Happiness Index: Practical useful stuff

Three chess games, Jul 2009 - 19 by Ed Yourdon via FlickrHappiness Index

We have to take happiness seriously. Yes, we do! The UK government is going to measure our happiness and as we all know, what gets measured gets done!

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology has been around now, in a formal way, for over 10 years. That is not long but after all Google has been around for about the same time. And Facebook for a fraction of that.

Of course, happiness is a lot older. To make a more precise statement about ‘happiness’, academic psychologists in Western countries have been studying happiness with a sense that ‘it is right to do this’ for a decade.

So what have we learned from ten years of the formal study of happiness by psychologists?

What does positive psychology tell us?

Positive psychology is little different from other topics in social sciences. It doesn’t tell us answers. It helps us ask the right questions. Most importantly, it helps us put aside questions that are simply the wrong questions.

What are the wrong questions to ask about happiness?

Are some people more happy than others?

We love to ask who is more intelligent, who is more good-looking and after all, who is more worthy. We like to line people up with the best in front and thereafter claim they will beat the front of the line forever and because they are in the front, permanently the best, that they are worthy of more respect, more love, more care, and sometimes even more food.

We know this is the wrong question for three reasons.

Wrong question – Reason 1

Yes, some people are better and some people are worse at specific tasks and they keep this rank order for a short space of time. They are also likely to build a portfolios around their strengths of today, but they don’t stay permanently on top. A top cricketer might become a cricket coach in time, for example, but he will no longer be the top batsman or bowler. Sensible people retire from competition at the right time!

If we are going to compete in the happiness stakes, most of our lives we must be losers.  Logic fail?

Wrong question – Reason 2

Being good at one thing does not make us good at everything. Indeed, learning a skill takes time (around 10 000 hours of practice as a rule-of-thumb or ten years of organized practice) and we can generally only be good at one thing.

If we think about being good at something, we are going to make a choice. Some of us can choose to be good at happiness. Others will have to make do with being good at something else.  Logic fail?

Wrong question – Reason 3

Asking who is the happiest is simply not a worthy question.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that one person  is permanently good at one thing and with great good fortune also good at two or three other things: does that make them a more important person than someone who is not very competitive at any activity?

Should one child be loved more than another? How corrupting is that for the child who is supposed to be so much better? Lets not go there for if we do it is a case of morality fail, not so?

What is the right question about happiness?

If asking who is the happiest is the wrong question, then what is the right question?

What is happiness?

All these discussions about who is happy and who is not begs a simpler question: what is happiness?

Most of can recognize happiness in the same way that we recognize the difference between a good meal and an indifferent meal.  We just can without necessarily being able to create a good meal ourselves.

Partly we fail to create good meals because we don’t want to learn the skills and do the work that goes into making a good meal. We try cheating with recipes. We add ready-made sauces. We can work on one or another principle ideas – for example, buy good ingredients (would we recognize them?).

The truth is good meals are produced by many factors brought together by someone who understands the issues, who has had a lot of practice, and who is paying attention on the day. Happiness is the same.

• We work with what we have in the moment

• We understand the issues

• We pay attention adjusting as we go

What are the issues surrounding happiness?

Positive psychologists and management theorists in a related field, positive organizational scholarship, have settled on a checklist of FOUR issues to guide our thinking at any moment.  The four issues have been compressed into an acronym PERMA.

• Positive emotion

• Relationships

• Meaning

• Accomplishment

Positive emotion

Positive emotion simply means play nice – not only with others but with ourselves.

A simple trick is to review each day and after reviewing what we feel and the stories we are telling ourselves (and others), we look over our stories and highlight what we went well.

It is astonishing how negative processes are allowed to crowd out positive processes. In part, it’s a survival thing – we attend to what scares us.

The trick to restoring a positive outlook is to make a (written) checklist of what did go well and mark what we would like to repeat and expand.

Relationships

We are intensely sociable animals. Even the most introverted among us like to do things that make sense socially.

Sometimes an activity done alone, like writing poetry, really is sociable, as is the commute of a person who treks long hours to earn an income for his family. We will always prefer the activity that links us to the people we care about.

Indeed, we care about the people when we do things together.  We like the people we do things for and with.  Games designer, Jane McGonigal, suggests we like people better when we play games with them, for this reason. Sports bring us together, etc. etc.?

Giving mental space to our relationships makes even the most introverted of us happy.

Meaning

Life also makes sense when we are working on something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes that means commuting for the sake of our families. Sometimes we use the ‘bigger than’ line as an excuse, e.g. when we go to university because the system requires us to. But we know the difference because when we don’t care about the wider meaning, we hate what we are doing and feel exhausted.

We have limitless energy when we really care about the ‘story that we are writing’. This is a good exercise as well. Write a few lines of your autobiography each night and ask whether you are writing about who you want to be – or about someone else. In a previous post, I’ve suggested that (necessity) entrepreneurs rewrite their story nightly. Writing our story coherently helps orient ourselves to what we care deeply about.

Accomplishment

How we love to achieve! Solving problems is lovely. Triumphing over adversity is invigorating. Dreadful jobs are dispensed with so much more easily when we set them up as little challenges that we can tick of – there! there! there!

Setting little hurdles for ourselves improves the day.

Happiness Happening near you!

If you haven’t already seen Jane McGonigal’s presentation at School of Life (sermon actually) on 26 October 2010, it follows below.

Jane McGonigal is a games designer. She explains the theory of positive psychology. She explains how she used the theory to accelerate her recovery from concussion.  She illustrates the theory by replacing the dreary world of ‘to do’ lists with the PERMA checklist. She weaves her vision for the world into the template of sermons as a children’s story.

It’s fun to watch and shows you where this happiness stuff has got to and where it is going.

Psychology of engagement – in chewable sentences and in boring psychological language

Psychology of engagement in chewable sentences

I am looking forward to the video of Jane McGonigal at TED Global 2010. Followers and psychologists of work, experience and other such related things will recognize her model and the underlying ideas of Ryan & Deci, Hackman & Oldham, German action theorists, positive psychologists, positive organizational scholars and mytho-poetic chroniclers.

This is is nicely stated, summarized brilliantly by Julie Lasky, who also writes on the need to used short pithy, memorable language.  I must learn.  My resolution for 2010: write chewable sentences.

Why are games so attractive?

Jane McGonigal explains why games are so attractive (and in contrast) why so much of modern day life is not (” reality is broken”).

Urgent optimism

An energetic willingness to attack a problem the gamer is confident of solving

Social fabric

Cooperating with other players builds trust and affection

Blissful productivity

WoW games spend an average of 21 hours a week in th

eir virtual world

Epic meaning

Gamers are super-empowered, hopeful individuals” who “believe they’re individually capable of changing the world,” McGonigal says.

Psychology of engagement in boring psychological language

Urgent optimism

We have urgent optimism when we have “crossed the Rubicon” from “wish to intent”. We become driven, goal-oriented, and focused and probably develop “tunnel vision”.  This behavior is highly valued at work and in clinical settings when we want people to do our bidding (e.g., lose weight). It is greatly helped by settings SMART goals and is facilitated by self-efficacy which is itself raised by experience, vicarious modelling, social support and coaching.

We also like being in this state.  Hence the high interest in personal productivity, GTD, procrastination, etc.  We like being active.

The corollary is that we are active when we feel able to begin, able to do, able to finish.  When those conditions are met, and only when those conditions are met “we go like a train”.  [Come to think of it, fellow psychologists, we know there is an association between our perceptions of the fit of a task, but has there been any research on the necessary and sufficient conditions of action?  Not also that work on necessary and sufficient conditions require a process model not a variance model.]

Social fabric

I love the wording “cooperating with other players builds trust and affection”.  What a loaded sentence!

Yes, we work so much better on common projects provided they don’t interfere with the autonomy needed to sustain “urgent optimism”.  When young people work in groups, they actually develop “language of initiative”.  They use more active language and conditional language (if-then).  Willful declarations of positive thinking (and vacuous laws of attraction), give way to thoughtful, engaged, responsive statements of exploration that has moral purpose.  We come alive.

I like the active verb and the cause-and-effect.  We “cooperate”.  Tasks exist on a social terrain that we navigate, explore and construct.  That helps us understand our own task, and raises our motivation to do our part and to work with the group.

Belonging, team dynamics all fit in here.  What psychologists often miss is the systemic links between individual action and group action that sustains the whole.  This is what games capture. How can we do more work like the “language of initiative”?

Blissful productivity

Flow with a good dollop of learning.  Being competent and developing competence.

Feedback is one of the most neglected concepts in work psychology.  Funny that, as it was key to behaviorism.  We are not the worst offenders, thought. Management textbooks even lose the feedback loop from system diagrams.

Blissful productivity is recognized in the outcome – frequent long stretches of absorption in a task.  The key mechanism that allows this absorption is feedback.

Old work psychology used to research “knowledge of results”.  Feedback certainly raises performance by the order of several hundred % and even in the order of 30% for high performers.  Feedforward and concurrent feedback allow us to “enter” a task.

Well-constructed tasks, and popular games are well constructed, allow us to learn as well.  Well-constructed games have first order feedback (what shall I do next) and allow second order feedback.  They allow us to learn the rules and get better at what we do.

Jane McGonigal’s alternate reality games allow, I suspect, third order feedback.  What is really important in life?  What is it important to get good at?

Why or why, have psychologists put aside this important aspect of their work?  I suspect our neglect is political. We don’t want to challenge our political & economic masters who are “feedback thieves”.  My view is strong. Do no evil.  Depriving people of feedback is immoral.  It should be illegal. Because depriving people of feedback stops them learning, stops them taking control of their lives, usually subordinates them and induces learned helplessness.  Learning how to manage feedback loops should be mandatory in our training as psychologists.

Epic meaning

Psychologists haven’t been good on epic meaning.  I have my suspicions that this is also a political bias.  We don’t want people getting above themselves.  We do do narratives, but for people who are trying to hold lowly lives together, not for people who might take on the world.

Meaning is not on the Ryan & Deci list. It is on the positive psychology list which has “pleasurable, engaged, meaningful”.  But in positive psychology meaningful means “social”.

Epic meaning – I like it. A series of events. On each, we could fail.  Often we are terrified that we are failing. We do fail. But we learn.

Of course, games are “fair”.  We have a chance at succeeding.  The world should be fair too.  But we know it is not.  We have to learn to deal with unfairness too and that is hard for an individual.  Dealing with unfairness is triple loop learning. It involves the emotion “this can’t be happening to me”.  Disentangling that emotion from what we could do is very difficult. That’s where parents, coaches, mentors and therapists come in.

But too often, we advise people to dismiss unfairness.  Yes, we can over interpret threat as ‘personal, persistent and pervasive’ and panic unnecessarily.  But often unfairness must be dealt with on its own terms and by its very nature, unfairness will not cooperate.

What we learn from supporting oppressed groups is that the most important response when we feel threatened is to ‘organize’.  Reach out in solidarity to other victims to unite. Not to rehash the victim story.  But to write the winner’s story.  Not vacuously but to engage with the oppressor who we should not turn into a victim but at the same time, who will respond to our generous spirit by refusing to give up their powerful status and capacity to vicitimize us.

Conscious engagement is important.

Of course, not everyone is involved in the same issues that we are.  So they may not respond to our overtures. It is important not to think that our issue has global importance.

Hmm, I like epic meaning.   I don’t think we have the whole answer to unfairness.  But we can begin.  Look for ways that people build epic meaning into their activities. Facilitate their story telling and organization.

Psychologists so rarely do any work in this domain.  We need to think about this.

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Get the internet on your side in the career of your life

Dynamic not static portfolios

For some time now, I’ve been interested in creating online portfolios for students. Students could start a blog, they could start a chat room. They could do any number of things.

In the long run though, they don’t just want a portfolio of who they are. Life isn’t only about ‘stock’, it is about ‘flow’.

We want students who are at ease with the interconnected world and who can get things done when and where they need to get this done. Our portfolios need to be organized dynamically, around ‘doing’ and ‘action’.

Jane McGonigle lists the social characteristics of ‘new’ work.  Adnan Ali has a list of 6 technical skills which we should all be able to do in a rudimentary way.

6 technical skills for getting the internet on your side in the career of your life

I think it would be reasonable for students to have a course where they do a project on each of these 6 skills. Moreover, they should think up experiments to ‘break’ their work ~ that is, to test its limits. In that way, they learn to think analytically rather than subjectively about what they are doing and move from being amateurs to professionals.

1. Market Identification

Understand the structure of the internet as it lies today.

Which keywords do people use to label their work and how do the keywords vary from one group to another?

2. Conversion Model Development

Understand the actions that are taken on the internet.

What action do they want people to take on their page? How is that action depicted? How is it counted? How is it aggregated to have value to the business?

How are various actions connected onwards, for example, through petitions, paypal, etc?

What proportion of visitors are likely to take these actions?

3.  Landing Pages

Understand the ease with which people use the internet

What do visitors see when they arrive and does the page fulfil their needs? What are the different kinds of landing pages (FAQ, blog, profile, etc.) and what solution it is providing? How usable is the page and how does usability affect conversion?

4.  Traffic generation

Understand how people find pages on the internet

How do people find a website through Google? How does a page rise to the top of search? How do advertisements draw traffic? How can we compete for advertising space that draws the best traffic (for us) and how much does it cost?

SEO, Pay per Click, Pay per Acquisition are the technical skills here.

5.  Conversation Management

Understand the 2 way web and our preference for interaction on sites where we control part of the conversation

How can we stimulate conversation between 2 or more people? Why does bringing them together assist them (and us)? What is our role? Should we host the conversation or take part in a hosted conversation? What makes a good conversation?

6.  Analytics Tracking

Understand the mechanics of tracking web traffic and simple experimentation

Track every part of the value chain and run simple experiments to test proposed changes using Google Analytics and other automated tracking mechanism.

Career Psychology and the Internet

One of the principles of career psychology is to train at the ‘level’ that you intend to work.

We want students to manage their entire career, not small parts of it. From the outset then, students should set up a portfolio and ask themselves each week and each month, what did I achieve? How did this portfolio help me achieve and how have I displayed my achievement?

Then each month, they should take one of the six parts and do a focused project to learn more skills. Let’s imagine they have done this 7 times from the beginning of their GSCE curriculum (2 rounds), through university preparation (2 rounds) and through their bachelor’s degree (3 rounds). It is very likely that they will be highly accomplished and goal oriented by the end.

For those of us late to the party, well we can just begin! In a year, we should be as good as a 16 year old! We’ll get there!!

Reality is broken. Games are great. What do you dislike about games?

Game designers are better at psychology than psychologists

Jane McGonigal, games designer extraordinaire, has long pointed out that games are better designed than most jobs.   I agree with her, but oddly I still prefer work.

Nonetheless, agreeing that games designers make better use of work psychology than psychologists do, I’ve been deliberately playing games from beginning to end.

Orientation that gives control back to the audience

Getting into games, the autonomy dimension of Ryan & Deci’s ARC model is clear.  We need to be be able to see what to do at glance. We shouldn’t need elaborate instructions or encouragement.

Something for the audience to get their teeth into

I am stepping through the levels quite doggedly.  That should be the competence dimension of Ryan & Dec’s model.  In truth, games are quite fun while I am figuring out the rules – or when I think I can push myself to a new level.  But they also get boring quickly.  Dogged is the feeling I have!

A way for us to play together

I think I don’t use the social aspects of games sufficiently. Social or relationships, is the third component of Ryan & Deci’s ARC model.

I am probably not very sociable because my motives for playing games aren’t social.  But, equally, I probably get bored quickly because I am not being sociable.

Bringing our own rules to the game

What has interested me more has been the way my preconceptions affect my game play

In a game in which I played the role of explorer in Africa, it took me a long while to realize that I could deliberately kill people and even longer to do it.

In Mafia Wars running on Facebook, I am yet to start a fight. I am yet to invest in armor.  I only do jobs against an anonymous enemy.  When someone attacks me, I just clean up and take out some more insurance.

In Farmeville, I would like to share my tractor.

Does social mean more than sending gifts and energy bonuses? Are our ‘identities’ and ‘values’ also important to us?

Sometimes it is useful to have our values challenged.  Sometimes it is useful to see that we impose rules that other people don’t care about.

Then we have a choice.  Do we want to play by those rules?  Maybe we do.

Springing happily into games design

Spring and new projects

Today is the first working day of British Summer Time 2009. The daffodils are out along the paths and the highways of England. It is light by 6am and it is time to spring clean my apartment.

I am also going to revamp my blog.

This is the third revamp or fourth incarnation.  I will still write about work and opportunity and I will still write about positive psychology – that is, the psychology of what goes well rather than the psychology of what goes badly.

Happiness engineering

What I will focus on for the foreseeable future is “happiness engineering” or “fungineering” or “happiness hacks”. These are all terms used by preeminent games designer, Jane McDonigal who has pointed out that games designers use basic work psychology to make engaging games far more effectively than managers, HRM and psychologists use the very same body of knowledge to make engaging work.

Learning games design from the beginning

I have no experience in game design. Zip. I don’t even play games – much. So this is the blog of a rank amateur exploring what games designers have to teach us about making work and play engaging in the 21st century, in our built up urban areas, with the threat of climate change and financial ruin hanging over our heads!

A community of amateur games designers

I suspect there are a heap of people out there who want to do this too. Please drop me the name of your blog if you also blog. Or join in the comments and suggest puzzles and conundrum for us to solve. And we will do our best.

Here’s to a winning 2009!
Jo

Dream jobs during the slow recovery

Auckland waterfront at night

 

Image via Wikipedia

During the last general election in New Zealand, the National Party (conservatives) made a spirited move for power by offering sizeable tax cuts. So keen we all were to find out our share, we crashed the Nats’ site within hours of their announcement.

My share was considerable: NZD2000 or in purchasing power parity terms, twice what I spent on clothes per year. The Nats didn’t win though. And the big question was why not? We were obviously interested. And the amount was significant.

So why didn’t the Nats win? And is this story relevant to the UK as we climb out of the credit crunch and the threatened recession in a slow recovery?

People don’t like the bashing of people who are unemployed or on the benefit

Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. There but for the grace of God, etc. etc. Both NZ and UK are individualistic, masculine cultures (each to his own) but both countries dislike power differentials and huge disparities of wealth. We knew full well what would pay for those tax cuts and in my case, NZD2K was not enough to persuade me to take bread off the table of someone who is unemployed.

Voters understand that our economic policy requires a million or so people to be out-of-work

Voters are not economics experts but most of us know the basics. We know that if everyone has a job, inflation would take off. Both NZ and UK have policies of keeping inflation down to around 3%. Our economic prosperity depends on several percentage of the population being out-of-work.  So how can we take a blaming tone?

We have new attitudes to work and employment

Jane McGonigal, alternate reality games designer described games as “happiness engines”. And she asks an important question: why don’t we design work that is as compelling, engaging and as fun as games?

We do know how to design jobs that are enjoyable. Indeed the basic techniques have been in the textbooks on management and psychology for over 30 years. And games designers use these principles every day.

We want work that is so much fun we have to pay people NOT to work and to go home and play games! That is the doable demand from the citizenry of the 21st century!

Can politicians rise to the challenge of work that is more fun than games?

I think the first step is a social media solution: set up happiness surveys on the internet. When we feel so moved, we log on and say “I love this job”.

Then we will know which sectors are getting the thumbs-up from their employees, and as the saying goes, what gets measured gets done!

And we can worry about how much to pay people to stay at home!

What do you think?

Hat-tip to Sirona recruitment consultants  who inspired this post.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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And after EQ comes PQ . . .

Jane McGonigal, game designer and games researcher, specializing in pervasive games and alternate reality games.

 

Image via Wikipedia

IQ, EQ and now PQ

PQ is going to be the next big thing in work psychology and management. What competencies do we need for participating, leading and influencing in today’s interconnected world?

Here is a list from Jane McGonigal, the games designer who talks of the engines of happiness. I’ve found links to her work here, here and here.

1 Mobbability

“- the ability to do real-time work in very large groups

– a talent for coordinating with many people simultaneously”

Restated: My immediate thought is the ability to mobilize people for anything – a party, a demonstration, etc. This is a little more though. It probably begins with the ability to appreciate the dynamics of a music festival, or the crowd at a big sporting event. A Mexican Wave is one of the simplest forms

My questions: I get the feeling that I am missing something!

2 Ping quotient

“- measures your responsiveness to other people’s requests for engagement
– your propensity and ability to reach out to others in a network”

Restated: How quickly do you respond to requests for your attention and participation? Do you plan your communication systems so that you are able to respond? Do you anticipate the types of inquiries you will receive and do you update your communication systems to reflect the inquiries you receive? Do you initiate contacts and broaden your network? How do people find you and how do you find them?

My questions: Where is listening?

3 Collaboration radar

“the ability to sense, almost intuitively, who would make the best collaborators on a particular task”

Restated: When you start a task, do you think about who can and will help you? Do you take an interest in what work other people like to do? Have you some kind of model in your head about how to collaborate with other people and what helps collaboration to be satisfactory or unsatisfactory?

My questions: Is this ability to engender collaboration? Or just detect it?

4 Influency

“- the ability to be persuasive in diverse social contexts and media spaces
– understanding that each work environment and collaboration space requires a different persuasive strategy and technique”

Restated: Are you persuasive and are you persuasive to different audiences and in different settings? Are you interested in persuasion and how other people are persuasive? Are you able to communicate through different channels? Do you understand the nuances of using different channels? Have you an emerging theory of when to use various techniques and why? Do you have some idea of what motivates other people in various settings? Are you curious about their motivation? Are interested in how motivation changes when we take part in groups? Can you predict what will individuals will do next in a social settings and what an entire group or community will do? Can you anticipate what individuals, groups and communities are willing to do?

My questions: The arts are so important, aren’t they?

5 Multicapitalism

“fluency in working with different capitals, e.g., natural, intellectual, social, and financial”

Restated: How much capital do you need for your business to succeed? What do you have now? What do you need to do to

Financial?

Intellectual?

Social? Whuffie?

My questions: What is natural capital? Is social capital tradable? Is the “securitization” of social capital the next political innovation?

6 Protovation

“- fearless innovation in rapid, iterative cycles
– ability to lower the costs and increase the speed of failure”

Restated: Do you “have a go” and look for feedback from other people? Do you pick small, cheap, easy ways to experiment with new things that don’t just lead to success but teach you something important when you fail? Do you learn the meaning of errors? Are they useful signals or just sources of distress? Do you celebrate the errors of others (and I don’t mean gloat!) so their experiences are seen as useful and valuable by everyone?

My questions: Has anyone linked protovation to self-efficacy (Bandura) and error-training (Michael Frese)?

7 Open authorship

“creating content for public consumption and modification”

Restated: Do you write, speak, make videos, etc. for other people? Do you expect them to take what you use and change it (mash it)? Do you judge your effectiveness by the extent to which your audience uses and changes your ideas?

My questions: Is this a major aspect of social media? That we expect our ideas to be an input rather than an output or expert opinion? Is expecting a reply rather than approval or disapproval the major behavioral shift of our time?

8 Signal/noise management

“filtering meaningful info, patterns, and commonalities from massively multiple streams of data”

Restated: Have you set up your data streams so that you receive information from many, many sources? Have you set up your data streams so that you can detect repetition (without checking our original sources), speculation, rumor? Are you interested in how information is passed around the world on matters that interest you? Do you streams allow you the benefit of serendipty? Have you got people (lots and lots) to consult when you are stuck?

My questions: How much have these skills changed from the checking of provenance taught in universities? How much can we transfer skills from one domain to another?

What have I still got to learn?

9 Longbroading

“thinking in terms of higher level systems, cycles, the big picture”

Restated: Having a “helicopter view” and seeing a problem from different perspectives have long been valued business skills. This seems to go further – to understand a situation in terms of its dynamics

My questions: If I am correct, then we need to see situations in terms of their feedback loops? And is this an important skill that kids learn when they work out different ways of playing a game?

10 Emergensight

“the ability to prepare for and handle surprising results and complexity”

Spot unexpected patterns as they pop up, and be ready to take advantage of them – even when systems scale in size and messiness.

Restated: Do you look of for the way a pattern unfolds? Do you look for changes in speed as well – from the lull before the storm to the tempest that will blow itself out? Do you look for small levers that have huge impacts?

My questions: Is this improvisation? Are we talking about good reaction times, or understanding complex dynamics?

Hat-tip to NLabNetworks and Andrea Saveri of the Institute of the Future who spoke at the recent NLabNetworks meeting at Leicester.

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