Category Aptitudes for the Conceptual Age

The Link Between Power, Courage & Empathy …*

The Link Between Power, Courage & Empathy ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

If you draw a series of parallel lines closely together, and then another series across them at an angle, you have the simplest visual example of the dialectical process. Cross-hatching as they call it. You have the first series of line, then you have the second series in opposition to the first. But out of the two you get a series of diamonds.

Now, if you look at these diamonds, remembering that every one has had to be drawn, you are overwhelmed by the length and complexity of the task. The diamonds are like the future we work for. Yet, courage. The first series of lines is there. All we have to do is to cross them.

– John Berger, A Painter of our Times, 1958


In a fascinating article recently published on The Greater Good Science CenterWhen Courage Goes Bad, Jeremy Adam Smith examines Cynthia Pury’s research on courage–how we experience, perceive and attribute it to others. Courage, it turns out, is often used as a currency of power–we attribute it to those who share our goals while withholding it from those whom we perceive as being outside our self-defined groups.

In the article, Adam Smith examines a recent social media post which stated, “As I see post after post about Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman, and I hear words like, bravery, heroism, and courage, just thought I’d remind all of us what real American courage, heroism, and bravery looks like!” The post was accompanied by a picture of toy soldiers and went viral, being shared almost a million times. This is a prime example of how we tend to frame courage as a zero-sum game–by calling Caitlyn Jenner courageous, the author of that social media post felt we were detracting from the ‘real’ courage of American armed forces. The withholding of attributing courage to someone’s actions is very much linked to an absence of empathy for their experience. The good news is that how we frame courage is very much a choice. We can choose to see it as a finite resource and guard it jealously only for our own self-perceived groups, or we can choose to acknowledge the vast plurality of human experiences and understand that ultimately, courage depends on the series of lines we each choose to cross.

. . . *

Pury’s research suggests that courage is something we grant to validate certain goals and withhold to invalidate others. While it might seem as though Jenner and an American soldier could both be courageous, in fact we appear to feel a strong impulse to treat courage like a finite resource that goes to some people but not others. Just as we sometimes withhold empathy or compassion from out-groups, so we will refuse to grant that people can be courageous if we don’t approve of their goals or values.

[ … ] 

Pury’s research has found that courage is more likely to emerge when a person sees a meaningful goal and then believes he or she has the ability to achieve that goal, a product of cognitive appraisal she calls “process courage.”

A man is more likely to run into a burning building to save kittens if he has the training and equipment to do so. A man who runs into the building without those things might be seen as courageous—but not, perhaps, very smart. A third man who has the training and equipment but doesn’t see saving kittens as a worthy goal would simply stand on the sidelines. So whether to take action depends on a person’s goals, as well as evaluations of personal risk and his own ability to achieve the goal.

But how will observers view that private decision? Here’s where things get interesting—and debatable.

Much, argued Pury, depends on whether other people share the goal in question. To the community of people who have transitioned from one sex to the other, Jenner is a hero: an accomplished male athlete who was willing to embrace a new celebrity identity as a woman. In this view, it took personal courage to go public with a very intimate decision—and by doing so, pave the way for others with less social power and wealth to follow the same path. She had the resources to create an image for others to pursue.

The conservative reaction was very different. To conservatives, Jenner’s goal—to raise the visibility of transgendered people—is socially destructive.

To a degree, it’s a problem of empathy and group affiliation. “If it’s your lived life, you know that that transition is really important and you value that goal because you’ve pursued it yourself,” said Pury. You would also know firsthand all the barriers and hostility that Jenner would face. Knowing something about her struggle might make her courageous in your eyes.

But to conservatives, all of that pales in comparison to the goal of maintaining rigid barriers between men and women, a dichotomy on which they say the American family depends. In the pages of the National Review, Doug French framed courage as resistance to the trend Jenner represents.

“By refusing to speak, we contribute to the notion that even conservatives understand that something is wrong—something is shameful—about our own deepest beliefs,” he writes. French (an Iraq veteran) is not willing to attribute courage to Jenner, instead granting it to members of his own self-defined group, people who share his values, experiences, and goals.

Source: When Courage Goes Bad by Jeremy Adam Smith via The Greater Good, published July 16, 2015

{ On “Doing” Philosophy with Children } Philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back

{ On "Doing" Philosophy with Children } Philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back | rethinked.org

“By encouraging children to examine the world from perspectives other than their own, philosophy cultivates a generation of inquisitive minds that will grow up challenging the assumptions that hold us back.” – Giacomo Esposito

I was thrilled to discover the work of The Philosophy Foundation through Giacomo Esposito’s deeply relevant article, Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools. The Philosophy Foundation is a UK based, award winning educational charity raising aspirations and attainment through doing philosophical enquiry in the classroom.

Our aim is to make ‘Reasoning’ the 4th ‘R’ in education – by giving children the tools to help them think critically, creatively, cohesively and autonomously we aim to fill the gaps in education and consequently benefit society as a whole. 

Philosophy can help to shape the way we think and live in the world. Learning to think clearly and creatively helps in many ways – the most obvious being the effect it has upon one’s actions.

At the core of The Philosophy Foundation ‘s work is the belief that thinking is a capacity–a habit of mind–and that thinking well requires learning and practice.

It is the job of our specialist philosophy teachers to identify and draw out from the children philosophical material, and to encourage them to adopt a philosophical attitude. Our aim is to cultivate the habit of thinking and we do not believe that this will come about simply by giving them the opportunity to think. Like anything else it needs to be learnt. So the facilitation should include teaching and guidance. Philosophy is not something that can be learnt by being told a list of propositional facts about what it is, it is best learnt by modelling. In other words, the children will learn how to do philosophy best by seeing it done well on a regular basis by a skilled philosophy teacher.

Head over to The Philosophy Foundation website to learn more about the fantastic work they are doing and check out their many excellent resources to start doing philosophy with the children in your own life.

Below are some highlights from Esposito’s article, first published on The Guardian, which I highly recommend reading in its entirety.

THINK, LEARN, DO . . . * 


The sessions I run usually begin with a story or short “stimulus” which draws on a traditional philosophical problem, but reframes it to make it more engaging for a younger audience. The story then ends with a question, and a discussion ensues. Throughout the class, I try to take a backseat; I’m there to help draw out the children’s thoughts, but it’s really for them to decide where the discussion goes and, crucially, what they think. In fact, rather than teaching philosophy, a more accurate description of my job is “doing” philosophy with children.

Children can be fantastic at doing philosophy. Their natural disposition to wonder at the world is given free rein during lessons. Recently I was running a session about time travel. In response to the claim that “time is a feeling”, a 10-year-old boy thought hard for about a minute and then said: “Time is different for us than it is for the universe, because 100 years passes in a flash for the universe, but seems a long time to us … so time is a bit like a feeling.”

[ … ]

At its core, philosophy is about thinking and reasoning well. It’s about learning how to be logical, present arguments, and spot bad ones. Yes, this is often done through strange, improbable examples, which can feel removed from – and therefore irrelevant to – the real world (like the tree in the forest). But these exercises in mental gymnastics train the mind to think more clearly and creatively, which benefits all aspects of life.

As well as learning how to naturally construct arguments, the children are also invited to question them – both their classmates and their own. When it seems like there’s a firm, unwavering consensus across the class, I only have to ask them to put themselves in the shoes of an “imaginary disagreer”, before a flurry of hands appears.

. . . *

Source: Why I Teach Philosophy in Primary Schools by Giacomo Esposito via The Guardian, published July 13, 2015

“I suppose it’s the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species” – Our Interview with Jennifer Beggs, Registered Midwife …*

"I suppose it's the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species" - Our Interview with Jennifer Beggs, Registered Midwife ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Jennifer Beggs

Jennifer Beggs

I am super excited about today’s interview, which is a first of its kind on two fronts. Jennifer is our first woman interviewee (it was starting to feel a bit like a boy’s club in here), though far from the last—we’ve got plenty more splendidly inspiring women coming soon. The second first, is that Jennifer is a personal friend. We met in September on our very first day of the Camino and it was my pleasure and delight to share my walk with Jenny for several days as we walked together to Pamplona. Kind, caring, smart and insightful, Jennifer is a registered midwife from Sydney, Australia. I’ll let her introduce herself:

Being the eldest of four and blessed with a wonderful mother, the nurturing gene came through strongly in me. Becoming a mother and a midwife were written in the stars. My children are my greatest education and joy, and my work with women during pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood has provided great satisfaction.

What really drives me though, is creating and making things. I have had this powerful urge since I was a child and have potted, painted, photographed, sculpted, crafted and designed intensely for short periods in my life. For much longer stretches I have had to attend to paying bills and raising children, but I have usually had some creative project going on the sidelines. It is however a calling that I have not yet succeeded in fully answering,….or is it perhaps just my ego reaching for something sexier?

What was the last experiment you ran?

I run micro experiments all the time, like brushing my teeth with my brush in my left hand instead of my right; saying “Hi” to people walking towards me on my daily walks (sadly many will instinctively avoid eye contact); varying my interactions with the world and seeing what happens. I suppose it’s the human way to try this and that; we are a curious and resourceful species. Having largely conquered basic survival (if we’re lucky), we search for meaning, connection and wholeness. In the West, and increasingly globally, we are all implored by self-help books, gurus and advertisers to do better and be better; the best of it sometimes leads to healthier and happier lives, the worst, to dissatisfaction and anxiety. Buddhist philosophy increasingly makes sense to me. In the last few years I’ve been enjoying practicing yoga and taking some long walks. Being a bit of a restless soul, I like change, discovery and adventure.

I’m fascinated by the science of nutrition, gut flora and bioscience and soak up any information that I can. I recently saw ‘That Sugar Film’ by Damon Gameau which documented Damon’s experiment changing his diet to include 30-40 tsp of sugar daily, which is equal to that of the average Western diet. These sugars were hidden in foods that many would consider to be a “healthy” diet. The results were alarming. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been trying to stick to the ‘5:2 diet’ developed by doctor, writer and journalist Michael  Mosley. I’ve had some success in dropping a few kgs. In addition to weight control, many studies have suggested that having a couple of lean days per week confers other health benefits. So far the best and simplest advice that I have heard is summed up elegantly by Michael Pollan who says, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

In my life I have been privileged with safety, plenty and love. Of course, I have fears common to many of losing loved ones. The fear that will have me lying awake at night with catastrophic rumination, is of something happening to one of my children, now young men. I have dealt with this by being completely candid with them about the kind of life choices I hope they’ll make in general, and naming the fears I have for them in specific circumstances. In short, I put my fears on the table and have a good look at them with them. Those conversations, though sometimes tense, have usually been very beneficial as we came to understand each other. I didn’t pretend with them; if I felt afraid for them I said so and said why. They didn’t always agree with me but they understood and respected that my fears came from great love. I recognize that ultimately I have to let go and trust them. I stand in awe of the great human beings that they are and feel blessed every day at having the privilege of being their mum.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO?

I believe in nature. We live in an incredible world that is complex and works beautifully. I surrender to this and remain fascinated by life. From witnessing women growing and birthing a child, to seeing my own babies through to adulthood, and my own life as it unfolds, I stand in awe of nature. For me there is no need to look for God, it is here in this wondrous life. When people are arrogant and think they are above and apart from the natural world is where disease and disaster starts. Again and again I’m taught the lesson that nature always wins, work with it, don’t fight it. We are a smart species and we have been incredibly inventive and resourceful to our great benefit. I remain hopeful that our innate good sense will help us to move towards harmony with the planet and all the life that inhabits it.

In my work I encounter sometime tens of women daily, each of them going through pregnancy so ordinary, yet so extraordinary for each of them. I try to stay present and encounter each woman afresh; giving her my full attention and care in the time that I have with her. I delight in that moment of connection, which may be just a shared smile, or may become a wonderful conversation.

Just last evening a woman told me about the birth of her last baby in the bathroom of a department store. She felt no pain, just simply noticed a foot emerging as she peed. Yes, breech! Wow! I said expecting a tale of trauma. Instead she laughed and told me, “I was the only one who was fine, everyone else panicked. Another woman raised the alarm. We had the security guards, cleaners and shop assistants all there. The head cleaner delivered the baby just as the ambulance arrived.” That funny, relaxed woman brightened my day.

That same evening there were tears as another woman nearing the end of her pregnancy revealed her sadness around the ambivalence of her baby’s father. He had let her down once again after she had given him another chance in the hope that her baby would know his father. Her own mother sat beside her, distressed to see her daughter in tears, imploring her in their mother tongue to not cry. “It’s ok to cry mum, sometimes I feel sad,” this brave woman said. Through her tears she explained, “My mother loves us too much.”

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Quantum physics though I can’t even begin to understand it, is pretty mind blowing. The idea that our gut microbes affect our overall mental and physical health is incredible to me also.

Provocative? That there are people in this world who will kill for a belief, that there are people who rationalize and glorify immense greed and arrogance,… It’s disappointing beyond words. I guess if I’d studied more history this should have been no surprise to me, however I think 9/11 took away some of our innocence, it did for me anyway. I do believe though, that there is way more good than evil in this world.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

I guess I’m still looking for a transformational moment, a blinding light; that would be kind of wonderful. Maybe I’m not the kind of person who has an epiphany, I tend towards pragmatism and skepticism where high emotion is involved. Perhaps transformation has been more glacial in my life and hence only recognizable with hindsight. Making big decisions such as having  a child, buying a house and even ending a marriage have always led me to a better place often from a low point in my life.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

Tread lightly. Take what you need and leave enough to go around. Be thankful for your good luck and don’t take it for granted. Practice compassion, gratitude and kindness.

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THRIVING AS A HUMAN BEING?

In each moment remember to breathe. Keep making courageous and responsible decisions. Make your life meaningful. Remain curious and open to life. Enjoy and love. Don’t waste time. Do it now.

 WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How do I bring my efforts into alignment with my passion ? Where best to direct my energy?

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIE YOU RECOMMEND?

So many. I’m still excited by the magic of the big screen and in awe of the many talented filmmakers. I like feature length documentaries and international dramas. Documentaries I’ve loved include: Bill Cunningham New York; Babies; It Might Get Loud; 20 Feet from StardomSearching for Sugar ManThe Green Prince. Dramas, too many to mention. Off the top of my head, Lost in Translation; My Life as a DogRumble Fish; AmelieThe Spanish Apartment; Talk to HerCrouching Tiger, Hidden DragonBabette’s Feast… Each has left my world and my heart a little larger.

Some great fiction by Australian writers that I could recommend include Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey; Eucalyptus by Murray Bail; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak; Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks; and Remembering Babylon by David Malouf.

. . . *

THANK YOU, JENNY!

{ The Zigzag Walk } The Adventure Is Not the Getting There, It’s the On-the-Way …*

{ The Zigzag Walk } The Adventure Is Not the Getting There, It's the On-the-Way ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I’ve just finished reading Stephen Graham’s splendid book, The Gentle Art of Tramping that Alastair Humphreys recommended in his interview. The Gentle Art of Tramping, which was first published in 1927, is a delightful meditation on the themes and values of the vagabond and, more broadly, on the gentle art of living (or the art of living gently). In the last chapter, Graham describes what he calls the “Zigzag Walk” – a little set of constraints he designed for himself to allow for chance and serendipity to guide his explorations. I’ve just arrived in San Francisco, where I will be staying for the next month and can’t wait to give the Zigzag walk a go in this lovely city.

g e t   l o s t,   e x p l o r e   &   r e t h i n k   . . . *

A frequent wish of the traveler and wanderer is to obtain genuinely chance impressions of cities and countries. He would trust neither his own choice of road, nor the guide’s choice, nor the map. But if he goes forth in aimlessness he inevitably finds himself either making for the gayer and better-lighted places, or returning to his own door. The problem is to let chance and the town take charge of you, for the world we travel in is more wonderful than human plan or idle heart’s desire.

One day in New York, wishing to explore that great city in a truly haphazard way, I hit on the following device–a zigzag walk. The first turning to the left is the way of the heart. Take it at random and you are sure to find something pleasant and diverting. Take the left again and the piquancy may be repeated. But reason must come to the rescue, and you must turn to the right in order to save yourself from a mere uninteresting circle. To make a zigzag walk you take the first turning to the left, the first to the right, then the first to the left again, and so on.

[…]

How unusual and real and satisfactory were the impressions obtained by going–not the crowd’s way, but the way of the zigzag, the diagonal between heart and reason.

[…]

At the same time, it may be said that you will not know the name of the place until you get there. You can put no destination label on your rucksack, and if anyone asks where you are going, you may tell him in confidence, whisper the dreadful fact in his ear–“honestly, you do not know.” The adventure is not the getting there, it’s the on-the-way. It is not the expected; it is the surprise; not the fulfillment of prophecy, but the providence of something better than prophesied. You are not choosing what you shall see in the world, but are giving the world an even chance to see you.

I am still on that zigzag way, pursuing the diagonal between the reason and the heart;

. . . *

Source: The Gentle Art of Tramping by Stephen Graham

“Keep questioning & learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species & we should take full advantage of it.” – Our Interview with Warren Berger …*

"Keep questioning & learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species & we should take full advantage of it." - Our Interview with Warren Berger ...* | rethinked.org

I first heard of Warren Berger (previously featured on rethinked …* here and here) when he reached out to me several months ago to ask if he could feature a question I had asked, here on the blog, on how we might go about learning to thrive and flourish within the tensions and contradictions that border human existence on his splendid and endlessly fascinating website A More Beautiful Question. (How’s that for a shameless ‘humble brag’?) And then I noticed Warren popping up all over the place with incredibly intelligent and insightful articles on things that keep me up at night and make me excited to wake up in the morning– the power of questions, design, and creativity, to name just a few–on Fast Company, Big Think or Harvard Business Review. Warren is an author, speaker and self-described “questionologist.” His latest book is the wonderful A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas (2014). I couldn’t be more excited about kicking off our new interview series with Warren’s interview. It seems particularly appropriate to begin with the answers of a man obsessed by and dedicated to (beautiful) questions. Connect with Warren on Twitter @GlimmerGuy.

 

What was the last experiment you ran? 

I write about the power of questioning. Recently, I looked around at other people and groups who are interested in this subject. They might ordinarily be thought of as my “competitors.” I decided to do an experiment bringing all of us together around a unified event, called “Question Week.” I would say the experiment was a modest success. With most experiments, I think you have to go through iterations, learning as you go; and that’s the case here. I’m going to keep building on this idea of unifying different people and groups around this common theme.

 

What are some of the things you fear and how do you manage your fear? 

Like so many people, I have a fear of failure and rejection. I have come to believe that one of the ways to manage this fear is to have honest conversations with yourself and it starts with asking yourself some questions about your fear. Why do you fear a certain outcome? How likely is that to happen? If it does happen, what’s the worst part of that outcome, in your mind? And if the worst happened, how would you recover? I picked up on some of these questions from the author/entrepreneur Jonathan Fields, who also suggests you ask yourself, “What if I do nothing—what kind of outcome will that lead to?” This tends to make you realize that the real failure is doing nothing. There’s another question I love, which is popular in Silicon Valley—“What would you attempt to do, if you knew you could not fail?” It allows your mind to let go of the fear, if only temporarily, and envision the boldest possibilities.

 

What breaks and delights your heart? In other words, what do you believe in and surrender to? 

Animals. It breaks my heart to see how they are often treated and it delights me to see how wonderful and loving they can be, in spite of it all. (Also, the New York Giants –they break my heart a lot, but they’ve provided more than a few moments of sheer delight).

 

WHAT IS THE MOST PROVOCATIVE IDEA YOU’VE COME ACROSS IN THE PAST DECADE?

Lots of them, too many to single one out. I recently saw a play called “Hamilton” that was a hip hop telling of the immigrant story of Alexander Hamilton; amazing. I recently read the Adam Grant book “Give and Take,” which suggests (very persuasively) that there is incredible power in giving and that nice guys can actually finish first, even in business. In my own work the most provocative idea I’ve come across is the notion that questions are currently rising in value while answers are declining in value.

 

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

The day I decided to leave my magazine editor job and go to work for myself, as a writer. I thought, at the time, it might be a temporary thing. That was 28 years ago and I haven’t had a proper job since.

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

I think it’s about balancing two things: Enjoying the limited time each of us has and, at the same time, trying to bring something positive into the world, on an ongoing basis. If you can find a way to do both at the same time, then you’re living a good life.

 

COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

Keep questioning and learning. It’s one of the gifts that separates us from other species and we should take full advantage of it.

 

 WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

How might I help, in some way, to encourage more questioning?

 

ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU WOULD RECOMMEND? 

Movies: Crumb. Fargo. Boogie Nights. Hud. Books: A Fan’s Notes. Seabiscuit. The Basketball Diaries. Bird by Bird.

…*

THANK YOU, WARREN …*

Tune in this coming Friday for our interview with (micro)adventurer Alastair Humphreys.

Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2×2 – “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” …*

{ Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2x2 } “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Soyer & Hogarth’s article on HBR: Fooled By Experience

In a fascinating article titled Fooled by Experience, Emre Soyer and Robin M. Hogarth, whose research focuses on the psychology of judgment and decision making, highlight the perils of using past experience to guide future decision making without first critically examining the various lenses and biases from which we filter and learn from our experiences.

The problem is that we view the past through numerous filters that distort our perceptions. As a result, our interpretations of experience are biased, and the judgments and decisions we base on those interpretations can be misguided. Even so, we persist in believing that we have gleaned the correct insights from our own experience and from the accounts of other people.

In their article, Soyer and Hogarth examine three of the main filters that many of us use to frame and learn from our experiences — the business environment, the people around us, and ourselves. I was particularly interested in the points they raise about our bias for outcomes rather than processes in the business world.

{ CAPTURING PROCESS NOT JUST OUTCOMES }

In the business environment, the outcomes of decisions are highly visible, readily available for us to observe and judge. But the details of the decision process, which we can control far more than the result, typically don’t catch our attention. If the aim is to learn from experience—mistakes as well as successes—acknowledging that process is crucial.

We celebrate successes and condemn failures–a response that disregards the underlying causes.

The tendency to overreward the results of a decision and underreward its quality is known as the outcome bias.

This bias can influence our actions in subtle ways. A good outcome can lead us to stick with a questionable strategy, and a bad outcome can cause us to change or discard a strategy that may still be worthwhile. For example, in the NBA, coaches “are more likely to revise their strategy after a loss than a win—even for narrow losses, which are uninformative about team effectiveness,” a recent Management Science article shows.

[…]

By concealing the prevalence of failures, the environment makes it more difficult for us to learn from them. Instead, we are fooled into thinking that we have more control over success than we actually do.

Source: Fooled by Experience

This inequality between capturing outcomes versus capturing the decision making process is something that our team has been actively thinking about in our last few workshops. In fact, my explicit purpose in our last workshop was to capture the meta elements of what we were thinking about and considering as we were producing our prototypes. This desire to capture the more ephemeral aspects of the decision making process are linked to Daniel Kahneman’s acronym: WYSIATI – What you see is all there is. We are hardwired to respond to what we can see and tend to ignore the aspects of a situation that fall outside the filters for salience with which we approach that experience. Yet, as Soyer and Hogarth observe, the tendency to overreward the results of a decision and underreward its quality leads to failed opportunities for learning and improved future decision making. 

Head over to Harvard Business Review to read the rest of Soyer and Hogarth’s article and learn the techniques they recommend to help you uncover the real lessons experience offers.

{ HAPPINESS IS A 2×2 – THINK ABOUT ALL THE THINGS THAT YOU DON’T WANT & THAT YOU DON’T HAVE} 

Experience is very important, but not necessarily the experience that you have, but maybe sometimes the experience that you don’t have might matter a lot. Experience in general we know it’s very important, it’s how we understand what’s going on around us, it’s how we form our habits, it’s how we decide and make judgements. And sometimes the environment where we make decisions, where we operate is kind to us–it gives us all the information, all the feedback that we need abundantly, immediately. But sometimes, it’s wicked. The environment, when it’s wicked, it hides stuff from us, it filters out certain part of the information that is crucial for an accurate judgment and accurate decision making. And in those cases our experiences get biased, and this whole thing has adverse effects to our health, wealth and happiness. – Emre Soyer

After doing a quick Google search for Emre Soyer, I discovered the TEDxtalk he gave in 2013 in which he explores the importance of being attentive to the missing elements of our experiences. I was particularly struck by his ending observation, by way of a 1986 interview with Hillel Einhorn, which highlights the power and impact that shifting and questioning the filters we apply to our thinking can have on our happiness.

Now there are some interesting issues there about looking for evidence opposed or evidence about non-occurrences and this was brought home to me dramatically in a Chinese restaurant one night. After the meal, I bought the usual fortune cookies and I opened the cookie and read my fortune, it was a very interesting one. It said: don’t think about all of the things that you want that you don’t have, think of all the things that you don’t want that you don’t have. Well that kind of stopped me dead. I don’t know who writes these things but this is a very interesting one. So, I immediately draw a 2×2 table: want, not want, have, not have. And of course we think about what we want that we have, what we want that we don’t have; what we don’t want that we have; but rarely do we ever think about what we don’t want and what we don’t have. So, I’d like to use this example to point out that if the correlation between wants and haves is some notion of happiness, and because that don’t want and don’t have cell is so large, we are actually a lot more happier than we think we are.

-Hillel Einhorn, 1986

{ Filtered Reality & Happiness As A 2x2 } “If we believe we can learn from experience, can we also learn that we can’t?” ...* | rethinked.org

Happiness is a 2×2 – Screen Shot from Emre Soyer’s TEDxTalk at TEDxOZU

 

What Might It Mean To Live and Learn To Change and For Change?

What Might It Mean To Live and Learn To Change and For Change? | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

{ FINAL ROUND OF THE RETHINKED*ANNEX PROJECT – APTITUDES FOR THE CONCEPTUAL AGE } 

It’s time to kick off the last stage of rethinked*annex: Aptitudes For the Conceptual Age. For those new to rethinked, rethinked*annex is a personal side project which I started two and a half years ago (already!) to see how some of the disciplines we have been focusing on in our team work could apply to the individual. The ultimate goal of our team is to rethink and engage with what it means to flourish as a human being in the twenty-first century—a modern take on an ancient question, what is the good life for man? We live in exciting times, a lot of the models and assumptions that upheld the status quo of old are crumbling in the face of accelerating change on all fronts–technological, medical, economic, etc. What does it mean to live and learn to change and for change? Our team has been exploring the possibilities of Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology to help us formulate some avenues into this but I felt strongly that the tools we used for our professional aims should also be useful in enhancing our personal every day lives.

And so the idea for rethinked*annex was born– a sort of experiment on living, learning and becoming, which I’ve documented on the blog. I’ve been following a pretty simple format: pick out a few books on the subject; play around with some of the big ideas; find ways to apply them to my every day life and then report back on the experiments.

I am now ready to think about the convergences between these three fields (Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology) and the lessons I’ve learned along the way. What skills, strengths and mindsets have come up in all three cycles of my experiment? I’ve narrowed it down to five core capacities, which kept coming up over and over: empathy, creativity, making the ordinary unknown (and the willingness to navigate and embrace it), play and courage (to own and deploy one’s voice). So for this last phase, I’ve (very unscientifically) picked out a few books that deal with these various dimensions.

{ BOOKLIST } 

{ BEYOND ME, MYSELF & I – NEW INTERVIEW SERIES }

One nagging insecurity I’ve had throughout this project has been how self-centered it ultimately is. I’ve been exploring what Design Thinking, Integrative Thinking and Positive Psychology might contribute to my every day life. Of course, the goal is that some of the insights and lessons I’ve learned along the way will transfer outside of my particular circumstances and be of some use to you, but at the end of the day, it’s my thoughts, my feelings, my life, my observations…me, me, me. I’m getting sick and tired of thinking and writing about myself.

I’ve decided it was time to find out how other individuals are grappling with the question(s) of what it means to live a good life. I recently made a list of people I admire–people whose work and ideas have moved me, disrupted my beliefs and assumptions, provoked me to think more deeply and awed me in some form or other. Some of them are friends and some are total strangers, they come from everywhere in terms of geography and fields of inquiry—artists, designers, philosophers, writers, even a midwife. I’ve started reaching out to see if they would be willing to answer a set of questions that touch upon some of the themes that have obsessed me for most of my life and crystalized during the rethinked*annex project. I am floored by the responses. I assumed I wouldn’t hear back from a lot of these people I was ‘cold-emailing,’ but right away, I received enthusiastic answers from total strangers whose work I have admired for years. I am filled with gratitude and excitement for this new phase of the project. You can look forward to seeing their answers published on rethinked over the course of the next few months, starting next week.

There’s a Martin Amis quote from his book Time’s Arrow, which I’ve probably shared about five times over the past three years. I’m sorry if you’re sick of seeing it but every few months, I have an experience that reminds me that these simple words ooze with truth when it comes to framing the “others:”

Mmm—people! It seems to me that you need a lot of courage, or a lot of something, to enter into others, into other people. We all think that everyone else lives in fortresses in fastnesses: behind moats, behind sheer walls studded with spikes and broken glass. But in fact we inhabit much punier structures. We are, it turns out, all jerry-built. Or not even. You can just stick your head under the flap of the tent and crawl right in. If you get the okay.

question & rethink …*

Paola Antonelli: “Design Is A Way To Enter the World. It’s the Interface Between Whatever Idea You Might Have—Scientific, Technological, or Even Artistic—& Real Life”

Paola Antonelli: "Design Is A Way To Enter the World. It’s the Interface Between Whatever Idea You Might Have—Scientific, Technological, or Even Artistic—& Real Life" | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

One of the aspects of life post-academia that I most enjoy is the increased exposure to a wide range of phenomenal, interesting, creative and courageous women. Remember this image? I wasn’t much aware of it at the time, but since graduating from university, I’ve noticed a shift in my heroes. Whereas my teenage years and early twenties were spent looking up to mainly dead, or terribly old, white men, I’ve now discovered a whole tribe of contemporary, dynamic and tremendously inspiring women. One of them is MOMA curator, Paola Antonelli. I just came across this great interview which she recently gave to The Great Discontent’s Tina Essmaker. It’s definitely worth a read in its entirety, but here are three topics that Antonelli explores that I thought would be of particular interest to rethinkers.

discover & rethink …*

{ O N   C R E A T I V I T Y

I cannot believe that anyone would ever tell you that creativity was not part of their upbringing. I think there’s creativity everywhere. In some parts of the world, there are much more urgent matters of survival, so maybe creativity takes a backseat or gets channeled towards basic needs—we have to be honest about reality. But, frankly, I believe creativity exists everywhere and manifests itself in different ways. For instance, I was always quite stunned by the ease and comfort that New York has with contemporary art, which was definitely not the case in Italy. I grew up in a place where the comfort was with design, food, and ancient art. Here, it’s contemporary art.

{ O N   D E S I G N,   I D E A S   &   R E A L   L I F E 

I find it absolutely limiting that people think of design as cute chairs and cars and posters—it’s so crazy. To me, it’s amazing that some parts of our cultural establishment move away from design when the most established artists look to design as a way to make their ideas become a part of life. Design is a way to enter the world. It’s the interface between whatever idea you might have—scientific, technological, or even artistic—and real life.

[ … ]

I’m dangerously distant from an esthetically-pleasing, more formal kind of design. I say dangerously because I don’t want to burn my bridges with that kind of design, but I feel compelled to deal with real life—and real life is not about being able to afford a $10,000 chair.

[ … ]

I always find a way to realize at least some of the ideas that come to mind. I like to say that ideas are a dollar a pound, but it’s the ones you decide to make happen that really count. It’s tough, but there’s always a way to make them happen.

{ A D V I C E   T O   A   Y O U N G   P E R S O N  S T A R T I N G   O U T }

If you really believe in it, go for it. The thing I like about this moment is that you don’t have to immediately define yourself as an artist or designer; you can try different avenues. I really love it because ambivalence, ambiguity, and these in-between states are so conducive and perfect for creative people. I had the luck of being able to test different waters, and I think that’s the best thing that can happen to someone creative. It’s not for everybody; some people need a more defined path. But if you have a curiosity to see where you can really shine, I think this is a wonderful moment.

Source: Paola Antonelli Interviewed by Tina Essmaker April 28, 2015 via The Great Discontent

{ Grow In Peace } The Banality of Transformation …*

{ Grow In Peace } The Banality of Transformation ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

A few months ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the fifth lesson: Grow In Peace – Transformation, it turns out, is astonishingly banal.

If you ever decide to walk the Camino, you will soon discover that everyone you tell knows someone else who did it. Apparently, all these friends of friends found it a fantastically transformative experience. They all felt something grand, spiritual, almost supernatural upon reaching Santiago. When I arrived, it was raining and I was battling a mighty cold. To reach Santiago, you have to bypass the airport and then walk for a few hours through the sprawling suburbs that have grown around the historical center. The predominant feelings I remember were disappointment and annoyance having to tread through a torrential downpour through this urban wasteland. A feeling akin to trying to get on the NYC 1 train during rush hour. Nothing grand about it.

When I returned everyone’s first question was, “So, are you transformed? Did you feel it?” I’m still not sure what that ‘it’ was supposed to be. I felt lots of things. I felt cold and sweaty, tired and elated, grumpy and excited, awed and overheated, achy, curious, lost, optimistic, jealous and delighted–the whole gamut of human emotions from the petty to the exalting. As for noticeable transformations, other than my feet which became freakishly swollen halfway through the walk and went up (permanently, I have now found out) one full shoe size, there were none to speak of. But now, over six months since I have returned, I am beginning to discern the transformative effects of this experience. I have changed in subtle but important ways–I feel more urgently the need to align my beliefs with my behaviors and I feel more confident and optimistic about my capacity to do that. This is not a new observation, I didn’t get to Santiago and just realize that I am feeling off center because I’m not committing hard enough to the things that break and delight my heart; what changed is my determination to do something about it.

. . . *

When I arrived in Santiago, I went to the cathedral and decided to light a candle to Saint Anthony of Padua, my mother’s favorite saint. I walked around the cathedral a few times unable to find him and finally asked a security guard.

“Excuse me, do you know where I can find Saint Anthony?”

“I don’t know, did someone tell you he was here?”

“No, but I was hoping you might help me find him.”

“Let me check. No, sorry, he’s not here.”

I didn’t find Saint Anthony, but when I stopped looking for him, I walked around the cathedral again and took in all its treasures, finally seeing the other saints sitting impassively in their richly carved nooks and corners. I think that’s a good metaphor for transformational moments. We sometimes invest these moments with so much expectation that we ignore the smaller changes we undergo. Static is an illusion, it is in our nature and our biology to be constantly changing, if only just through the unavoidable pull of entropy. My father’s family motto is ‘Change or Decay’. Whether on pilgrimage or on the 1 train, we are constantly in motion. Change is inevitable, we can choose to be intentional about the direction of this change or we can just let our experiences change us mindlessly. I think that’s the power of transformational moments, they rarely transform us into a brand new person (subjectivity doesn’t work that way, we need some sort of continuity in our sense of self), but they give us the perspective and hopefully the courage to be intentional about our growth and evolution.

On one of the last pages of the journal that I brought with me on the walk, I recently rediscovered this note I had scribbled to myself:

“No groundbreaking epiphanies, no blazing revelations–mainly just an increased awareness of what’s already known and the mental space to see how much this awareness/knowledge needs to be transformed into action.”

. . . *

{ Play Is Our Adaptive Wild Card } In Order to Adapt Successfully to a Changing World, We Need to Play …*

Bonobos, like humans, love to play throughout their entire lives. Play is not just child’s games. For us and them, play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience and it’s all about the generation of diversity —diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviors and diversity of connections. And when you watch Bonobos play you’re seeing the very evolutionary roots of human laughter, dance and ritual. Play is the glue that binds us together.” – Isabel Behncke Izquierdo

In this short and delightful TED talk, primatologist Isabel Behncke Izquierdo highlights some of the ways in which the highly playful Bonobos can teach us about successfully naviating “a future where we need to adapt to an increasingly challenging world through greater creativity and greater cooperation. The secret is that play is the key to these capacities. In other words, play is our adaptive wild card. In order to adapt successfully to a changing world, we need to play.” As you kick off the weekend, remember , “Play is not frivolous. Play is essential.”

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