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Month: April 2010

Toddlers with iPads remind us that complexity is good; it is complicated that is bad

I must get an iPad!

Gen i

Lots of buzz today about a 30 month old little girl, still in nappies, who picked up a iPad and used it immediately.   What will she be like when she gets to school?

It’s not that she will know a lot.  She will simply expect that she is allowed to act on the world and that the world will respond immediately with useful intelligible feedback.

If people think Gen Y is spoiled, what will they think of Gen i?

So much IT is sooo painful

As for me, I wish the software I’ve been using today was responsive.  One program took over my screen, crashed a live podcast, demanded I reboot my computer, crashed my print jobs, and didn’t work any way.  I queued that reinstall for last thing tonight.

Now I am using a web 2.0 drawing program.  It’s super.  But I can’t find the right order to use the controls.  It stops working mysteriously.   As if design isn’t hard enough.   Well at least we didn’t pay for this one.

Complex is good; complicated is awful

And to remind budding psychologists who stop by here.  The little girl likes iPad because it is “complex”.  The iPad gives her choice and control.  At 2.5 she was playing spelling games.

My software is frustrating because it is complicated.  I don’t have control.  The feedback doesn’t help me find the controls.  And if I have any choice, I have not the time to enjoy it.  I am messing around with controls.

I’ll be interested to see if older people respond as easily to the iPad.  I hope so.  Old computers are terrifying to too many people.

Complex is good.  It is interesting and engaging.  Complicated is bad.  It is obtuse and exhausting.

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A burger not a sausage . . . do you know the difference?

Cooks who think

Put me through a Belbin team inventory and I don’t come out cerebral at all.  I’m all action and connection.

But I am a questioner.  Is what we doing important?  Are the important things getting done?  Are the important details attended to?  Are there exciting possibilities that we would love to pursue? I organize people & things in the virtual world of my mind and allow the connections there to prompt my conversations with the world.

So I love it when people introduce me to furniture for my mind.  I can rearrange my virtual world in ways that produce ideas for acting and connecting in the real world, and my life improves in leaps and bounds.

Eating better with thoughtful experiments

Daniel Young of Young & Foodish tweeted a link today on to seriouseats on the effects of salt on meat.

Oh, I am glad that my intuitions about meat and burgers are correct!  For a moment, I thought I had it back-to-front and pressed on to read the entire series of experiments on salt and burgers.  (I did say Daniel is American?)

See for yourself. It is a good series of “lifestyle experiments”.  And st the end, you will know the difference between a sausage and a burger!

I guarantee you will have a more successful barbecues this summer.  Enjoy!

Ah yes!  And a quick subscribe to seriouseats.

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I read good right wing papers but this is why I don’t vote for the right wing

Top ranking political online newspapers

If you are interested in current affairs, I highly recommend the Indian blog, The Acorn.  Always clearly & succincly written, you will get a daily editorial on international affairs on the sub-continenent that is informed and analytical.

The despair of the right

Dedicated as I am to reading their thoughtful and professional analysis, I’m not sure though that I can subscribe to their world view.

One of their themes is to dismiss the righteous and the cynical as being unable to engage in ‘real politik’.

Some time last week, they published a good parable about two fishermen.  One fisherman was virtuous, never broke any rules and did not catch enough food to feed his family.  The other was cynicial.  He knew that other people were more successful fishermen but never learned their skills.

Accept the challenge by the right

I think it is always useful for the pragmatic ,and even resolutely right-wing, to challenge liberals and lefties. We should take right-wing taunts as a reminder that sometimes we are lazy and use the notion of being right to avoid hard work and the anxiety of challenging  moral choices.  It is also true that cynics are lazy, if not feckless, and cover their lack of application with curmudgeonly commentry.

But don’t buy into their existential despair and ’emperor’s clothes’

I don’t buy the argument, though, that we have to cheat to meet our worldly needs and our reasonable worldly need for status.

Why can’t we simply decide to make money honestly?  Yup, I know they are calling the virtuous and the cynical as sour grapes. That is a reasonable call.  But I think ‘emperor’s clothes’ are worse.  Pretending that sour, rotting grapes are sweet and delicious is just as bad, as dismissing the victor’s grapes as sour.

How I know this is your emperor’s clothes and not my sour grapes

There has to be a middle way of defining a fresh ripe harvest and working honestly, with others, to achieve it.  I want a prize worth having.  Sweet delicious grapes, please.  You may be sitting on a bigger pile.  May be all your grapes are delicious.  But do you know, I don’t believe you.  You are so concerned with losing that you would lie rather than be seen to lose.

That is the real difference between the right and the left.  You want to win even when there is no prize.  It is so important to win that you will invent the race and describe a prize that doesn’t exist.  You say to us. Prove it.  Prove the prize doesn’t exist.

Hmm.  I don’t have to.  If the prize existed, you would be busy enjoying it.  You wouldn’t be trying to get my attention!

Show me the prize or race just for fun!

As for the left, we want the prize and we won’t compete unless there is one.  Yes, I know.  When we compete and lose, we justify our lack of ability by claiming there is no prize. Yes.  That happens a lot.   Right wing politics has its share of curmudgeons though.  Hegemony is rampant on the right.  But we wouldn’t be whining if we thought there was no prize.  It is up to us to go out and get it.

I want to see the prize first.  The lads and lasses that just want to race up and down for prizes that don’t exist can be my guest.   I might even join them sometimes for fun.  But I am not going to kid myself that they are doing anything more than that.  This is leisure activity. Not politics or economy.

Living with the compulsively competitive right wing

So indeed there will be fisherman who are unsuccessful and cover up their lack of success under the cover of virtue or cynicism.  But if the others are so successful, they wouldn’t give a jot about the unsuccessful fisherman.  They would not necessarily be callous either.  They would make the unsuccessful offers.  They would discretely ensure their children were OK.  They would even rein in any unfair practices.   But they wouldn’t be threatened by the unsuccessful.  Why would they?  They have the prize.  Or do they?

All they are doing is negotiating for a prize that they believe they would win.  I think this is what Warren Buffet calls being attracted by the terms of a sale.  “We want a race so we can win a prize.’

Sorry.  We aren’t going there.  First, the prize is too important and your racing takes up too much time.  Second, you won’t necessarily win and then you will whine.

We’ll aim for the prize.  We’ll even set up races and prizes so you can have fun.  But aren’t turning everything into a race to satisfy your compulsion to win (which you won’t necessarily do anyway).  We just aren’t going there!

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What is the barn that I am building?

Your life mission in 30 seconds

A colleague of mine at the University of Canterbury would challenge first year students: “Can you stand up and tell the class (of 400 with intranet camera’s rolling) your life mission in 30 seconds?”

No. Of course, they can’t.  None of us can.  Even if we know our life mission, unless we are running as President of the US, we aren’t likely to lay it out for inspection.

It might even be bizarre to lay out our mission for inspection because it is built as we go in negotiation with people around us.

Your current priorities in 30 seconds

What we are able to do is tell you why what we are doing now is important to us.

Let’s imagine that.

  • A student, probably wearing a baseball cap backwards, stands up and says that he is doing a commerce degree because he should have a business degree but he really likes drinking and racing cars.  That’s OK with me.   It’s trifle ordinary but there is nothing wrong with being a regular bloke.  As we take the fellow (and his mates) through various exercises, he will find that he is extraverted, quite likely a Belbin team-player, with high affiliation needs and low achievement needs.  His career will pivot around his power needs (they might be high or low) and his propensity for action (is he a doer or a people person).  Really this is no problem at all.  He is heading towards a marketing-type career.  Acknowledging his life pattern gets him there faster with less angst.  Let him enjoy himself while he has the time and freedom.
  • A young women who stands up shyly and says she is doing a commerce degree because she thinks she can.  Indeed, introverted, with higher achievement orientation than her male colleague, and probably more concientious.  Her career will pivot around her ability to do accounting and finance and her willingness to take up leadership challenges to extend her emotional intelligence.  Funny how need for power comes up so often in commerce.
  • A professor who teaches because he wants to make sense of it all.  Quite high power and achievement needs.  Probably cerebral roles.

Permission to be ourselves

The mission is so obvious to anyone listening, yet not clear to the speaker.  When our mission is reflected back to, when the world says, “It’s OK”, then we relax too, and get on with what we need to get on with.

An ode to our life mission

So knowing that we can follow a plan without really knowing what the plan is, I’ll point you to a fantastic poem by Josephine Johnson that is circulating in poetry week.

Just remember when you read this poem “your barn” is “your unspoken barn”.  Don’t try to make an architectural plan of your barn (unless your are an architect or barn-builder).    Just admire the barn that emerges out of your life work.

Just say in 30 seconds why your current priorities are important to you.  The great and good around you do understand.  Don’t worry about defining you 30 second talk of next year.  It will be time enough then to set your priorities in the time and place that you live.

PS My colleague knew he was setting an impossible target.  But he also knew that students worry that they haven’t got their life mission nailed down.  By putting the goal on the table, he met them on the ground of their own concerns.   Then he led them towards that more nebulous place where we confidently build “our barn”, reassured by the feedback of respected others, and taking the time to stand back from time-to-time to look and say “what is this barn that I am building“?

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Management theory is reconsidering is philosophical rots

Offer your problems to God, and they may open opportunities that you never imagined.

I am not religious, and if they haven’t clicked away already, my friends who are ‘evangelical atheists’ will think I’ve taken leave of my senses

Management theory is reconsidering its philosophical rots

[Yes, I did mean roots but the typo is apt.]

I heard the idea of presenting one’s problems to God from a Rabbi on Radio 4 today and it is an idea that has been forgotten by management theorists for a long, long time.  It is being actively and vigorously revived though, and if you want to be involved in modern management education, “opening yourself to the imagination of the universe” is an idea that you have to get you head around.

Old school management sucked the life juices out of us

“Old school” management is goal-oriented, and fundamentally arrogant and negative.  It goes like this. “I define the goal and until you have completed it, you are not up to scratch.”

We might even say that old school management is evil. It is even evil even when we are setting our goals for ourselves and not others.  It’s  arrogant to believe that we know what is right, not only for today, but for tomorrow whose shape we barely know.  It is very arrogant to believe that we know and the other does not.  It is evil to undermine the worth of other people and to daily put ourselves and others in situations where we are not up to scratch.

But how do we open ourselves to the imagination of the universe?

For all my exploration of modern management theory, I am still a psychologist and I want to know “what am I going to DO?

“offering a problem to God”, as I understand it, does not mean letting go.  It means beginning where we are, with our sense that the present does not meet our sense of what is right and wrong.   We begin by accepting our negative evaluation, our arrogant assertion that on this matter we believe we are right,  and our overbearing willingness to judge others.  We accept that this is ground we stand on at this moment.  This is our reality at the minut.

Then, we put this evaluation on the table, probably privately, it is offensive after all.  And at last,  we listen to what the universe has to say.    What does the universe have to say about this problem?

We’ve raised the flag.  We’ve said we will hear.   Now we listen!

But are we predisposed to listen?

The difficulty is though, that in this mood, when we feel the world is wrong, and we are right and that we are allowed to tell others they are wrong, in this mood, listening to anyone is far from our minds.

Positive psychology, an overlapping school of positive organizational scholarship, kicks in now and has a lot to say on how to reach a point that we can listen and hear.

We begin by reminding ourselves that it is quite natural, housed in a human body, to feel alarmed when we notice something is wrong.   Our biology is programmed that way.  It is natural .  .  .  well .  .  . to exaggerate.  When times are rough, and we reel from trauma to trauma, or just from hassle to hassle, it is not long before we begin to shut down and focus solely on what threatens us, or simply annoys us.

Positive psychologists help us stay out of this zone of despair, cynicism and negativity.  We look to them to keep us in that positive space where we can notice that something is wrong (or a least not to our taste) and listen to the universe.  It is a tough balancing act.

Positive psychologists are not our only resource, though. Most world religions have rituals to manage this emotional housekeeping.   Balancing our ‘alarm systems’ and listening to others is such an important skill that all cultures have ways of explaining the challenge.    What is saying a brief prayer before a meal but a momentary regaining of balance where we take stock in an appreciative not panicky way?

In our secular world, we explain every thing more wordily but we are not necessarily wrong.  Just ploddy.   Two other very important factors in maintaining ’emotional tone’ are exercise and friends.

The contribution of positive psychologists

Positive psychologists advocate a simple ritual of a gratitude diary.  A few brief notes at the end of each day makes the difference between believing that we have to solve every problem ourselves and “hearing” what the universe has to offer.

Offer your problems to the universe and allow yourself to be delighted by opportunities you never imagined.

And to my evangelical atheist friends, if you are such an objective scientist, try it before you knock it.

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Happiness is managed like clean hands – regular washing?

Happiness, big media and blocked comment

Today, Hamish McRae wrote an article in the Independent on happiness and what national survey of happiness tell us about the role of government in our live.

I wrote a comment only to find comments partly blocked off.  So here it is.

Economist should find the maths of happiness easy

Basically, I suggested that Mr McRae might like to to look up the more sophisticated models of happiness.  Economist should find them easier to follow than most and might take the lead in an informed debate on happiness.

Then I followed through trying to explain the implications of using Lorenz equations to understand happiness by likening happiness to clean hands.

Lorenz equations and Losada’s model of happiness

You might like to Google Losada’s work on happiness and review the mathematical model underlying his thinking.  Happiness surveys presume that happiness is a linear phenomenon where happiness is more-or-less and can be measured as a fixed point with an error score.

More sophisticated views of happiness see it as a phase state (fractal type) defined by a handful of variables linked recursively to each other.  In this model, a fixed point (the measure of happiness above) would indicate severe mental illness.  In other words, someone who is resolutely cheerful despite the circumstances is ill.

Managing happinesss (and unhappiness)

As one commentator said, you are possibly writing about unhappiness.   We know how to create that.  Simply have people reeling from petty difficulties all day long with little respite and they will sink into misery.

Hence the buffering techniques such as gratitude diaries and appropriate ways to deal with distress (funerals, grieving etc.)

Just as hands get dirty and must be washed, our lives have misfortune which must be dealt with.   But misfortune isn’t dealt with by ignoring it just as dirty hands aren’t dealt with ignoring it.

A gratitude diary works like the washing of hands putting dirt where it belongs and reminding us of the pleasure of clean hands.  We know our hands will get dirty again but that is the cyclical process of much of life.

Getting involved in the national debate on happiness

Anyway, economists should grasp the Lorenz equations  easily and might add to a more informed public discussion of happiness.

The rest of us can experience the management of happiness in simple ways: mourning and grieving for what has past, keeping a gratitude diary, focusing on what goes well and not what goes badly.   These alone stop us sinking into misery and spreading it around.

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