Philip Zimbardo: The demise of guys?

Speaker

Philip George Zimbardo is a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect

Summary

Guys are dropping out educationally, wiping out emotionally with girls and sexually with women. They are 30% more likely to drop out of school, and outperformed by girls at every level of education. Psychologically, they are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and make up 2/3 of special education students.

Emotionally, there is a fear of intimacy and women. Male college students are getting increasingly shy and have difficulty in social situations (especially with females). Boys and men seem to prefer the company of other males, and prefer the internet to spontaneous social interaction.

The problem is video games and pornography. Boys watch on average 50 porn clips a week and play 10,000 hrs of video games by the age of 21. These cause an ‘arousal addiction’ – constantly looking for novelty and new experiences. Arousal addiction is different to more classic drug addictions, where the addict seeks the same experience again and again. This is at odds with real relationships and classrooms, which build up more slowly and subtly over time.

What’s the solution? Philip doesn’t know: this short talk is to alarm not solve. But he believes ‘real’ men are important to keep the species strong and that everyone benefits – especially the women who want men that can make love slowly and properly.

My Thoughts

As Philip says: this talk isn’t about solutions, it is all about shock. The internet certainly has its plusses and minusses: people drawn to easily searching anything that comes to mind, and they will always find a result. This encourages novelty in both sex and education. On the educational side: people craving different sorts of knowledge should be able to be harnessed: an enthusiasm to learn should be seen as an asset rather than a liability. It seems like a weakness in our education system if it is struggling to get people interested.

Philip’s talk references other TED talks, and regarding video games (and especially violent FPSes that teenage boys are likely playing) there are talks that are positive on the benefits of video games to the brain (https://tedsummaries.com/2014/12/30/daphne-bavelier-your-brain-on-video-games/). However addiction levels are distracting from other pursuits.

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James A. White Sr.: The little problem I had renting a house

Speaker

James A. White Sr. is an executive coach and management consultant. The owner and president of Performance Consulting Services in Columbus, Ohio.

Summary

53 years ago James was having significant problems renting a house. He was moving to a small town in Idaho with his family, to join the air force. He called ahead at a number of places, but when they saw he was black they suddenly had no vacancies. He eventually bought a trailer from another airman, but couldn’t find a trailer park to park it at.

In the 3 months before the Ferguson shooting (where a young black man was shot by police), 8 unarmed African-Americans had been shot to death by police or white home-owners. It seems that driving while black, talking while black, walking while black are dangerous. James’ grandsons are stopped by police and searched more than their white friends. Their white friends say they should rise up and start resisting, but the consequences are too great.

James does not have the luxury of being angry, but uses his energy instead to educate then expose and counter racism. He appeals to all Americans of all races to question insane ideas, and say they do not accept the shooting of unarmed people regardless of race.

My Thoughts

A story of racism and a sad indictment of the people who refused to deal with him. In my opinion he labours the point a bit – the first 10 minutes was about failing to get a house. It is the crux of his talk and the story is entertaining, however I feel it went too long.

The rest of the talk was about recent events – about blacks being targeted by police with shootings and ‘random’ checks. As an Australian I was not aware the problem was that bad, so appreciated the insight. I wonder if similar racism is happening here.

Navi Radjou: Creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits

Speaker

Navi Radjou is an innovation and leadership advisor based in Silicon Valley. Navi is a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review online. Previously, he served as Vice-President at Forrester Research in Boston and San Francisco.

Summary

Navi talks of the Hindi concept of Jugaad – clever solutions born out of adversity or doing more with less (equivalent term in English would be a ‘hack’). This is important in developing countries, where less resources force them to find cheap and simple solutions. The talk is a list of examples of this:

  • A potter in India has designed a fridge out of clay, needing no electricity.
  • A bicycle-powered mobile phone charger
  • Peru is a high-humidity area with limited fresh water. They developed a billboard to condense 90L water per day out of the air.
  • In China a telemedicine solution is building easy-to-use medical appliances that can be used by nurses or technicians. This will make rural medicine cheaper to deliver.
  • MPesa: a banking network based on phone transactions
  • MPesa energy: a solar powered minimalist electricity kit including a panel, 3 lights and a phone charger. This can be bought in microtransactions over a year, so it can be made affordable.
  • SMS powered internet: to let people connect to the internet without a wifi or mobile internet connection
  • Traffic monitoring and optimization by using cheap low resolution webcams to gauge traffic conditions.

In the developed world people are spending a lot on R&D to charge more for products: more for more. However, natural resources are running low and the products are getting so expensive that more people are being left out of the market. The West could learn to make more with less. Some are doing this: for example a yoghurt factory that is 10% the size of a usual factory, and uses more manual labour in place of expensive automation. This greatly decreases startup costs. The West is also starting to use tools like mobile banking or simpler medical appliances to deliver services at lower costs.

3 ideas to help you innovate frugally

  • Keep it simple
  • Leverage off existing services eg SMS,
  • Think horizontally – decentralised, rather than central operations / manufacturing.

My Thoughts

A lot of examples. They build up to the big 3 points at the end – how to apply the principles. Also useful to point out that R&D can’t keep being an expensive process, at the expense of squeezing more and more consumers out of the market.

Ray Kurzweil: Get ready for hybrid thinking

Speaker

Ray Kurzweil is an American author, computer scientist, inventor, futurist, and is a director of engineering at Google.

Summary

200 million years ago mammals evolved the neocortex. This allowed them to learn and think around problems, to develop new behaviour. Previous reptiles needed to ‘evolve’ new behaviour over thousands of years, but these early rodents could do so instantly. This helped mammals survive the cretaceous extinction event, and since then the neocortex has gotten larger and larger to enable high level thinking.

The brain is a series of ~300 million modules in hierarchies to work on patterns of data: to recognise, learn, implement a pattern. For example a series of modules might look for the crossbar part of an “A”, then a higher module would decide it is an “A”, then the word, sentence etc. It can also work in reverse, using context of higher levels (the rest of the word) to lower thresholds as if asking “I think it is: could this letter possibly be an A?”. This is similar to a Hierarchical Hidden Markov Model, being used in AI to understand language.

In the future hybrid thinking will evolve: combining human and computer thinking. Google will understand language more than just series of keywords, and could anticipate user problems and keep them up to date on research of interest to them. Ray also predicts that nanobots could interface with out neocortex and connect it to ‘the cloud’ – to massively expand our brainpower using an external computer network. This will expand our neocortex: and remember how powerful it was last time mammals developed their neocortex… This time we will not be restricted by the architecture of our heads – there could be no limit.

My Thoughts

The history of the neocortex is one of the better descriptions I have heard. The models he describes are easy to understand for the layman and also useful enough to apply to reality.

His comments on the future seem a bit too sci-fi though. It isn’t that this won’t happen, but he doesn’t really describe how or why. Thoughts of the AI singularity and similar ideas have been knocking around human culture for 50 years, constantly just around the corner. We are no doubt closer now than before, but the nanobots and ‘brain extension’ he talks about are a long way away. Even if AI is ready for this advancement, medical understanding of the brain is still too far away to connect us into computers.

Ben Ambridge: 10 myths about psychology: Debunked

Speaker

Ben Ambridge researches children’s language development at the University of Liverpool, and writes popular science books and articles about Psychology.

Summary

Ben discusses 10 myths about psychology. He finds that:

  1. Men and women are not that different. The 2 largest differences are that men are better at spacial awareness and women are better at language. In both cases there is a difference, but it is so small that the normal distributions mostly overlap.
  2. Rorschach inkblot tests have no validity. They are not used in modern psychology, and were so bad they diagnosed schizophrenia in 1/6 of all normal people.
  3. People do not have different learning styles (eg learning by listening, reading or doing). Studies showed no difference in people learning a task in their preferred way. Instead learning should be matched to the task being learned.
  4. High school results are 58% driven by genetics. By comparing identical twins (with identical genes and environment) against non-identical twins (with identical environment but only 50% shared genes), it showed GCSE results were 58% driven by genes.
  5. Left Brain vs Right Brain thinking is a myth – since any task involves all parts of the brain firing. However, handedness has some validity: in that ambidextrous people have better creativity than single-handed people.
  6. We use much more than 10% of our brain in most tasks. People think we can boost this with the Mozart effect: that listening to Mozart increases our IQ. There seems to be some short term effect, but equal to listening to stories you enjoy. Before an IQ test – do something you enjoy to perk you up and give you a small boost.
  7. Choosing a sexual partner is not driven by culture. Across all races and countries, men favour attractiveness and women favour ambition or wealth. Both sexes prefer the man to be 3yrs older than the woman.
  8. Sportsmen on a winning streak are not necessarily in ‘good form’. Statistical analysis shows they are in normal bounds, but our brains like to ascribe patterns to randomness. We prefer the story that they are on a hot streak.
  9. We are told the Milgram study convinced students to deliver fatal electric shocks to a victim because a scientist told them to punish the victim for being wrong. In truth the students were told the shocks were non-fatal, and when interviewed they believed the science of punishing the victim, and this outweighed the discomfort of a short term non-fatal shock.
  10. People are not very good at detecting liars from body or speech patterns. The only exception is on TV appeals for missing persons – where when the appealer murdered the missing person they tend to look away and use more brutal language.

Psychology is seen as a collection of ideas that all offer something useful. Instead, all proposals should be tested empirically to find the truth.

My Thoughts

Personally I think some of these claims are a bit weak – discrediting things that have long had limited validity. His summary implied psychology has no basis, and this is definitely true of the older pop-culture ideas (including left brainedness, Rorschach etc). However more modern psychology is much more empirical and statistically driven.

His criticism of the Milgram study doesn’t really counter the common view: that people were convinced to inflict pain on others because they were convinced it was for the greater good. The role of authority figures (scientists) reinforced that it was for the greater good. It is also possible people’s interviews after the test didn’t match how they felt during it.

I would have been keen to see more on the variation within the sexual partner story. He stated averages, but more interesting would be if some cultures had small variations in preferences.

Regarding his idea of sportsmen on hot streaks: It would be good to know if there is a feedback effect: that when on a (initially random) streak they get more confident and will do better.

The talk was interesting to debunk some of the ridiculous old ideas of psychology, but I am skeptical that he has cherry picked some points to make more interesting headline myths.

Tom Wujec: Got a wicked problem? First, tell me how you make toast

Speaker

Tom Wujec studies how we share and absorb information. He’s an innovative practitioner of business visualization — using design and technology to help groups solve problems and understand ideas.

Summary

Asking people to draw how to make toast can reveal a lot.

  • Most people draw a flow chart: images (nodes) connected with arrows (links). We intuitively know how to break a drawing down in this way.
  • The details people go to can reveal more about them: whether the supply chain of bread, or engineers drawing the inner workings of a toaster
  • people from different countries see toasters differently (Americans draw an electric toaster, Europeans a fry pan, or some draw fire).
  • Number of nodes is usually around 5, and 5-13 is the best to describe the process. Fewer nodes are too simple, but more than 13 difficult to understand

The second step is to draw the nodes on sticky notes or cards. This lets you rapidly rearrange or change the nodes, to make it better faster. These diagrams tend to have more nodes than one drawn on a sheet of paper – making them richer.

The third step is for a group to draw on sticky notes and rearrange them together. This results in more nodes again, but map shock isn’t an issue because they all saw the process come together. They group automatically organises the nodes to group similar nodes or deal with contradictions.

Managers can use this simple process to map out their organisation or strategy – to break a very complicated entity into the working parts. They simply draw the nodes, then organise or refine them until the patterns emerge. These models can extend to hundreds or thousands of nodes. An executive team for a publishing company spent 3 days organising post-its, and their newfound understanding let them reclaim $50million of revenue and customers now rank them as an “A” – from a “D”.

Next time you are confronted with a complicated problem, try breaking it down in terms of visibly nodes – it is fun, simple and powerful.

My Thoughts

A simple exercise, and definitely worth trying to understand a problem. However, having seen the exercises in business a few times, I’m not sure they always yield results. Ones I have been a part of tend to be too structured and quick (~1/2hr) – rather than the random self-organisation and iteration Tom suggests. These exercises tend not to result in an answer or clarity at all.

Having had the logic explained through this talk, I will try it alone though. Take an idea or problem and break it down, then see if it can be re-organised in a useful way.

Naomi Klein: Addicted to risk

Speaker

Naomi Klein is a Canadian author and social activist known for her political analyses and criticism of corporate globalization and of corporate capitalism

Summary

BP Oil spill in gulf of Mexico showed that despite our talk we can’t control nature – despite our best efforts we could not stop the oil from spilling once it started. At the same time, BP’s CEO convinced themselves that the Gulf of Mexico was big enough to absorb the pollution without problem. There was a clear lack of planning to prevent the issue – we have become far too willing to gamble without a plan B or exit strategy. The same culture exists in declaring war or the financial market – where people optimistically pile in and then seem unprepared when things go sour. This becomes expensive for the government, which inevitably bails them out.

At the moment, climate change is the biggest risk game we are playing. There is a lot of doubt about the models which show warming of 2-4 degrees: people asking “what if we act and they are wrong”. Naomi suggests we should instead be asking “what if the models are right”. Why should we wait for perfect certainty in the modelling – we should act if there is a compelling case that we are on track for massive damage to the environment and human health. Instead the arguments have been hijacked by economists who ask bizarre questions to protect economic growth: How late can we act to minimise damage and what is the most temperature change we can accept? In doing so we are accepting a massive risk, when in truth the modelling isn’t accurate enough to perfectly answer these questions.

Risk is accepted in today’s society – we often acknowledge that taking larger risks gives more money if it pays off. Tony Hayward: BP’s former CEO had a plaque on his desk “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail”. Such an attitude is good for attempting a personal achievement like a triathlon, but we should ask our business leaders to consider the possibility of failure and respond to it.

Humanity’s story is about it’s dominance over nature with technology, that we can “slap mother nature in the face”. At the same time, we have a view that the environment is limitless and it can take the damage easily. We have a master narrative that we can do no harm, and if we do then technology will save us. In response to climate change, there are often new technologies that are spruiked as the solution – for example geoengineering which sprays chemicals into the atmosphere to deflect more solar radiation and decrease temperature. These technologies are untested, but are leapt upon as a low effort solution.

We need a new narrative, with heroes being the people willing to take on risky ideas.

My Thoughts

I’ve read some good books on the psychology of operators on shift during the Gulf of Mexico drilling disaster (“Disastrous Decisions” by Andrew Hopkins). What was fascinating is noone thought of themselves as taking a risk. They made mistakes, but the overriding feature was a confirmation bias: that they twisted the alarms and feedback to conform to what they already believed should be happening. For example they suspected the cement job didn’t work, but only tested one failure mode – and when that was ok they carried on without further testing. Everything after that assumed the cement job was fine. They also put an overreliance on a blowout preventer (which pinches the pipe to stop flow) to fix their mistakes, despite knowing this had a high failure rate.

To me it is interesting hearing Naomi’s comments in this context: that people will carry on assuming everything is normal, and ignoring the alarms that say it is not. Once they have internalised what they are doing, it is no longer risky and people become complacent.

Unfortunately, her talk is more a series of examples rather than a solution. Some of these examples are counterproductive, I’ve not summarised a nonsensical rant in the middle against men.

So what is the solution? Is it enough to simply expose people to the risks they take? It is hard enough to convince people that driving a car is dangerous, not to mention the economic system itself.