Human Interest

One of the most stimulating books I have read:

Now You See It:  How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work and Learn, Cathy N. Davidson, NY:  Viking Penguin, 2011

p. 8:  …attention blindness, the basic feature of the human brain that, when we concentrate intensely on one task, causes us to miss just about everything else.

(discussing watching the video and missing the gorilla)  …our own minds that had deceived us.  …   That’s how the visual cortex is structured.  We think we see the whole world, but actually we see a very particular part of it.  …  We’re not nearly as smart as we think we are.  …  Attention blindness is the fundamental structuring principle of the brain.  …opportunity for collaboration.  …pool our insights and together see the whole picture.

p. 9:  …plan for thriving in a complicated world.  Without focus, the world is chaos….  …our ability to pinpoint a problem and solve it…may be exactly what limits us.

p. 10:  …the annoying lesson of attention blindness.  The more you concentrate, the more other things you miss.

p. 11:  Because of attention blindness, we often arrive at a standstill when it comes to tackling important issues, not because the other side is wrong but because both sides are precisely right in what they see but neither can see what the other does.  …we learned how to pay attention in the first place.  We learned the patterns that convinced us to see in a certain way.  That means we can also unlearn those (p. 12) patterns.  Once we do, we’ll have the freedom to learn new, collective ways that serve us and lead to our success.

p. 12:  Learning is the constant disruption of an old pattern, a breakthrough that substitutes something new for something old.

p. 13:  In this book, I want to suggest a different way of seeing, one that is based on multitasking our attention – not by seeing it all alone but by distributing various parts of the task among other dedicated to the same end.

p. 14Internet and web are great metaphors for the world we live in, too.  …we are connected.  We can no longer be living in an “us” versus “them” world because our fate and theirs (whoever “we” and “they” are) depend on each other.

p. 15:  You can’t take on twenty-first century tasks with twentieth century tools and hope to get the job done.

p. 17:  …attention blindness keeps us tethered to a system that isn’t working.

p. 18:  But to step back and look at the digital age from the long view of human history is to see that this is one of those rare times when change concatenates:  a change in one place makes a series of other changes in others.  …historian Robert Darnton puts our information age into perspective for us.  He argues that, in all human history there have been only four times when the very terms of human interaction and communication have been switched so fundamentally that there was no going back.  …most important institutions of school and work haven’t changed much at all.  …  As Internet analyst Clay Shirky notes succinctly, “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.”

p. 19:  What we haven’t done yet is rethink how we need to be organizing our institutions – our schools, our offices – to maximize the opportunities of our digital era.

p. 21:  Whatever training the twentieth century gave us in separating the different facets of our life and work is scuttled by a gizmo such as the iPhone, which puts the whole, dazzling World Wide Web in the palm of our hand.

Even our brain seems to have changed because of new computational capacities….

p. 22:  How we use our brain (what we pay attention to) changes our brain.  Those things that most capture our attention – our learning and our work, our passions and our activities – change our actual brain biology.  …brain adapts physically to the sensory stimuli it receives….

Contemporary neuroscience insists that nothing about our brain is quite so fixed or static, including its progress and decline.  Rather, we’re constantly learning, and our mental software is being updated all the time.

p. 23:  …  We stay smarter longer and our capacities expand in more interesting ways than was previously thought possible.  …  As we will see, a major factor reshaping the brain is technology.

p. 25:  …our mental software is in constant need of updating.  …  When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, he anticipated a new form of thinking based on process, not product:  synthesizing the vast and diverse forms of information, contributing and commenting, customizing, and remixing.

p. 26:  The Futurist Alvin Toffler…change is our generation’s byword…key literacy skill of the twenty-first century…ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  …your old habits now hold you back.  …learning, unlearning, and relearning require cultivated distraction because as long as we focus on the object we know, we will miss the new one we need to see.

p. 28:  …world has changed, but we have not changed our schools, our ways of training for that world in anything like a suitable way.

p. 30:  …typical viewer really pays attention to only 6.5 seconds of any TV ad.

p. 31:  …how distraction is used to persuade us to choose differently, how attention is shaped by our emotions, and how what we value focuses what we notice in our world.

p. 37:  …attention is rooted in cultural values embedded so deeply that we can barely see them.

As such, not only is attention learned behavior, but it is shaped by what we value, and values are a key part (p. 38) of cultural transmission….

p. 38:  …in the nursery we began to learn what is important to pay attention to – and what isn’t.

p. 39:  We apply information from one experience when we need it in another.  What makes the difference between the forgettable and the important is what I call learning.

p. 40:  Adult learning builds on the efficiencies of past learning – which is why it is so difficult to unravel the process in order to see how much we’ve learned.

p. 41:  Many times we assume we are acting “naturally” when we’re in fact enacting a cultural script that has been repeated for us many times….

p. 42:  …once everything is located in a proper category, the category itself (for better or worse) answers a host of unaskable questions.  A category is a shorthand.  …  In situations where we share the same cultural script, we proceed as if that script were natural.  In most circumstances, it is invisible.  That’s what “natural” means.  …forced to think about how and why we have certain habits.  This is culture shock.  …  “Natural” is always relative to our world.

p. 44:  Asking babies questions and then answering them also turns out to be how you build a specifically Western baby.  The question-and-answer structure is foundational for a lot of Western linguistic, philosophical and even personality structures….  Love may be natural but how we express it is entirely learned and culturally distinctive.

p. 50:  Learning is the cartography of cultural value, indistinguishable from the landscape of our attention – and our blindness.  …  When we encounter a mismatch between our values and some new experience, we have a choice to either hold on to our values against all evidence, to insist they are right or natural no matter what; or we can rethink them or even reject them, a process that can be smooth or traumatic, partial or complete.  In any case, this process is a key component of the science of attention.

p. 51:  …the only way we have a chance of paying attention differently is by understanding what we pay attention to when we’re not thinking about it and where our reflexes and habits of attention come from.  …  We can actually use the new to reshape how we focus our attention.  We have the capacity to learn, which is to say we have the capacity to change.

p. 52:  …the changes we talked about in the last chapter transform not merely our behavior but the neural networks that make attention possible.  Every manifestation of attention in the real world begins in the brain….

…Hebbian priniciple:  Neurons that fire together, wire together.  This means that the more we repeat certain patterns of behavior (that’s the firing together), the more those behaviors become rapid, then reflexive, then automatic (that’s the wiring).

p. 53:  Repetitions literally shape specific patterns in very particular and extremely complex ways, coordinating impulses and activities across parts of the brain and nervous system that might be quite distant from one another.

p. 55:  What we learn is also something we unlearn.

p. 56:  …making new neural connections means severing others…another key principle of learning…programmed cell death.  Programmed cell death means that unused cells must die.

p. 57:  On a biological level, attention blindness is located very deep within the brain and central nervous system.  If things are habitual, then we do not pay attention to them – until they become a problem.  Attention is about difference.  …  Being aware of where and when I’m paying attention marks the difference from the usual forms of attention in everyday life.

p. 58:  In times of major, global changes such as our own, a lot of life’s incidents leave an indelible mark….  They disrupt patterns that were laid down long ago.  They unbundle neurons that have been firing together for a while.  They start a new process of bundling, but until that process is successful – until enough firing and re-wiring occur to become habitual – we will feel the stresses of the new.  …a number of educators are advocating game principles as a learning system.  …disruption in all its forms has the same effect:  It makes us realize that what we thought was natural is actually a learned behavior that has come to feel that way thanks to the biological consequences of repetition.

p. 59:  Sometimes, in periods of great change, there is a mismatch between the patterns our institutions reinforce and the patterns we need to operate efficiently in the new situation we are facing.  …time of tremendous change.  That is when we need to unlearn the previous patterns because they are not serving us.  That is when we need to unlearn old habits so we can begin to relearn how to learn again.

p. 61:  The final principle of learning – and unlearning and relearning – we need to understand is mirror neurons.

p. 62:  These specialized neurons mirror the person (or monkey) observed as if the observer himself were performing the action.

p. 64:  To live is to be in a constant state of adjustment.  …we can also train ourselves to be aware of our own neural processing – repetition, selection, mirroring – and arrange our lives so we have the tools and the partners we need to help us to see what we might miss on our own.  …when we feel distracted, something’s up.  Distraction is really another word for saying something is new, strange, or different.  …think of distraction as an early warning signal….  Only when we are disrupted by something different from our expectations do we become aware of the blind spots we cannot see on our own.

p. 65:  …the better question is whether the form of learning and knowledge-making we are instilling in our children is useful to their future.  …

p. 66:  That is how attention works.  Until we are distracted into seeing what we are missing, we literally cannot see it.

p. 70:  What if we assumed that their experiences online had already patterned their brains to a different kind of intellectual experimentation – and what if we let them show us where the pedagogical results of such an experimentation might lead?  From the way most schools operated in 2003 – from preschool to graduate schools – you wouldn’t have had much of an idea that the Internet had ever been invented.

p. 72:  In the world of technology, crowdsourcing means inviting a group to collaborate on a solution to a problem…works best when you observe three non-hierarchical principles.  First…difference and diversity – not expertise and uniformity – solves problems.  Second,…if you try to force a solution, you limit the participation and therefore the likelihood of success.  And third…the community most served by the solution should be chiefly involved in the process of finding it.  …crowdsourcing is suspicious of expertise…assumes that no one of us individually is smarter than all of us collectively.

p. 74:  Interconnection was the part the students grasped before any of us did.

p. 77:  The iPod experiment was not an investment in technology.  It was an investment in a new form of attention….  It was also an investment in student-led curiosity, whose object was not a hunk of white plastic, but the very nature of interactivity, crowdsourcing, customizing, and inspired inquiry-driven problem solving.  …  This iPod experiment was a start at finding a new learning paradigm of formal education for the digital era.

p. 78:  …iPod experiment was an acknowledgement that the brain is above all, interactive, that it selects, repeats and mirrors, always, constantly, in complex interactions with the world.  …  I’m not going to argue that the interactive task of surfing is better or worse than the reception model that dominated mass education in the twentieth century.  “Better” and “worse” don’t make a lot of sense to me.  But there’s a difference, and, as we have seen, difference is what we pay attention to.  …  The Web does not prescribe a clear, linear pathway through the content.  There is no one way to move along a straight-and-narrow road from beginning to end.  …  What form of education is required in a world of crowdsourcing, social networking, customizing, and user-generated content…?

p. 79:  Rather than thinking of ways we can be preparing our students for their future, we seem determined to prepare them for our past.

p. 81:  …education was designed to train unskilled workers to new tasks that required a special, dedicated form of attention.  School was thought to be the right training ground for discipline and uniformity.  …  Focused attention to a task became the ideal form of attention….

p. 84:  The real issue isn’t that our schools are too challenging.  …the most frequent complaint and cause of disaffection from schooling is boredom and lack of rigor. … Kids aren’t failing because school is too hard but because it doesn’t interest them.  It doesn’t capture their attention.  …  key factors for educational success – rigor, relevance, and relationships….  Yet virtually all of American education is still based on the outmoded model of college prep that prepares students for middle management and factory jobs that, because of global rearrangements in labor markets in large part no longer exist.  … one needs an emphasis on creative thinking at all levels.

p. 84-85:  …requires attention to surprise, anomaly, (p. 85) difference, and disruption, and an ability to switch focus, depending on what individual, unpredictable problems might arise.  …  Learning to think in multiple ways, with multiple partners, with a dexterity that cannot be computerized or outsourced, is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

p. 86:  We need far more inquiry-based opportunities….  The world is full of problems to solve that cost little except imagination, relevant learning, and careful guidance by a teacher with the wisdom to not control every outcome….

p. 94:  That is the glistening paradox about great education:  It is not about answering test questions.  It is about knowing that, when tested by the most grueling challenges ahead, you have the capacity to learn what is required to succeed.  …unlearning is a skill as vital as learning….  Unlearning requires that you take an inventory of your changed situation, that you take an inventory of your current repertoire of skills, and that you have the confidence to see your shortcomings and repair them.  …  Confidence in your ability to learn is confidence in your ability to unlearn, to switch assumptions or methods or partnerships in order to do better.

p. 95:  …learned the inestimable skill of responding to a challenge.

p. 107:  That’s pretty much what I aspire to as an educator:  not in teaching facts but in conveying to my students the passion of learning, far beyond my classroom, far beyond any graduation ceremony.

p. 108:  “Participatory learning” is one term used to describe how we can learn together from one another’s skills….  “Cognitive surplus” is another term used in the digital (p. 109) world for that ‘more than the sum of its parts’ form of collaborative, customized thinking that happens when groups think together online.

p. 109:  Collaboration by difference is an antidote to attention blindness.  It signifies that the complex and interconnected problems of our time cannot be solved by anyone alone and that those who think they can act in an entirely focused, solitary fashion are undoubtedly missing the main point that is right there in front of them….

p. 109-110:  If students are trying to figure out what kind of writing we want in order to get a good grade, communication is a secondary point of the writing.  What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledegook?  Research indicates that, at every age level, people take their writing more seriously when it will be evaluated (p. 110) by peers than when it is to be judged by teachers.

p. 112On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins…ideas about the brain’s ‘memory prediction framework.’  My own interest is in how memories – reinforced behaviors from the past – predict future learning, and in how we can intentionally disrupt that pattern to spark innovation and creativity.

p. 113:  …testing assumptions, not accepting them … collaboration and debate … count on your capacity to learn and succeed.  …was a different way of seeing.

p. 115:  Learning to give and take feedback responsibly should be a key component of our training as networked citizens of the world.

p. 116:  …if constant public self-presentation and constant public feedback are characteristics of a digital age, why aren’t we rethinking how we evaluate, measure, test, assess, and create standards?  Isn’t that another aspect of our brain on the Internet?  Collective responsibility – crowdsourcing – seemed like a fine way to approach assessment.

p. 117:  …grading doesn’t have ‘real world appropriateness.’

p. 118:  Grading, in a curious way, exemplifies our deepest convictions about excellence and authority, and specifically about the right of those with authority to define what constitutes excellence.  If we crowdsource grading, we are suggesting that young people without credentials are fit to judge quality and value.

p. 119:  How you measure changes how you teach and how you learn.

p. 136:  …business schools today insist that ‘culture’ and ‘context’ are the two most important features of global executive education.

p. 149:  Far better to diagnose what the issues are and then find the right tools, methods and partners to compensate for those so that you are able to contribute in the unique ways that you can.  …better to set the challenge and leave the solution open-ended rather than prescriptive.  …The way you overcome the obstacles in your environment is by adapting your movements to the environment.

p. 150:  Jane McGonigal.  McGonigal is game designer and social evangelist who believes that ‘reality is broken’ and that the best way to fix it is by playing games.  …  For McGonigal, games are the solutions to many of our problems….  …we would learn than challenges never stop and that it is worth risking utter failure in order to have an epic win.

p. 154:  McGonigal insists that many problems are intractable only because we keep trying the same failed solutions.

p. 164:  If nearly everyone is playing video games, we’re not talking about a social problem anymore.  We’re talking about a changed environment.  …  Absorption in games doesn’t contradict social life, civic engagement, focus, attention, connection with other kids, or collaboration.  On the contrary, it seems to promote all of the above.

p. 167-68:  …five key attributes of what they term the ‘gamer disposition’:

1.  they are bottom-line oriented

            2.  they understand the power of diversity

            3.  they thrive on change

4.  they see learning as fun

(p. 168)5. they ‘marinate’ on the edge

It is hard to think of five better qualities for success in our always-on digital age.

p. 173:  …most of the institutions of formal education that we think of as “natural” or “right” (because they are seemingly everywhere) were actually crafted to support an idea of productive labor and effective management for the industrial age.  We have schooled a particular form of attention based on a particular set of values for the last one hundred years, with an emphasis on specialization, hierarchy, individual achievement, the “two cultures,” linear thinking, focused attention to task, and management from the top down.  Those values may well have matched the needs of the industrial workplace.  Now that the arrangements of our working lives are changing in a contemporary globalized workplace, those modes of training aren’t doing us much good.  Why are we still hanging on to institutions to support a workplace that no longer exists the way it did a hundred years ago?

p. 174:  …take the time to examine how the new workplace requires different forms of attention than the workplace we were trained for, or even the workplace for which, ostensibly, we are training our children.

p. 175:  The gorilla isn’t the Internet but rather a fundamental contradiction between how we actually are working today and the expectations we have for our workplace and our workday.

p. 176:  It is not that the Internet is distracting.  It is a fact of twenty-first century life that we now work in a jumpier, edgier, more shape-shifting way than we did a decade ago.  …  To say we live in an interactive era is a gross understatement.  It’s just missing the point to say all that connection makes us unproductive when connection is, for most of our endeavors, what also makes us productive.  The principal mechanism of our productive labor is also the engine of our distraction.

p. 178:  The science of attention is key to the workplace of the digital future.  …  Gloria Mark…how we pay attention in the information-age workplace….

p. 179:  …almost half the time what is distracting us is our own minds.  …  Mark’s emphasis on different forms of mind wandering, including those I instigate all on my own, is far more consistent with the modern science of attention….  If we’re paying attention to one thing, we’re not paying attention to something else – but we are always paying attention to something.  That’s the way the brain is structured.  …  It’s precisely because we are always paying attention to something that we need a workplace optimally designed to help us focus in a way that facilitates the kind of productivity the workplace values.  There is no attention or productivity in the abstract.

p. 187:  Aza Raskin:  “We often think we’ve solved a problem when we’ve merely come up with a good answer to the wrong question.”  He’s big on unlearning.  He calls it inspiration.

p. 192:  At HASTAC our programmers and our server administrators work together constantly.  Neither group reports to the other, but the relationship is mutually interdependent while evolving quite independently, except at the point of connection.

p. 194:  As educator and philosopher John Dewey insisted over and over throughout his championing of integrated, practical teaching methods, none of these modern divisions are natural for humans.

p. 195:  Reforming how we learn and work and play together in the digital age isn’t going to happen overnight either.  …corporation of the ever-changing future.

p. 196:  IBM’s remaking of itself is one of the legends in modern business history….

p. 197:  Chuck Hamilton, IBM’s virtual learning strategy leader:  “… We can see that social learning and informal connection of all kinds is becoming a sort of virtual glue for globally integrated companies.”

p. 198:  Chuck Hamilton:  “There’s a dark side to every light side.  People often accentuate the dark side out of fear.”  …  The digital, distributed, fully globalized office isn’t going away.  Work will be even more dispersed in the future.  So as virtual learning strategy leader, Hamilton’s job is to keep asking, ‘How can I take all this and make something good?’  Hamilton believes we learn best when we learn together, and learning in the workplace of the future is continual.

p. 199:  …means a new kind of self-control and self-regulation.  Where does one learn how to do that?  …  Very little in traditional formal education … prepares us for this new decentralized workplace, although these are exactly the skills required for mastery in multiplayer online games.  This lack of preparation is at the heart of many of our difficulties in adjusting to the new workflow.  …unproductive mismatch and also a profound sense of dislocation and distraction.  Except at the most innovative margins, we have not even begun to think about how we can train or retrain our focus and attention for the distributed digital workplace, for the method we’ve been calling collaboration by difference.

p. 200:  The challenge, then, is to figure out how to change our institutions’ structures to support these forms of collaboration based on difference.  …  Hamilton notes that flexibility serves IBM’s global business operation.  …  Flexibility is a key asset in achieving a more productive twenty-four-hour global work cycle.  …  Take attention, for instance.  How one pays attention in a distributed environment has to change.  …  IBM was able to create an entirely new kind of multiperson conversational culture, with its own methods and tools.  The key, as is often the case in this kind of innovation, involves deemphasizing the typical hierarchy of a meeting through a clever use of technology.  …conference call now flows not only verbally but by text, too.

p. 201:  With same-time backchatting, while two people are talking, everyone else can be participating, responding to the topic, offering ideas and responses, coming up with new twists that can easily turn the conversation in a new direction without any rudeness or interruption of the flow.  Plus, you can save these useful text messages and refer to them later.

p. 202:  One cognitive consequence of this method is learning to pay attention to multiple inputs from others, including by reviewing the backchannel later.  …  Everyone contributes to the process, and credit goes not to the person with the best idea but to the team that functions best.  …  Conversations progress almost like “twin talk,” with people finishing one another’s sentences, filling in blank spaces, nudging the discussion one way or another, problem solving together.

p. 203:  Rather than seeming like multitasking, the activity itself flows.  Compressed, efficient, energizing, and deeply interactive, this synchronous flow, Hamilton insists, makes IBM employees know they can rely on one another….  Something is off-kilter, we both agree, when school or the workplace, where we should be productively in the moment, prohibit behaviors that have already transformed our everyday lives.  …perhaps the source of distraction in the workplace isn’t technology – perhaps it is the outmoded practices required by our schools and workplaces.

p. 204:  Chuck Hamilton could not be more certain that these kinds of anachronisms and discrepancies are the real source of much twenty-first century workplace related stress.  Holdovers from antiquated ways of working in a world that no longer exists leave an unproductive residue of alienation over everything else.  …  Hard work is not the opposite of play.  …  He’s excited by IBM’s practice of “endeavor-based work.”  … contribute certain kinds of talents or even dispositions as needed to a project and stay on the team as long as they contribute to its success.  He’s confident that people know when the time comes to move on to the next project.  They rarely need to be told.  Why would they want to waste their time or anyone else’s when their contribution is no longer needed?  That is unfulfilling for everyone.  … everyone has learned who performed best at what, so for a future task, you know whom to call.  Endeavor-based organization is structurally different (p. 205) from forms of work ultimately grounded in an assembly-line organizational model, with each person always contributing in the same specialized way to the same team to make the same product.

p. 205:  In endeavor-based organization hierarchy must be lax and shifting.  …  Hierarchy isn’t so much the guiding principle as trust is:  depending on one another’s capacities to work together.  …everyone is a potential resource for everyone else.  …  Global teaming requires an inherent humility, an intuitive and inquisitive gift for learning and unlearning, because one’s patterns and expectations constantly come into productive collaboration with those of people schooled in other traditions, other cultures.

p. 206:  You succeed by seeing differently.  …  Learning only works in a corporation that embraces learning all the way down, Hamilton insists.  Take corporate jamming.  The term is borrowed from the improvisational sessions of jazz musicians and is IBM’s way of drawing upon its worldwide network of employees.

p. 207:  That openness of contribution leading to subsequent participation, with evolving collaborative roles and responsibilities based on one’s participation and actual performance (rather than on one’ job description or title), is exactly how work flows in the new open, digital, interactive workplace.

p. 208:  Hamilton also believes that playfulness is part of creative, innovative, collaborative, productive work.  One function of play in our lives is to learn how to enjoy working with others….

p. 209:  Through play, people learn to trust one another; they learn one another’s skills and sensitivities, blind spots and potentials in an arena where the stakes aren’t high.  They learn respect.  You need that in order to develop trust….  Believing in the importance of one’s role is crucial in endeavor-based organization.  …  Hamilton uses the virtual environment of Second Life a lot in his work.  Second Life was developed by Linden Lab in 2003.

p. 212:  That’s a central question of this entire book.  Given the new options in this digital world, why, exactly, would we want to do things the way we did them before?  …  The question isn’t which is better, the past or the present.  The question is, given the present possibilities, how can we imagine and work toward a better future?  The term affordance is used by technology experts to signify things we can do now, because of the way we are all connected to one another, that we could not do in the twentieth century.

p. 213:  The same passions and curiosities that motivate us to learn in our daily lives can be reignited, given the right, inspiring workplace.  In the right setting, we want to learn.  …  Hamilton believes curiosity and passion can be built into the contemporary workplace.  Philosophers from Confucius to Freud have insisted that meaningful contribution (not laziness) is the human ideal.

p. 214:  …the twenty-first-century workplace holds greater possibility than ever before for more people to be able to do what they love and love what they do.  …enjoyment is, after all, one of our most powerful motivators.  …  We see what we expect.  When suddenly, abruptly, our context changes, we are forced then to pay attention to all the things we didn’t see before.  …  Distraction signals a serious realignment of our attention, a necessary realignment if we are going to flourish….  The outcome isn’t sustainability but thrivability, the potential to thrive in the conditions that comprise our collective future.

Lessons we can all learn and apply

1.  Seeing Ourselves as Others See Us

p. 219:  Tony O’Driscoll, management consultant, uses 2nd Life:  He can relate dozens of stories about individual workers and companies that thought they understood what was happening but didn’t.  They were stuck because they could not, in real life, remove themselves from the situation they were in, and that meant they couldn’t really see it.

p. 220:  Educators, as we have seen, aren’t any more likely than business people to see how their institutions could be changing.  Collaboration and context are key words for him.  Without those we cannot succeed at work in the future.  …  Too often in the actual workplace when there is cultural diversity or conflict, we simply ignore it.  We manage difference rather than sorting it out.  …  The whole point of collaboration by difference is that we cannot see our own gorillas.  We need one another to help us, and we need a method that allows each of us to express our difference.  …  One of O’Driscoll’s precepts is, ‘It’s not about the technology, it’s about the neurology.’  We don’t see the rules of our culture until something makes an impression on us and forces us to reconsider.

p. 221:  Seeing our own blind spots in real life often requires disruption.  …  Being a great collaborator has replaced the old icon of success, the ‘self-made man.’ …  Real creativity comes from difference, not from overlap or mirroring.

2.  Seeing Talents Where Others See Limitations

Thorkil Sonne, Danish entrepreneur

p. 222:  …’disability’ is not a fixed term but one relative to a historical moment.

p. 224:  The key to Specialisterne’s success, Sonne observes, is facilitating ‘situations that fit employees’ personalities and ambitions and don’t force everyone into one mold.  That just causes stress, and workplaces already produce too much of that.’  …think about Specialisterne as a metaphor for work in the future.  …  Everyone thrives in different situations and brings different assets.

p. 225:  …mastered the lesson of collaboration by difference:  Valuing others who do not mirror our talents can help us succeed.  …  To make collaboration by difference work, we have to understand how our own multifarious talents might come into play in new ways.

3.  Seeing Work as Part of Life

Margaret Regan, President and CEO, FutureWork Institute

p. 227:  What’s the key to unlocking what’s best in us when it comes to our jobs?

p. 228:  Regan was operating from a simple principle:  The workplace of the future had to start taking into account the life desires, not just the work ambitions, of workers.  …  It’s all about match, seeing the entire workplace as a collective, collaborative whole, and understanding what each member can contribute and in what way.  …  Regan wants people to bring the best parts of themselves to the idea of working.

p. 229:  Workers in the economy of the future need to have work structured around their lives, not the other way around.  …reimagining a nonexploitative alternative to the idea of freelance work.  FutureWork maintains a circle of ‘affiliates’….

p. 230:  Designing company policy based on false assumptions about what others will or won’t approve, she notes, is one of the biggest innovation killers.

p. 231:  Time is the new currency – and many young people will gladly trade money to get more time.  Most of them don’t even have desks anymore.  We’re beyond the era of the wired desktop.  We’re entering the era of the wireless network.  …  She is adamant that the future of work is already here.  Most of us just have not recognized how profound the change is.

4.  Seeing How and When We Can Best Work Together

Shane Battier, Duke basketball, now Houston Rockets pro team

p. 232:  He’s a genius at figuring out how and when we work best together in fluid and ever-changing situations, who shines when, and how to encourage that stellar contribution in the actual moment.  …this remarkable collaborative ability was even dubbed the Shane Battier effect by sportswriter, Michael Lewis.  According to Lewis, the Battier effect is the ability to lead your team to a win not by your own prowess but by arranging a situation in which each participant play to his very best ability in relationship to the opponents.  It is also a remarkably modest form of leadership that lets others shine and at the same time empowers others to take responsibility and to take charge.

p. 233:  Shane Battier’s nickname is Lego, because when he comes to the court, he makes all the pieces fit together.  That’s exactly what defines the manager of the twenty-first century….

5.  Seeing the Possibilities of Mass Collaboration

Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales, Wikipedia

p. 236-37:  influenced by the Austrian economic Friedrich von Hayek, particularly the essay ‘The Use of Knowledge in Society’….  …decisions are best made by combining local knowledge rather than by ceding knowledge to a central authority.

p. 237:  another influence – Eric S. Raymond, ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar,’ an impassioned paean to an unregulated, open-source Internet….  Internet thrives not by regulation, control or hierarchy but by difference and by magnitude….

p. 238:  Are there lessons we can draw from Wikipedia for everything else we do, for the ways we might work in the future?  ‘Huge ones,’ he says without hesitation.  ‘It’s about working with accountability – everything is public – and about transparency and visibility.  …’

p. 239:  ‘Public collaboration is still in its infancy,’ Wales says….  Collaboration isn’t easy.  But we’re just beginning, and I think we’re going to go a long way.’

p. 241:  All are experts at collaboration by difference and all have learned the Lego lesson that difference itself varies depending on context.  …  Yet when the principles of difference are honored, when we gear our interaction to the unique skills and styles of our collaborators, something great happens that is far larger than the sum of the parts.  We are all differently abled.  And putting those different abilities together can add up to something grand, something that makes us winners.  The principles are simple and can be summed up in three points:  (1) All partners know that their contribution is valued….  (2) All individuals see that their contribution is crucial to the success of the larger vision or mission of the group.  (3) Everyone knows that if their contribution passes muster, it will be acted upon and acknowledged as a contribution by the group and will be rewarded in a meaningful way as part of the success of the group.

6.  Seeing the Future of Work by Refusing Its Past

Proximity Hotel, Greensboro, NC, ‘greenest’hotel in America – Platinum LEED designation

Dennis Quaintance, CEO, entrepreneur, developer, businessman cum environmentalist

p. 244:  Working with him on this project meant starting over.  ‘We realized that we wouldn’t get any different outcomes with all the same inputs’….  And in the process they ended up with over seventy sustainable practices, a valuable cache of new methods that could be profitably employed in future projects.

p. 248:  For Dennis Quaintance, the teamwork, the sense of collective purpose, the connection, and the ability to pass on what they learned so others can learn too were the most gratifying parts of the whole endeavor.  … What changed for Dennis Quaintance, Steve Johnson, and the other members of the Proximity team, was their way of viewing the future.  Instead of seeing only through the lens of profit, they were determined to view the future through a dual lens of good business and good environment.  …  If you see only through the lens you’ve been wearing all along, innovation is invisible.  You’ll never see it.

p. 250-51:  Crowdsourcing talent is a skill we’re all just learning, a configuration in which each of us is a node connected to peers and extending outward, so our solutions can help others find solutions.  We are only beginning to access, cultivate, reward, and even teach in these new ways.  …  We’re still very new at thinking of productivity as pushing the imagination in such new ways that one doesn’t even know the results of one’s own experiments….  The guidelines – or community rules – evolved not top-down but with everyone contributing as they went along and got deeper and deeper into the project.  …  It’s not possible to do this on our own, but with the right tools and the right partners we can change.  We can change our schools and (p. 251) our workplaces, but even more important, we can change our expectations, in what we value, in what we attend to, in what commands our attention.

p. 251:  Even aging is fixed less by our biology than by our expectations of what that biology means.

p. 262:  …patterns of effort….  But attitude plays a tremendous role, at any age, in one’s cognitive and physical health and in one’s ability to make a change.

p. 264-65:  If the twentieth century was all about training experts and then not paying attention to certain things because the experts would take care of the (p. 265) matter for you, the twenty-first is about crowdsourcing that expertise, contributing to one another’s fund of knowledge, and learning how to work together towards solutions to problems.

p. 265:  …a first step is unlearning our assumptions….  And feeling in control, it turns out, also is a factor in our success.

p. 267:  Lachman’s study tells us a lot about the importance of attitude relative to biology.  Confidence in one’s sense of cognitive control might even outweigh the supposed debilitating effects of demyelination.

p. 269:  The ability to remember names is an achievement, but being able to connect to the person you are addressing – whether or not you can recall that person’s name – is a far greater one.  It’s also a better way, neurologically speaking, of remembering names in the future.

p. 270:  Collaboration by difference has the collateral effect of turning one into a student again, even reversing the typical position of student and teacher.

p. 271:  Complementary skills help everyone see differently and better.

p. 273:  …older brain excels at, in technical terms, ‘cross-functional complementarity.’  …  Collaboration by difference!  Who knew?  Midlifers turn out to be even better at it than young people.

p. 274:  …increase in what’s called midlife brain bilaterality.  The neurons flying along paths from one to the other hemisphere of the brain seem to help one another.  …  This cross-brain assistance also suggests a complexity of thinking, almost an in-brain collaboration by difference.

p. 276:  Dr. Yaakov Stern, Columbia University:  …cognitive reserves – a backup plan.  Some people have a reserve of intellectual, cognitive, physical and emotional experiences that allow them to create complex and interconnected neural pathways that can be called into service throughout their lives.  …  So how do we get our cognitive reserves?  …  All those mentally stimulating activities build reserves of neurons, synapses, and neuromotor skills that we might be able to call upon if we need them.

p. 277:  What Stern calls cognitive reserves are what, throughout this book, I’ve been calling learning.  In fact, the concept of cognitive reserves corresponds nicely to digital mode of learning.  That is, the more actively you are pursuing Toffler’s idea of learning, unlearning and relearning the more like you are to be working to ensure that your brain is not only active but stimulated in ways that are always new.

p. 283:  This is a remarkable change from the VCR era.  And the difference is interaction.  It is not the technology that is good for us, it is this volition – the sense of control – coupled with the connection with anything and anyone of the billions of others connecting online at any time.  The best affordance the Internet offers is a chance to move beyond ourselves, even if we have limited capacity to move in a physical sense.

p. 284:  If the patterns of learning predict what we see, then it is past the time to unlearn our preconceptions of aging.  Like Olive Riley, that indefatigable 108-year-old blogger, we can begin to find more exciting, open, inclusive ways of relearning suitable to this astonishingly rich and bewildering information age.  In Olive Riley’s simple lesson plan for the future, ‘We’re never too old to learn.’

p. 285:  What the Rheingold experiment demonstrates with its simple eloquence is that to be human is to be distractable.  We are always interrupting ourselves.  That’s what those 100 billion neurons do.  Until we die, they are operating.  They are never still.  They are never off.  Our brain is always wired – even when we thing we’re unplugged.

p. 287:  And though categories are necessary and useful to sort through what would otherwise  be chaos, we run into trouble when we start to forget that categories are arbitrary.  They define what we want them to, not the other way around.  …  If there is any word that defines the twentieth century, it might be normative:  a defining and enforcing of standards of what counts as correct.

p. 288:  …the mind is messy if left to its own devices.  …  But it turns out that staying on track when there is nothing capturing our attention is intrinsically difficult to do.  …uninterrupted thinking turns out to be quite active neurologically….

p. 289:  Malia Mason … has suggested that mind-wandering, not focus, may turn out to be good for the brain and beneficial for the ideas it generates.  …  Those interconnected neural training activities help us minimize our attention blindness, assist in multitasking, and give us a boost as we practice collaboration by difference.  Taken together, they are what prepare us for unlearning one set of habits so we can learn something new.

p. 293:  … not that multitaskers are paying attention worse but that they are paying attention differently.  …might they be creating a different, interconnected cognitive map, a mashup or synthesis from some trace of all of the tasks at hand?

p. 294:  Look at the account of just about any enormous intellectual breakthrough and you’ll find that some seemingly random connection, some associational side thought, some distraction preceded the revelation.  Distraction, we may discover, is as essential to innovation, as, say, an apple falling on Newton’s head.  …  Two neuroscientists at Cambridge University, Alexa M. Morcom and Paul C. Fletcher…time to get rid of the metaphor of a baseline of focused attention from which the mind is diverted.  …  The brain is inquisitive by design.  It is constantly and productively self-exploratory, especially at times when one’s experiences are rich and new.

p. 295:  …what surprises the brain is what allows for learning.  Incongruity, disruption, and disorientation may well turn out to be most inspiring, creative, and productive forces one can add to the workplace.  …  The more you do something, the more automatic it becomes.  Once automatic, it no longer seems like a task, but a platform you can build upon.  But there is tremendous variation in our ability to do this.

p. 299-300:  Whatever you see means there is something you do not see.  And then you are startled or distracted, lost or (p. 300) simply out for an adventure and you see something else.  …  But the key factor here is that ‘everything changes’ has more to do with what you see than with what exists.  …worlds not only exist in parallel all the time, but that, if we learn how, we can dip in and out of one stream and enter another and enjoy the benefits and reminders of each as we are in the other.

p. 300:  …with the right practice and the right tools, we can begin to see what we’ve been missing.  …what we value and what we pay attention to can blind us to everything else we could be seeing.  The fact that we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

p. 301:  The brain is constantly learning, unlearning, and relearning, and its possibilities are as open as our attitude towards them.  …  By maximizing opportunities for collaboration, by rethinking from our approach to work to how we measure progress, we can begin to see the things we’ve been missing and catch hold of what’s passing us by.  If you change the context, if you change the questions you ask, if you change the structure, the test, and the task, then you stop gazing one way and begin to look in a different way and in a different direction.  You know what happens next:  Now you see it.

p. 310:  Alvin Toffler has said that in the rapidly changing world of the twenty-first century, the most important skill anyone can have is the ability to stop in one’s tracks, see what isn’t working, and then find ways to unlearn old patterns and relearn how to learn.

Galadriel to Frodo:  Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favorite authors.  Of course, he makes a historian’s heart beat faster because he takes context seriously, recognizes contributing factors, and does not engage in human exceptionalism.  I learned from him about FAE, Fundamental Attribution Error.  My own “Freudian slip” is I always want to call it Fatal Attribution Error because when we engage in this it can be “fatal.”  Gladwell is a thought-provoking, engaging author willing to turn the prism and examine all the light refractions through different facets.  Reading him is akin to perusing the library for the latest research in psychology, sociology, marketing, neurology and all things about human behavior.  I’m presenting my favorite parts of his books in the reverse order in which I read them.  The selections from What the Dog Saw were prepared for a friend, later I decided to use them on the web site.  Now I shall share the rest of his books I’ve enjoyed, hopefully in a succinct format.  He is so intellectually engaging and quotable it is difficult to limit one’s selection.  Go read him!

Gladwell, Malcolm, What the Dog Saw, NY:  Little, Brown and Company, 2009

Preface, p. xv:  Good writing does not succeed or fail on the strength of its ability to persuade.  …  It succeeds or fails on the strength of its ability to engage you, to make you think, to give you a glimpse into someone else’s head….

Blowing Up:  How Nassim Taleb turned the inevitability of disaster into an investment strategy”, pp. 51-75

p. 75:  …so for Taleb there was never any alternative to the painful process of insuring himself against catastrophe.

This kind of caution does not seem heroic, of course.  It seems like the joyless prudence of the accountant and the Sunday school teacher.  The truth is that we are drawn to the Niederhoffers of this world because we are all, at heart, like Niederhoffer:  we associate the willingness to risk great failure – and the ability to climb back from the catastrophe – with courage.  But in this we are wrong.  That is the lesson of Taleb and Niederhoffer, and also the lesson of our volatile times.  There is more courage and heroism in defying the human impulse, in taking the purposeful and painful steps to prepare for the unimaginable.

John Rock’s Error

p. 125:  This was not John Rock’s error.  Nor was it his Church’s.  It was the fault of the haphazard nature of science, which all too often produces progress in advance of understanding.  (Toffler, Küng

Open Secrets:  Enron, Intelligence, and the Perils of Too Much Information,” pp. 151-176

p. 153:  The national security expert Gregory Treverton has famously made a distinction between puzzles and mysteries.  Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are a puzzle.  We can’t find him because we don’t have enough information.  …  Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information (p. 154) but that we have too much.

p. 154:  If things go wrong with a puzzle, identifying the culprit is easy:  it’s the person who withheld information.  Mysteries, though, are a lot murkier:  sometimes the information we’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren’t very smart about making sense of what we’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered.  Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions.  Mysteries often don’t.

Gladwell goes on to make the distinction that Watergate was a puzzle; Enron was a mystery.

p. 165:  A puzzle grows simpler with the addition of each new piece of information….

p. 166:  To Schwarcz, all Enron proves is that in an age of increasing financial complexity the “disclosure paradigm” – the idea that the more a company tells us about its business, the better off we are – has become an anachronism.  (PRP:  BTSR & transparency?)

p. 170:  What medical progress has meant for prostate cancer – …for virtually every other cancer as well – is the transformation of diagnosis from a puzzle to a mystery.

That same transformation is happening in the intelligence world as well.  …

p. 171:  Inman thought we needed fewer spies and more slightly batty geniuses.

p. 172:  Puzzles are “transmitter-dependent”; they turn on what we are told.  Mysteries are “receiver-dependent”; they turn on the skills of the listener….

p. 174:  Mysteries require that we revisit our list of culprits and be willing to spread the blame a little more broadly.  Because if you can’t find the truth in a mystery – even a mystery shrouded in propaganda – it’s not just the fault of the propagandist.  It’s your fault as well.

Million-Dollar Murray:  Why Problems Like Homelessness may be Easier to Solve than to Manage,” pp. 177-198

p. 187:  …you do not manage a social wrong.  You should be ending it.

p. 195:  …what happens in Washington and Detroit.  The challenge for controlling air pollution isn’t so much about the laws as it is about compliance with them.  It’s a policing problem, rather than a policy problem, and there is something ultimately unsatisfying about his proposed solution.  He wants to end air pollution in Denver with a half-dozen vans outfitted with a contraption about the size of a suitcase.  Can such a big problem have such a small-bore solution?

p. 196:  …the LAPD might help solve its problem simply by getting its police captains to read the files on their officers.  The LAPD’s problem was a matter not of policy but of compliance.  The department needed to adhere to the rule it already had in place, and that’s not what a public hungry for institutional transformation wants to hear.  Solving problems that have power-law distributions doesn’t just violate our moral intuitions; it violates our political intuitions as well.  It’s hard not to conclude, in the end, that the reason we treated the homeless as one hopeless undifferentiated group for so long is not simply that we didn’t know better.  It’s that we didn’t want to know better.  It was easier the old way.

Power-law solutions have little appeal to the right, because they involve special treatment for people who do not deserve special treatment; and they have little appeal to the left, because their emphasis on efficiency over fairness suggests the cold number-crunching of Chicago school cost-benefit analysis.  Even the promise of millions (p. 197) of dollars in savings or cleaner air or better police departments cannot entirely compensate for such discomfort.

The Picture Problem:  Mammography, Air Power, and the Limits of Looking,” pp. 199-221

p. 201:  …even then pictures are not self-explanatory.  They need to be interpreted and the human task of interpretation is often a bigger obstacle than the technical task of picture taking.  …pictures promise to clarify but often confuse.

p. 212:  Seeing a problem and understanding it, then, are two different things.

Connecting the Dots

p. 246:  What is clear in hindsight is rarely clear before the fact.

The Art of Failure:  Why Some People Choke and Others Panic,” pp. 263-279

p. 268:  Stress wipes out short-term memory.

p. 269:  Panic, in this sense, is the opposite of choking.  Choking is about thinking too much.  Panic is about thinking too little.  Choking is about loss of instinct.  Panic is reversion to instinct.  They may look the same, but they are worlds apart.  …there are clearly cases when how failure happens is central to understanding why failure happens.

p. 275:  If panicking is conventional failure, choking is paradoxical failure.

p. 277:  They failed because they were good at what they did:  only those who care about how well they perform ever feel the pressure of stereotype threat.  The usual prescription for failure – to work harder and take the test more seriously – would only make their problem worse.

p. 278:  We have to learn that sometimes a poor performance reflects not the innate ability of the performer but the complexion of the audience; and that sometimes a poor test score is the sign not of a poor student but of a good one.

Blowup:  Who can be blamed for a disaster like the Challenger explosion?  No one, and we’d better get used to it,” pp. 280-291

p. 286:  The mistakes that NASA made, she says, were made in the normal course of operation.

p. 287:  What NASA had created was a closed culture that, in her words, “normalized deviance” so that to the outside world, decisions that were obviously questionable were seen by NASA’s management as prudent and reasonable.

p. 288:  risk homeostasis…  But the basic idea, which has been laid out brilliantly by the Canadian psychologist Gerald Wilde in his book Target Risk, is quite simple:  under certain circumstances, changes that appear to make a system or organization safer in fact don’t.  Why?  Because human beings have a seemingly fundamental tendency to compensate for lower risks in one area by taking greater risks in another.

Late Bloomers:  Why do we equate genius with precocity?” pp. 295-313

p. 301:  Prodigies like Picasso, Galenson argues, rarely engage in that kind of open-ended exploration.  They tend to be “conceptual,” Galenson says, in the sense that they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they execute it.  …

p. 302:  But late bloomers, Galenson says, tend to work the other way around.  Their approach is experimental.  “Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental,” Galenson writes in “Old Masters and Young Geniuses,” and he goes on:

The imprecision of their goals means that these artists rarely feel they have succeeded, and their careers are consequently often dominated by the pursuit of a single objective.  …  Experimental artists build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods.  These artists are perfectionists and are typically plagued by frustration at their inability to achieve their goal.

…An experimental innovator would go back to Haiti thirty times.  That’s how that kind of mind figures out what it wants to do.

p. 304:  In both cases, the assumption is that the prodigy and the late bloomer are fundamentally the same, and that late blooming is simply genius under conditions of market failure.  What Galenson’s argument suggests is something else – that late bloomers bloom late because they simply aren’t much good until late in their careers.

p. 305:  This is the vexing lesson….  On the road to great achievement, the late bloomer will resemble a failure;…  Prodigies are easy.  They advertise their genius from the get-go.  Late bloomers are hard.  They require forbearance and blind faith.

p. 312:  This is the final lesson of the late bloomer:  his or her success is highly contingent on the efforts of others.  …

p. 313:  Late bloomers’ stories are invariably love stories, and this may be why we have such difficulty with them.  We’d like to think that mundane matters like loyalty, steadfastness, and the willingness to keep writing checks to support what looks like failure have nothing to do with something as rarefied as genius.  But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.

Most Likely to Succeed:  How do we hire when we can’t tell who’s right for the job?” pp. 314-335

p. 317:  This is the quarterback problem.  There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired.  So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that?  In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching.

(Bob Pianta, the dean of the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education in 2008)

p. 326:  Of all the teacher elements analyzed by the Virginia group, feedback – a direct, personal response by a teacher to a specific statement by a student – seems to be most closely linked to academic success.

p. 329:  Educational-reform efforts typically start with a push for higher standards for teachers – that is, for the academic and cognitive requirements for entering the profession to be as stiff as possible.  But after you’ve watched Pianta’s tapes and seen how complex the elements of effective teaching are, this emphasis on book smarts suddenly seems peculiar.

p. 332:  People like Deutschlander are referred to as gatekeepers, a title that suggests that those at the door of a profession are expected to discriminate – to select who gets through the gate and who doesn’t.  But Deutschlander sees his role as keeping the gate as wide open as possible….

In teaching, the implications are even more profound.  They suggest that we shouldn’t be raising standards.  We should be lowering them, because there is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track with what we care (p. 333) about.  Teaching should be open to anyone with a pulse and a college degree – and teachers should be judged after they have started their jobs, not before.  That means that the profession needs to start the equivalent of Ed Deutschlander’s training camp.  It needs an apprenticeship system that allows candidates to be rigorously evaluated.  Kane and Staiger have calculated that, given the enormous differences between the top and the bottom of the profession, you’d probably have to try out four candidates to find one good teacher.  That means tenure can’t be routinely awarded, the way it is now.  Currently, the salary structure of the teaching profession is highly rigid, and that would also have to change in a world where we want to rate teachers on their actual performance.

p. 334:  What does it say about a society that it devotes more care and patience to the selection of those who handle its money than of those who handle its children?

p. 335:  A prediction, in a field where prediction is not possible, is no more than a prejudice.

The Talent Myth:  Are smart people overrated?” pp. 357-374

p. 360:  It hired and rewarded the very best and the very brightest – and it is now in bankruptcy.  The reasons for its collapse are complex, needless to say.  But what if Enron failed not in spite of its talent mind-set but because of it?  What if smart people are overrated?

p. 361:  What IQ doesn’t pick up is effectiveness at commonsense sorts of things, especially working with people,” Richard Wagner, a psychologist at Florida State University, says, “In terms of how we evaluate schooling, everything is about working by yourself.  If you work with someone else, it’s called cheating.  Once you get out in the real world, everything you do involves working with other people.”

p. 363:  Because Pai had “talent,” he was given new opportunities, and when he failed at those new opportunities he was given still more opportunities…because he had “talent.”  “At Enron, failure – even of the type that ends (p. 364) up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal – doesn’t necessarily sink a career,” Hamel writes, as if that were a good thing.  Presumably, companies that want to encourage risk-taking must be willing to tolerate mistakes.  Yet if talent is defined as something separate from an employee’s actual performance, what use is it exactly?

p. 364:  What the War for Talent amounts to is an argument for indulging A employees, for fawning over them.

p. 365:  You might expect a CEO to say that if a business unit can’t attract customers very easily, that’s a good sign it’s a business the company shouldn’t be in.  A company’s business is supposed to be shaped in the direction that its managers find most profitable.  But at Enron the needs of the customers and the shareholders were secondary to the needs of its stars.

p. 367:  The distinction between the Greedy Corporation and the Narcissistic Corporation matters, because the way we conceive our attainments helps determine how we behave.

p. 368:  The broader failing of McKinsey and its acolytes at Enron is their assumption that an organization’s intelligence is simply a function of the intelligence of its employees.  They believe in stars, because they don’t believe in systems.

p. 369:  In a way that’s understandable, because our lives are so obviously enriched by individual brilliance.  Groups don’t write great novels, and a committee didn’t come up with the theory of relativity.  But companies work by different rules.  They don’t just create; they execute and compete and coordinate the efforts of many different people, and the organizations that are the most successful at that task are the ones where the system is the star.

p. 371:  The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart.  More often than not, it’s the other way around.

p. 373:  Among the most damning facts about Enron, in the end, was something its managers were proudest of.  They had what, in McKinsey terminology, is called an open market for hiring.  …  Poaching was encouraged.  …  Nobody, not even the consultants who were paid to think about the Enron culture, seemed worried that those fifty holes might disrupt the functioning of the affected departments, that stability in a firm’s existing businesses might be a good thing, that the self-fulfillment of Enron’s star employees might possibly be in conflict with the best interests of the firm as a whole.

p. 374:  They (consultants) were there looking for people who had the talent to think outside the box.  It never occurred to them that, if everyone had to think outside the box, maybe it was the box that needed fixing.

The New-Boy Network:  What do job interviews really tell us?”  pp. 375-393

p. 379:  It is a truism of the new economy that the ultimate success of any enterprise lies with the quality of the people it hires.

p. 381:  When we make a snap judgment, it is made in a snap.  It’s also, very clearly, a judgment:  we get a feeling that we have no difficulty articulating.

p. 382:  Apparently, human beings don’t need to know someone in order to believe that they know someone.  …           Bernieri and Ambady believe that the power of first (p. 383) impressions suggests that human beings have a particular kind of prerational ability for making searching judgments about others.  …the existence of a powerful form of human intuition.

p. 384:  …perhaps, that those initial impressions matter too much – that they color all the other impressions that we gather over time.  …  The first impression becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy:  we hear what we expect to hear.  The interview is hopelessly biased in favor of the nice.

p. 385:  How we behave at any one time, evidently, has less to do with some immutable inner compass than with the particulars of our situation.  …  We habitually underestimate the large role that context plays in people’s behavior.

p. 386:  Psychologists call this tendency – to fixate on supposedly stable character traits and overlook the influence of context – the Fundamental Attribution Error, and if (p. 387) you combine this error with what we know about snap judgments, the interview becomes an even more problematic encounter.

p. 387:  That most basic of human rituals – the conversation with a stranger – turns out to be a minefield.

p. 392:  If this were 1965, Nolan Myers would have gone to work at IBM and worn a blue suit and sat in a small office and kept his head down, and the particulars of his personality would not have mattered so much.  It was not so important that IBM understood who you were before it hired you, because you understood what IBM was.  …you knew what you had to be and how you were supposed to act.  …how much more demanding the culture of Silicon Valley is.  Nolan Myers will not be provided with a social script, the blue suit, and organization chart.  Tellme, like any technology startup these days, wants its employees to be part of a fluid team, to be flexible and innovative, to work with shifting groups in the absence of hierarchy and bureaucracy, and in that environment, where the workplace doubles as the rec room, the particulars of your personality matter a great deal.  (PRP:  when churches and seminaries are still IBM even to the point of dress and keep your head down it’s no wonder why they do not attract startup types these days?!!?)

…the danger here is that we will be led astray in judging these newly important particulars of character.  If we let personality – some indefinable, prerational intuition, magnified by the Fundamental Attribution Error – bias the hiring process today, then all we will have done is replace the old-boy network, where you hired your nephew, with the new-boy network where you hire whoever impressed you most when you shook his hand.  Social progress, unless we’re careful, can merely (p. 393) be the means by which we replace the obviously arbitrary with the not so obviously arbitrary.  (PRP:  Oh so true!!  Danger to new church starts as well!!)

Outliers:  The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell, NY:  Little, Brown & Company, 2008

 Part One:  Opportunity

“The Matthew Effect”

p. 18:  What is the question we always ask about the successful?  We want to know what they’re like – what kind of personalities they have, or how intelligent they are, or what king od lifestyles they have, or what special talents they might have been born with.  And we assume that it is those personal qualities that explain how that individual reached the top.

p. 19:  In Outliers, I want to convince you that these kinds of personal explanations of success don’t work.  People don’t rise from nothing.  We do owe something to parentage and patronage.  The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves.  But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.  It makes a difference where and when we grew up.

p. 30:  …our notion that it is the best and the brightest who effortlessly rise to the top is much too simplistic.  …opportunity played a critical role in their success.  …  It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success.  …  Success is the result of what sociologists like to call ‘accumulative advantage.’

p. 31:  …the systems we set up to determine who gets ahead aren’t particularly efficient.

p. 32-33:  Because we so profoundly personalize success, we miss opportunities to lift others onto the top rung.  We make rules that frustrate achievement.  We prematurely write off people as failures.  We are too much in awe of those who succeed and far too dismissive of those who fail.  And, most of all, we become much too passive.   We overlook just how large a role we all play – and by ‘we’ I mean society – in determining who makes it and who doesn’t.

p. 33:  We could easily take control of the machinery of achievement….  But we don’t.  And why?  Because we cling to the idea that success is a simple function of individual merit….

“The Ten Thousand Hour Rule”

p. 40:  …the magic number for true expertise:  ten thousand hours.

p. 42:  Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good.  It’s the thing you do that makes you good.  …  In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program…or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours.

p. 46:  He wanted to learn.  That was a big part of it.  But before he could become an expert, someone had to give him the opportunity to learn how to be an expert.

p. 55:  …a more complete picture of the path to success.  …undeniably talented.  …extraordinary opportunities.

p. 67:  We pretend that success is exclusively a matter of individual merit.  But there’s nothing in any of the histories we’ve looked at so far to suggest things are that simple.  These are stories, instead, about people who were given a special opportunity to work really hard and seized it, and who happened to come of age at a time when that extraordinary effort was rewarded by the rest of society.  Their success was not just of their own making.  It was a product of the world in which they grew up.

“The Trouble with Geniuses”

p. 80:  Intelligence has a threshold.

p. 104:  Lareau calls the middle-class parenting style ‘concerted cultivation.’  It’s an attempt to actively ‘foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills.’  Poor parents tend to follow, by contrast, a strategy of ‘accomplishment of natural growth.’  They see as their responsibility to care for their children but to let them grow and develop on their own.

p. 108:  …a cultural advantage.  …  When we talk about the advantages of class, Lareau argues, this is in large part what we mean.  Alex Williams is better off than Katie Brindle because he’s wealthier and because he goes to a better school, but also because – and perhaps this is even more critical – the sense of entitlement that he has been taught is an attitude perfectly suited to succeeding in the modern world.

p. 112:  …seeing the difference between those schooled by their families to present their best face to the world, and those denied that experience.  …  What did the Cs lack, though?  …a community around them that prepared them properly for the world.  The Cs were squandered talent.  But they didn’t need to be.

p. 115:  He’d had to make his way alone, and no one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone.

“The Three Lessons of Joe Flom”

p. 119:  Successful people don’t do it alone.  Where they come from matters.  They’re products of particular places and environments.

p. 121Lesson Number One:  The Importance of Being Jewish

p. 128:  Then the world changed and he was ready.  He didn’t triumph over adversity.  Instead, what started out as adversity ended up being an opportunity.

p. 129Lesson Number Two:  Demographic Luck

p. 136-137:  The first lesson is that Friedman was willing to work hard, take responsibility for himself, and put himself through school.  But the second, perhaps more important lesson is that he happened to come along at a time in American when if you were willing to work hard, you could take responsibility for yourself and put yourself through school.

p. 137:  The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents.  It comes from our time:  from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.

p. 138:  Even the most gifted…equipped with the best of family lessons, cannot escape the limitations of their generation.

p. 139Lesson Number Three:  The Garment Industry and Meaningful Work

p. 149:  Those three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.

p. 150:  Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning.

p. 155:  Success is not a random act.  It arises out of a predictable and powerful set of circumstances and opportunities….

Part Two:  Legacy

“Harlan, Kentucky”

p. 175-176:  Cultural legacies are powerful forces.  They have deep roots and long lives.  They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them.

…success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages:  when and where you are born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were all make a significant difference in how well you do in the world.

“Rice Paddies and Math Tests”

p. 231:  That’s how we think about math.  We assume that being good at things like calculus and algebra is a simple function of how smart someone is.  But the differences between the number systems in the East and the West suggest something very different – that being good at math may also be rooted in a group’s culture.  …  Cultural legacies matter….

“Marita’s Bargain”

p.  267:  Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course.  It is not the brightest who succeed.  …  Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf.  It is, rather, a gift.  Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

p. 268:  To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success – the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history – with a society that provides opportunities for all.  …  The world could be so much richer than the world we have settled for.

“Epilogue:  A Jamaican Story”

PRP:  Powerful, poignant, the story of Gladwell’s mother and grandmother.  Extraordinary application of all that preceded it in the book.

p.  285:  Superstar lawyers and math whizzes and software entrepreneurs appear at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience.  But they don’t.  They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy.  Their success is not exceptional or mysterious.  It is grounded in a web of advantages and inheritances, some deserved, some not, some earned, some just plain lucky – but all critical to making them who they are.  The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all.  (emphasis added)

Blink:  The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell, NY:  Little, Brown and Company, 2005

p. 9:  We have some experiences.  We think them through.  We develop a theory.  And they finally we put two and two together.  That’s the way learning works.

p. 10:  …our brain uses two very different strategies to make sense of the situation.  The first….the conscious strategy.  …  There’s a second…operates – at least at first – entirely below the surface of consciousness.  It sends it messages through weirdly indirect channels….  It’s a system in which our brain reaches conclusions without immediately telling us that it’s reaching conclusions.

p. 11:  The part of our brain that leaps to conclusions like this is called the adaptive unconscious….  This new notion of the adaptive unconscious is thought of, instead, as a kind of giant computer that quickly and quietly processes a lot of the data we need in order to keep functioning as human beings.

p. 14:  The first task of Blink is to convince you of a simple fact:  decisions made very quickly can be every bit as good as decisions made cautiously and deliberately.  …  I’m also interested in those moments when our instincts betray us.

p. 15:  Our unconscious is a powerful force.  But it’s fallible.  …can be thrown off, distracted, and disabled.  Our instinctive reactions often have to compete with all kinds of other interests and emotions and sentiments.  …  When our powers of rapid cognition go awry, they go awry for a very specific and consistent set of reasons, and those reasons can be identified and understood.  It is possible to learn when to listen to that powerful onboard computer and when to be wary of it.

The third and most important task of this book is to convince you that our snap judgments and first impressions can be educated and controlled.

p. 23:  …a critical part of rapid cognition known as thin-slicing.  “Thin-slicing” refers to the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow slices of experience.

p. 39:  Gottman comes at the issue sideways, which, he has found, can be a lot quicker and a more efficient path to the truth than coming at it head-on.

p. 50:  This is the second critical fact about the thoughts and decisions that bubble up from our unconscious.  Snap judgments are, first of all, enormously quick:  they rely on the thinnest slices of experience.  But they are also unconscious.

p. 51:  Snap judgments and rapid cognition take place behind a locked door.  …  I don’t think we are very good at dealing with the face of that locked door.  It’s one thing to acknowledge the enormous power of snap judgments and thin slices but quite another to place our trust in something so seemingly mysterious.

p. 52:  …if we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments.  We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that – sometimes – we’re better off that way.

p. 58:  The results from these experiments are, obviously, quite disturbing.  They suggest that what we think of as free will is largely an illusion:  much of the time, we are simply operating on automatic pilot, and the way we think and act – and how well we think and act on the spur of the moment – are a lot more susceptible to outside influences than we realize.

p. 69:  We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem.  We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.

p. 97-98:  Our first impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment, which means that we can change our first impressions – we can alter the way we thin-slice – by changing the experiences that comprise those impressions.  …  Taking rapid cognition seriously – acknowledging the incredible power, for good and ill, that first impressions play in our lives – requires that we take active steps to manage and control those impressions.

p. 107:  …people who make decisions under pressure….  Don’t logically and systematically compare all available options.  …size up a situation almost immediately and act, drawing on experience and intuition and a kind of rough mental simulation.

p. 114:  …spontaneity isn’t random.  …  How good people’s decisions are under the fast moving, high-stress conditions of rapid cognition is a function of training and rules and rehearsal.

p. 119:  …allowing people to operate without having to explain themselves constantly turns out to be like the rule of agreement in improve.  It enables rapid cognition.

p. 122:  As human beings, we are capable of extraordinary leaps of insight and instinct.  …  Insight is not a lightbulb that goes off inside our heads.  It is a flickering candle that can easily be snuffed out.

p. 141-142:  …two important lessons here.  The first is that truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.  …  The second lesson is that in good decision making, frugality matters.  …even the most complicated of relationships and problems … have an identifiable underlying pattern.  …in picking up these sorts of patterns, less is more.  …  To be a successful decision maker, we have to edit.

When we thin-slice, when we recognize patterns and make snap judgments, we do this process of editing unconsciously.

p. 166:  But thin-slicing has to be done in context.

p. 168:  …it is hard for us to explain our feelings about unfamiliar things.

p. 176:  We like market research because it provides certainty – a score, a prediction; if someone asks us why we made the decision we did, we can point to a number.  But the truth is that for the most important decisions, there can be no certainty.

p. 179:  The first impressions of experts are different.  …it is really only experts who are able to reliably account for their reactions.

p. 183:  Our unconscious reactions come out of a locked room, and we can’t look inside that room.  But with experience we become expert at using our behavior and our training to interpret and decode – what lies behind our snap judgments and first impressions.

p. 184:  Whenever we have something that we are good at – something we care about – that experience and passion fundamentally changed the nature of our first impressions.

This does not mean that when we are outside our areas of passion and experience, our reactions are invariably wrong.  It just means that they are shallow.

p. 237:  Our unconscious thinking is, in one critical respect, no different fro our conscious thinking:  in both, we are able to develop our rapid decision making with training and experience.

p. 241:  This is the gift of training and expertise – the ability to extract an enormous amount of meaningful information from the very thinnest slice of experience.

p. 252:  …we are often careless with our powers of rapid cognition.  We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility.  Taking our powers of rapid cognition seriously means we have to acknowledge the subtle influences that can alter or undermine or bias the products of our unconscious.

p. 253:  He did not look at the power of his unconscious as a magical force.  He looked at it as something he could protect and control and educate….

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