Friday, November 23, 2007

Digging Your Way In and Out Of A Hole 2

Continuing with the concepts from the last post, TEDblog also had something to say about How toddlers (and monkeys) make choices. They focused though more directly on the question of human happiness citing the same study as the New York Times article in the previous post. However, they or their links to the Proper Study of the Mankind provide the actual recent study published in Psychological Science, by Louisa Egan, Laurie Santos and Paul Bloom, as well as better sources for in-depth inquiry and other voices that took part in the discussion. This includes Barry Schwartz, who spoke on the paradox of choice at TED. Other speakers on What Makes Us Happy have also spoken in the past at TED on this subject.

This led to other sources of insight. Dr Christian Jarrett, BSc MSc PhD, is according to his writeup, a writer/editor specialising in psychology and the neurosciences. He works full-time for the British Psychological Society as inaugural editor/writer of their Research Digest. His blog had two articles of interest to this line of inquiry - How ignorance can lead to the right answer and Inter-ethnic violence predicted by same rules that govern chemicals. This reminded me of a past post that linked to a Cosmic Variance article Birds of a Feather. The fascinating premise of the article is that the movement of the flock was created by the decisions of the individual birds.

So where does this leave us? We enter the world in ignorance. We become very good in justifying our selves and our ignorance. As Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson point out in their book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), "we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and right—a belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong". I do believe though that we can make decisions that transcend cognitive dissonance, where we don't create a false belief to justify ourselves, but we must also be willing to not continue to attach to that which we chose not to pick.

"The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thinking Your Way Into and Out Of A Hole

So now I have something to write about even more foundational to the concept of self-generated paradigm shifts than those concepts touched upon in my last few posts, the workings of our mind. Also reaffirmed again the idea that the combination of identifying viable sources of information with a bit of serendipitous web-wandering can result in a number of interesting results. Nobody can complain about not finding enough interesting and knowledgeable information on the Web to write about.

The New York Times defines it as, "...self-delusion, the result of what’s called cognitive dissonance..." "...Psychologists have suggested we hone our skills of rationalization in order to impress others, reaffirm our “moral integrity” and protect our “self-concept” and feeling of “global self-worth.” In other words, it would seem to be ego-focused. The question then is at what level does this take place?

“If little children and primates show pretty much the same pattern you see in adults, it calls into question just how deliberate these rationalization processes are,” he says. “We tend to think people have an explicit agenda to rewrite history to make themselves look right, but that’s an outsider’s perspective. This experiment shows that there isn’t always much conscious thought going on.”

The article goes on to provide a rational for this approach that could have evolutionary consequences. "Once a decision has been made, second-guessing may just interfere with more important business. A fox who pines for abandoned grapes or a monkey who keeps agonizing over food choices could be wasting energy better expended obtaining the next meal."

There are, however, other explanations for this psychological occurrence. From John Tierney's TierneyLab Blog for the New York Times.

Other experts suggested that the monkeys’ behavior tended to support “self-perception” theory — which (bear with me) is not the same as “self-concept” theory. It’s the theory that once you perceive yourself making a choice — say, an electric sandwich press over a toaster, as in the classic experiment I described in my column — then you conclude that the toaster must be unappealing to you simply because you rejected it, not because you’re trying to banish the dissonant thought that you made a mistake.

Social psychologist Daniel Gilbert, the author of “Stumbling On Happiness” has the following take on the study.

"The data in the monkey study are extremely interesting. They could be interpreted in terms of cognitive dissonance theory, but there are other interpretations as well. For example, monkeys may be wired not to waste time making the same evaluation twice. So once they reject something, they remember that they rejected it and reject it again in the future. The fact that monkeys derogate unchosen items is novel and important, but the “Why?” question is still unanswered."

John Tierney sums it up nicely,

"Are you sensing some dissonance among researchers here? Well, they’ve only been debating this topic for half a century now."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Creative Destruction Or Rebirth of Impermanance

Businesspundit: The Foundations of Capitalism

Businesspundit has a post on the Foundations of Capitalism, actually on one of the founders of modern capitalism Joseph Schumpeter. I have run across this name a number of times in my web-wanderings. In particular, when reading Marginal Revolution. The concept that keeps coming through is Creative Destruction.

I have a series of web articles I saved that not only need to be re-read but cogitated a good deal more about. These ideas are arguably foundational to some of the questions I have been raising about malaria nets and mobile phones. There is a biological basis for this approach that I am aware of which I need to find again. There is also the last post. Before this cartoon, by Hugh MacLeod, was only an excuse to try a new tool. Now it has a more meaningful impact.

Learning More About Web 2.0 Diigo

gapingvoid: "cartoons drawn on the back of business cards": the global microbrand, revisited

Besides using more I have also a started using diigo. One feature I like is that diigo interacts directly with A number of the recent posts have been created using diigo, including this one. It also makes uploading pictures a bit easer than others I have tried. That's actually the reason for this post. The gapingvoid cartoon has not changed for about 3 or 4 days, and I thought this cartoon was cool.


I am also interested in the post from gapingvoid but that can wait until later.

No, Not The Right Person But Still A Great Job

Seth's Blog: Great job for the right person

Seth Godin's post for November 15 this year was about Acumen and a great job being offered. According to Seth, "it just might be the most important job you ever do."

"This individual would join the
Portfolio Strategies team which focuses on sharing knowledge and influencing how the world tackles poverty. The associate would be primarily responsible for using the internet, video, and a range of tools available for building community to share what Acumen Fund is learning about effective ways to bring critical goods and services to people living in the developing word who make less than $3 per day. "

A review of their website quickly demonstrates that the applicant is going to have to be experienced and talented.

Seth does marketing and this sounds like a marketing position. A viable and important endeavor but there is still the questions floating around the back of my mind as to whether this is the best means of addressing these issues. This has been raised before with the posts on malaria nets usually with me supporting the efforts of Jacqueline Novogratz and other working in this field, but I still have not resolved all questions in my mind. Especially, those raised by Vivian Hoffman whose study had more impact on me than the New York Times article cited by Marginal Revolution. I used a link above for some of the sites I have saved. Here is a link to sites saved by others with a far wider range of views. There are many more trying to make a difference who can be found in Social and Economic Paradigms. It is not that I am turning away from my former perspective, rather it is obtaining enough knowledge to answer these concerns and being able to be open to new ideas and letting old ones go when they no longer work.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Presumption of Decency

NPR : The Presumption of Decency From NPR This I Believe

The presumption of decency is not naiveté. Instead, it requires a certain amount of realism. If you expect perfection, you will spend your days being furious at irresponsible teenage babysitters and equally irresponsible politicians. A better approach is to recognize human frailty and to be generous in our judgments.

Finding Connections In All Directions

Unlike some blogs, this one does not only connect to the immediate and often transitory concerns. It will re-connect to the past and find new pathways forward, revisiting and rethinking previous themes. One of these is the connections found under Shifting to a Better World. These included and the Catalogue for Philanthropy GREATER WASHINGTON 2007-08 that were written about before. Since then my web-wandering found similar sites closer to home, California Community Foundation, Southern California Grant Markers and the San Francisco Homeless Resource - a Wikia wiki are three examples of what can be done combining web 2.0 with philanthropic work. However, it doesn't seem that anyone has done on the west cost what Greater Washington did on the east coast.

Shifting to a Better World also has a link to to the
William J. Clinton Foundation and the new YouTube MyCommittment.Org which promotes the Clinton Initiative. Google is also only helping to promote social responsibility through Checkout for non-profits. Other avenues for micro-financing include E-Bay according to BusinessWeek.

"Microlending is just a good fit for eBay," says eBay spokeswoman Catherine England. "It really leverages eBay's areas of expertise to address what we see as an emerging market." Omidyar is also an investor in Kiva, a microlending site run by former TiVo (TIVO) executive Matt Flannery and former PayPal executive Premal Shah.

Finally, in addition to new resources, there is also potential inspiration from How to Save the World and How to Change the World with No Plan, No Capital, No Model...No Problem. New resources will be added as time goes on.

Enjoying Tasty Tagging on

As part of my Web 2.0 self-education I have been getting more and more accustomed to using tags. Especially, with the program created by Yahoo. I recently went through their new Update Tour. One item that particularly impressed me was a tag cloud of popular tags on It focuses on many of the areas that I am interested in and give me some ideas for new ones.

What I like is that the organization of the network is based upon knowledge sets and the interrelationship between ideas rather than popularity. I am impressed enough that I have decided to create a cloud for my real life/day job. I have also seen how others use in their blogs and websites. Most merely allow you to put their post onto your account but some allow you to see how they organize their tags. It was Serendipityoucity, a blog that has impressed me for its organization and content a number of times in the past, that got me bundling my tags. I figure if it works for a PhD candidate it should work for me.

I am keeping my note at the bottom of this weblog page on tagging. All of a sudden, despite having written about combining tags, I started noticing the little + signs in front of the "related" tags. Of course that only works with your own tag search box not the search box. So I am going to keep it in even if it is a bit newbie sounding. There is always the chance that somebody with less experience than me will drop by one day, and it could help. In the meantime I will keep on learning more. It would seem that tagging can get pretty involved.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Reconnecting to MIT Low Technologies High Aims

There are a few past posts that I did not give the full attention that I wanted to at the time I placed them. One of those was MIT Low Technologies High Aims back in October. One goal of this weblog is to make meaningful connections from different sources. MIT continues to be a source of information and nspiration for this Weblog. The New York Times article cites Amy Smith, a lecturer at M.I.T, as the primary brainchild of the International Development Design Summit and a MacArthur winner. The article also feature the D-lab nicknamed “Amy’s World” "In homage to Ms. Smith’s passion for attacking poverty from the ground up".

“Nearly 90 percent of research and development dollars are spent on creating technologies that serve the wealthiest 10 percent of the world’s population,” Ms. Smith said. “The point of the design revolution is to switch that.”

The article also features Dr. Polak, who has become something of a guru to the design revolution movement, and Mr. Brandis who now helps run the Full Belly Project, which develops machines to simplify village work.

“What you try to do in virtually every situation is make their lives more efficient,” Mr. Brandis said. “That’s what the big revolution in America was between 1860 and 1960 — that a person doing a day’s work can produce a lot more product. And that means time is more valuable and that means he has more time to do other things.”

This weblog has also featured other MacArthur winners with an interest in design.

Below is a video of Amy Smith lecturing at TED.


Can't Talk Your Way Through A Paradigm Shift., Especially With Your Foot In Your Mouth

Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends left a kindly worded comment to my post "You Can't Talk Your Way Through A Paradigm Shift". The full comment is at the original post.

First, I want to thank Anita for taking the trouble to respond to my post. She wasn't responding to a comment that I had made on her blog but still went to the trouble to write me. She does take me to task for a few things but does it in a very cordial manner, making a number of valid points and perhaps giving me more credit than is warranted.

One issue she has is with my lack of perspective in my writing. She wrote, "I'm wondering who is this person, an activist? A student? A corporate employee? A PR flak?" I can understand her confusion because I can't claim to have a perspective that I am trying to communicate to the world. I am a bit of all of the above, now going through my own mid-century paradigm shift trying to come up with new perspectives to face the future. She does try to understand my lack of perspective, “Probably because you just naturally assumed that anyone reading was coming at it from your perspective." In truth, its more like I just naturally assumed that nobody was going to be reading it.

Now I may have disagreed in my post with what Anita wrote in her article, but I should be clear that her articles have been a very important resource for me in creating my own new paradigms. I am not a small business person (actually small government), but I can take insights from her writings that can be applied to a positive means of creating beneficial change in the world. As I have said before, the social change activists need to start doing this more.

I may not even be in full accordance with her in general, but then I'm not really in full accordance or agreement with any of the blogs I connect with, Seth Godin, Tyler Cowen, Entrepreneurial Mind, or even TED. I do, however, find them all far more useful, because they challenge my thinking more than reading blogs that I might agree with more.

She then explains that "from the perspective of a business owner, I wanted to point out that business owners may be trying to do good. But they need to make sure their own house is in order. You can't be hypocritical as a business owner. You can't for PR purposes take on some cause if in reality you are doing something adverse to the cause. And not only can't you whitewash, but by taking on some cause you make your business a bigger target because there are groups out there that won't let you get away with it." I have to confess that I did always suspect that this was true from my other readings of her writing. I took unfair advantage because it made a good contrast with the BusinessPundit article. Actually it was only the term “anti-social responsibility” activists”, that I had any real issue with.

As to the question. "Are they for or against social responsibility causes? I honestly can't tell what your position is from your article." I am for it. My criticism, in truth, was not directed at business owners. I have seen some rather superficial attempts at social responsibility from government and from activists and was really going after all of them. I was also going after myself, continuing to vet what my position is. Anita however makes it clear, " I write for small business owners, not for individuals." and is obviously successful at it. It is I, who should have been clearer. I probably did sound too judgmental and preachy.

I do find Anita's discussion of trends informative. This one in particular about activists who call out companies for hypocritical cause-based practices was of interest because I could put myself on both sides of the fence. Anita says, “Some blog posts are mere observations and don't necessarily argue a position. My purpose often is simply to observe and by observing, it gives people a nugget of information.”. Though I am trying to take a position, it is often more times than not formulating a position and her blog whether I agree or not as been an important resource, and again I thank her. This is actually one of the highlights of this endeavor.