Tag strategy

{ Testing Commitment Contracts } [Mis]Adventures in Motivation, Integrity & Anti-Charities …*

{ Testing Commitment Contracts } [Mis]Adventures in Motivation, Integrity & Anti-Charities ...* |rethinked.org

stickK.com homepage screen shot

Sometime last month, I read an article in the New York Times about StickK–an “online Commitment Store,” which helps you set and achieve your goals by enabling you to create a commitment contract with yourself.

The Commitment Contract concept is based on two well known principles of behavioral economics:

1.People don’t always do what they claim they want to do, and
2.Incentives get people to do things

[ …]

A Commitment Contract is a binding agreement you sign with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions—and it does this by utilizing the psychological power of loss aversion and accountability to drive behavior change.
By asking our users to sign Commitment Contracts, stickK helps users define their goal (whatever it may be), acknowledge what it’ll take to accomplish it, and leverage the power of putting money on the line to turn that goal into a reality.

I was intrigued by the idea and since my last mostly self-devised motivation strategy (eating one (or several) donuts as a reward for each time I went running) had completely backfired and turned me into a bona fide sugar addict, I decided to give StickK a try. The service is very simple to use– you create an account on StickK.com; select a commitment; decide how much money you will pay each week if you fail to fulfill your commitment; select either a charity or anti-charity for your money to be donated to; add friends to your network of supporters and are given the option of nominating a referee to report your progress. A referee is someone who will report whether you have indeed fulfilled your commitment each week, but since I couldn’t think of who could reliably vouch for me, I opted to self-report on the honor system. Finally, you pick a day of the week to report whether you’ve met your goal for that reporting period and each week StickK sends you an email prompt to remind you to report your performance. That’s pretty much it, all that’s left is to actually go out and fulfill your commitment.

You can set as many commitments as you like but I decided to try this out with a single goal: to exercise three times a week. I like this goal, it’s achievable, has big payoffs for mental, emotional and physical well-being but it’s also one of those things that I tend to forgo when I feel stressed or overwhelmed by other commitments. I figured StickK would help me reframe this goal as a top priority and give me the little nudge I needed to transform this goal into a lifelong habit. I selected an anti-charity that I despise and set my weekly fee at $10. It’s not much, but the thought of giving so much as a penny to this organization makes my skin crawl with disgust.

It all went well for the first two weeks, and riding the high of new resolve, I fulfilled my weekly commitment with gusto. It all went well, until it didn’t, and I failed to meet my goal one particularly busy week. Sunday afternoon (my reporting day) arrived and I realized with horror that I had only exercised once that week. All those “tomorrows” on which I’d promised myself to exercise had flown by unnoticed and I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment. I considered exercising twice that day. And yes, I considered lying. What if I said I’d met my goal, and then promised myself to exercise six times next week and never again mess up? What would be worse? Lying or donating to this organization that stands so directly against what I believe in and value. This wouldn’t be a big lie, no one would be harmed by it and in fact no one would ever know that I lied, other than me. The problem with integrity, of course, is that you can’t opt out when doing the right thing is inconvenient. After having spent most of the day going over this, (time I probably could have used to exercise twice…however shady a strategy that may have been), I finally decided I wouldn’t lie on my report, it just felt too dishonest. And so I reported that I had failed and $10 went to that dreadful organization.

I felt guilty and disgusted with the idea that I had donated to this organization, and in an effort to assuage my guilt, I donated another $50 to the counter charity. Bringing my total that week for not exercising to $60 on top of my regular gym membership, plus about three hours of my Sunday trying to do mental (moral) gymnastics over how to resolve this issue, plus–and by far the heaviest cost–the sense that I had really let myself down. It wasn’t so much that I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment–I’m convinced exercise is good for me physically, mentally and emotionally and I hold it as a value, but I’m also not a fanatic about it and missing two work-outs is not catastrophic by any means. What made me feel really disappointed was the idea that I donated to this anti-charity even though avoiding that ‘punishment’ was really quite simple and only required exercising three times a week. Yet, that week, I somehow didn’t make what I value and believe in a priority, and as a result, I gave money to a cause I find abhorrent. It wasn’t the missed exercise, it was the ethical dissonance between what I believe in and my failure to act on it that I found crushing.

This all took place about three weeks ago, and I’m glad to report that since then, I have fulfilled—even exceeded—my commitment every single week. Whenever I try to find a way to talk myself out of exercising I Just remind myself how dreadful that Sunday felt and then I’m practically running to throw on my sneakers.

If you need a little nudge to keep you committed to your long-term goals, I’d definitely encourage you to give StickK a try. Have you tried it? What did you think? Let me know …*

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling …*

{ On Connection & Decision-Making } Thinking About Motivation, Empathy & Storytelling ...* |rethinked.org - photograph: Elsa Fridman

 When researchers study the brains of people trying to predict the thoughts and feelings of others, they can actually see a difference in the brain activity depending on whether that person is trying to understand a friend versus a stranger. Even at the level of blood flowing through your brain, you treat people you know well differently than people you don’t. – Teens These Days, Always Changing Their Gray Matter

This week had me thinking about the role of connection and feelings of connectedness in decision-making processes. Some of the findings coming out of decision research, which I’ve featured below, raise some very intriguing and urgent questions about the role of empathy and the need to think more carefully about the types of narratives we craft when trying to motivate people to take action or trigger generous behaviors.

“It turns out that our engagement with a cause– it’s not about numbers, it’s not about classes of victims, it’s really about two things: First of all, it’s emotional and it’s with individuals. We have evolved, we are hardwired to feel a certain amount of empathy and connection but with one other person, whom we see, whom we can relate to, not with a hundred thousand people half a world away. The other thing is that we want to feel like we’re having an impact so we want some kind of a positive arch, we want to see a difference being made. And so when aid organizations talk about 5 million people at risk and make it sound terribly depressing, they’re precisely hitting the buttons that turn people off.”

In this Big Think video Nicholas Kristof explores the kinds of connections that link us to social and humanitarian causes and motivate us to give, participate and take action.

“Some of the research about our preference for helping individuals over classes of people comes from experiments where people were asked to contribute in some cases to this child–when it was used, was Rokia, a girl from West Africa–versus a large group of people, millions of people suffering malnutrition in Africa again. And of course, everybody wanted to contribute to Rokia, to that girl, they wanted to help that girl, they didn’t really care about the millions of people being malnourished. But what was striking is that even though we intellectually know that, “one death is a tragedy and a million deaths is a statistic,” that the point at which we begin to be numbed, is when that number, is when N equals two. The moment you added not just Rokia but had a boy next to her and said, “you can help these two hungry kids,” then people were less likely to contribute than if it was just Rokia. Likewise, people are less likely to contribute to a fund to save kids from cancer if the same amount of money is going to save not one life but eight lives. There really is this bias to help an individual. So we have to figure out, obviously the needs are vast, so we have to figure out how to open these lines of communication to move people at an emotional level to help an individual; but then use that empathy then to broaden and to serve so many other people who need help.”

Kristof’s talk had me thinking about Brene Brown’s definition of empathy and how it compares in particular to sympathy: Empathy fuels connection, sympathy drives disconnection. Since our ability to empathize with another person is so dependent on our ability to imagine what it must be like to experience a situation from that person’s point of view, I wonder if thinking about multiple people’s pain or needs makes the illusion that we can share in another’s subjective experience, that we can imagine what it feels like from their perspective, more fragile and difficult to buy into. Could it be that stories and aid campaigns that focus on a single individual drive empathy and consequently the necessary feelings of connection that trigger action while campaigns using groups of people drive sympathy and thus disconnection?

“One of the things that really struck me was there had been experiments that asked people to do some math equations, solve some math problems first, and it turns out that if you do that, that if you exercise the more rational parts of your brain, then you’re less empathetic, you’re less likely to contribute. Those of us who care about these issues, we need to figure out how to do a better job of storytelling about individuals and showing that there is a possibility of hope.”

I think Kristoff raises a very worthy challenge about the need to craft better stories. You may remember a video I shared on here last month that looked precisely at How Stories Can Change Our Behavior By Changing Our Brain Chemistry …* The short video examines the link between empathy, the narrative arc, neurochemistry and behavior by focusing on some of the findings emerging from Paul Zak‘s, a founding pioneer in the nascent field of neuroeconomics, research:

Monitoring the brain activity of hundreds of study subjects watching a video with a simple narrative, Zak found increases in the levels of the neurochemicals oxytocin and cortisol, which are associated with empathic responses. Most remarkable, however, was the discovery that this response also resulted in study subjects taking action, in this case through donating money they had just earned to a charitable cause related to the story they watched and even to fellow subjects. Zak’s conclusion that there could be a universal story structure that functions to connect us to each other might not be surprising to storytellers, but seeing it supported by neuroscience is a tale worth repeating. 

. . . *

Now for a different aspect of decision-making, on New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog, in her article 4 Steps to Making an Overwhelming Decision Easy, Melissa Dahl highlights a recent study on the best decision-making strategy to adopt when faced with multiple options that “all seem kind of okay, like when you’re choosing a health-care plan or looking for a new apartment.”

Tibor Besedes at the Georgia Institute of Technology led a study — published recently in The Review of Economics and Statistics — that pitted three decision-making strategies against each other, and the best strategy was the one that treated the process like a tournament, 
  1. Divide the options into piles of four
  2. Choose the best option from each pile
  3. Put the winners from the first round into a new finalist pile
  4. Choose the best option from winners of the earlier four selections

{ Ambiguity & Passion } How Integrative Thinking Can Help Us Build A Strategy For Winning in Life & Work …*

{ Ambiguity & Passion } How Integrative Thinking Can Help Us Build A Strategy For Winning in Life & Work ...* | rethinked.org

For this week’s Friday Link Fest, I want to explore something that has kept cropping up in my reading over the past few days and which is a core tension in most aspects of people’s lives and creative work: convergence versus divergence. The need for balance between converging and diverging–dreaming and focusing, thinking and doing–has certainly been a central and uncomfortable tension in my own life. In fact, I have made finding a better way to live out that tension a core priority of my 2015 resolutions by giving this year the theme of “Execution”.

I hate easy binaries but on the thinking-doing spectrum, I must admit to being firmly in the thinking camp. I love thinking, in all its forms and can spend hours, days even, questioning, planning, reflecting, imagining and daydreaming. Execution, however, is a different matter– I freeze up, I delay, I procrastinate, I tell myself I haven’t had time to properly think everything through. Learning about a growth mindset has helped me make some progress in being less afraid of taking action, as has practicing design thinking with its strong emphasis on rapid prototyping. Yet, taking action remains a tentative, sporadic and laborious endeavor for me.

Earlier this week I read an excellent essay, Ambiguity & the Art of Meaning, by Umair Haque, which examined this tension between our love of ambiguity and open-ended possibility and our need to feel we are living meaningful, enriching lives.

“Ambiguity. It’s the defining characteristic of this age.”

[ … ]

“And so we’re all what you might call faithful ambiguists these days. We’re fascinated by the in between; drawn to the double-sided; obsessed by the contradictory.

Ambiguity’s exciting. Thrilling, even. The unresolved is the undecided; and the undecided, like a roulette wheel, rouses our blood while it spins.”

[ … ]

“Here’s the truth. That’s not good enough. What are we really protecting ourselves from when we declare our tiny wars on ambiguity? Ourselves. The people we were meant to be.

“Ambiguity asks us: what do our lives mean? And unless we can resolve ambiguity, we will always be left with the lingering suspicion: they could, and should, have meant more. That what we took with one hand, we simply gave away with the other. “

– Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

I am aware that part of my mental block with execution has much to do with my fear of making the wrong choice, of going the wrong route. While I explore ideas and options in my head, I tell myself that I am keeping my possibilities in “real life” open. But after a while, the days become weeks, then months, then years and still I put things off; I don’t commit and I stay stagnant. A growing anxiety within me whispers that I am wasting my time and my opportunities.

“There is a great tension at the heart of every ambiguity. This or that? Up or down? Left or right? The answer is not either or. The choice might leave you satisfied — but the tension will surely leave you discontented with your very satisfaction. The answer, if there is one, is through. Resolving ambiguity is not just making choices between two opposites; nor is it merely learning to see two opposites, and throwing one’s hands up in the air at them. It is synthesis. Discovering how to forge two opposites, which should repel, into one whole — that is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

Does this sound familiar to you? Yes, Integrative Thinking! Speaking of Integrative Thinking, I have just finished reading Roger Martin’s latest book, co-authored with A.G. Lafley, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works (2013), which made me think of Haque’s essay by focusing on the need to make choices. According to the father of Integrative Thinking, strategy is, at its core, just a synonym for making choices and performing the actions that support that choice.

“It is natural to want to keep options open as long as possible, rather than closing off possibilities by making explicit choices. But it is only through making and acting on choices that you can win. Yes, clear, tough choices force your hand and confine you to a path. But they also free you to focus on what matters. What matters is winning. Great organizations–whether companies, not-for-profits, political organizations, agencies, what have you–choose to win rather than simply play.”

– Playing To Win, Roger & Lafley, pg.5

“Winning” may sound a bit strange in a personal context. We are told often enough that comparing ourselves to others is a losing game. But if one frames winning in terms of being all that one can be, winning by making the choices that will allow us to reach a full, purposeful life lived with passion, commitment and conviction, we very quickly can see how applicable strategy is to our personal lives.

In Playing to Win, Martin and Lafley create a framework, which revolves around five core choices, to approach strategic thinking:

“Winning should be at the heart of any strategy. In our terms, a strategy is a coordinated and integrated set of fives choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems.”

– Playing To Win, Roger & Lafley, pg.5

Playing to Win is an excellent book if you’re looking to rethink your strategy and update your business model. Yet, while I was reading it, and learning more about each of the five choices, I could not stop thinking about how relevant this framework was for one’s personal life.

So while the ambiguous and the open-ended are immensely attractive, meaning, purpose and growth come from making choices.

“It is not just finding a lover you hate; or a friend you desperately love…but a lover you can build a great friendship with. It is not just finding a career that enriches you, or a fortune that impoverishes you…but riches that enlarge you…and leave you feeling fortunate enough to thank creation for every moment you are alive. It is not just a life that makes you happy…where “happiness” is merely suffering you are relieved to avoid…but a happiness that makes you ache with purpose, burn with passion, laugh at fate, rebel against destiny.”

– Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

These choices are not compromises, the issue at hand is not choosing for the sake of choosing. We must move past the false binaries we create, we must put in the hard work necessary to reframe either-or choices as integrated options that take the best of option A and the best of option B to create an optimal choice in C (to that end, I highly recommend Martin’s books on Integrative Thinking, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking). This an uncomfortable process, as the authors of The Capabilities Your Organization Needs to Sustain Innovation published this week on Harvard Business Review, point out:

“The problem – and the leadership challenge – arises because options A and B are often incompatible, even completely opposable, ideas. To arrive at option C means people must keep both A and B on the table, and that is difficult to do. When faced with two seemingly mutually exclusive alternatives, the human impulse is to choose one and discard the other as soon as possible, or to forge a simple compromise. We crave the clarity provided by that kind of clean, assured decision-making. We crave it so much, in fact, that when a leader refuses to make a choice quickly, even when it can only be arbitrary or capricious, we grumble about the “lack of leadership around here.” It takes courage to hold open a multitude of possibilities long enough that new ways of combining them can emerge. There is often great pressure to make a choice, any choice, and move on.”

Once we decide what it is we will commit to, what path is right for us to grow into ever richer and fuller versions of who we might become, we must continue to push and provide the effort necessary to support and activate these choices (to which end, I highly recommend Martin and Lafley’s book on strategy, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.) For as Haque points out at the end of his essay,

“The question is this. Whose lives are we creating? Ours — or someone else’s? Do we become the people we are told to be — or the people we were meant to be?”

Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

Carol Dweck on Helping Kids Move From the Tyranny of Now Into the Power of Yet …*

In this short TEDx talk, psychologist Carol Dweck gives an overview of her research on the power of mindset to facilitate or hinder children’s capacity to connect with and activate their potential. The ways in which children frame and cope with challenges and difficulties have enormous implications on their ability to thrive. Students with a fixed mindset are prisoners to the tyranny of the now, believing that each challenge is a reflection of a fixed level of a given capacity–be it intelligence, creativity or athleticism. Meanwhile, students with a growth mindset luxuriate in the power of yet, understanding that each new challenge is an opportunity to learn something new and to practice and refine skills. Dweck shares some tips and strategies for helping students move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset–praising process rather than intelligence to help students redefine things like effort and difficulty, for example.

watch & rethink …* 

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday  Link Fest...* | rethinked.org | Photo by Elsa Fridman

READ

When Empathy Hurts, Compassion Can Heal ~ A new neuroscientific study shows that compassion training can help us cope with other people’s distress. Research suggests you can cultivate a compassionate mindset through encouraging cooperation, practicing mindfulness, refraining from placing blame on others, acting against inequality, and being receptive to others’ feelings without adopting those feelings as your own. via Greater Good Science Center, published August 22, 2013

Closing the Chasm Between Strategy and Execution ~ Strategy and execution is a false dichotomy, unnaturally sheared apart in order to divide labor in increasingly complex organizations. It’s an efficient approach. Alone, the shearing isn’t a problem. The problem is that both sides don’t see it as their responsibility to intelligently pull the two sides back together again. They leave a chasm, hoping that it will miraculously close on its own. The best strategists and executors don’t see a hand-off between strategy and execution. They see an integrated whole. They continuously hand ideas back and forth throughout all phases of a project, strengthening them together. via Harvard Business Review, published August 22, 2013.

How Four Years Can (and Should) Transform You: Mark Edmundson’s Essays Ask, ‘Why Teach?’~ Mr. Edmundson reminds us of the power strong teachers have to make students rethink who they are and whom they might become. This is what a real education is all about. via New York Times, published August 20, 2013.

The Real Neuroscience of Creativity ~ The latest findings from the real neuroscience of creativity suggest that the right brain/left brain distinction is not the right one when it comes to understanding how creativity is implemented in the brain. Creativity does not involve a single brain region or single side of the brain. Instead, the entire creative process– from the initial burst of inspiration to the final polished product– consists of many interacting cognitive processes and emotions. Depending on the stage of the creative process, and what you’re actually attempting to create, different brain regions are recruited to handle the task. via Scientific American, published August 19, 2013.

An Inventor Wants One Less Wire to Worry ~ A great profile of Meredith Perry who has the mindset and habits of a true rethinker…* via New York Times, published August 17, 2013.

Growing shoes and furniture: A design-led biomaterial revolution ~ En Vie (Alive), curated by Reader and Deputy Director of the Textile Futures Research Center at Central Saint Martins College Carole Collet, is an exposition for what happens when material scientists, architects, biologists, and engineers come together with designers to ask what the future will look like. According to them, it will be a world where plants grow our products, biological fabrication replaces traditional manufacturing, and genetically reprogrammed bacteria build new materials, energy, or even medicine. via Ars Technica, published August 18, 2013.

Make Your Work More Meaningful ~ You learn to make your work more meaningful yourself. While it helps enormously to have conditions in place that facilitate work meaning (like autonomy in deciding how you do your work), it’s important to realize that meaning is ultimately something you create on your own. Indeed, even in jobs that may look dismal from the outside, there are always steps you can take to build the kind of meaning that will make you feel better and work better. via Harvard Business Review, published August 16, 2013.

10 of the Most Counterintuitive Pieces of Advice from Famous Entrepreneurs ~ Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in what we ‘should’ be doing that we forget there are others who have gone against the grain and had it work out for them. via Creativity Post, published August 19, 2013.

What A Mallard’s Feet Can Teach You About Learning Tools ~ Often I see amazing educators using tools, apps and programs to create the most fantastic learning experiences for the students. These educators make it look easy. It is like watching a duck as it gracefully glides across the pond. The thing to remember is the graceful glide of that duck is powered by the fervent paddling of webbed feet under the water. via Teach Thought, published August 20, 2013.

“I Approached Business the Way a 6-Year-Old Would.” ~ Fast Company has an outstanding piece on the revitalization of Detroit, and all of the do-ers that are making it happen, many with little or no experience. It’s a must read for anyone launching a project. Andy Didorosi is one of the people profiled, and he shared how he started a bus company to help fill in for Detroit’s gutted public transportation system. via 99u, published August 20, 2013.

Google’s New Chat Service Connects Information Seekers With Experts ~ Helpouts by Google is a new way to connect people who need advice with experts in different fields. It consists of face-to-face video chats powered by Google+ Hangouts, where people can pay to get help from people who are able to monetize their knowledge and skills by covering areas like cooking, gardening, computers and electronics. via PSFK, published August 22, 2013.

The Magic of Metaphor: What Children’s Minds Teach Us about the Evolution of the Imagination ~ Metaphorical thinking — our instinct not just for describing but for comprehending one thing in terms of another, for equating I with an other — shapes our view of the world, and is essential to how we communicate, learn, discover, and invent. Metaphor is a way of thought long before it is a way with words. via Brainpickings, published August 19, 2013.

LOOK

7 Essential Life Lessons From Kids’ To-Do Lists ~ These sometimes-hilarious, always-adorable to-do lists written by children serve as refreshing life lesson reminders. via Mashable, published August 22, 2013.

Smart Interaction Lab Presents: TOTEM: Artifacts for Brainstorming ~ How can interactive objects encourage inspiration and dialog during brainstorming sessions? We worked together as a team of multidisciplinary researchers and designers to explore how we can improve people’s experiences of the ideation process through tangible interaction. Our solution was TOTEM—a family of three unique objects that help people get inspired and stay engaged in creative conversations and debates in order to generate new ideas. It is composed of a stack of three separate but complementary objects: Batón, Echo and Alterego. via Core77, published August 21, 2013.

Feeling brain-dead? Go for a walk: Your brain on walking, in fMRI ~ fMRI scan indicating increased brain activity associated with happiness after a 20-minute walk vs. 20 minutes in sedentary mode. via Explore, published August 12, 2013.

249 Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs For Critical Thinking ~ Bloom’s Taxonomy’s verbs–also know as power verbs or thinking verbs–are extraordinarily powerful instructional planning tools. via Teach Thought, published August 18, 2013.

Play & Learn: A new interactive board game, laXmi, designed by Akshay Sharma, aims to teach illiterate Indian women about financial literacy in a fun and engaging way ~ via Design Indaba, published August 19, 2013.

Torafu’s Haunted Art Gallery for Kids at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art ~ In an attempt to better engage the youngest visitors to the Museum of Contemporary Art in TokyoTorafu Architects created a special art gallery just for kids called Haunted House. On entering the exhibition a few familiar artworks appear hung in frames around a large white cube, but something is clearly amiss as everything appears to be moving. via Colossal, published August 18, 2013.

How To Draw Out Your Worst Fears ~ For her Fear Project, Julie Elman asks people about their fears and then lets her illustrative mind go wild gathering and visually interpreting their fears. And in committing to the project, she confronts her own creative fears in a circuitous way. via NPR, published August 15, 2013.

Off Ground: Playful Seating Elements For Public Spaces ~ Exploring different playful elements and seating alternatives, ‘off-ground’ by amsterdam-based designers Jair Straschnow and Gitte Nygaard is made from recycled materials. The public installation is a different approach to the way public space is used and perceived, basing the design on fun and play for adults. ‘Play is free, is in fact freedom. Play is essential to our well being. Why does play most commonly associated with children? Why do all playing facilities in public spaces get scaled-down to kid’s size? Why do all seating facilities in public spaces sum-up to rigid benches?’ via Designboom, published August 5, 2013.

Matali Crasset Creates Living Pods for Modern Artists in the Forests of France ~ Parisian designer Matali Crasset has produced a series of low-impact living pods in which modern artists can spend a summer residency while working in a natural setting. via Inhabitat, published August 22, 2013

WATCH

Carol Dweck on the power of “Yet” ~ It’s just one little word, but says world-renowned Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, it has the power to inspire your child to do incredible things. via Great Schools, published June 26, 2013.

Brené Brown On Why Embracing Vulnerability Is Critical To Human Flourishing…*

“Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted.” 

In this splendid talk given at the RSA, research professor, Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, highlights the tension between the behaviors spurred by our culture of scarcity– a culture of never enough–and the critical function of vulnerability in human flourishing. We live in a culture shaped by fear and blame, argues Brown; everywhere around us, the dominant questions framing the discourse in virtually all areas of society are: “What should I be afraid of today?” and, “Who’s to blame?” Our instinctual response to this culture of scarcity is to armor up in an attempt to protect ourselves from being rejected and hurt.

We wake up in the morning and we armor up and we put it on and say, “I’m going to go out into the world, I’m basically going to kick some ass, I’m not going to let anyone see who I am and in doing so, I can protect myself against the things that hurt the most–judgment, criticism, fear, blame, ridicule. I’m going to armor up and I’m going to be safe.” 

This armor takes on many facets–perfectionism, intellectualizing, etc.–but at its core, the armor serves the same function for everyone: to protect our sense of being lovable, and being acceptable and being worth connection; to avoid feeling like we’re not enough. The issue, as Brown points out, is that, as the research shows, “vulnerability is the path to love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, innovation, creativity and empathy.” Essentially, the strategy that we are using to protect and nurture our sense of love, acceptance, and connection–putting an armor on–is keeping us from reaching those very goals in an authentic and fulfilling manner.

What can we do to move in a more positive direction? Brown suggests three focal points for rethinking…* our behaviors:

  1. Learn to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. Act on empathy.
  2. Learn to move past blame and focus on accountability .
  3. Learn to differentiate between behavior (guilt) and self (shame). Guilt mobilizes individuals for positive action, while “shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change.”

EMPATHY vs. SYMPATHY

Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is feeling with people. So to respond empathically, I would need to try to understand [that person’s] perspective, stay out of judgment, recognize what [they’re] feeling and kind of communicate it back: “Oh, shit. I hate that.” or “Oh God, There’s nothing worse than___.” That’s empathy. Empathy is, “I’m feeling with you.”

Sympathy is, “I’m feeling for you.” […] In Texas, in the South in general in the U.S., we have the worst saying ever, that just smacks and reeks of sympathy, which is, “Bless your heart.” Basically, what I’m saying is, “that sucks, but too bad and God is on my side.” So sympathy is one of the things that really gets in the way of empathy and sympathy is also often how we respond when we don’t want to be vulnerable to someone else’s struggle. 

[…]

We all need different things from empathy. There are no hard and fast rules about what empathy looks like or what it sounds like, but there is one that I will share with you from the research, it is: “Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘At least’.” And we do it all the time because someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to put the silver lining around it. So, “I had a miscarriage”, “At least, you can get pregnant.” How does that feel? Awful. But one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations, is we try to make things better instead of leaning into. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I rather you say, “Wow, I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.” Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection. 

Sometimes, the most profound and eloquent examples of empathy happen without any words. And sometimes, not even with eye contact. To me, if I’m sitting next to you and I say, “Wow, I feel like the wheels are falling off right now and things are out of control.” And someone just puts their hand on top of my hand and squeezes–that says, with touch, I think, the two most important words in my work, which are: “Me too.”

BLAME vs. ACCOUNTABILITY

Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Meaning that people who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expand all of our energy raging for fifteen seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. 

Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process: it means me calling you and saying, “Hey, my feelings were really hurt about this,” and talking. It’s not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger, which is really hard, and blaming is really corrosive in relationships and it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy, because when something happens and we’re hearing a story, we’re not really listening, we’re making connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. 

GUILT vs. SHAME

Shame is, “I’m bad.” And guilt is, “I did something bad.” So shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. The outcomes are hugely different. What we know from the research is that shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, aggression, violence, suicide, bullying. And, almost more importantly, we know that guilt is inversely correlated with those outcomes. Meaning the more someone is able to separate themselves from their behaviors, the less likely it is that they’ll end up suffering from these struggles. And the implications are huge, especially around parenting. As it turns out, there is a tremendous difference between, “You’re a bad girl” and, “You’re a great kid, but that was a bad choice.” 

When we see people change behaviors, make amends, when we see positive behavioral change, you can almost always trace it back to guilt. Guilt is uncomfortable but I’m a big fan of it because it’s cognitive dissonance–it’s, “I’ve done something, and I’m holding it up against my values and it doesn’t feel right.” That’s guilt.

Brown’s work and insights on the power of vulnerability link back directly to Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets. Armoring up to protect the self is a fixed mindset strategy–it stems from a belief that traits are fixed: I have certain inherent character traits that make me lovable, acceptable and worthy of connection to a certain fixed point. And since these traits are fixed and static over time, my best course of action is to keep others from finding out what I’m really like. Shame and blame both come right out of the fixed mindset with its framework of judgment. Meanwhile, the ability to embrace vulnerability, to lean into it, stems directly from a growth mindset. It is a recognition that we as individuals have the agency and capacity to grow, to develop our ability for empathy, change and accountability. It is a willingness to learn new strategies for connection and accepting the risks of failure and pain that inherently comes with trying something new.

The Power of Vulnerability, via RSA, published July 4, 2013.

David Kelley on Creative Confidence, Building to Think, Defining Innovation, Multidisciplinary Teams & So Much More…*

David Kelley, founder of IDEO consultants and Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, shares his thoughts and experiences on a wide range of topics in this engaging hour-long conversation and Q & A with longtime television journalist, Richard Sergay. From building creative confidence, embracing failure, learning by building, multidisciplinary teams, defining innovation to facing his own mortality and his friendship with Steve Jobs, Kelley’s pointed and valuable insights are sure to resonate deeply with anyone interested in rethinking…* how we approach the challenges of the 21st century. I have transcribed some of my favorite stories and insights from the conversation, which took place at the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships 8th Reunion & Conference at Stanford, July 11-14, but the full video is well worth a watch.

d.school founder taps into humankind’s innate creativity | via Knight Foundation, published July 18, 2013.

{ CURIOSITY } As a designer, you kind of do everything in your life with intention. You know, like I decided to wear these shoes, or this wall is painted exactly or not painted the way exactly because of intention. And so, when you’re that way, you’re always wondering why things are because you’re about to have to design the future and so being curious about the way things are now and being empathetic to people is the way that you […] you know, if you’re responsible for painting a picture of the future with your ideas in it, being hyper diligent about understanding what makes things stick.

{ CREATIVITY } Everybody is wildly creative–go into a kindergarten class, go into a first grade, just don’t go into a fifth grade class. But as long as you go early enough, it’s really clear that everybody is wildly creative. When we started working on this notion of building creative confidence in people, we were thinking we would have to do some remedial work, it’s just not true. I mean hundreds of students come through this building and they’re all wildly creative. We just have to remove some of the blocks. What happens is, somewhere along the way, you opt out of thinking of yourself as creative–a teacher said that wasn’t a very good drawing, or you don’t pick up the piano in the first lesson. I mean, I know what this is because I opted out of athletics. I said, “I’m not athletic,” and that allowed me to play sports for the rest of my life but I told everybody that I wasn’t athletic so they lowered the bar. If you say, “I’m not creative,” that’s a strategy for having people not judge you. Because when we look at it, the big fear is this fear of being judged. The reason you move from thinking of yourself being creative, to thinking of yourself as not creative, is really a fear of being judged–that other kids can draw better than you or your idea is not going to be up to snuff.

{ MULTIDISCIPLINARY TEAMS & THE GENESIS OF THE D.SCHOOL } People have been talking about multidisciplinary teams for like 25 years and at Stanford, I can tell you, that meant that faculty from different departments came together, they had a meeting, they fought a little bit and they said, “I’m never coming back to this meeting again.” And then we said, “check, we’re multidisciplinary.” But what I saw after I got tenure and I started teaching classes with different professors–I taught with an art professor, I taught with a computer science professor, I taught with a business school professor–is that when the students from the different departments came together, it was kind of easier to come up with innovations because they were coming from different places IF there was a glue that held them together. The problem with the meetings, where they didn’t work, is that there was no common methodology. So what everybody wanted to do is to do the same thing that they are doing now and have everybody else do it that way. And so the idea for the d.school came from the fact that I noticed people would sign up for our methodology. […] What we saw early on was that design, for whatever reason, was a methodology, was nonthreatening. It’s all so human-centered, so when you got people from different backgrounds together and you said, “Ok, let’s go out and build empathy for the people we’re trying to help in Africa or waiting for the train, or checking in to the hospital,” for some reason, all these various disciplines, these big shot professors who had been trying to win a Nobel Prize, going in in their way, we’re willing to do that. So I felt like I was just, luckily, in the discipline that had a methodology, we call it design thinking, that people would sign up to do. And so I decided that I had to try to touch as many people at the university as possible and I proposed this notion of an institute that could bring all seven schools together and that we would do it in this way that I had seen prototyped in these other classes. […] It’s really about this notion that in this multidisciplinary world, I think diversity is the number one thing that correlates to better innovation. So different people, with different ideas, from different backgrounds–if you can get them to have a methodology where they can build on each other’s ideas, you, by definition, get to places, to breakthrough ideas because those brains have never done the mind-meld to the result in that new thing. The reason that I ended up at the center of this is that our methodology seems to be a universally acceptable way to do innovation, problem-solving, and that kind of stuff.

{ DEFINING SUCCESS AT THE D.SCHOOL } Our success, if you can call it that, has to do with finding a way to get these students to think of themselves in a creative way. And it’s through this confidence that they build by doing–everything is a project, everything is a real world project, and so they see that they have this sense of the world and that they can do what they set out to do.

{ DEFINING INNOVATION } Somebody, I’m trying to remember who, said, “innovation is creativity plus implementation.” I think that resonates with me. Being creative is this notion of having an open mind and trying different things and not having this fear of being judged or failing or that kind of stuff. But innovation is doing something that has real impact on the world. So taking those new ideas and sorting them and synthesizing them and deciding what to do and measuring its impact is really innovation. I usually try to stay away from the word creativity, because it has this meaning associated with talent and artistic that I don’t really mean when I say “creative,” and try to use the word innovation most of the time.

{ FAILURE } The trick is to kind of fail early on so that you get to a new place. […] We reward a spectacular failure and a spectacular success in the same way in the early stages of the project. That allows you to have insights and build a point of view that comes from a wider range of possibilities because you’re not fearful about failing. But then, as we start to converge, we’re not looking for failure, as it were. […] It’s actually hard to fail in our process because it’s so iterative. So, you basically come up with ideas, you show them to everybody that is a stakeholder, including the person who is going to use it, they tell you what’s wrong with it and then you go back and redesign it or even redefine the problem. […] And so, if you do enough iterations, it’s hard to have a failure in the end, because it’s built in that we’re going to cycle through and improve and improve and show it to the people. So we’re not surprised when the product or service goes out into the world because we’ve messed with a lot of people before that.

{ BUILD TO THINK } We really believe, at IDEO and the d.school, that the kind of fastest way to get to an innovation is to not do a lot of strategizing and planning–you know, cash flow analysis out ten years and stuff like that–and that all that planning is useful but AFTER you’ve done what we would say ‘building’. We call it a bias toward action. So, if you want to improve the experience of taking the train to San Francisco, you could start analyzing the train and all that stuff but what we would do is just go talk to Caltrans and have them give us a car and try a bunch of stuff. You know, like tear the seats out, serve coffee on the platform or try to get our bikes on–do a bunch of stuff. We think it’s a way of thinking. This building, this doing, prototyping, whatever we’re going to call it, is a way of thinking. As opposed to the kind of grubby thing manufacturing does after all the decisions are made. We spend a lot of time getting the students and at IDEO, to kind of think about how can you be really clever about jumping right in and finding out as much as you can from building. And we don’t mean like in a machine shop, we mean by doing something in the real place, with the real people and it really works for us because then you start to have real empathy, you start to have real understanding of the situation–what’s really going on on that platform when people are waiting for the train and what’s really going on when they find their way out of the station or how they book their seat in the first place.

[ H/T ] d.school founder taps into humankind’s innate creativity via John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford, published July 18, 2013.

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org

 

READ

TED’s Chris Anderson on How to Give a Killer Presentation ~ via Harvard Business Review, published June 2013.

Why Empathy Is The Force That Moves Business Forward ~ via Forbes, published May 30, 2013.

Class of 2013: Start Designing Your Life ~ Ideo’s Tim Brown’s commencement speech at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Information in 2010. It’s been adapted a bit for length, but his advice to you is the same: start designing your life. via Design Thinking | Thoughts By Tim Brown, published May 21, 2103.

Big Innovations Question the Status Quo. How Do You Ask the Right Questions? ~ via FastCo.Design, published March 17, 2011.

Tina Seelig on The Science of Creativity ~ ‘It’s time to make creative thinking, just like the scientific method, a core part of our education.’ via Fast Company, published April 17, 2013.

35 Scientific Concepts That Will Help You Understand The World ~ via Business Insider, published May 27, 2013.

Transient Advantage ~ via Harvard Business Review, published June 2013.

Seven Paths to a Meaningful Life ~ Adapted from a commencement address Philip G. Zimbardo delivered at the University of Puget Sound earlier this month. via Greater Good Science Center, published May 28, 2013.

Forget Work-Life Balance. The Question is Rest Versus Effort ~ Dan Ariely on why we should rethink…* the calendar. via Big Think, published May 30, 2013.

LOOK

There Are As Many Reasons As The Population Of New York To Use The Dictionary of Numbers ~ The Google Chrome extension Dictionary of Numbers allows users to translate large numbers into human terms. via FastCoCreate, published May 24, 2013.

The Discoveries That Promote Metacognition & Self-Directed Learning ~ via Teach Thought, published May 29, 2013.

Crowdfunded Telescope Lets The Public Explore Space ~ ARKYD is an orbiting space telescope that can be controlled by the public – its primary aim is to make space exploration accessible to anyone who is interested. via PSFK, published May 30, 2013.

‘Warning’ Signs That Encourage You To Do The Opposite ~ The ‘Nature’s Playground’ campaign: To reinvent its reputation, and encourage visitors to enjoy its country houses across east England—national conservation charity National Trust approached UK-based consultancy The Click Design to create physical tongue-in-cheek signage. via Design Taxi, published May 29, 2013.

Lewis and Clark, Meet Foursquare ~ MyReadingMapped makes historic journeys come alive. via Atlantic Cities, published May 29, 2013.

WATCH

Design Thinking & Education: Annette Diefenthaler, IDEO ~ Annette Diefenthaler, a Senior Design Research Specialist & Project Lead at IDEO, discusses creating and launching IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit. via Vialogues, published May 23, 2013.

The Purpose of Philosophy is to Ask the Right Questions ~ Slavoj Žižek on how Philosophy is not here to provide all of the answers. What it can do however, which is more powerful, is ask the right questions. via BigThink, published May 28, 2013.

Take A Secret Look Inside The Cocoon As A Caterpillar Transforms To A Butterfly ~ Using three dimensional X-ray imaging, we can now see the magical process of metamorphosis up close. via FastCoExist, published May 24, 2013.

New playlist: Design giants ~ From graphics to products, check out these 13 TED talks by some of the world’s greatest designers. via TED Blog, published May 28, 2013.

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