Category Archives: observations

How do successful people become successful?

I came across two articles that were of interest to me. One discussed whether talent is overrated, and the other discussed how learning can be improved through a change in mindset. I also read a book called Psychology of Flow.

Why are some people able to accomplish certain goals better than others?  Is it because of talent?  Or is it inherent ability?

According to Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, it is one’s outlook and attitude towards learning a task or concept that makes a big difference.  Attribution Theory, which examines people’s judgements on causes of events and behavior has  a big impact.  When someone fails at a task, is it attributed to a lack of ability or is attributed to something the person can control (e.g. environment, effort, etc.).

Learning to “master” a goal or concept is different than having “performance goals.”   When learning has “performance goals” attached to it, the person is less likely to take risks, and each task is a challenge to their self-concept.  Because the person becomes risk-adverse, experiences that will help them grow or flourish maybe ignored.  However, when trying to “master” a concept or task, people do not worry about failure and take the necessary risks, experiment and tinker with new approaches.   With a “mastery” mindset, the person believes that intelligence can grow and has a growth mindset, whereas, someone with “performance goals” may believe that intelligence is fixed and possess a fixed mindset.

The differences between a fixed and growth mindset are noticeable.  In a recent study, a group of Stanford undergrads with the growth mindset found it easier to transition to college life.

I read the book “Think Big,” by Ben Carson, who grew up in a poor neighborhood in Detroit.  His mother did not even have a High School education.  He grew up in a single family setting.  In the fifth grade, his classmates taunted him and called him stupid.  Currently, he is a neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins University.  In his book, he mentioned how the majority of people are “surface skimmers,” people that engage in “performance mindset,” and looking to acquire adequate information in order to pass a test.  There is a minority, known as “in-depth learners,” who learn for the sake of acquiring knowledge and understanding, also known as people with a “mastery mindset.”  Dr. Carson was doing in-depth learning while many of his classmates were not.

With the growth mindset, in order to grow, one’s current abilities must be stretched beyond one’s current abilities.  This is called Deliberate Practice.   With sustained practice, that is how one grows.  It is certainly unpleasant because practicing an activity that is beyond one’s current abilities is quite mentally demanding, otherwise it becomes mindless.  In other words, Deliberate Practice must be repeated many times.  Feedback on results must be continuously available.  A teacher, mentor, coach, parent is vital for providing crucial feedback.  Deliberate Practice requires much focus and concentration, which makes it “deliberate.”  This growth activity must be hard because it is mentally demanding, it is difficult to be sustained for a long period of time.   Since this is a growth mindset, one needs to focus on their weaknesses.  Because if one only focuses on what they are good at, they already know how to do it well and one does not grow.

Isn’t work Deliberate Practice?  No, because it is typically mentally demanding and tiring, but it is not because of the intense focus and concentration, but rather engaging in activities that one already knows how to do and spending long hours doing this.

A fixed mindset sticks to what is safe and reliable, which is does not help one grow.  Engaging in Deliberate Practice makes it tempting to frame one’s mind into the fixed mindset.

To grow, successful people have immediate goals and long term goals.  The immediate goals are the activities that need to be completed today.  These goals are used as a stepping stone to whatever the long term goal maybe.  These goals must be exact not vague.

While performing a task, successful people have an excellent ability to self-regulate themselves.  When self-regulating oneself, one becomes engaged in metacongnition, which is thinking about one’s thinking and actions.  “What do I already know about this problem?” “If A is about X, what does B mean?”  An example is working out.  It can be painful especially if one pushes oneself to the max.  It is easy to think about other thoughts because it is painful.  But athletes would think about the specific muscle they are developing in their head.  Working out becomes as much as a physical challenge as it is a mental one.

Successful people after completing a task or activity, don’t simply think that their performance is merely good or okay.  They have specific goals and standards.

In one of Dweck’s experiments in 2002, Parents that praise their children for their intelligence rather than for effort, drained the children’s motivation.  The most disturbing aspect was 40% of the children who had their intelligence praised overstated their scores to peers, and made them lie.

To conclude, one must examine one’s mindset.  Does one have a fixed or growth mindset?  With a growth mindset, sustained Deliberate Practice that is mentally challenging and has a specific, measurable goal and can be performed with metacognition is essential to how successful people operate.  This experience may not be pleasant, but pushing oneself beyond one’s personal limits is so important.  It is easy to avoid these challenges, and that is what is endemic with a fixed mindset.

Engaging in Deliberate Practice also ensures one is in the state of Flow.  This is when one abilities and ones challenges simultaneously are it its optimal peak.  When one’s mind is in the state of Flow, there is a merging of action and awareness which people are so involved with what they are doing, they stop being aware of time.  Learning becomes an autotelic experience, which means that engaging in self-contained activity that has no expectation of future reward but by doing it is in itself enjoyable.


Ethics of Neuroenhancers

In some professions as well as in many schools, people are turning to using Adderall and Provigil pills in order to be competitive.   This becomes a moral and ethics issue.  Is it acceptable that students and society are turning to pills to improve performance? What is that saying about our society as a whole?

In April’s New Yorker magazine article, it mentioned that some drugs that are used to treat ADHD such as Ritalin, are being used as cognitive enhancers.  These pills are being taken by people in highly competitive environments such as colleges and highly competitive and high-pressure professions such as Management Consulting.

I have a friend who is currently in law school, which is a highly competitive environment because students are vying for the top 10% of their class.  She has told me that it is quite common for students to use Adderall and Ritalin.  She says people would combine these with energy drinks for-all nighters or to improve their concentration.  Since it is such a common practice, pills readily available either through buying these pills from other students or by diagnosing oneself as having ADHD.

This is a quote from one of the students who takes Adderall:

One of the most impressive features of being a student is how aware you are of a twenty-four-hour work cycle. When you conceive of what you have to do for school, it’s not in terms of nine to five but in terms of what you can physically do in a week while still achieving a variety of goals in a variety of realms—social, romantic, sexual, extracurricular, résumé-building, academic commitments.”

Since these pills are a common place, aren’t users afraid of side-effects?  Many students know other students who in their childhood took those drugs, and were diagnosed with ADHD, this minimizes the fear.

The market for neuroenhancers is staggering.  From students to working professionals to aging people who do not want to lose their memory to small children, so they can be placed in the best schools.  Sales of Provigil, a stimulant, known generically as modafinil used to treat narcolepsy, had increased tremendously from $196 million in 2002 to $980 million in 2008.

The New Yorker magazine gave an example of a professional poker player who uses both Provigil and Adderall to stay focussed for fourteen hours at a time for several days.

In 2002, there was a study done at Cambridge University.  60 young male volunteers were split into two groups:  one took placebos before performing some cognitive tests, and the others took modafinil. The test results showed that the subjects that took modafinil excelled in the cognitive tasks.

If one took these pills, then it would give one a competitive advantage over those who do not take these pills.  An argument from the article was taking these pills would extend work productivity, and help people’s memory as they age.  Another point was if other countries were permitting the use of those drugs, wouldn’t this put our country at a disadvantage?

I feel that taking an artificial pill as a neuroenhancer is a poor idea, it is because these pills contain Dopamine, which can lead to the addictions.  I do not want to live in a society where to survive daily, a pill needs to be taken.  If one’s country cannot compete in a given area, then change focus and innovate.  There are many potential areas to be developed.  On the other hand, if a student at school takes these pills, it puts the other students at a disadvantage.  Perhaps if it is so wide-spread, maybe drug testing maybe needed.

I want to know what you think.  Do you think it is ethical to rely on these pills in order for one to compete at school or at work?  Do you think companies that capitalize on this latent demand are ethical?

Rapid Thinking makes people happy

rapid thinking.001.001

What does rapid thinking do to people? The above chart summarizes an article about rapid thinking from Scientific American.  Scientists from Harvard and Princeton found that accelerated and varied thoughts improve your mood and can change a lousy day to possibly a creative one.   However, if ones thoughts are fast and repetitive, it can cause anxiety.  If these thoughts were slowed down, and are repetitive, it may cause depressive thoughts.   If these slow thoughts were varied, thoughts of peaceful happiness, commonly associated with meditation would be stimulated.

Why does speed of thought affect mood?  The researchers infer that dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is important for motivation and pleasure, maybe stimulated.

If you had $60M, what would you do?

News of the AIG bonuses and other financial institution bonuses and perks have received populist angst. While companies that received bailout money continue to pay out extravagant bonuses and parties, this one did the opposite of that, in this interview a man named Leonard Abess, sold his bank for $60 million dollars and rather than lining his own pockets, he shared it with his employees.  Why would he do that?

He believed that people are the center and the core of any business.  He felt his employees contribute to much of his banks’ success and felt that they acted and worked like owners, and he wanted to acknowledge that.  In his annual report, he acknowledged and thanked his employees first before talking about the various metrics as so many companies are apt to do.

With regards to laying people off:

“….I tell young CEOs, that before you cut anybody’s compensation, before you fire anybody for economic reasons, you deal with yourself. Your perks go, your bonus goes, your salary goes. I am very surprised when I see huge amounts of money that go to the people at the top [even] as there are massive layoffs, especially when they accept government money.

One of the greatest traits that any leader has, according to Mr. Abess, is the ability to listen.  Mr. Abess knows his employees names’, spouses names’ and even their parents and children.  He added that leaders lead by example such as: motivate people, being human and being real and talking to people.  They should also have a clear moral compass and clear ethics and be examples in their communities.

It is too bad in the news, we hear too much about the greedy and morally corrupt leaders and not the ones that influence and inspire positive change like Mr. Abess.  He truly exemplifies a positive force in leadership.

Does anonymity lead to lack of empathy?

In this article, news commentator Alan Colmes wrote about a man named Angel Arce Torres, 79, who died from being hit by a speeding vehicle.  In this disturbing video, there were many passer-bys who witnessed the accident, but did not react.

Has society lost its moral compass that people do not react when these incidents occur? Mr Colmes also referred to the Kitty Genovese murder case in 1964, when she was being stabbed to death on the street, no one did anything to alert the police or perhaps to stop the stabbing despite 38 witnesses being able to hear her screams.

This was a classic example of Bystander Effect, which people diffuse their responsibility because they believe someone else would take a lead responsibility role.  This occurs because people do not want to take personal responsibility for these crimes.  They prefer not to be involved.  They are afraid that they could make the situation worse because they lack the expertise to deal with the situation.  The manner to which people can get involved would be assign specific duties to any passer-bys.  For example, If you are in the public library, and plan on leaving your belongings unattended, ask someone specifically to watch your belongings, otherwise, they simply would not take any responsibility.

Similar to the above video, this behavior exists online.  This article discusses how because of anomie, empathy is removed and people suffer from “Internet Asperger’s Syndrome,” although I disagree with the terminology, similar to this video, there is the element of anonymity that leads to a mob mentality which people psychologically suffer.   The author coined the term Asperger’s Syndrome because of the nature of this disorder where a person lacks empathy and communication skills, while focusing on specific behaviors which may become obsessive.  In the case of the online community, the obsessive behaviors would include checking email, twittering, blogging and not being able to connect with other people, and viewing them as objects rather than individuals.

This author believes that in some cases due to the environment which anonymity occurs,  people in the online community’s goal is to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on another human being, and he called it “Harris’ Law.”

I totally disagree.  I think it is the classic case of Bystander Effect and Grouthink, which leads behaviors that range from apathetic to being an active participant. What do you all think?

What is TV’s future role?

I had argued how TV advertising is increasingly becoming irrelevant.   Due to content-on-demand as well as the emergence of mobile technology, TV will soon become part of the oblivion, or will it?   Is TV really going to the wayside?   Two weeks ago, I attended a PSFK Good Ideas Salon in Toronto.   There was a panel discussion about TV, Social Media and the future of various forms of media.

One of the panelists had an interesting perspective.  As much as TV can be dismissed, it is still a popular medium.  Case in point was the recent viral video success of Susan Boyle, which was made possible due to her exposure to an existing popular platform.   This article summarizes one of the panelist’s position clearly; metaphorically, TV as a medium becomes part of the chicken and the egg argument.  One cannot exist without the presence of the other and vice-versa.  In fact, in the case of Susan Boyle, the Britain’s got Talent TV show became more popular as a result of her viral videos online.

How often do you check your email?

Ever had the experience of checking your email incessantly? You end up checking it numerous times even during an hour? Or do you glance at your blackberry to find new messages?  It can almost be addictive for people who sit in front of their computers all day.  Psychologists have studied this type of behavior.

Why is email so addictive?   It is because of a behavior called Operant Conditioning, which affects learning by attributing consequences to rewards and punishments.  In the case of checking emails, we associate both rewards and punishments as well as any underlying consequences to it.  As this article stated,

Email is addictive because it is a variable-interval reinforcement schedule.

How do we lessen the action-reward link?  The article even suggested using a five minute delay for emails.  The removal of the check email button can also lessen the stimulus too.

My thoughts on this would be to design some software that would freeze emails for two or three hours at a time.  There is software that blocks internet usage for an alloted time designated by the user.   What are your thoughts on this?