I am reading: How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer

As of this writing, it’s only $2.99 on Kindle, and your experiences are like the blade of a comprehension slicing pair of scissors (more on that in a moment).

I’ve been batching the weave-able reading I’ve had on my To-Read list about the brain, figuring that each book would reinforce my learning retention with the others, and help me learn-through my questions:

  1. The book I started with (not exactly about the brain, but related to it via our ideas): Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Berlin Johnson: Review here, on Talking Story
  2. Second was Brain Rules by John Medina (very short review on GoodReads, for now.)
  3. How We Decide is my third. There is a short-but-telling interview with the author on the Amazon page which includes this bit; a memorable analogy:

“Herbert Simon, the Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, famously compared our mind to a pair of scissors. One blade, he said, represented the brain. The other blade was the specific environment in which our brain was operating. If you want to understand the function of scissors, Simon said, then you have to look at both blades simultaneously. What I wanted to do in How We Decide was venture out of the lab and into the real world so that I could see the scissors at work.”

I decided to post this earlier than I usually do (as full book review), just in case you want to read along with me: The price is certainly right! (You don’t need the Kindle device itself; you can download it from the Kindle page to your computer.)

I’m just 15% through it, about to start Chapter 3, Fooled by a Feeling, and so far am liking it quite a bit. Lehrer has a very easy-to-read writing style.

Rosa’s Highlights

As a bit of a mini-reader for your own weaving possibilities, here are the highlights I’ve done in the book so far, thanks to the copy-ease of my Kindle account: (Michael Hyatt wrote up a good how-to here: How to get your Kindle Highlights into Evernote.)

If you decide to read along with me, do add your own observations in the comments — we can talk story about them :)

How We Decide: Introduction

From the perspective of the brain, there’s a thin line between a good decision and a bad decision, between trying to descend and trying to gain altitude. This book is about that line. ~ Read more at location 84

Ever since the ancient Greeks, these assumptions have revolved around a single theme: humans are rational. When we make decisions, we are supposed to consciously analyze the alternatives and carefully weigh the pros and cons. In other words, we are deliberate and logical creatures. This simple idea underlies the philosophy of Plato and Descartes; it forms the foundation of modern economics; it drove decades of research in cognitive science. Over time, our rationality came to define us. It was, simply put, what made us human. There’s only one problem with this assumption of human rationality: it’s wrong. It’s not how the brain works. Look, for example, at my decisions in the cockpit. They were made in the heat of the moment, a visceral reaction to difficult events. ~ Read more at location 89

It turns out that we weren’t designed to be rational creatures. Instead, the mind is composed of a messy network of different areas, many of which are involved with the production of emotion. Whenever someone makes a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by its inexplicable passions. Even when a person tries to be reasonable and restrained, these emotional impulses secretly influence judgment. When I was in the cockpit desperately trying to figure out how to save my life—and the lives of thousands of Japanese suburbanites—these emotions drove the patterns of mental activity that made me crash and helped me land. But this doesn’t mean that our brains come preprogrammed for good decision-making. ~ Read more at location 98

There is no universal solution to the problem of decision-making. The real world is just too complex. As a result, natural selection endowed us with a brain that is enthusiastically pluralist. Sometimes we need to reason through our options and carefully analyze the possibilities. And sometimes we need to listen to our emotions. The secret is knowing when to use these different styles of thought. We always need to be thinking about how we think. ~ Read more at location 108

The mind inspires many myths—such as the fiction of pure rationality—but it’s really just a powerful biological machine, complete with limitations and imperfections. Knowing how the machine works is useful knowledge, since it shows us how to get the most out of the machine. But the brain doesn’t exist in a vacuum; all decisions are made in the context of the real world. ~ Read more at location 120

The goal of this book is to answer two questions that are of interest to just about everybody, from corporate CEOs to academic philosophers, from economists to airline pilots: How does the human mind make decisions? And how can we make those decisions better? ~ Read more at location 131

Chapter 1. The Quarterback in the Pocket

The problem with seeing the mind as a computer is that computers don’t have feelings. Because emotions couldn’t be reduced to bits of information or the logical structures of programming language, scientists tended to ignore them. ~ Read more at location 302

For too long, people have disparaged the emotional brain, blaming our feelings for all of our mistakes. The truth is far more interesting. What we discover when we look at the brain is that the horses and the charioteer depend upon each other. If it weren’t for our emotions, reason wouldn’t exist at all. ~ Read more at location 314

When we are cut off from our feelings, the most banal decisions became impossible. A brain that can’t feel can’t make up its mind. ~ Read more at location 342

When a person is drawn to a specific receiver, or a certain entrée on the menu, or a particular romantic prospect, the mind is trying to tell him that he should choose that option. It has already assessed the alternatives—this analysis takes place outside of conscious awareness—and converted that assessment into a positive emotion. And when he sees a receiver who’s tightly covered, or smells a food he doesn’t like, or glimpses an ex-girlfriend, it is the OFC that makes him want to get away. (Emotion and motivation share the same Latin root, movere, which means “to move.”) The world is full of things, and it is our feelings that help us choose among them. ~ Read more at location 379

The evolution of the human brain changed everything. For the first time, there was an animal that could think about how it thought. We humans could contemplate our emotions and use words to dissect the world, parsing reality into neat chains of causation. We could accumulate knowledge and logically analyze problems. We could tell elaborate lies and make plans for the future. Sometimes, we could even follow our plans. ~ Read more at location 468

When it comes to the new parts of the brain, evolution just hasn’t had time to work out the kinks. The emotional brain, however, has been exquisitely refined by evolution over the last several hundred million years. Its software code has been subjected to endless tests, so it can make fast decisions based on very little information. ~ Read more at location 475

When evolution was building the brain, it didn’t bother to replace all of those emotional processes with new operations under explicit, conscious control. If something isn’t broken, then natural selection isn’t going to fix it. The mind is made out of used parts, engineered by a blind watchmaker. The result is that the uniquely human areas of the mind depend on the primitive mind underneath. The process of thinking requires feeling, for feelings are what let us understand all the information that we can’t directly comprehend. Reason without emotion is impotent. ~ Read more at location 495

Chapter 2. The Predictions of Dopamine

The brain is designed to amplify the shock of these mistaken predictions. Whenever it experiences something unexpected—like a radar blip that doesn’t fit the usual pattern, or a drop of juice that doesn’t arrive—the cortex immediately takes notice. Within milliseconds, the activity of the brain cells has been inflated into a powerful emotion. Nothing focuses the mind like surprise. ~ Read more at location 659

When the ACC is worried about some anomaly—for instance, an errant blip on a radar screen—that worry is immediately translated into a somatic signal as the muscles prepare for action. Within seconds, heart rate increases, and adrenaline pours into the bloodstream. These fleshly feelings compel us to respond to the situation right away. A racing pulse and sweaty palms are the brain’s way of saying that there’s no time to waste. This prediction error is urgent. ~ Read more at location 671

This is an essential aspect of decision-making. If we can’t incorporate the lessons of the past into our future decisions, then we’re destined to endlessly repeat our mistakes. ~ Read more at location 679

Human emotions are rooted in the predictions of highly flexible brain cells, which are constantly adjusting their connections to reflect reality. Every time you make a mistake or encounter something new, your brain cells are busy changing themselves. Our emotions are deeply empirical. ~ Read more at location 708

When the mind is denied the emotional sting of losing, it never figures out how to win. ~ Read more at location 791

Dopamine neurons need to be continually trained and retrained, or else their predictive accuracy declines. Trusting one’s emotions requires constant vigilance; intelligent intuition is the result of deliberate practice. What Cervantes said about proverbs—”They are short sentences drawn from long experience”—also applies to brain cells, but only if we use them properly. ~ Read more at location 813

Even when Robertie wins—and he almost always wins—he insists on searching for his errors, dissecting those decisions that could have been a little bit better. He knows that self-criticism is the secret to self-improvement; negative feedback is the best kind. ~ Read more at location 846

The problem with praising kids for their innate intelligence—the “smart” compliment—is that it misrepresents the neural reality of education. It encourages kids to avoid the most useful kind of learning activities, which is learning from mistakes. Unless you experience the unpleasant symptoms of being wrong, your brain will never revise its models. Before your neurons can succeed, they must repeatedly fail. There are no shortcuts for this painstaking process. ~ Read more at location 882

A bit of early weaving, for resourcing later

  1. Written back in February of 2009: Decision Making: How do you do it?
  2. More in my Talking Story tag on decision-making, and on decisions
  3. My Talking Story tag on thinking
  4. A personal favorite, written in June of 2007: Believe in Your Biology

Biology (and the history of our evolution as humans) is something I have definitely become more friendly with since I was force-fed it in school: I like learning how my own biology can make my own observations more logical, or at least soften them with a more comforting understanding … that scissors-blade effect in action!

Book Review: Reboot Your Life

…Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break.

Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break by Catherine Allen, Nancy Bearg, Rita Foley, and Jaye Smith
Link to Amazon.com: Reboot Your Life on Kindle, currently just $2.99

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Are you due for a break, a meaningful, and restful one? If so, the best time is this time, and you can reboot your life all in one fell swoop.

Sabbaticals have broken free of the academic world, and they’re good for everyone, helping us keep better perspective of whether we live to work, or work to live. If you need a bit more convincing, the authors of this book have done a great job at reframing sabbaticals for us into the more modern notion of a “reboot break” covering 7 different versions that have become evidence of its mainstream appeal, and its wisdom.

I’d picked this up fully expecting it would well complement my recent urging that we managers consider the 20-hour work week as a wholesale societal rebooting of our normal workweek, a reinvention which is the silver lining of our Great Recession — and it does. The subject of a reboot break is covered thoroughly — there is much more content within this book than I’d expected to find — and I’d sum it up in these two themes: Convincing you of the benefits and possibilities (including good discussion of how to broach the subject with your employer), and then coaching you in making it count once you take the leap.

I’ve been able to take a 6-week sabbatical annually since purposely designing it into my business models back in 2004. My family, friends, and MWA clients know it as Ho‘omaha, the holiday hiatus given to all in my ‘Ohana in Business: We close for 3 weeks in December, and another 3 weeks in January. It now feels very natural and right to us, and best of all, it’s totally guilt-free; it feels smart, and it’s become quite strategic. I know we’re fortunate, now taking our Ho‘omaha holidays as matter-of-course as we do. So I also hoped the book would help me be more empathetic to those without the same freedoms we enjoy and capitalize on. Rebooting of some kind is often a transition which comes up in the Ho‘ohana coaching I do, so I can help managers bring more of ‘Imi ola into their lives as a value of lifestyle inventiveness and creativity.

The authors do not speak of values explicitly, but as they read The Reboot Break, MWA practitioners will make their value alignment connections often, and make them easily. For instance, the authors offer this as a common pattern of the Reboot Breaks which are most successful:

1. Creating Space – putting your life in order
(MWA’s Mālama, Ho‘okipa, Kuleana)
2. Reconnection – revitalizing connections to people, places, activities, and self
(MWA’s Lōkahi, Kākou, ‘Ohana)
3. Exploration – learning new things, especially through travel
(MWA’s ‘Ike loa, Ha‘aha‘a, Nānā i ke kumu)
4. Reentry – starting a new chapter of your life
(MWA’s Aloha, Mahalo, Pono)

I found the authors covered their subject well, offering substantial testimony over ‘what if’ supposition, but I still think the reader will have to be predisposed to the idea first if they’re to take the plunge and use this book as their roadmap. How badly do you want your own break, and how brave and determined are you?

Your best strategy might be the team approach: Get your work team and your family to read this with you. If you are between gigs, a good companion to this, perhaps for the “Exploration” phase of the reboot break you take, would be The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People by Carol Eikleberry: My book review is here.

From my own experience I can assure you: Ho‘omaha once, and you’ll never go back to a life without it.

View all my book reviews on Goodreads

Why Goodreads? They have become an App Smart choice for me, for I want to return to more book reading, and have set a goal to read at least 30 books this year. Read more about the Goodreads mission here, and let’s connect there if you decide to try it too! You can also follow them on Twitter.

Previous review done for Talking Story: Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson

Use this link if you prefer to read my book reviews here on Talking Story.

More on Reading in the Talking Story archives:

  1. Managers, you need to READ
  2. Deliberate Inputs
  3. Books Come to You at Least Twice

Book Review: Where Good Ideas Come From

You probably knew a book review was coming when I went all “you MUST read” on you, didn’t you.

I’m giving myself a Goodreads challenge again, and this was book 5 for me this month. I tend to read more early in the year, and my challenge is to read books more consistently. The Kindle Daily Deal helps immensely, for it constantly adds to the queue in an easily affordable way. So many books, so little time…

Where Good Ideas Come From

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of InnovationWhere Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson (Goodreads Links)
Link to Amazon.com: Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation

My Goodreads rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a word, exceptional.

I greatly appreciate authors like Johnson who are ‘slow hunch’ cultivators, thorough researchers, and articulate explainers.

Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is a focused celebration of the phrase “hindsight is 20/20.” The scientific history of innovation is curated to support Johnson’s thesis, which is his answer to this question: What kind of environment creates good ideas?

There is another, more subtle question which lurks throughout the book as well: Are you open to sharing your ideas before they’ve fully formed? (…for here are the reasons why.) From his Introduction:

“The poet and the engineer (and the coral reef) may seem a million miles apart in their particular forms of expertise, but when they bring good ideas into the world, similar patterns of development and collaboration shape that process. If there is a single maxim that runs through this book’s arguments, it is that we are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them. Like the free market itself, the case for restricting the flow of innovation has long been buttressed by appeals to the “natural” order of things. But the truth is, when one looks at innovation in nature and in culture, environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than more open-ended environments. Good ideas may not want to be free, but they do want to connect, fuse, recombine. They want to reinvent themselves by crossing conceptual borders. They want to complete each other as much as they want to compete.”

He then proceeds to cover 7 different qualities he’s discerned about the nature of ideas, with very meaty chapters on each, all illustrated by the scientific stories of innovation:

Ch 1 — The Adjacent Possible (I have shared Johnson’s definition before, within this blog post: An Aloha Business for 2012)
Ch 2 — Liquid Networks
Ch 3 — The Slow Hunch
Ch 4 — Serendipity
Ch 5 — Error
Ch 6 — Exaptation
Ch 7 — Platforms

After reading each one, you can’t help but put the book aside for a moment, and ask yourself, “where do I sit with this, given my own habits?” and, “how must I further shape the environment my ideas will percolate in?”

Johnson’s book is the perfect candidate for the workplace book club. Two reasons immediately came to mind:

1. It is hugely conducive to company adaptation, and would be a marvelous trigger for in depth, “what about us?” discussion on a number of different questions which are kin to his central one [What kind of environment creates good ideas?]”¨

— Who is our Darwin in this company? (or a number of others he profiles)
— What are the important stories of our own scientific, or innovative history? How were they sequential stories and not singular events?
— Where are the different rooms of our ‘adjacent possible,’ and who, among our own people, are already working in them?
— We say mistakes are cool, and that we have to ‘fail forward’ in our experimentation, but how well do we actually understand error? Have we built on any errors?
”¨” and so forth.

2. It will add to your Language of Intention in culture-building. I love books like these, which teach you new words or phrases, and then treat you like the like-minded insider you become as those words and phrases get built upon in each successive chapter and proposition. Your own vocabulary becomes enriched.

For someone like me, strong proponent of aligning our values, Johnson’s exceptionally well written book is a good reminder about the wealth of possibility that diversity contributes to the healthy and inventive mindset. He hasn’t changed my mind about value alignment, and how necessary it is to culture-building; he zooms me forward. Okay, you have a healthy, MWA-infused culture. Now what will it take to innovate and grow?

Johnson takes his time with his book’s concluding remarks (more stories!) introducing a final filtering concept he calls “the fourth quadrant” to help us better sit with our own conclusions about what we’ve learned. I’m not one of those cynics he need worry about, but I appreciated his patience and attempt to be so open-minded and thorough. I think Johnson was very smart in including his environmental exploration with a “what if” treatise on governmental systems; it’s an arena where cultural innovation is chronically necessary, and any reformation efforts will be complex, and will take time, keeping Johnson’s book relevant for years to come.

I admit to feeling personally challenged by this book still, wondering if I understood everything, and if I took it all in completely — there is so much covered! This will therefore be a book I gladly read again (and now, not later) moving it from a 1st read appetizer and overview to a more complete meal I can savor. A certain degree of reading restraint is called for; I want to read this again before picking up any other non-fiction book.

I’d decided that my reading of Where Good Ideas Come From was long overdue because I’ve been a fan of Johnson’s blog, and reading it is a good way to get a preview of what you’ll read in his book. You can be assured the book will be better, for his blog posts are his own “slow hunches,” made public to simmer and cook with some early feedback.

View all my book reviews on Goodreads

Why Goodreads? They have become an App Smart choice for me, for I want to return to more book reading, and have set a goal to read at least 24 books this year. Read more about the Goodreads mission here, and let’s connect there if you decide to try it too! You can also follow them on Twitter.

Previous review done for Talking Story: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Use this link if you prefer to read my book reviews here on Talking Story.

Managers, you need to READ

The more I read, the more I’m convinced that reading is a habit Alaka‘i Managers must cultivate.

You must. You need to read for your own good.

Reading is your window to the rest of our fascinating world, and the world is a wonderfully big, and varied place.

Management consumes us (managemeant even more so). As we dig in to all the details of our daily work, we tell ourselves to “focus, focus, focus” and we get isolated despite all the people who surround us in the workplace.

They’re in the same boat: Our company and its existing network insulates us in a cocoon of directed attention, and we don’t fight it. We may even be grateful: We feel it’s all we can handle right now anyway, and we aim to get better with whatever’s currently at hand.

But we can’t lose sight of this caution: If we aren’t careful, insulation will stealthily morph from comfort to incestuousness and isolation. We hear about certain things in passing, and we say, “When in the world did that happen?”

I can sense your heads nodding out there. It has happened to me too. Repeatedly. Still will if I’m not careful to prevent it, and reading has become my salvation, and my guarantee. It pulls me out of the fray so I can gain better perspective, and see fresh new inspirations.

The trick is to do it on your time, but be sure you do it!

A confession: I have a double standard about subscriptions. I ask Alaka‘i Managers to please consider email subscriptions to Talking Story so we can remain connected to our Managing with Aloha like-mindedness, but I myself have been steadily unsubscribing from nearly all the email subscriptions I’ve had in the past, or I filter them to a “newsletters” folder so they don’t clutter up my inbox.

This is NOT to say that I don’t read subscriptions anymore, for I do; I’ve cultivated a reading habit where I batch read them when I’m in the best frame of mind for consuming them with deep reading, curation and annotation instead of scanning or skimming. And I seize my opportunities for that very pleasing reading rhythm on a daily basis.

In that regard, I’m a better subscriber for authors, bloggers, journalists and other writers than I’ve ever been before. I’m an appreciative reader, and I’m a better user of what they’ve so generously shared with me. In turn, I share better too, with you, with my companies, with my family and assorted networks (like Tumblr).

Reading represents the choices you make, and the habits you have.

If you’re one of those people who’ll say, when completely honest, “Sorry Rosa, I just don’t read books, haven’t since I got out of school.” I’m sorry that mandated experience soured books for you, but reading covers a lot more ground than that these days.

Reading isn’t just about books, magazines and newspapers. And books? They’re a classic example of change in that category of “When in the world did that happen?” Reading this right now, and feeling like I’ve gone back to school on my own time, but in the best possible way: The Fall of the Roman Empire : A New History of Rome and the Barbarians [Kindle Edition, see footnote] — way back when, my teachers never had the option of choosing it for me. Publishing has exploded in variety and diversity thanks to the web, and printing has changed: What we read ‘on paper’ today looks (and is) remarkably different from what we read a mere decade ago.

Reading gets connected to your lifestyle, tools and tech habits too, and because of the curator you choose to be. For example, I’ve noticed that my RSS-reading on the iPad is very different from when done on my MacBook: I consume more on the iPad, but I annotate and curate more on my MacBook. I still prowl bookstores with a voracious appetite, but my in-store habits have shifted, as I prowl with my iPhone in hand, retrieving the book recommendations I’ve indexed in Evernote, or free-sampled on my Kindle.

Read lightly. Read deeply. Mix and match the two, and become more interesting.

The value of ‘Ike loa [lifelong learning, Chapter 11 in Managing with Aloha] is not just learning how; it’s also learning about.

You don’t have to consume all knowledge deeply; you can just wallow in a good portion of it, and let your proactive choices seep into you lightly” sort of like basting your character with a golden glow which helps you appear healthier — because you are.

CrazyThere’s absolutely no doubt about it: Reading increases your awareness in a multitude of ways.

It gives you the balance we call understanding and ‘reasonableness,’ for it helps you be humble (the nourishing food of Ha‘aha‘a), yet more confident, all at the same time.

Reading boosts your repertoire for conversation, and so it makes you a much more interesting person. And who doesn’t want that?

[See #8 on this list: Twelve Rules for Self-Management.]

I love history: It was my favorite subject in school. However I didn’t go looking for Peter Heather’s book, it was a radar blip I keyed in on, due to my habit of checking in for Amazon.com’s Kindle Daily Deal. It cost me just $1.99 — if you have a Kindle, bookmark this page and try reading genres which are new to you.

From the Archives: Deliberate Inputs

As electioneering ramps up here in America, I get very concerned about what Bill Davidow has called “Life in the Age of Extremes.” There is much ‘other possibility’ within the extreme polarity of being Republican or Democrat in ideology. We must all be working on our own Deliberate Inputs to interject more hope into life.

Being hopeful, can be a direct result of Ha‘aha‘a, the value of humility, and the way we’ve spoken of ‘finding decisions’ here at Talking Story: Can you see with your ears? How open-minded are you, and how willing are you to weigh the opinions of others? Much of it is about proactive listening, so you can choose to live with a greater confidence — it’s a confidence that you’ve uncovered and discovered the best answer, because you’ve gone looking for it. It’s cultivating an optimistic attitude which will align with your values, keeping positive expectancy in your life.