Category Archives: Cognitive science

One link think

In the swirl of events, I’m often left wondering if there’s something deeper going on.  Our leaders seem to be increasingly missing the bigger picture.  A glimpse, here and there, into the underlying cause of dead ends we’ve reached: problems with capitalism, the media, politics, climate, conflict, health care.   Is there a common cause?

2016 might arguably be characterized as the year we all decided we’d had enough of government as usual.  Between Brexit, the Trump ascendancy, and the sheer energy behind the Bernie Sanders campaign, it seems that many are thinking, “enough is enough”.  And that’s the good news.  When disenfranchised groups have zero representation, then terrorism and revolt seem to be the inevitable outcomes.

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Artificial intelligence and human limits

Are we getting dumber?  Or is stuff just harder?

Both are true.  Between-silo problems are the new bottleneck.  We’re inundated with information, so we take cognitive short cuts.   And “wicked” problems keep getting wickeder.

Take this “invisible art” artist.  She sold a few.*

Real decisions are made in the heart, the gut, based on a good story.  So we’re vulnerable to master wizards: good story tellers.  And, often, we’ll do what they say.

It’s impossible to assemble hundreds of graphs and data visualizations in our heads to make good decisions. It’s a fiction that we can.  So we’re overwhelmed, take short-cuts, but it’s hard to admit.

The good news: we have new superpowers.

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Guest post: The convergence of behavioral economics and big data

What does cold dead fish have to do with random forests? If you were to open a restaurant that served cold dead fish, you would not stay open for very long. However, if you used the concept of framing and instead sold a delicacy called Sushi, you would have much better chance of staying in business. Framing is a concept in the emerging field of behavioral economics that attempts to understand how people make decisions as well as how to influence those decisions. Other examples include the use of a default preference in order to encourage more people to become organ donors and rearranging the layout of food in a school cafeteria to get kids to eat more healthy fruits and vegetables. Continue reading

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Guest post: Ignite people to change by leveraging a simple quirk of the human mind

Before Martin Luther King had a dream, E.D. Nixon had a plan. It was a good plan, too.  Nixon thought he could make huge strides in the struggle for racial equality in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama by orchestrating a boycott of the city bus system–both a bastion of segregation and a huge money-maker for the city.

He had a sound strategy and a thorough plan.  But it was proving difficult to get the masses of African-American bus riders to go along with the change plan, and actually stop riding the buses.  Just like countless team leaders and project managers in today’s organizations, Nixon had all the dominoes lined up, but he couldn’t get them to start falling.

Then one morning in the early spring of 1955, a courageous young woman took a seat on a city bus. After the bus filled up, the driver ordered her to move so that a white woman could take her seat. When she refused, the irritated bus driver then flagged down two police officers who grabbed the young lady and hauled her off to jail.  And the rest of the story is history.

Today, everyone knows that Rosa Parks’ decision to stay seated on that bus inspired a domino effect of change that tore down the walls of racial segregation in America.There is just one problem with that story.

Rosa Parks wasn’t there.

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It’s a mystery

There’s a scene near the beginning of the Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love:

The theatres, we have heard, are all closed by the plague. And then:

HENSLOWE: Mr. Fennyman, let me explain about the theatre business.The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Believe me, to be closed by the plague is a bagatelle in the ups and downs of owning a theatre.
FENNYMAN: So what do we do?
HENSLOWE Nothing. Strangely enough , it all turns out well.
FENNYMAN How?
HENSLOWE I don’t know. It’s a mystery

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Catch the ball: shifting from text to visual/motor thinking for complex problems

We are shifting our thinking style to accommodate a much more complex and interdependent world than we have faced in the past. Consider:

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Towards two-marshmallow government

There’s a well-known psychological experiment, where children are offered a marshmallow, and told that if they could wait a few minutes before eating it, they’d get two. The kids who could handle the delayed gratification were more successful in later life.

I visited a city on the east coast of the US recently, and was surprised to see deteriorated infrastructure—cracking sidewalks and broken walls—right next to brand-new construction. On the plane back, my seatmate—a long-term resident—expressed her frustration with city planners. “They seem to have a bit of tunnel vision,” she explained, going on to say that the lack of a light rail and a downtown sports center were also symptoms of short-term thinking. Fearful of the construction impact, local residents voted these initiatives down.

Like the one-marshmallow kids, these residents weren’t able to envision a future in which a short-term cost led to a much greater long-term benefit. Continue reading

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