Think Slow

Our 15-year-old nephew—a budding musician—was in town this past weekend, so I took him to the House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park. There he could see every type of musical instrument known to humankind (plus some) and, frankly, it gave me an excuse to play a few good guitars.  Not that I don’t have good guitars at home.  Later in the day my nephew had a chance to see and play my two prized Running Dog guitars made by luthier Rick Davis.

Playing my Running Dog

Playing one of my Running Dog guitars (photo by Claire Brown)

Davis was profiled in Tim Brookes’ 2005 book Guitar:  An American Life, where the author seeks to replace a badly damaged first guitar with a hand-crafted one “for the second half of my life.”  He writes that as he nears 50 years of age, he finds an itch that can only be scratched with a new guitar.  And as Brookes notes, “Guitar makers even have a word for these baby-boomers-who-always-wanted-to-be-great-guitarists-and-now-have-the-money-to-indulge-those-dreams:  dentists.”

“Much later, after the guitar is finished, Rick will refer to ‘the eternal and infinite capacity of the consumer to confuse making a purchase with falling in love.’ I should have known better, I suppose—but then again maybe not. First guitars tend to be like first loves:  ill-chosen, unsuitable, short-lived, and unforgettable. I’m not sure I ever want to get to the point of making a rational decision about a guitar.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about decision making at key junctions of life.  Like Tim Brookes, there are some things—guitars among them—where I don’t want a rationale decision model to get in the way of my emotion. But we face many decisions that require serious thought and calculation. Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize winning author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, would suggest that we let our emotions make all types of decisions where a slower, rational model should come into play.  There is a recurring theme in Kahneman’s book that “many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.”

We put too much stock in the fact that we’re confident we’re making the right choice.  We put too much stock in our emotions.

“Subjective confidence in a judgement is not a reasoned evaluation of the probability that this judgement is correct.  Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it.  It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you than an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.”

When important decisions have to be made, I’m trying to take the time to step back, work through the crux of the matter, set aside emotions, and push back against a quick confidence that I’ve reached the right answer.  Thinking and decision-making—deep thinking around critical moments in your work, career, or life—requires time.

Think slow when you should, and have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

Would You Rather Be the Ornithologist or the Bird?

As our recent board meeting came to a close, I’ve reflected on how we communicate at these times to trustees, colleagues, stakeholders, donors, long-time acquaintances, and new friends.  Over the course of four days, we provide written updates, make formal presentations, discuss our goals, share experiences, and—at our best—turn those opportunities for communication into meaningful, insightful stories.

Carmine Gallo notes that prominent neuroscientists “confirm what we’ve known for centuries: The human brain is wired for story. We process our world in narrative, we talk in narrative and—most important for leadership—people recall and retain information more effectively when it’s presented in the form of a story, not bullet points.”

To be effective, stories must connect on a human, emotional level.  Sometimes that requires that we break out of the “rules” to find the right point of connection. Writer Colum McCann in Letters to a Young Writer, notes that while grammar is important in writing, it isn’t the be-all and end-all when we try to communicate.  There’s more we have to get across than just grammatical structure.

“Writers feel the grammar rather than knowing it.  This comes from good reading. If you read enough, the grammar will come.  In the end it’s the language itself—the shimmyshine of it—that matters so much more than the manners the grammar police want to put upon it.”

I like the thought of the “shimmyshine” of the language serving a larger purpose.  In the same essay, McCann notes that, “On occasion we write a sentence that isn’t, in fact, correct, but it sings.  And the question is:  Would you rather be the ornithologist or the bird?”

In written or spoken words—in telling our stories—let’s strive to be the bird.

Songbird (credit: Science Daily)

Songbird (credit: Science Daily)

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

What You Know That Just Ain’t So

In the midst of the disruption and turmoil that can be found around us, I have been reminded of the quote that began with Mark Twain and then was adapted by the great Negro League pitcher and philosopher Satchel Paige:

“It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know that just ain’t so.”

We seem to be having an epidemic these days of “what you know that just ain’t so-itis.”  There are many reasons this could be the case, but an important one is that we’re bombarded with information that requires work on our part to filter and understand.  Warren Bennis has written that “adults learn best when they take charge of their own learning.  Taking charge of your own learning is a part of taking charge of your life, which is the sine qua non in becoming an integrated person.”  Consider where we get information today.  In our interconnected yet at times isolated world, we all fall into the trap of letting others tell us how to think.  It is easy to let others take charge of what we learn.

Satchel Paige

Satchel Paige

What we know should be seen as only the starting point.  Author Colum McCann suggests that writers should not write about “what you know, write toward what you want to know.”

 “In the end, of course, your first-grade teacher was correct:  we can, indeed, only write what we know.  It is logically and philosophically impossible to do otherwise.  But if we write toward what we don’t supposedly know, we will find out what we knew but weren’t yet entirely aware of.  We will have made a shotgun leap in our consciousness. We will not be stuck in the permanent backspin of me, me, me.”

In times of turmoil, it is important to focus on what you know, what you don’t know, what you want to know, and what you know that just ain’t so.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB

What a Wonderful Washington Weekend!

It is a great weekend to live in Washington…

Stanley Cup Celebrations Continue — From bars in Arlington to today’s game at National Park to the Georgetown Waterfront, the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals are having a great time celebrating the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship with the hometown fans.  While I was across the country when they clinched on Thursday evening, I could hear the city explode from Phoenix. We’re ALL CAPS here in D.C. It was an especially satisfying run, given 1) that they weren’t expected to go very deep due to losses of players to the expansion draft, and 2) that they got through a couple of perennial stumbling blocks:  John (Torts) Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets and—most significantly—the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Too bad Martin St. Louis—who was always a playoff pest—no longer plays for Tampa Bay.

If you want another thrill, watch the highlights from the cup-clinching game.

Pride 2018 Celebration — Thousands have descended on DC this weekend for the annual Pride celebration.  Andrew almost always makes it to Pride, but because of singing commitments out-of-town, he’s only able to attend Sunday’s festival.  (Work can be such a bummer sometimes!)  I have a number of friends and colleagues who are enjoying this celebration of diversity in the DC capital, and I suspect the good times are rolling.

Politics and Prose Member Sale — Several times a year, our wonderful independent bookstore, Politics and Prose , holds a big members sale…and it just happened to be this weekend.  So after our traditional Saturday morning farmers’ market visit and pastries at Tout de Sweet, we headed into town for the sale.

Candice was much more methodical in her research than I had been.  Nevertheless, I had a few titles in mind, and planned to trust my instincts when faced with a decision.

Books from Politics and Prose

Today’s purchases at the Politics & Prose members sale – what a treasure trove!

The books from Educated to the top are Candice’s choices.  Mine go down from there to the recent Pauli Murray biography Jane Crow.  Our summer reading bags are full once again!

And Did I Mention That the Nationals Won — Once the Nats were finished with the pre-game celebrations with the Caps on Saturday, they turned around to beat the San Francisco Giants 7-5, holding on to first place in the National League East.  Adam Eaton returned from the Disabled List and Bryce hit another home run.  Go Nats!

Have a great weekend…wherever you live (but this weekend, it is hard to top D.C.)

More to come…

DJB

P.S. — Oh, and not everyone stayed in Washington this weekend…that’s not a bad thing.

What we do should be informed by what we know. Asking “what” will help.

Self-awareness is so important in facing life’s ups and downs.  Despite experience shaping our model of the world (as I’ve written before), bias still prevents us from making experience-based decisions, especially if we lack self-awareness.  A colleague recently sent me a note along with a 2018 Harvard Business Review article by Dr. Tasha Eurich which explored this theme.

Self-awareness

Self-awareness

Eurich’s article spoke of two broad categories of self-awareness:

“The first, which we dubbed internal self-awareness, represents how clearly we see our own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others. We’ve found that internal self-awareness is associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness; it is negatively related to anxiety, stress, and depression.

The second category, external self-awareness, means understanding how other people view us, in terms of those same factors listed above. Our research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives. For leaders who see themselves as their employees do, their employees tend to have a better relationship with them, feel more satisfied with them, and see them as more effective in general.”

Self-awareness can help in confronting our biases. Common obstructionist biases in situations that should be informed by experience are the tendency to use confirmatory evidence, assumptions about causality, and disregarding negative information. My colleague’s question to me was, “Do we throw our hands up now?”

Not yet (she answered her own question). There are different ways to gain self-awareness outlined in the HBR article.  Dr. Eurich found that “people who improved their external self-awareness did so by seeking out feedback from loving critics — that is, people who have their best interests in mind and are willing to tell them the truth. To ensure they don’t overreact or overcorrect based on one person’s opinion, they also gut-check difficult or surprising feedback with others.”  Introspection, on the other hand, was a surprisingly poor way to gain self-awareness for many people because we often approach it in the wrong way.  We begin our introspection with the question “why.”  Eurich makes the point that “why” invites negativity and rationalization. Instead, she encourages the use of “what” questions in forward-focused introspection, because identifying patterns in situations and decision-making allows us to see what actions contributed toward our success or failure. Asking “what” questions will help people make experience-based decisions.

What we do should be informed by what we know. It’s hard. But asking “what” will help.

Have a good week.

More to come…

DJB