29 December 2015

Johann Hari: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

Hari dives into the latest research into drug addiction. Interestingly, as the title implies, modern studies show that our methods for addressing addiction are all wrong.

Johann Hari: Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong

15 December 2015

Manuel Lima: A visual history of human knowledge

Our metaphor for describing relationships have been shifting from the centuries old Tree linkage (think of family trees: this comes from that) to a more modern Network linkage (shows the multiple connections between elements: this is connected to these). Lima ties this knowledge shift with art.

Manuel Lima: A visual history of human knowledge

10 December 2015

Roselinde Torres: What it takes to be a great leader

Despite a dramatic increase in leadership training, Torres notes a widening gap between leadership needs and candidates to fill those roles. She then proceeds to give suggestions on correcting these training issues.

Roselinde Torres: What it takes to be a great leader

01 December 2015

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

The experiencing self is what we report during an experience which can be quite different from how we remember something. Consider that last time you heard, "It ruined the whole experience." The experience, as Kahneman points out, was still good but the memory of the experience has been ruined. Kahneman presents his findings on the interactions between our actual experiences and our memory of those experiences.

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

26 November 2015

Margaret Heffernan: Why it's time to forget the pecking order at work

What happens when you collect the most productive chickens together generation after generation? They kill each other. Heffernan opens with this sobering anecdote. She then follows her story with studies that show that the key to improving productivity is social connectedness, even above individual intelligence.

Margaret Heffernan: Why it's time to forget the pecking order at work

17 November 2015

Ricardo Semler: How to run a company with (almost) no rules

"How do you setup for wisdom?" This is a poignant question that Semler's company asked in order to help ensure they were managing the company as effectively as possible. He advocates a highly decentralized management structure, one in which employees have access to all needed information, not just to perform their just but also to improve the business as a whole.

Some of his core principles are:

  • Taking advantage of life now, instead of waiting until later
  • Businesses should remove silly rules that do not matter (like clock in and out times, dress codes and such)
  • Seek wisdom and welcome challenges to the status quo
  • Give power to everyone, they can make the rules theirs


Ricardo Semler: How to run a company with (almost) no rules

12 November 2015

Yves Morieux: As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify

Morieux proposes six rules that will simplify even the most complex work places:
  1. Understand what work people do (to better predict impact)
  2. Reinforce integrators (managers who can force others to cooperate) 
  3. Increase quantity of power (empowers individuals) 
  4. Extend the shadow of the future (decisions made now should be felt by those decision makers later)
  5. Increase reciprocity (remove dysfunctional crutches by making individuals accountable to each other) 
  6. Reward those who cooperate and blame those who fail to do so  ("Blame is not for failure, it is for failing to help or ask for help." Jorgen Vig Knudstrop, CEO of Lego)
Yves Morieux: As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify

03 November 2015

Yves Morieux: How too many rules at work keep you from getting things done

In a seeming counter-intuitive twist of business logic, Morieux talks about how the business 'trinity' (clarity, measurements and accountability) should be replaced by fuzziness and a focus on the 'how', not the 'what'. He suggests that the trinity just provides a space to know whom to blame when things fail where fuzziness encourages cooperation which is key to reducing resources and improves idea generation.

Yves Morieux: How too many rules at work keep you from getting things done

29 October 2015

Benedetta Berti: The surprising way groups like ISIS stay in power

In her very short presentation, Berti uses very catchy Lego graphics to explain some of the surprising non-violent activities "terrorist" organizations participate in in order to maintain power (for example, setup profitable companies to generate income).

Benedetta Berti: The surprising way groups like ISIS stay in power

20 October 2015

David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization

I first read McCandless's, Information is Beautiful, in college. I loved that it was a book full of knowledge but with comparatively few words. In his TED talk, McCandless states that well made graphics facilitate "information compression" and explains how this compression can help us better understand the world. Additionally, he shows some compelling reasons we should be more worried about ratios and not absolute numbers.

David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization

14 October 2015

"Against Fairness" by Stephen Asma

In an unusual position, Asma argues that we are not benefited by our strong pursuit of "fairness" (which is, in part at least, evidenced by the lack of clear definition of what is universally "fair"). Instead, he discusses the well know recognition of "tribes" (person who share similar attributes) in social science and suggests that embracing our tribal nature, and thus our natural inclination to favoritism, we can then leverage that connectedness in a way that "fairness" can only dream of. For example, consider that a community that embraces favoritism will help its struggling community members because they are part of the same "tribe" even if it might not be "fair" to do so.

Note: "Tribe" is a social science term used to describe bonds, usually tight-knit bonds formed through common experience or attributes. Some examples of "tribes" include person who grew up together (often considered family regardless of relation or lack thereof), a small group of coworkers and old neighbors.

Interesting tidbit: I have struggled writing an essay for years on the topic of fairness. After reading this book, I have finally retired those drafts. Asma made the argument much better than I.

08 October 2015

Talithia Williams: Own your body's data

Williams uses humorous and sobering examples from her life to argue why we, individually, should gather data about our bodies  so we can make better decisions about our health with our doctors.

Talithia Williams: Own your body's data

06 October 2015

Stewart Brand: 4 environmental 'heresies'

In an unusual twist, Brand reverse his decades long position on several "green" initiative including nuclear power and genetically modified foods. His explains his reasons with data.

Stewart Brand: 4 environmental 'heresies'

29 September 2015

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset

A followup presentation to Rosling's previous TED talk. This serves as another comforting reminder that the world is not in such poor shape as we often think it is, though there is still room for improvement and the future is not certain.

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset

24 September 2015

Hans Rosling: The best stats you've ever seen

Rosling uses excellent graphic design and data presentation to show how many of the things we think about the world and not really accurate to the way the world really is. This is a great talk to remind anyone that they should always question the perspective in which data is given.


Hans Rosling: The best stats you've ever seen

21 September 2015

Metrics time!

Our office has recently been on a metrics kick. It seems that we feel like we are not cool enough so we thought we would start reporting data in order to determine where we can improve.

I hate metrics. Well, most of them at least.

Generally they are numbers that are produced periodically in order to help management feel like they are managing (if only because they have summarized work into standardized outputs that can be tracked over time; this is data collection and is good but is often mistaken as metrics too). In the end though, the reports are often neglected, leaves the reporting teams with extra work and often causes the teams to drift into managing the metrics instead of managing their business.

Ultimately, it seems like metrics seem like a distraction from addressing the real, underlying question. This question, the one that is under all the metrics, is usually "How is the business doing?" The answer to this question changes depending on the person being asked (assuming each person manages a different facet of the business) and also changes based on the current context, something metrics are not good at measuring because part of the point of having metrics is to have something consistent to compare performance against over time.

Consider metrics about payroll. Metric ratios could be calculated based on pay versus hours logged in a system, communications handled or number of handshakes. All of these metrics would probably be trying to answer a question about whether the staff is worth their pay, but in a polite way. Before establishing any of these metrics, one should determine if any of these really matter, if they are actually reflective and indicative of the underlying question.

A good way to know if you are measuring the right things in your metrics is to ask, "Inherently, if this number goes up, does the business improve?" In asking this question it is important to explore the 'inherent' context to make sure there are few, if any, underlying assumptions. In order for a metric to be good, it needs to be a number that correlates well with the desired results. In other words, you need to make sure that the metrics cannot be boosted without the business being boosted as well. Otherwise you are probably wasting resources chasing pointless numbers.

Consider a pay versus handshakes ratio metric. The assumption is that more handshakes bring more value and thus makes an employee more profitable to the company and more deserving of their paycheck. Now we can ask our test question from above: "Inherently, if the [number of handshakes an employee performs] goes up, does the business improve?" The quick answer is 'no'. It is very easy to envision situations where a person could dramatically increase their daily handshakes by shaking hands with everyone they see. All the extra handshakes would boost the metric but are unlikely to result in a corollary boost in business.

All of this leads me to say, companies should gather and track data over time, that is how meaning can be found in trends and the impact of changes measured. However, collecting data should never be confused with metrics to hold employees accountable to, especially when that data is laden with false assumptions about correlation.

Improving metrics is not the same as improving business.

16 September 2015

"Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt delves deep into the nuances of driving, the world over. He explores many of the components the influence road safety, driver awareness and even driver culture.

Interest tidbit: "… a samurai in Japan, who kept his scabbard on his left side and would draw with his right arm, wanted to be on the left as he passed potential enemies on the road. So Japan today drives on the left. In England, horse-drawn carts were generally piloted by drivers mounted in the seat. The mostly right-handed drivers would "naturally" sit to the right, holding the reins in the left hand and the whip in the right. The driver could better judge oncoming traffic by traveling on the left. So England drives on the left. But in many other countries, including the United States, a driver often walked along the left side of his horse team or rode the left horse in a team (the left-rear horse if there were more than two), so that he could use his right arm for better control. This meant it was better to stay to the right, so he could judge oncoming traffic and talk to other drivers. The result is that many countries today drive on the right."

03 September 2015

Emily Balcetis: Why some people find exercise harder than others

Balcetis outlines some research she has done regarding how people perceive the world, and exercise in particular. She found that some people really do see exercising as more difficult but that it helps to "keep your eyes on the prize".

Emily Balcetis: Why some people find exercise harder than others

25 August 2015

Three Myths of Behavior Change - What You Think You Know That You Don't: Jeni Cross

Cross outlines three of the most common misconceptions about getting people to change their behavior:

  1. Education (information needs to be tangible to effectively change behavior)
  2. Attitude drive behavior (behavior drives attitude)
  3. People think they know what motivates them (people actually do poorly at ranking what motivates themselves)


Three Myths of Behavior Change - What You Think You Know That You Don't: Jeni Cross

20 August 2015

Mel Robbins: How to stop screwing yourself over

"The bigger issue with 'fine' is that you are saying it to yourself." Robbins talks about overcoming personal motivation issues. She suggests a "5 second rule": marry an action to a thought within 5 seconds; otherwise the thought dies.

Mel Robbins: How to stop screwing yourself over

11 August 2015

The Science of Shopping and Future of Retail: Devora Rogers

Rogers shares some of her deep insight into how companies can make the shopping experience better. It is interesting to realize how much we do not know about the human shopping process.

The Science of Shopping and Future of Retail: Devora Rogers


05 August 2015

"Imagine" by Jonah Lehrer

Lehrer complied all of the latest research about creativity. There were many surprising and interesting insights. Many of which go against the current line of thinking about boosting creativity. For example, employees are more creative and productive when they have offices to work in as opposed to the current open floor plan many work spaces are implementing.

Interesting tidbit: The notion the no idea should be criticized during a brainstorming session is entirely contrary to the related research. Instead of simply accepting every idea, ideas should be criticized. Criticism tends to cause defensive which spurs refinements of the original idea which are usually superior to the original idea. The key is to challenge the idea, not the person, and then offer a an improvement.

28 July 2015

Daniel Amen: The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans

Amen makes an impassioned plea to change they way we consider deviant behavior. He shows his work in brain spectrometry which shows that most antisocial issues (including criminal behavior and mental disorders) can be tied to abnormal brain function. Amen argues that we should be using this technology to make diagnosis and to guide treatment.

Daniel Amen: The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans

23 July 2015

Allan Pease: Body language, the power is in the palm of your hands

It is amazing how small gestures can dramatically change the reception of your message. Pease talks about, and demonstrates, several basic gestures and explains their effects.

Allan Pease: Body language, the power is in the palm of your hands

09 July 2015

Chris Sauve: The habits of highly boring people

Sauve makes an interesting point: most of the really exciting people in life are also the most boring. We often think of the two as opposites but really, when done right, boring people are exciting because they are boring in the structured parts of their lives so they could be exciting in the unstructured parts. Sauve suggests:

  1. Write everything down. This will free up your memory and let you work on a vast variety of things while not losing track of them. This includes using a calendar or agenda for everything. Calendars are amazing at remembering everything that you need to do and when you need to do it. And, you probably carry one in your pocket with you everywhere. It is called your phone. For that matter, you can have a fantastic note app too*.
  2. Simplify wherever you can. This helps reduce decision fatigue and avoid decision paralysis.
  3. Remember to review your tasks. What was really valuable and useful last year or month may not be so today. It is easy to just keep doing the same things every day and this is generally good but those things should reviewed from time to time to make sure those things are still relevant.


Chris Sauve: The habits of highly boring people


*What kind of note taking do you you use Daniel? Great question. I use Microsoft's OneNote for three reasons:

  1. It is free.
  2. It syncs everywhere. A note I write on my phone is nearly instantly available on my phone, my non-phones, my computers and the web. This is really amazing because I can easily switch between whichever device is most convenient for the note taking task at hand.
  3. It is multimedia enabled. I can sync text notes, images and probably videos (I have never tried). I can carry around my favorite recipes, essays and a small art gallery.

25 June 2015

Till Groß: How to become more confident -- lay down on the street for 30sec

Groß shares his personal insight with using Comfort Zone Challenges: small personal challenges that push us outside out comfort zone. A fantastic thing to do at least once a week.

How to become more confident -- lay down on the street for 30sec | Till H. Groß

16 June 2015

Tai Lopez: The law of 33%

Lopez suggests that we should split our social time in thirds with people who are: less developed than us (so we can mentor them), on par with us (so we can have people to play with) and those who are much, much better than us (so they can guide us to where we want to be).

Tai Lopez: The law of 33%

11 June 2015

Gever Tulley: 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do

Tulley presents interesting research to drive two main points: the things parents are most afraid will happen to their children are generally not even close to the things most likely to happen to their children and that letting children do "dangerous" things is very good for the child's personal development and often poses little real risk to the child. For example, most parents fear, above all, that their child will be abducted when really parents should be most afraid of their child dying in a car accident.

5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do: Gever Tulley

02 June 2015

Josh Klein: Hacking Work

Klein talks about how employees can help their employers put aside archaic and often detrimental employment policies that prevent their employees being more productive and remaining fully engaged with their job.

28 May 2015

Niall Ferguson: The 6 killer apps of prosperity

Ferguson lays out his research of how the "West" was able to break away from the old ways and surge ahead in economic development.

They are:
  1. Competition
  2. Scientific revolution
  3. Property rights
  4. Modern medicine
  5. Consumer society
  6. Work ethic

Niall Ferguson: The 6 killer apps of prosperity

19 May 2015

Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception

Shermer describes many of the ways that our brains work against us as we attempt to rationalize against hollow beliefs.

Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception

P.S. At least watch from 16 minutes on.

14 May 2015

Martin Hanczyc: The line between life and not-life

We are making life! Well, we are mixing chemicals that exhibit life-like behaviors. Hanczyc shows his work at crafting life-like structures.

Martin Hanczyc: The line between life and not-life

05 May 2015

Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter...

Kay's introduction is simply beautiful. Especially at the end of a hard day, week, month or year. The rest of her talk is about her "spoken word journey."

Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter...

30 April 2015

Rory Sutherland: Sweat the small stuff

I do not normally watch many talks by the same speaker but Sutherland is weaseling his way next to Malcolm Gladwell.

Sutherland discusses why businesses should focus on the small things, perhaps even more than the big things.

Rory Sutherland: Sweat the small stuff

21 April 2015

Rory Sutherland: Perspective is everything

Sometimes I hear someone present an idea and think, "Finally, someone else gets it." Sutherland's talk is one of those.

I have worked for a long time and in that time I have seen many, many business decisions. Some of which I thought were brilliant and some that I still wonder, "What were you thinking?" and, "Who thought that was a good idea?" and, my favorite, "I know that I am not nearly as 'old' and 'seasoned' as you but even I knew that would not work."

Sutherland talks about how it is common from creatives to have to get project approval from more rational people. He suggests that the opposite should also be true, "Well the numbers all seem to add up, but before I present this idea, I'll go and show it to some really crazy people to see if they can come up with something better."

Because so often the 'crazy people' can make a good, sound idea so much better without making it much more complicated.

Rory Sutherland: Perspective is everything

16 April 2015

Jack Horner: Building a dinosaur from a chicken

Horner is both humorous and enlightening as he describes his (and his team's) quest to make dinosaurs.

Jack Horner: Building a dinosaur from a chicken

P.S. Horner's work provided a foundation for much of Jurassic Park's cutting edge theories about dinosaur life. He also helped to consult on the movie.

02 April 2015

Stanley McChrystal: Listen, learn ... then lead

McChrystal shares lessons about leadership from his long military experience. It was particularly interesting to learn how 9/11 changed the military as a leadership organization.

Stanley McChrystal: Listen, learn ... then lead

18 March 2015

"The Lost Art of Finding Our Way" by John Edward Huth

Huth opens by lamenting our current, sad state of inability to navigate based solely on observation of non-electric devices. He then spends the rest of his very generous book identifying and explaining various ways one can use observations to reliably navigate over land, sea and through air.

Interesting tidbit: If one sits on a beach on a clear even and watches the sun set then rapidly jumps up one can catch a second sun set. Interestingly enough though, in both case the sun has already set and is below the horizon. What we see as the sun set is actually light being refracted around the horizon for our viewing pleasure.

Another interesting tidbits: Ants on stilts.

A scientist got funding to glue stilts to ant legs to test their sense of pacing.

It is true.

I present pictorial evidence:

05 March 2015

24 February 2015

Misha Glenny: Hire the hackers!

Glenny talks about the history and evolution of computer hacking and suggests a novel way to protect our systems: hire the hackers to do it.

Misha Glenny: Hire the hackers!

18 February 2015

"Kraken" by Wendy Williams

"Behold the Squid!" That is not said nearly enough. Williams delves into the world and science of squid including much of the research we are doing concerning them. She also includes many interesting insights into the life of these fascinating animals.

Interesting tidbit: Neurosurgeons and scientist frequently learn how to extract neurons from common squid because they have a comparatively large neuron that is easy to extract (and the squid and common enough to make good test subjects).

Another interesting tidbit: The colossal squid has bioluminescent patches behind its eyes that shine light out, like headlights in the cold ocean deep.

10 February 2015

Michael Norton: How to buy happiness

Norton opens with "If you think money can't buy happiness, you're not spending it right," then proceeds to talks about some novel research into correlations between money and happiness.

Michael Norton: How to buy happiness

04 February 2015

"Simplexity" by Jeffrey Kluger

Kluger has collected a variety of interesting research regarding the operations of complex and simple systems. There are a lot of very interesting connections between these systems.

Interesting tidbit: Mammals, regardless of size, live an average of 1 billion heartbeats.

27 January 2015

Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration

You know those annoying boxes at the bottom of web forms that are filled with garbled text that is hard to read but you have to type in the words in a box in order to submit the form? von Ahn dispels the mystery of those words and explains how those text boxes are helping to digitize human knowledge.

Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale online collaboration

14 January 2015

"Happiness" by Richard Layard

There is a lot of effort that goes into researching happiness. Layard has gathered much of that research and presents it in an engaging narrative.

Interesting tidbit: It is easier to be happy when you surround yourself with people who are poorer than yourself.