It’s increasingly challenging to be present and to listen. It’s tempting to fire off texts and emails during meetings; to surf the Internet while on conference calls or in classes; and, for some, to play games rather than tune in. While offering us enormous conveniences, electronic communication also leads to misunderstandings. It’s easy to misread intentions. We can take out our frustrations, hurl insults and take people down a notch from a safe distance.

Given the enormous cost of incivility, it should not be ignored. We all need to reconsider our behavior. You are always in front of some jury. In every interaction, you have a choice: Do you want to lift people up or hold them down?

More here: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/21/opinion/sunday/is-your-boss-mean.html

 

Finding Happiness

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Here’s a challenge: Try to find someone who isn’t seeking happiness. As they say, “Good luck with that.” With July 4th celebrations still a vivid memory, it’s worth remembering that our founding fathers called happiness an “inalienable right.”

The founders were not wrong. It is a self-evident truth that people, whether in creating a new nation or simply beginning a new relationship, seek happiness. That they often go about it in the wrong way does not detract from the sincerity of their quest. Sure as there are acorns beneath the oak tree, people keep rekindling their hopes.

As Roger Cohen advised in a 2015 commencement address: “Everyone has something that makes them tick. The thing is it’s often well hidden. Your psyche builds layers of protection around your most vulnerable traits, which may be very closely linked to your precious essence. Distractions are also external: money, fame, peer pressure, parental expectation. So it may be more difficult than you think to recognize the spark that is your personal sliver of the divine. But do so. Nothing in the end will give you greater satisfaction — not wealth, not passion, not faith, not even love — for if, as Rilke wrote, all companionship is but “the strengthening of two neighboring solitudes,” you have to solve the conundrum of your solitude.”

He went on to say: “No success, however glittering, that denies yourself will make you happy in the long run. So listen to the voice from your soul, quiet but insistent, and honor it. Find what you thrill to: if not the perfect sentence, the beautiful cure, the brilliant formula, the lovely chord, the exquisite sauce, the artful reconciliation. Strive not for everything money can buy but for everything money can’t buy.”

Good advice as we all strive for that “inalienable right.” More here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/opinion/cohen-mow-the-lawn.html

Our Veterans!

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Much has been written about the “One-percent and the ninety-nine percent” in reference to the wealthiest one-percent of Americans and the rest of us. But there is another one-percent and ninety-nine percent we don’t tend to think about – and that is the one-percent of Americans who volunteer to defend our country and the other ninety-nine percent of us.

We should be grateful to those who willing put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms, but we should also be mindful of the right – and wrong – ways to thank them. Recently, Matt Richtel interviewed Marine Corps veteran Hunter Garth recently back from service in Afghanistan. Here is part of what he has to say:

To some recent vets — by no stretch all of them — the thanks comes across as shallow, disconnected, a reflexive offering from people who, while meaning well, have no clue what soldiers did over there or what motivated them to go, and who would never have gone themselves nor sent their own sons and daughters.

To these vets, thanking soldiers for their service symbolizes the ease of sending a volunteer army to wage war at great distance — physically, spiritually, economically. It raises questions of the meaning of patriotism, shared purpose and, pointedly, what you’re supposed to say to those who put their lives on the line and are uncomfortable about being thanked for it.

We all should be enormously grateful for the sacrifices our veterans – especially our war-wounded – have made. But be thoughtful about how you express that gratitude.

Read more here

Cluttered? – Take Heart!

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Is clutter – way too much stuff – dominating your life? For many of us it is. For me, that problem used to take care of itself as the Navy moved us every two years so you had to yank all your stuff out of closets, drawers, attics, garages, etc. But if you don’t move, you rarely have to look at most of your stuff so you just keep piling it up.

Now there is a culture – some call it a cult – of tidying up. The high priestess of this movement Japan’s Marie Kondo, author of the de-clutter manifesto and global best-seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. But some wonder if we’re going too far. What if getting rid of all our stuff changes our life in a way we don’t want it changed? Pamela Druckerman suggests:

Clutter isn’t a new problem, of course. But suddenly, it’s not just irritating — it’s evil. If you’re not living up to your potential, clutter is probably the culprit. Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” the top-ranked book on The New York Times list of self-help books, promises that, once your house is orderly, you can “pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life.”

But the more stuff I shed, the more I realize that we de-clutterers feel besieged by more than just our possessions. We’re also overwhelmed by the intangible detritus of 21st-century life: unreturned emails; unprinted family photos; the ceaseless ticker of other people’s lives on Facebook; the heightened demands of parenting; and the suspicion that we’ll be checking our phones every 15 minutes, forever. I can sit in an empty room, and still get nothing done.

But in spite of growing skepticism about the “cult of tidying up Marie Kondo is undaunted and on a mission to help us de-clutter. Here is how she put it in the Wall Street Journal.

“Keep only the things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest,” she advises. “When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too. As a result, you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t.”

So how far should you go? – It’s a question we all wrestle with…

Read more here from the Wall Street Journal

Read more here from the New York Times

 

No Fear!

The movie “The Imitation Game” credits mathematician Alan Turing with ending World War II two years early and saving 14 million lives. So it might seem strange to say it undersells Turing’s legacy. And yet that’s the case.

It’s true that as the movie depicts, Turing gave the Allies an incredible advantage by cracking the German Enigma code. This allowed England and her allies a degree of visibility into their enemy’s plans that present-day spies can only dream of. But a more comprehensive account of Turing’s work tells us something astonishing: Code-breaking was but a sidebar to Turing’s larger ambitions.

Like Newton and Einstein, Turing strove to understand something fundamental about reality itself. And as the inventor of the mathematical abstraction that enabled all subsequent devices we call “computers,” some of his insights are more relevant today than ever.

At the time, a “computer” was literally a person, working with pencil and paper or perhaps a mechanical calculator as an aid. Mathematicians were interested in whether or not this hypothetical computer-person could, starting from a set of axioms, determine whether any statement in the universe was true or false.

Building on the work of others, Turing realized that the way to answer this question was to replace the human with a “universal” mechanical computer. Turing didn’t need to build such a computer; it was enough to describe it mathematically, which he did.

Read more about how all this started here:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-we-neednt-fear-the-machines-1417394021?KEYWORDS=Christopher+Mims

Work-Life Balance

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It is so easy to arrive home from work in a bad mood, cranky and frustrated.

Shaking off the after-work blues can be hard, especially when we are tired. The human stress response is a chemical chain reaction of hormones coursing through one’s system, says Jordan Friedman, a New York City stress-management trainer and author. Add fatigue, “and it’s like dousing those chemicals with lighter fluid.”

It helps to think about the transition from work to home in three stages: leaving the office, getting home and walking through the door.

Best advice: “Don’t be too quick to try to get rid of the bad mood right away. Pay attention to what your feelings might be trying to tell you.”

Read more here:
http://www.wsj.com/articles/rethink-your-after-work-routine-to-make-the-transition-home-a-happy-one-1423611601?KEYWORDS=sue+shellenbarger

Baby Boomers

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You’d never know it watching all the things we do to stave off aging and try to pretend we’ll be young forever. But we all are getting older day-by-day.

The only thing we can do is adjust our attitudes about getting older ourselves and adjust our attitudes about those older – often vastly older – than us.

Who are they? By 2050, Americans age 65 and over will comprise one-fifth of the population – over 80 million people! An aging population does pose real challenges.

Read more here